Taking Flight with DJI’s Inspire 2 Drone
August 2, 2017
If the Phantoms are the “point-and-shoot” models of the drone world, the Inspire class are the DSLRs. It’s here you’ll find interchangeable lenses; larger, more robust aircraft; speed and maneuverability that’s just not possible with the smaller Phantoms.
All that comes at a considerable step up in price, however. Where you’ll pay $1,499 for a Phantom 4 Pro, the Inspire 2 can run from $2,999 to $6,198 for a premium combo that includes an interchangeable lens camera and CinemaDNG/ProRes recording support. We turned the Inspire 2 over to N.J. photographer and director David Patiño to see if the extra dollars made sense.
At the heart of the Inspire 2 is a new image processing system that can record CinemaDNG and ProRes video at up to 5.2K resolution from the Zenmuse X5S camera. It delivers bit rates as high as 100Mbps when recording in either the H.264 or H.265 codec. It also supports burst modes up to 20 fps and 3D LUTs. The drone can be outfitted with either the fixed lens X4S or the interchangeable lens X5S cameras—however the X4S won’t support RAW or ProRes recording.
We tested the higher-quality X5S camera which features a 20-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor and lens mount. The camera can’t fly with every MFT lens on the market, but does work with eight models from DJI, Olympus and Panasonic. For our test, the camera was outfitted with the DJI 15mm/1.7 ASPH lens.
The X5S can record 4K video at 4096 x 2160/60p in H.264 and H.265. It can record 5.2K (5280 x 2972) at 30p in either Cinema DNG or ProRes. To record in RAW, ProRes or to save RAW stills in burst mode, you’ll need to use DJI’s CINESSD memory, but you can use microSD cards for all the rest. It uses an electronic shutter with a speed range from 8 – 1/8000 sec. You’ll enjoy an ISO range of 100-6400 for video and a slightly larger 100-25600 range for stills.
The Inspire 2 is outfitted with a number of sensors to enable obstacle avoidance and safer autonomous flight. There is now, thankfully an upward-facing sensor to help it avoid larger obstacles (Patiño’s Inspire 1 suffered for a lack of one when it collided with an overhead tree branch on a return-to-home flight.) There are also downward-facing and forward-facing sensors.
Like the Inspire 1, the Inspire 2 has landing gear that retracts upon takeoff, giving the camera ample room to pivot. Unlike the original craft, the Inspire 2 is built from sturdier magnesium alloy. It looks sleeker than the original, even if it retains the same shape as the earlier model.
One very nice design change was to the battery. Where the original Inspire was powered by a single 129Wh battery, the Inspire 2 uses a pair of 98Wh batteries that are self-heating, enabling the craft to fly in colder conditions. Since the new batteries are below 100Wh, you’re also allowed to carry a larger number of them on an airplane—the FAA imposes a limit of just two batteries if they’re above 100Wh. It’s a subtle but welcome switch for those who have to travel with their drone.
The included remote has a hinged arm for holding a smartphone or tablet. Having used the newer remote for the Phantom 4 Pro with a built-in display, Patiño says he vastly prefers remotes with built-in displays. “The DJI Go app has so much going on now that it’s crowded on my iPhone,” he says. Like previous remotes, it uses a built-in battery, which Patiño says is not ideal.
Image Quality and Performance
The image quality from the Inspire 2 is “gorgeous,” Patiño tells us. “Everything came out very nice and the interchangeable lens mount really gives you flexibility.” With much greater dynamic range and low light capability than the Phantom models, the Inspire 2 definitely justifies its greater cost when it comes to imaging, Patiño says.
While the Inspire 2 does offer much greater optical flexibility than previous DJI drones, the lens selection for the X5S is still somewhat limited to a selection of mostly wide-angle prime lenses (the longest is a 45mm Olympus f/1.8—equivalent to a 90mm when the MFT crop factor is accounted for). It’s understandable, given the load and balancing constraints, but it would still be nice to have a few more focal length options.
The Inspire 2 can fly fast enough that those moving from a Phantom drone may experience a brief moment of fear—or elation. With a max speed of 58MPH in Sport mode, it’s almost 20MPH faster than a Phantom 4. Yet, despite this extra horsepower, the craft is extremely responsive. “It’s much more stable in flight” than the Phantoms, Patiño says. “It’s like a flying tripod.” We enjoyed about 22 minutes of flight time on a fully charged pair of batteries but in rather windy conditions. You’ll have more flight time with the lighter X4S camera installed.
The Phantom-class drones have become so good, in terms of both image quality and flying smarts, that the Inspire-class looks like it’s filling a smaller and smaller niche. Grappling with the size, not to mention the expense, of the Inspire 2 means you’ll really need the step-up in image quality to justify the move. That said, the Zenmuse camera has improved immeasurably thanks to the step up into the Micro Four Thirds universe. If you own an Inspire 1 and have been looking to upgrade, Patiño tells us the Inspire 2 justifies the move.
PROS: Excellent image quality; professional video codec support; extremely stable in flight; interchangeable lenses; improved battery; easy to operate.
CONS: Remote battery not removable; remote lacks built-in display; limited lens selection.
PRICE: $6,198 (with X5S camera & CinemaDNG/ProRes license)