The DJI Inspire 1 – The Photographer’s Aerial Platform?
There is absolutely an aerial revolution taking place right now as everyone from farmers to photographers are trying to see what benefits they can get when putting a camera platform in the air. Up until recently, you really had two choices, a small system that could carry a GoPro, or a large system for carrying a small DSLR. The big downside of the GoPro is having to correct for the bad fisheye effect of the lens, and the big downside of a larger copter is the $7,000 – $10,000 starting price. With the introduction of the DJI Inspire 1, this has all begun to change. Now, for around $3,000, you have have a state-of-the-art aerial platform that can shoot 4k video without fisheye, and also shoot 12mp stills on demand. As both a photographer and a copter-guy, I decided to really take a look at the Inspire 1 from a photographer’s point of view.
The DJI Inspire 1 Camera
Total Pixels: 12.76M
Effective Pixels: 12.4M
Image Max Size: 4000×3000
ISO Range: 100-3200 (video) / 100-1600 (photo)
Electronic Shutter Speed: 8s － 1/8000s
FOV (Field Of View): 94°
CMOS Sensor: Sony EXMOR 1/2.3”
Lens: 20mm (35mm format equivalent) f/2.8 focus at ∞ 9 Elements in 9 groups Anti-distortion
Still Photography Modes: Single shoot
Burst shooting: 3/5/7 frames – Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB): 3/5 bracketed frames at 0.7EV Bias – Time-lapse
Video Recording Modes: UHD (4K): 4096x2160p24/25, 3840x2160p24/25/30, FHD: 1920x1080p24/25/30/48/50/60, HD: 1280x720p24/25/30/48/50/60
Max Bitrate Of Video Storage: 60 Mbps
In essence you have about the same camera as a GoPro 4 Hero Black with less frame rate but a rectilinear lens to avoid fisheye. Yes, I know that isn’t EXACTLY accurate but it’s a pretty good comparison. Another advantage of the the Inspire 1 is that it can save in LOG format which is good for color grading. Again, yes, I know that is what ProTune is for on the GoPro but ProTune is a GoPro feature and LOG is an industry standard. The camera is attached to a 3-axis gimbal to provide buttery smooth video and crisp photos.
Controlling the Inspire 1 Camera
You may be asking yourself why I keep using the GoPro for a comparison, and its because the GoPro is the most common camera to put on an aerial platform. If you are going to be looking at a platform below the $5,000 price point, it will most likely have a GoPro camera on it, so since the GoPro Hero 4 is the “standard”, we have to compare any other camera to it to see how it stacks up.
The huge downside of using a GoPro for an aerial camera is the lack of control of the camera from the ground. With a GoPro you have to get all your settings done on the ground, start recording (or taking a long series of pics) before taking off.
With the Inspire 1, the camera is “app controlled”, meaning your first-person-view display is either a smartphone or tablet running the DJI Pilot app. Using the app you can start/stop recording, taking stills, adjust the ISO and shutter speed, and see a live histogram of the exposure.
Notice that I did not mention aperture. With both the GoPro and the Inspire 1 camera, the aperture is fixed at f/2.8. Besides using ISO and shutter speed to control exposure, the only other method is the use of a neutral density filter (a 2 stop ND is included with the Inspire 1).
The Inspire has an “auto exposure” mode that allows you to adjust the exposure value or you can switch to manual to adjust the shutter speed and ISO.
RAW vs JPEG
If you don’t care about this particular debate, feel free to skip ahead. However, for those of us that cringe at the thought of shooting JPEG stills, another advantage goes to the Inspire 1 that has an option of JPEG or DNG while the GoPro has only JPEG.
Photoshop CC has just added a profile for the Inspire 1 camera and we should have a profile for Lightroom available in the next release.
Stability of the Inspire 1
I have been flying quadcopters for about 6 years now and nothing has ever given me the stability to take long exposure shots. The Inspire 1 does such a good job at holding position that many people have posted some gorgeous long exposure images. After seeing the work on some of my fellow operators, I just had to see what I could accomplish with it. The following image was a 5 second exposure.
What about Video?
Of course the Inspire 1 is great for video for all of the reasons I have already mentioned. As a photographer you may just want to get a different perspective for your still photos or maybe you want to add a video element to your existing work. But since this section is discussing video, I have put together this video from my recent vacation footage.
Is the Inspire 1 Right For You
The Inspire 1 is not cheap, it may cost more than the DSLR body you are using. If your budget can’t handle it, then you should certainly look at a Phantom 2 Vision+ or a Phantom 2 with a GoPro system (about $1000 and $1600 respectively).
If you don’t know, I happen to be part owner of Multicopter Warehouse in Colorado. Almost 50% of the Inspire 1 buyers have never flown a copter before. With a little patience and some practice, you can achieve amazing results with it regardless of your skill level.