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Phantom 4 – Intelligent Flight Modes

23 mins
Drone Blog
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It can be easy for a drone pilot to overlook or even take for granted DJI’s Intelligent Flight Modes. Simply put they’re pretty amazing, and can change how you fly completely or just assist in making some of your projects easier. 

They are versatile in their abilities and allow you the pilot to achieve even better shots or more cinematic footage. Learning the in and outs of these flight modes can be a fun challenge and once learned you will find more and more uses for them.

After all, any and all drone pilot should be able to manually fly an orbit, right? You will find times where that skill is invaluable, and flying it manually will certainly be the quickest and best option. Flying a large orbit though covering acreage can be tiring, and you may make that one mistake that will require flying that orbit again and risk making that same error all over. We all know what the definition of insanity is – repeating the same action and expecting a different result. 

So, using the handy Point of Interest Flight Mode is perfect for the task and allows you to focus more on the craft’s position and the imaging you’re collecting. 

Another handy and invaluable intelligent flight mode would be Tripod Mode. In this mode, the drone’s speed settings and other functions are changed to allow for a slower steadier flight. 

A flight mode like this is great for low-level, near-ground flights or through a multiple obstacle area such as below the tree canopy around a home. You pilots out there who shoot Real Estate know this for sure. Tripod mode will make those shots easier to perform and lessen the risk to your equipment.

What are DJI Intelligent Flight Modes? #

**DJI intelligent flight modes are enhanced flight controls that can assist the pilot to capture easily repeatable footage and images, or are quick preprogrammed setting changes that change the craft’s flight style and flying characteristics. These intelligent flight modes are accessed through the DJI Go4 app. **

These modes may change the way the craft flies or may initiate the drone to conduct an autonomous flight, matching parameters you set before engaging the mode, depending on which mode you choose to use of course.

One of the most popular intelligent flight modes that drone pilots are using is Active Track. Active Track allows the pilot to quickly select a subject on the viewing screen, and the drone will automatically follow that subject when engaged.

Another popular flight mode is Follow Me. It’s very similar in nature to Active Track.  In Follow Me mode, the drone will automatically follow the remote control as opposed to a person or object. 

While the Intelligent Flight Modes are accessed via the app, there are some flight modes that can also be found on the controller. **These flight modes also can change how the aircraft flies and are called Standard Flight Modes. **

Intelligent flight modes will only function in the P-Mode setting and are not available in either of the other two Standard Flight Modes available. We’ll cover those further below.

What is a Standard Flight Mode on Phantom 4? #

Before we can get to the Intelligent Flight Modes, we have to discuss the Standard Flight Modes on the Phantom 4 Pro. These flight modes are found on the controller in the upper left corner. They are on the toggle switch shown (ON-P.S.A-OFF). This switch allows for the pilot to switch between the following three flight modes.

  • P-Mode (Position)
  • A-Mode (Attitude)
  • S-Mode (Sport)

P-Mode or Positioning Mode #

P-Mode, also known as Positioning Mode, is the default mode of your aircraft and the one you will likely spend the most time using.

P-mode is an important flight mode as in this mode all of the aircraft’s obstacle avoidance and GPS systems will be fully operational and is the only mode where the full complement of features within the aircraft and the app will be available, such as the above-mentioned Intelligent Flight modes. Intelligent Flight modes will not function in either of the other two Standard Flight Modes – A or S mode.

A-Mode or Attitude Mode #

A-Mode or Attitude mode (Atti for short) is a flight mode where the GPS and obstacle sensors are disabled. The drone will maintain an altitude but not a location lock, as it would in P-Mode, due to the GPS being disabled.

Another feature of this flight mode is that the craft’s auto-braking is also disabled. This means the craft will maintain the set altitude (height) and will also maintain its direction until prompted by the pilot to change direction or stop. With this mode engaged, there is a possibility of drifting with the wind or even getting caught in a wind gust. 

A-Mode is not for the novice pilot and shouldn’t be attempted by a beginner, as it takes practice and experience with your aircraft and knowing its abilities and drawbacks before using this mode. 

That being said, even a beginner may find themselves flying in A-Mode, as A-mode is the Phantom 4 Pro’s default in the event that the GPS signal becomes weak or lost. This is also the default for nearly every drone on the market if the GPS signal drops out.

