Image Quality Comparison – Phantom 3 vers 4 pro

Phantom 3A vers 4Pro 

Some thoughts about the Phantom 4 Pro compared with the 3A.

This will be an ongoing “work in progress” kind of a page or document. I will add in 2017 on a monthly basis. Basically I will likely fly both systems in parallel so it will be easy to come up with some conclusions in respect to handling and image quality.

First tests with the Phantom 4 Pro are promising. Dynamic range and especially sharpness is very much improved compared to the 3A. This is a remarkable step forward in terms of image quality. The Phantom 4 Pro just creates much better image detail and acuity and resolution/sharpness is on a much higher level compared to the Phantom 3A. Its just giving back the DSLR like quality on tiny airborne systems (but check the flare section!). Also SNR (signal to noise) is much better and dynamic range ist enhanced. Only problem so far seems to be a much higher sensitivity to flare. Its difficult to compare the flare issue because you cannot create exactly the same exposure / image concepts for different copters in the air. It will always be a wee bit different. So some ground based comparison needs to be done here.

I wrote “This is a game changer for photographers that need an airborne system sometimes” – yes clearly so but the flare issue that I found is kind of putting this a bit aside. It brings the image quality that we wanted back and you always can add HDR and Pano techniques to add from that but be aware of the flare when the sun is in your FoV! Do not close the lens down to anything higher than f5!

Some shots from recent test flights with the P3A and the P4Pro:

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Fig. above: subset resolution demo from P4Pro (left) and P3A (right). This is also 20 MP against 12 MP and 24mm vers 20 mm obviously ;).

SMH-P4Pro-Potsdam-20170122-d4c5abaf23a147c434e47d2a0105ac83--16P4Pro Panorama from 3 shots taken at 30m height.




Fig. above: cutout resolution demo from the panorama above.

Flare with the P4Pro:

Some more tests with the Phantom 4 Pro: one major “issue” with this system for stills / photography is imo clearly the flare sensitivity of the lens/sensor combination. The into the sun shots just capture a lot of flare and the sun star is very much Samyang 14mm like. This is an issue and it reduces the image acuity for 3D point cloud modeling for object measurements as well as for the landscape panorama approach.

The against the light shots look very much like the Samyang/Rokinon  14mm lens character. The sunstar has light rays that increase in size from the center and these rays cover the full frame of the 1inch sensor when the illumination comes from one of the outer edges. It clearly degrades the full image when the lens is stopped down to f.e. f8 but gets better when the lens is driven wide open. There seem to be some diffraction effects at work that are clearly not so great. You can drive the camera to generate sharp sun stars, but as usual here the characteristics of this star make a difference to some of us.  The Samyang like star is not so well received. The linked flare issue is much more a problem because it is hard to avoid when you have the sun in your frame. For some scenarios a lens hood may be useful but its only functional for those shooting scenarios where the sun is not within your FoV.

To be honest I am bit puzzled … this is the first affordable 1inch sensor platform with nice resolution and better DR, but – the flare issue is likely killing some of the potential ideas that you might develop with this machine.

Some examples:


Above: strong and not so nice flare – even with some distortion in the sun star lines.

smh-lim15-20170214-d4c5abaf23a147c434e47d2a0105ac83-0300 smh-lim15-20170214-d4c5abaf23a147c434e47d2a0105ac83-0304

@f4 things get a bit better, but with this image below also the light levels have changed:

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Comparison shot done with the Phantom 3A, clearly shows that the lens/sensor combi wont give the same amount of flare here (again different light level and different sun illumination angle):


Closing the aperture with the P4Pro:

Closing the aperture will eat some of your acuity advantage away. F11 clearly shows that the lens/sensor combination is in diffraction land. The comparison shot below was taken with ISO200 and ISO800 and here some of the resolution and definition is also lost by noise artefacts but noise reduction is dealing with that successfully imo. Diffraction resolution loss is however clearly visible when you look at some of the details within the high res version of the image below.

smh-p4pro-f4-f11-comp(Open this Image in a new Tab to view in higher resolution)


(Open this Image in a new Tab to view in higher resolution)

Image below: unresampled full resolution shot at f11 and 1/8 second with 20MP. This is still ok sharp – the copter seems to stabilize the lens very nicely for these nadir shots – it seems to possible to use the camera also with very low ISO values when the light levels are low. Stabilisation is just great. Open this file in a new tab to view 5400×3600 full res from the P4Pro: