Although DJI’s next-generation craft may have one eye on Hollywood, the Inspire 2 is set to become a major player in many commercial field…
Written by Ian Collen of DRONE magazine.
It has barely been a couple of years since the original Inspire was launched in November 2014, but that already seems like an age ago. Of course, in drone terms, two years is positively ancient, but that hasn’t stopped the Inspire from remaining a very popular choice for pilots in the commercial sector – or consumers simply wanting the best they can get, for that matter.
Back then the Phantom 2 was serving the needs of the growing crop of aerial photographers, with the Phantom 3 also pushing that ‘prosumer’ divide. But the Inspire remained an aspirational plaything to many, as to fly it was a lot like moving from standard definition to HD television. You might not have needed it at the time, but once you’d tried it, going back just felt like you were cheapening the whole experience.
It was (and still is) beautiful to fly, delivered high-quality results and firmly established itself as the weapon of choice for those serious about the many professional applications on offer with the Inspire, but not quite willing to spend something in the region of £50k on a top-end flying platform. However, as mentioned, two years is a long time in the drone world and, while the Inspire isn’t exactly showing its age, the Phantom 4 has since rocked up offering more than comparable specs – with the addition of obstacle avoidance technology and further intelligent flight modes and improved redundancy. This was followed by the Mavic Pro doing likewise in an amazingly compact pocket-sized bundle, and both can cater for most consumer needs, while also offering a tempting support tool or companion drone for wider commercial markets.
For DJI to keep its professional clients at the top of their game, it was time for a change, and so it was no surprise when one of the 2016’s worst-kept secrets, the Inspire 2, was announced last November. However, while you may have grown used to something of a steady evolution within a given range (such as the Pro and RAW versions of the Inspire 1), with incremental upgrades adding one or two new steps of progress; the Inspire 2 is almost revolutionary. It’s not exactly reinventing the wheel, but it is certainly opening up a much greater field of opportunity for personal and, more predominantly, professional flying.
Inspire 1 vs Inspire 2: Key Specs
*Note: Info relates to the original Inspire. Subsequent versions may vary.
|DJI Inspire 1||DJI Inspire 2|
|Size||44 x 30 x 45cm||42.7 x 31.7 x 24.5cm|
|Weight (inc Battery)||2,935g||3,920g|
|Battery||4,500mAh LiPo||Dual System 4,280mAh LiPo|
|Flight Time||18 mins||27 mins|
|Range||3.1m (5km)||4.3m (7km)|
|Top Speed||49mph||58mph (restricted for safety)|
|Max Take-off Weight||3.4kg||4kg|
|Camera||X3 equipped (X5 compatible)||X4S and X5S compatible (not suppiled)|
|Video||4K @ 30fps / 1080p @ 60fps||5.2K @ 30fps (X5S only) / 4K @ 60fps / 1080p @ 60fps|
|Photo||12.4MP||20.8MP (X5S) / 20MP (X4S)|
Lights, Flying Camera, Action!
At launch, the Inspire 2 was billed as being fit for Hollywood’s finest, with much of DJI’s focus pointing it towards the film and TV industry. It is certainly equipped to do just that, with a range of specs and features that lends itself perfectly to high-quality aerial footage, but that doesn’t mean that other industries can’t benefit just as much from a system that boasts such impressive technologies, and yet still comes in a case you can stash in the boot of your car. And, despite the £3,059 price tag, it still comes in some way under the more professionally-oriented high-end flying rigs on the market.
In simple terms, the Inspire 2 offers up far more data than its predecessor – and most of its other siblings – and data translates to information; whether that’s just through glorious high-resolution images or crystal clear HD video for a client, or via pixel-perfect information for your mapping, surveying or inspection needs. Even if you’re happy with an Inspire 1, the sequel is most definitely raising the bar in terms of delivering big results from a relatively small package.
Key to this is your choice of camera. Admittedly, the Inspire 1 has one advantage here, in that it came bundled with the Zenmuse X3 (with the later X5 an optional extra), whereas you’ll have to add your choice of weapon onto the base price tag of the Inspire 2 – but whether you opt for the new X4S (£679) or the X5S (1,969), then you’ll be getting something well worth the money.