S-Mode or Sport Mode #

S-Mode or Sport Mode is a Standard Flight mode that increases nearly all of the craft’s abilities while taking away some important ones. 

While the aircraft still uses GPS for positioning while in Sport Mode, it also disables the front and rear obstacle avoidance systems sensors. So much of your protection from obstacles is gone. Much like the above Atti mode, this is not a mode that a beginner should attempt until they know the craft and its abilities fairly well. 

In S-mode, the aircraft will be faster and more responsive to the controls. Even small movements on the sticks will have larger reactions from the craft during flight. Due to the added responsiveness and the lack of obstacle avoidance, it is wise to be cautious while flying in this mode. 

It will take the aircraft longer to stop from its full speed and even many a skilled pilot has underestimated just how the craft will react in sport mode from its quicker rate of descent to its longer stop rate. Not to mention that S-mode puts a quicker drain on the battery. 

Caution is certainly warranted here when choosing to fly in sport mode. Besides just allowing for faster flight, this mode can be handy in getting to a shot position faster than if you were in P or A mode. 

All of the above Standard Flight modes can be switched while in flight and you can change from one of the standard flight modes to another with the switch on the controller.

Accessing DJI Intelligent Flight Modes on the Phantom 4 Pro #

To start using one of the Intelligent Flight Modes with your Phantom 4, you need to enter into the Intelligent Flight Mode page on the app. This can be accomplished by selecting the controller icon on the left of the screen within the app.

This Icon is located just below the Return to Home Icon and will be used to access all of the intelligent flight modes. 

After selecting this icon, a dark page will come up with icons for the various intelligent flight modes available. This section contains two pages of icons and the second page can be accessed by simply swiping from side to side. 

What is Beginner Mode? #

Since your aircraft will come set in this mode by default, this is the first mode you will encounter, even if it is to just turn it off. In doing this, you will have taken the first step in using the Phantom 4 pro’s Intelligent Flight Modes

Beginner mode limits the craft’s abilities so that you can get used to its flying characteristics and it really shouldn’t be overlooked. In Beginner mode the craft is limited to a height ceiling of 100ft. and will only have a limited range.  

How to use Beginner Mode #

If you just activated your Phantom 4 Pro, this is the default flight mode. That means you don’t need to do anything but get out there and fly. Beginner mode is useful for getting comfortable with your aircraft prior to letting it soar. 

After all, every drone flies a bit differently, and even if you’re familiar with one aircraft you may not be familiar with another. There are many things to get used to, from the distance it takes to stop, to how fast it can descend. So, using beginner mode to become more aware of your craft’s flight capabilities is something you should consider before just letting it go full props ahead. 

When you’re ready, turning it off is as easy as just going into the intelligent flight mode section by pressing the controller icon on the left of the screen as shown above, and switching the mode to off.

What is Active Track? #

Active Track is one of the most popular of the Intelligent Flight Modes. It allows the pilot to track subjects automatically by using advanced image recognition algorithms. These algorithms allow you to track a person or object by selecting it. 

How to use Active Track #

To use Active Track, your standard flight mode selected will need to be P-mode. Active track will not work in the other two modes. You will find this to be true of all the Intelligent Flight Modes.

Here’s how to use Active Track:

  1. Select the Active Track Icon
  2. The Active Track settings will open 
  3. From here you will be able to select a subject or object to track. 
  4. Press Go! The drone will start following the subject or object selected.

Once you are in Active Track mode, tap on the subject that you want to track, and press the Go button. At, this point, the aircraft will continue tracking the subject until you tell it to stop. If it loses connection with the controller or gets low on battery, it will automatically return home (just like any other flight mode).

Once your subject is selected and recognized, you can choose one of three sub-modes that are within the Active Track feature and will have these options contained in a side window. 

There is Trace, Spotlight, Profile.

Trace   #

With Trace, the drone follows you even if you move away or change direction, while avoiding obstacles. In Trace, the Phantom 4 Pro is also capable of orbiting the subject or object by using the roll stick on the remote control or the on-screen slider. 

Spotlight #

In Spotlight, the aircraft will not trace a subject automatically like above. It will keep the camera pointing at the subject during flight as if casting a spotlight on the subject. The remote controller can be used to maneuver the aircraft, but in this instance, yaw will be disabled. By using the left stick and gimbal dial, the pilot will be to adjust subject framing while you fly in almost any direction. 

