The innovative folks at DJI continue to design drones that push the limits of aerial photography (and empty the wallets of eager onlookers). A new edition of the Inspire 1 with an added Micro Four Thirds camera system recently arrived on the scene, and we just had a chance to test it out. Let’s see if it lives up to the high demands of its price tag.
This camera drone can be intimidating to behold. Coming in at almost 6.5 pounds and 1.5 feet wide, there is no hiding that this is a large piece of professional equipment and not a toy for your kids. Below the drone itself sits the new Zenmuse Micro Four Thirds sensor with a DJI branded 15mm f/1.7 lens capable of capturing crystal clear 4K video and high-definition imagery.
Don’t worry, however, we won’t be skipping over the drone and jumping right to the camera. When a company places a $4,500 drone with low-level artificial intelligence into our hands, anyone is crazy to think that they won’t be giving the unit a thorough testing to see what it can truly accomplish.
DJI’s Inspire 1 was released last year to much fanfare with a 12MP fixed-lens 20mm f/2.8 camera capable of capturing 4K video with a Sony EMOR 1/2.3-inch sensor. Standard operating capabilities of the unit have not changed with the new Zenmuse camera system; features include the ability to travel at 50mph, ascend as high as 15,000 feet, and fly in sub-zero freezing temperatures. (Sadly, my boss turned down my request for a weekend of testing in the Arctic.)
As far as the unit’s design is concerned, we imagine that it is the dream of every super villain. The main housing of the unit is stark white and features an aerodynamic design that conjures up mental imagery of attack fighter jets. Jutting out from the white center unit are two carbon fiber bars that then hold the four rotors required for the unit to takeoff. The entire unit is built extremely well and makes the still incredible Phantom seem like a plastic toy.
Just under the main housing sits the dark black Micro Four Thirds Zenmuse camera system with DJI’s 15mm f/1.7 lens. At first glance, one might think that the aircraft’s four legs get in the way of filming, but that is where this drone has a trick up its sleeve. After you take-off with the unit, simply flick a toggle switch on the controller to have the four legs raise above the aircraft’s body. The procedure is so fascinating to watch that we have captured the process in a video below.
Before you take-off, however, you need to make sure that a few pre-flight list items have been checked. The Inspire 1 includes a silver and white colored controlled that has to be fully charged. The controller is nearly identical to the Phantom controls, but with the added addition of the gray coloring and a landing gear toggle switch. Once your controller is ready to go, you can attach your tablet or smartphone, which allows you to see what your drone is currently viewing along with other statistics concerning its flight.
We do have to report that we had errors with the DJI application during our testing. It appears that there is a significant issue with the software on iOS9 devices as we tried both an iPad Mini 3 and an iPhone 6s — both failed to work. However, we were able to secure a Samsung Galaxy smartphone running Android to get our system airborne.
For the Inspire 1 itself there are two different ‘Intelligent Flight Batteries’ available. The one included in our kit was the smaller 4500mAh unit allowing up to 18 minutes of flight time. A larger 5700mAh battery is also available for up to 22 minutes of flight time. Four indicator lights on the top of each battery pack allows pilots to quickly check the unit’s power levels.
Now it is time to discuss the camera itself in a bit more detail. Recently released, the Zenmuse X5 is an interchangeable Micro Four Thirds mount with a 16MP sensor capable of capturing ultra-high-definition 4K video. The included lens is a 15mm f/1.7 DJI brand prime lens, but it can be swapped out for a few different lenses compatible with the Micro Four Thirds mounting system. These lenses include the Panasonic Lumix 15mm, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 12mm, and, of course, the DJI MFT 15mm.
DJI has told us that despite being a Micro Four Thirds mount, lenses have to fulfill a certain set of requirements to fit the gimbal that include a set weight and size. The mount does support on the fly autofocusing, but zooming seems to be out of the question. DJI also warned us about removing the MFT’s lens hood, which should remain on the unit at all times to preserve its ideal weight and balance.
The Zenmuse’s stabilization system with an interior high-grade magnesium alloy design has come from DJI’s research and professional level equipment that have been developing for the industry. While we were up in the skies on a decently windy day, the 3-axis gimbal was able to keep our camera dead centered without any bit of movement.
One last item before we begin our takeoff and testing is to note the level of precision you have while filming. If you are controlling the aircraft with only one controller, you still have complete control of the drone and camera mounting system. You can manually set the lens’ aperture, shutter speed, and focus, as well as the sensor’s ISO sensitivity.
If you opt to fly with two different controls, one person can operate the drone while the second person operates the camera system. An additional ‘Precise Focus Control’ unit is also available which allows a third person to concentrate on controlling the focus of the DJI camera.
We imagine that most individuals who pick up the Inspire 1 will be professional aerial pilots purchasing dual controller systems, but for those of you who want to treat yourself to a birthday gift – a single controller works quite well. You fly the aircraft using the joysticks as with any other drone, but you can use the touch screen to pan the drone’s view.
As we power up the motor and ascend into the sky, the Inspire 1 is visually more stable in the windy weather when compared to the Phantom 3. DJI notes that the unit has a 2.5m horizontal hovering accuracy while in GPS mode, but they were quite modest in their statement. We would be happy to say that the unit is in fact much more accurate with a strong GPS signal.
Speaking of GPS, the technology is no longer needed to keep the drone stable. DJI’s new vision positioning system provides stable tracking even when the unit is used indoors. We should note that unless you are in an abandoned warehouse, this unit should probably never be used indoors.
The footage we were able to capture in our testing came out beautifully for both stills and videos. The included DJI lens possessed minimal chromatic aberration and lived up to its price tag of being a $600 lens.
Overall, the DJI Inspire 1 Pro Drone is an incredible piece of professional equipment. We say professional equipment because that is exactly the type of environment this unit was designed to be used within. At $4,500 for the Inspire 1 Pro system with the Zenmuse attachment, this probably won’t be a cute drone for occasional outings. Cinematographers who can afford the price tag will be in store for a great treat worth every bit of money they paid. However, those looking for a good drone for hobby purposes should probably keep their eyes on the Phantom series.