It would be tough on the X4S to call it the ‘lesser’ solution, seeing as it comes with a 1-inch sensor (compared to the X3’s 1/2.3-inch – the same as the Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro) and a rolling leaf shutter to further eliminate judder during your shots with speeds up to 1/2000 sec. It can deliver 20MP stills with 11.8 stops of dynamic range (for even smoother contrasts) plus video up to 4K at 60fps. For a lot of people either side of that ‘prosumer’ divide, this may be more than good enough. For everyone else, there’s the X5S.
The X5S is an uprated Micro Four-Thirds camera that improves upon the X5R that has served so many, so well. Perhaps most eye-catching is the 5.2K video at up to 30fps, along with 4K at 60fps. It ups the size of the stills to 20.8MP, with a dynamic range of 12.8 stops and also provides the option for a choice of eight further lenses (9-45mm) to tailor your needs even more precisely. It’s the kind of tech that some people can live without, but if quality counts and you can afford it (or, rather, can justify the need for it!), then you should most definitely want it.
The Inspire 2 as a whole is equipped with a new CineCore 2.0 image processing system to support your work, which is, crucially, compatible with DNG RAW files as well as the usual JPEG options (with the X5R in particular fully compatible with AdobeCinema DNG and Apple ProRes). Recording to the MicroSD card or direct to DJIs CineSSD station, you’ve got video compression at H.264 and H.265, and if you’re more into live broadcasts or online streaming then you’ve got 1080i50 / 720p60 ready to go with the right groundstation (or satellite truck) in place.
Even if the numbers don’t mean a great to you, it’s the kind of set-up that could almost be treading on the toes of DJI’s own Matrice 600 in terms of offering a commercial cinematography solution – although that aerial platform does offer greater flexibility for the more discerning user, with more options to rebuild the craft for more specific requirements. But if you want something that can get professional-quality video and photos straight out of the box, then the Inspire 2 can have few rivals under the £5k barrier.
Better by Design
It’s not just the cameras that are an improvement with the Inspire 2. Barring the basic design itself, almost everything else has changed since the original – including the colour, with white seemingly considered more ‘toy-like’ by professionals and so the sleeker black and grey paint job (as seen on the Inspire 1 Pro) comes into effect. Also out is the use of plastic components, with a combination of magnesium-aluminium alloy and carbon fibre keeping the Inspire 2 fairly light, but also considerably tougher than previous models.
Though, of course, if you were prone to giving your Inspire 1 the odd dink, then all of the obstacle avoidance tech – and then some – from the Phantom 4 is on offer here, with similar front-mounted ‘stereo vision’ sensors looking out in front of the craft and down-facing cameras keeping an eye on the ground (with the vision/sonar positioning tech first seen on the original Inspire). These also combine for a new ‘Narrow Sensing’ awareness, designed to let the Inspire 2 squeeze carefully through tight gaps, which can be useful if you’re working in tunnels or filming a mountain bike cutting a path through some trees.
On top of this, almost literally, are the new infrared sensors facing up from the craft, giving you an extra set of eyes looking out above you – something which could prove useful on a cramped film set, for example, or if you’re planning on flying indoors or around a construction site with lots of over-hanging dangers. It’s not quite the full 360-degree coverage, but it’s as close as it gets for now – and with the sensors constantly scanning the environment within a 30m radius, you effectively have a 3D shield capable of stopping the Inspire 2 crashing into most objects at speeds of up to 34mph.
As you may have come to expect from a DJI model, the Inspire 2 is a good learner as well, with the Smart RTH feature that is able to detect objects up to 200m in front of it and constantly recalculate the most efficient route home each time you press the button. And surely as the tech gets better (and the inevitable upgrades roll around), the Inspire 2 is only going to become even more secure craft – not that you should be relying on the obstacle avoidance system to keep you out of trouble, but it’s good to know that if you’ve got one eye on your camera feed while you’re panning around a building for a quick site inspection, then the Inspire 2 is keeping another eye on those nearby trees for you!
It’s not just the obstacle avoidance that offers more of a safety net, either. The intelligent dual battery system also provides added redundancy; in that if one fails (and that in itself is unlikely) then the other can pick up the slack until you either land immediately or bring the craft home safely. This twin-system also means you can ‘hot-swap’ batteries on the move, meaning you don’t have to power down the Inspire 2 and lose valuable time if you’re working against the clock (or fading light).