Profile #

The aircraft tracks the subject at a constant angle and distance flying sideways. Like Trace, you can use the Roll stick on your remote controller to fly around your subject in an orbit. Profile mode will track the subject horizontally and fly alongside the subject or object.

There are many types of activities that can be explored with this Intelligent Flight Mode and it can be a fun flight mode to experience and use. While using this mode, the craft will rely heavily on its visual sensors, so having good lighting is important for this flight mode to function properly. So, get out there tracking things!

What are Waypoints? #

Waypoints is probably one of the most advanced Intelligent Flight Modes offered by DJI.  This mode is used to create a specified, savable flight path that your drone will be able to replicate again and again. 

This mode allows you to record a similar scene at different times of the day, month, or whenever and see the change or progress. This is particularly useful for filming, monitoring building sites or farmland, or any subject matter that you will need the same shots repeated over time, such as a timelapse. 

This flight mode is large and can be intimidating upon first use, but it gets easier and can easily become a go-to flight mode once getting the hang of setting up a flight.

How to use Waypoints  #

As with Active Track, this Intelligent Flight mode is found within the app by selecting the controller icon on the main page. 

Here is how to use Waypoints:

  1. Once within the Intelligent Flight mode page, select Waypoints
  2. The waypoints flight mode will open and you will be asked if you want to start a new mission or use an existing mission.
  3. Tap “New Mission”, and a notification will ask you to record the waypoints. 
  4. Fly the first flight marking waypoints as you fly. 
  5. Once completing and marking all of that flight’s waypoints, you can save the flight and it can be flown any time after that. 

Now there are some limits to this flight mode such as a Max radius: 1,640 ft. (500m). and Max path length: 16,404 ft. (5000m). 

As with Active Track, Waypoints offers a variety of sub-modes to allow you to set up the flight as you want it. 

You can choose between 3 modes for the aircraft’s heading, as well as being able to set the craft’s speed and height. This allows the mode to be fully customizable to your needs.

It can be a bit of a hassle to get this to work the first couple of attempts, but stick with it. Once you get it, you’ll see it’s quite a well-designed flight mode.

What is TapFly? #

TapFly is a bit underrated, but it can be quite useful though depending on your flying situation. It’s actually one of the easiest to use and can be a huge benefit in certain circumstances. 

Much like it sounds, TapFly is just that; when this mode is activated from the Flight Mode page, you will be able to fly from one point to another by just tapping your desired destination on the screen.

How to Use Tapfly #

Here’s how to use Tapfly mode:

  1. Go to the Tapfly screen on the Intelligent Flight Modes page.
  2. Once you have the TapFly screen open, you will see a slider bar on the left side. 
  3. This slider is used for the craft’s speed and can be adjusted while flying. 
  4. You will also see one of the most important features of this flight mode – the horizon line. 
  5. While in this mode you can also change the craft’s destination by simply selecting another point on the screen.

The horizon line is there so you will be able to determine if the craft will need to descend or ascend during the flight while moving to the selected area. You will need to watch this closely as you will be in control of that. 

As with nearly all of the Intelligent Flight Modes, TapFly also offers sub-modes providing more control of the flight and settings.

Forward – The drone moves forward automatically, even without choosing a destination on the screen.

Backward – The drone moves backward automatically. This is a great mode for gradually revealing vast and beautiful landscapes, and can easily be used for a Rise and Away shot.

Free – The most commonly used mode, Free mode allows you to pick any destination on the screen for the drone to approach.

Coordinate – In Coordinate mode, the drone hovers in place as soon as it reaches the destination you have set.

What is Terrain Follow Mode? #

In Terrain Follow Mode, the drone will maintain a constant elevation from the ground even as it goes up a hill with an incline of up to 20 degrees. The elevation difference in this mode can be set from 3.28 feet (1 meter) and 32.80 feet (10 meters). 

How to use Terrain Follow Mode #

Here’s how to use Terrain Follow Mode:

  1. Open the Terrain Follow mode by selecting the icon for it from the Intelligent Flight mode page.
  2. A sidebar window will open asking for you to select a height. 
  3. You will then be able to select a speed.
  4. Hit the start option to initiate the flight.

What is Tripod Mode? #

In Tripod mode, the craft’s maximum speed is reduced to 5.6mph and you can opt to have the obstacle avoidance system on or fly with it off in this mode. 

