Walkera has beefed up its prosumer level flagship camera drone with two killer new features. The Voyager 4 has a gimbal-stabilized, 360-degree camera with a 16x optical zoom lens capable of a maximum 1500mm focal length. Plus, with both the drone and the controller connected to 4G wireless internet, there’s no limit on control range, so you could literally fly this thing from the other side of the world.
When consumer camera drones like the DJI Phantom were first launched, people worried about the privacy implications of airborne cameras that could see over fences and into bathroom windows. But truth be told, most every drone on the market shipped with such a wide angle lens that your average backyard sunbather would amount to just a few pixels in the final image unless you flew very close indeed.
It was only a matter of time before somebody came out with a drone that packed in serious telephoto zoom capabilities – and in the last week, two have launched. One is DJI’s Zenmuse Z3 Zoom camera for the Inspire One, which offers a decent 7x zoom from a 22mm to a 77mm lens equivalent. The other is much more powerful: the Walkera Voyager 4. It blows the DJI camera’s zoom capabilities out of the water with a 16x optical zoom that gives you the equivalent of a 10-1500mm lens.
In practical terms, maximum zoom lets you get a similar frame to what a typical Phantom 4 now shoots from much, much further away. As much as a kilometer (0.62 mi) away, according to the manufacturer.
Telephoto zoom is significant from a filmmaking point of view, because consumer-grade aerial cameras have generally only ever had very wide angle lenses. This made them easier to fly, but harder to film with. For example, when shooting a car, you had to get very close.
Of course, there’s also privacy implications, because a superzoom drone can presumably map every pimple on your backside from a few blocks away, which is far enough that you can’t hear it flying. You – or perhaps more pertinently, your local celebrity – will never know it’s there. Mind you, this is such an early effort and the zoom range is so wide that we’re not expecting any sort of optical excellence from the lens.
Walkera is offering the zoom camera as an option, and at this stage the gimbal-stabilized superzoom camera only shoots 1080p vision, while the fixed wide lens can shoot 4K. Like the DJI Inspire, the Voyager allows the camera to rotate to shoot in any direction, independent of which way the drone is facing. The landing gear also lifts out of the way to keep out of the shot.
Along with the camera, the Voyager 4 has another killer feature, particularly from a surveillance standpoint. It can be configured to operate using its own Wi-Fi network, which has a range around 1.5 km (0.9 mi) in the air, or the drone and the controller can use 4G wireless internet to communicate, giving it virtually unlimited control range.
Using 4G control, you could literally fly a drone in New York, controlling it from Beijing, if the data transmission is quick enough. That’s an extraordinary new capability, although many countries have laws that specifically prevent pilots from flying unmanned aircraft beyond line of sight.
Voyager 4 is launching with a new controller, the Devo F18, which has dedicated flight mode switches. The Devo series controllers have typically been a little confusing and unrefined, so hopefully this iteration will make things clearer for non-hobbyist users.
Walkera hasn’t yet released any pricing or release dates, but its camera gear has generally been competitively priced (the Voyager 3 sells for US$1,999, for example). We look forward to seeing how the Voyager 4 performs.