There are also further improvements for added reliability, such as a dual barometer and IMU systems, along with improved satellite navigation modes and ESCs to ensure even more stable flights. And if you’re flying in cold weather, something all the more pertinent in these winter months or if you’re working in more extreme environments, the batteries are self-heating, taking the working temperature down as low as -20°c (-4°f) – with the added option of special props for high-altitude work if you find yourself mapping mountains or shooting expeditions up at 16,400ft.
The Inspire 2 is also a nippy little mover, should you find yourself needing to keep up with a fast-moving vehicle, or just simply want to push its limits for the sheer joy of flying. The top speed was pushed out to 67mph on launch, but this has since been reigned in to a slightly more restrained 58mph for safety reasons. However, that’s still a sight quicker than the original Inspire (49mph) and with ascending and descending speeds up to 7m/sec and 9m/sec respectively, it’s fair to say that when you need to move quickly, the upgraded Inspire 2 propulsion system has what it takes – with new motors (3512H), new props (1550T) and the ability to go from 0-50mph in four seconds. You might never need to move that fast, but it’s damn cool when you do!
Naturally, the Inspire 2 comes with a wide of intelligent flight modes, many of them making their way across from the Phantom 4 and other craft, such as Tapfly and your ActiveTrack options (with Point of Interest and Waypoint to follow shortly). One new mode is Spotlight Pro, which keeps the camera trained on a single, central person or object while you free-fly around it – kind of like a manual ‘Orbit’ mode, but with the drone still working in your favour, making adjustments to its position or to the camera to keep your target in shot.
If you’re working in fields such as real estate this could prove a particularly handy trick, not to mention the cool creative shots budding filmmakers can get. You’ve also got a Composition Mode for selecting your own pre-set tracking positions before shooting a video or sequence of stills (perfect for pre-planned inspection work), plus a Profile Mode for tracking a moving target from the side (think every car chase, ever).
The control system as a whole is also improved, with the controller itself much the same as the original Inspire but now boasting a range of 4.3m/7km (compared to the previous 3.1m/5km), as well as both 2.4 and 5.8GHz frequencies to help eliminate problems with interference. This can prove especially useful if you operate a dual control system, or possibly more, with the ‘master and slave’ system for hooking up multiple controllers now with an extended range of 328ft.
One very welcome, and somewhat understated addition, is the inclusion of a front-facing, 2-axis, stabilised FPV camera. Not only does this make strapping on a pair of the new DJI Goggles and pushing the Inspire 2 to its high-speed limits all the more exciting from a first-person perspective, but it also gives you more flexibility within a dual control system – enabling one person to keep an eye on what the camera sees while the other focuses purely on where the craft is going. With a Picture-in-Picture mode also on offer to combine the FPV feed with that of your X4S or X5S, you can always keep track of what you need to be paying attention to at any given moment, without losing sight of your drone or the video feed entirely.
As an added extra to the Inspire 2 experience, you might want to consider the new CrystalSky monitor (available across the DJI range). It basically takes on the job of your phone or tablet in providing the visual interface for the controller but with an HD screen (with 5.5” and 7.8” options), an HDMI output for added connectivity and an ultra-bright display that counters the typical glare from sunlight. Plus it comes with the DJI Go app built-in – which not only saves on your phone’s battery and availability to play Candy Crush while you fly, but it also reduces the latency between the device and your camera feed.
There’s no doubting that the Inspire 2 is a very impressive piece of work. It doesn’t exactly make the Inspire 1 look obsolete, but it certainly highlights just how far things have come in the past two years. There’s barely a screw, wire or component that isn’t an improvement on the original and to be dazzled by the technology and wealth of creative and professional options crammed into something you can carry around in a backpack is about as easy as saying ‘I want one’.
And while DJI may be pushing hard to establish itself as a major player in the film and broadcast industries, the Inspire 2 is just as much a very welcome step forwards for those working in a huge variety of commercial enterprises – pretty much anything where high-quality photography and video feeds into a data pool where precision imagery and more visual information leads to better results and happier clients.
Be it for monitoring a building site, surveying a landscape for a conservation project or just getting some awesome shots for your aerial gallery, the Inspire 2 should prove a brilliant tool for just about any commercial (or personal) enterprise – and no doubt many more on-location uses that we’ve barely even considered. The Inspire 1 will always be one of the best and industry-defining drones of its generation; but the best just got a whole lot better.
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