You will also find other aspects of the craft’s flight abilities have been limited or reduced. For instance, the craft will stop quicker in tripod mode than in other flight modes. The reaction to stick movements is dulled. 

The benefits of using Tripod mode are better stability, and more precise controls, and in certain environments can be handy indeed to perform the flight safely and get excellent footage or shots. 

How to use Tripod Mode #

As with all of the Intelligent Flight Modes, Tripod can be activated by selecting the Icon for it within the Intelligent Flight Mode page. Tripod mode is either on or off.

In this case, there are no sub-modes like those found in other Intelligent Flight modes to further adjust the settings, other than the ability to disable the obstacle avoidance system. 

This mode is perfect for many types of applications such as indoor flying or flying below tree canopies, among other similar areas. 

The reduction in the speed and controls allow for more precise flying and more cinematic-style shots. It may not be the fastest, but it is the smoothest.  

What is Gesture Mode? #

Gesture mode is a bit different from the other modes we have discussed. First introduced in the DJI Spark, gesture mode quickly became quite popular and was introduced in the other systems. 

Gesture Mode is just what it sounds like, and is controlling the aircraft by the use of hand gestures that the vision systems recognize. This is a rather limited intelligent flight mode on the Phantom 4, compared to other variations out there for other DJI products. 

It can be good for capturing yourself with or without the controller in hand, for selfies or thumbnails. As it is one of the only flight modes that is intended to remove the controller from the pilot’s hands, it can be a risky Intelligent Flight mode to use. 

Also, with the vision system on the Phantom 4 Pro being one that works best in well-lit areas, it may not always recognize a gesture or not react as expected. Caution is advised while using this flight mode.

How to use Gesture Mode #

To engage this flight mode:

  1. Select the icon from the Intelligent Flight Mode screen.
  2. Step into the image box and lift your arms up in the Y pattern. 
  3. The image box will recognize the person and will then react to other gestures that are available for control. 

For example, putting your arms straight out to your sides will activate a selfie photo to be taken after a 3-second delay.

What is Course Lock? #

Course Lock mode can be of a huge benefit when flying in narrow areas. It allows for you to specify a straight path and this mode will restrict side to side movement. 

This means you will only be able to move forwards and backward along the path chosen. The camera controls will still allow you to move the camera in any direction as you traverse the pre-determined path.

If you’ve ever attempted to fly down a hallway, you know the difficulty in performing that flight. With course lock, it can be done in a safer fashion and with less risk to the craft. 

Another fantastic use for this intelligent flight mode is if you are flying on roads for construction purposes or flying on power lines, which tend to follow straight courses from pole to pole and a deviation from the path could lead to a failure to capture the needed data.

How to use Course Lock #

  1. Select the icon from the Intelligent Flight mode screen. 
  2. A window will open on the right side asking for you to select a course direction. 
  3. This will fix the direction of the course. 
  4. The craft will now move along this horizontal course that was set. 

You will still be able to rotate the craft and use the gimbal to get that fly-by footage without the need to focus energy on maintaining the course so that you can focus more on the shot. 

This is a very practical and useful Intelligent Flight Mode that I really hope you explore to its fullest benefit. 

What is Home Lock? #

With Home Lock, the drone will lock the position of the controller as the home point and will then move along a fixed path either away from or toward the home point that is locked in. 

When Home Lock is turned on, pulling the right stick toward you will always bring the drone back in closer, and pushing it up will always fly away from you, regardless of the position the nose of the craft is pointing. The craft will be in free flight while in this flight mode allowing you to rotate the craft and operate the gimbal. 

How to Use Home Lock #

Select the icon from the Intelligent Flight Mode screen. As with many of these flight modes, a separate window will open up asking for you to lock the home point. Home Lock adjusts controls based on the position of the aircraft relative to the remote control. 

Once engaged, pushing up on the right stick will now move the craft away, and pushing down the stick will bring the craft back. 

This is a great feature if you lose situational awareness of the craft’s location and can be used similarly to the Return to Home function while still maintaining camera control.

What is Follow Me? #

Follow Me mode is similar to Active Track and uses much of the same algorithms as Active Track. When engaged, the aircraft will follow you automatically. This Intelligent Flight Mode is perfect for those self-productions where you’re working alone and need to capture yourself in some activity.

