Hands-on Review: DJI M30 Series For Inspection

Hands-on Review: DJI M30 Series For Inspection

Hands-on review of the DJI M30 Series by global construction and engineering firm Jacobs. Sample data sets, including high-resolution zoom imagery of powerlines, show the capabilities of the M30T for inspection missions. The drone coped with wind and rain and is described as a great all-rounder for inspection workflows.

Last updated: Jul 08, 2022
Published on: Jun 10, 2022

10 minute read

DJI M30T hands-on review

  • Hands-on review of the DJI M30T, supplied by heliguy™ and conducted by global construction and engineering firm Jacobs;  
  • Sample data sets, including high-resolution zoom imagery of powerlines, show the capabilities of the M30T for inspection missions;
  • M30T performed 'impeccably' in inclement conditions, handling rain and gusts of wind of more than 20mph; 
  • The drone's controller - the new DJI RC Plus - is praised for its larger and brighter screen and functional buttons;
  • Jacobs chief drone pilot, Paul Lindup, says the M30 Series could become a 'key drone' for inspection workflows; 
  • Paul describes the M30T as a 'great all-rounder', believing its blend of power, performance, portability and price makes it a stronger overall solution compared to the DJI M300 RTK.  

This video shows the quality of the zoom on the DJI M30 Series, highlighting its capabilities for visual inspections.

 

 

With the drone positioned 35 metres away from the pylon, the footage provides clear up-close data to enable thorough condition-based checks from afar - saving time and money and improving safety compared to manual methods. 

For context, the image below shows the distance between the drone and the electricity tower (left), and the crisp view of the insulator obtained by the M30T's sensor at 60x digital zoom (right).

 

 

The M30T also has a radiometric thermal sensor which can be used to inspect utilities by detecting heat anomalies. The image below - also captured from 35 metres - shows the powerline in the white hot palette. More thermal results will be shown/discussed later in this blog. 

 

M30T thermal data

 

The data was collected by Paul Lindup, Chief UAV Pilot and Aerial Survey Lead for engineering and construction firm, Jacobs, during a trial of an M30T demo unit provided by heliguy™.

He said: "I am really impressed with the DJI M30T and I can see it becoming a key drone for our inspection workflows."  

Aside from the M30T's suitability for inspection, Paul said that it performed impeccably during wet and windy conditions, he praised the new DJI RC Plus controller, and described the drone as a great all-rounder, blending power, performance, portability and price. 

DJI M30 Series: Camera

The DJI M30 Series has a fixed payload which is similar to the M300 RTK's H20 camera series in terms of its specs, sensor types and appearance - albeit in a smaller, more compact form.

You can see how these payloads compare in our detailed M30 Series vs M300 RTK comparison blog.

The M30 has a wide-angle, zoom and laser rangefinder, while the M30T also includes the thermal sensor. The key features are outlined in the table below:

 

Wide Zoom Laser Rangefinder Thermal (M20T only)

Equivalent Focal Length: 24 mm, DFOV: 84°

12 MP 1/2'' CMOS Sensor

Video Resolution: 4K/30fps

48 MP 1/2'' CMOS Sensor

5x-16x Optical Zoom

200x Max. Hybrid Zoom

Photo Resolution: 8K

Video Resolution: 4K/30fps

Range: 3 m - 1200 m

Accuracy: ±(0.2m+D×0.15%)

Radiometric sensor

Equivalent Focal Length: 40 mm

Resolution: 640 x 512 (normal mode). Infrared Image Super-resolution Mode: 1280 x 1024

Frame Rate: 30fps

Measurement Accuracy: ±2°C or ±2%

 

So, how do the payload specifications play out in the real world?

Visual Inspection

On the visual front, the M30T performs well for inspection - as Jacobs' sample data sets show.

For example, take this series of images which home in on a series of bolts on the pylon, highlighted below via the orange circle. The first image is from 35m away, at 2x optical zoom... 

 

 

...then at 40x times...

 

 

...and then finally at 60x zoom.

 

 

This last image enables inspectors to identify tiny parts of the structure from afar and conduct visual spot-checks and analysis.   

The capabilities of the M30T's zoom is further endorsed by this next set of images, showing its ability to pick out a tiny screw which is essentially invisible from 35 metres away at 2x optical zoom...

 

 

...but becomes highly visible thanks to the camera's 100x zoom. 

 

 

Admittedly, in this example, things start to get a bit blurry at this level of zoom, but it still provides enough detail to enable a visual check and look for defects - which is especially impressive considering the size of the screw and its distance from the drone.

And the image quality provided by the M30T does improve when looking at larger parts of the pylon and with slightly less zoom engaged.

For instance, this image, captured using 60x digital zoom, is extremely clear. 

 

 

And remember, this is what it looks like from the drone - at 35 metres away - without zoom.

 

 

Crucially, the quality of the 60x zoom image holds up when scrolling in on it - as these next two visuals show.

 

 

 

This means that inspectors can really study an image in minute detail to conduct extremely thorough checks and collect accurate, repeatable and data-rich insights.

And this method of condition-based inspection is quicker and safer than manual methods involving rope access, and more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly than inspection by helicopter. The drone also enables the inspection to be conducted without shutting down the network.

Paul said: "The zoom is great for inspecting assets, such as infrastructure and utilities. While there is some blur in some of the imagery, the zoom is more than good enough to provide enough information to identify parts of an asset for visual inspection. And personally, I feel like in these scenarios, the quality of the zoom is as good as the H20 on the M300 RTK." 

The quality is particularly impressive considering the smaller size of the zoom sensor on the M30 Series (1/2" CMOS sensor) compared to that on the H20 series (1/1.7" CMOS) for the M300 RTK.

And interestingly, the M30 Series' zoom camera holds up at distances further than 35m.  