How to use Follow Me Mode #

  1. To use Follow Me mode, select the icon from the Intelligent Flight Mode page. 
  2. Once you’ve selected the icon, a selectable box will appear. 
  3. Lock yourself into the box and tap the GO icon. 
  4. The aircraft will now follow the locked-on subject. So be sure to be doing something interesting.

What is Point of Interest? #

As mentioned above at the start of this article, Point of Interest is the Intelligent Flight Mode that will fly perfect orbits around a selected point. In this regard, the craft will use a GPS position to lock onto the location selected and will then orbit around that point. 

This is an invaluable flight mode when capturing large orbits that need to be consistent and level. It allows for the height and distance to be set and will orbit the center point until you exit the mode.

How to use Point of Interest #

  1. From the Intelligent Flight Mode page, select the POI icon. 
  2. A window will open that will ask you to set the height of the craft. 
  3. You will need to be hovering over the center point of your planned orbit when engaging this flight mode. 
  4. From there you will fly out from the center point and then mark the distance from the center point. 
  5. After selecting a speed, and activating the plan, the craft will now begin the orbital flight. 

All other flight controls remain operable and this gives a large versatility to this flight mode, such as flying a rocket or a curved path ascent. 

Explore this one, you’ll find it has many uses beyond just an orbit. Remember, have fun!

What is Draw? #

By now you have probably gotten the theme – most of these flight modes are labeled for ease of understanding and pretty much do just what they say. Draw mode is no different. Simply draw a route on the screen and the craft will move in that direction while keeping its altitude locked. There are two Draw modes available and can be used in many different scenarios.

Forward – The aircraft follows the route at a constant speed with the camera facing in the direction of flight.

Free – The aircraft only moves along the route when instructed. In this mode, the camera can face in any direction during a flight.

How to use Draw #

  1. You can access the Draw Intelligent Flight Mode by selecting it from the Intelligent Flight Modes page. 
  2. A small circled arrow will appear on the screen. Press and hold this icon and you will be able to draw a path. 
  3. Once done drawing the path, remove your finger from the arrow icon. 
  4. A side window will open. It’s inside this side window that you will be able to select options for either forward or free flight as well as speed. 
  5. Select Start and the craft will now fly the path you set. 

One of the real benefits of this Intelligent Flight mode is that you are no longer limited to straight paths and can plan out a path that goes around an object. It will allow you to fly that path while still being able to focus on operating the camera.

Obstacle Avoidance  #

It’s easy to not think of the obstacle avoidance system as an Intelligent Flight Mode, as it works mainly in the background and you may only be aware of it when getting near an object. It’s the most important intelligent flight mode your Phantom 4 pro has and can be customizable to how you like to fly. 

Obstacles are the nemesis of every drone pilot out there. You’re not alone, they get us all at one point or another. They can quickly take what was a great and fun productive flight and just ruin the whole day by leaping in front of you and causing a crash. So, the pilot needs to be as aware of any obstacles with enough time to evade or avoid them. 

The Phantom 4 Pro has a dual environment sensing system that utilizes not only stereo vision input but infrared as well. This provides it with an amazing sensing range of around 98 feet with the forward sensors, allowing it to plan flight paths that will either avoid the obstacle or put the craft into a hover in the event it can’t plot a path around the obstacle. 

The side sensors are a bit more limited in their range relying solely on infrared sensors on both sides of the aircraft and having a range of 23 ft. The infrared sensing system is only available when in Beginner mode or Tripod mode. 

By setting up the C1 and C2 buttons you can then toggle between the wide view of the obstacle avoidance system. This is not a visible change in the screen but it does switch between the wide view and the narrow view of the obstacle avoidance system. 

Taking the time to set up this feature will lead to less frustration in the field and the ability to get closer to objects while keeping the obstacle avoidance system active.

DJI Phantom 4 Intelligent Flight Modes reviewed #

 As you can see, there is a lot held within the Intelligent Flight modes tab, and learning these flight modes will make you a better pilot. By using these modes to their fullest, you will find new ways to capture photos and video footage and be able to acquire more cinematic shots and focus more on your camera work. 

Deciding on which is better over the next is impossible as each one will open a whole new way of doing something and they are all different. 

I will tell you which one I seem to utilize the most though, and that is Point of Interest. As someone who does capture quite a bit of real estate, the orbiting video is a must, and POI does that flawlessly every time. 

Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!

Credit:Cover Photo by Oliver Schwendener


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