For instance, in the below example, the drone was positioned 225 metres from this church...

 

 

...but establishes this level of clarity at 80x zoom, making details such as the detailing of the brickwork, condition of the roof, and even the Mini car in the background, visible.

 

 

DJI M30 Series: Thermal Camera

The DJI M30T features a thermal sensor, providing additional versatility.

Testing the thermal on the M30T, Paul captured the following data, flying at 60m and using the drone's zoom capabilities...

 

 

 

Paul said: "I found that the thermal worked rather well. I was reasonably close to the transformer. I flew at around 60 metres from the asset and then tried the zoom: It's obviously not pretty but allowed me to be able to see that it is giving off a lot of heat." 

DJI M30 Series: New Controller

Accompanying the M30 Series is the new DJI RC Plus remote controller.

This impressive RC - which is set to have future compatibility with the DJI M300 RTK - is DJI's first weatherproof remote (IP54 rated) and has a built-in seven-inch high-bright screen - larger than that on the Smart Controller Enterprise.

 

The DJI RC Plus remote controller for the DJI M30 Series.

 

The DJI RC Plus also includes more physical buttons than ever before, allowing pilots to build muscle memory, quickly access important flight features, and take advantage of a more seamless flight experience. For instance, six new buttons have been added and mapped to specific functions according to which camera view is being used.

Paul said: "I love the new controller. The screen is of good quality on sunny days, and the screen size is highly effective.

"I also like the amount of functional fast buttons that can be reached easily."

Paul did add that he hopes that anchor points will be released to enable a round-the-neck harness. 

DJI M30 Series: The weather-proof drone

The M30 Series is DJI's most weatherproof drone to date. While the IP55 rating is not a complete waterproofing, it does provide sufficient protection to operate in wet conditions.

The rugged M30 Series can also operate in temperatures ranging from -20° to 50°C and has a wind speed resistance of 15 m/s (33.5 mph) during flight.

During the tests, the drone encountered downpours and gusts of wind in the mid 20s, but the aircraft and remote controller handled the conditions 'impeccably'.

 

 

Paul said: "I started to fly it in light rain, but this turned to a downpour. I actually gave in before the aircraft did.

"But it behaved impeccably in the rain. I was surprised that it did not pick up water on the aircraft's active sensors, nor did it keep stopping in the sky like some aircraft do in the rain. Also the controller was faultless in the rain: The screen continued to work well and the controls were unaffected by the wet weather."

He said that the conditions did impact the drone's battery life, pushing it below the aircraft's maximum flight time of 41 minutes (in optimal conditions), as quoted by DJI.

 

The DJI M30 Series.

 

"During my flight in the rain, I was operational for 15 minutes and had 58% left in the batteries, so I would say that I could have flown for around 30 minutes in these conditions," he said.

Reflecting on one of his flights in the wind, he said: "I had 10mph winds and was able to fly for 25 minutes with 45% left in the batteries, so not quite 41 minutes.

"However, I like to set my battery warnings to 20 and 30% and tend to opt for caution in these scenarios, so I would say a good 30-35 minutes would be achievable." 

Before one of his flight tests, Paul had a small niggle with the batteries, which seemed to drain relatively quickly following charge, but prior to use.

He said: "I had charged them only four days prior to one of my flights and when I went to use them on a test flight they were at 42% and 44%. Based on this evidence, if these are live batteries they will need charging regularly for emergency flights but for pre-planned inspection work the night before would be best for optimal performance.

“I would add that the M30 does seem to use a lot of juice to climb out and is noisy in comparison to the larger and smaller aircraft so I do wonder if 41 minutes is possible."

 

 

DJI M30 Series: Portability

One of the biggest advantages of the DJI M30 Series is its size and portability. Essentially a hybrid of DJI's most sophisticated enterprise drones, the M30 takes the performance and power of the M300 RTK but packs it into a compact and foldable frame more akin to the Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced.

The size differences between the three drones is demonstrated by the table below.

 

M30 Series M300 RTK M2EA
Dimensions (L x W x H)

Unfolded, propellers excluded: 470 x 585 x 215 mm.

Folded: 365 x 215 x 195 mm

Unfolded, propellers excluded: 810 x 670 x 430 mm

Folded: 430 x 420 x 430 mm

Unfolded: 322 x 242 x 84mm 

Folded: 214 x 91 x 84mm

Weight 3.77 kg (with two batteries and integrated payload, but no accessories) Approx. 6.3 kg (with two batteries, and single downward gimbal)  909 g (with one battery and integrated payload, but no accessories)

 

For Paul, the M30 strikes the perfect balance of power, performance and portability.

He said: "This is where the size difference and the fact it is so quick to deploy makes this as go to as the Mavic range but with a much better sensor system, on par with the M300 RTK. The size of the case, even with two sets of batteries, is extremely compact and very user friendly, unlike the huge M300 range."

DJI M30 Series Hands-on Review: Summary

Overall, Paul was impressed with the DJI M30 Series.

"I love it," he said. "It is a very impressive aircraft and for me, the camera is as good as the H20 series on the M300 RTK for inspection missions."

Paul said he would like to see additional payloads released for the drone, such as a mapping sensor equivalent to the P1 photogrammetry camera for the M300 RTK - which remains DJI's most powerful survey drone and is currently more versatile than the M30 Series.  

But in his view, the M30 ticks a lot of boxes and is a stellar addition to the drone inspection market - especially for its price point which makes it more cost-effective than an M300 RTK-H20T set-up.

Comparing it to the M300 RTK, he gave this analogy: "Volvo makes an XC90 and an XC60. One is bigger than the other and more expensive but actually the little brother is better because every little bit has been thought about and made better."

To discuss the M30 Series and to find out more about adding it to your drone programme, contact heliguy™.

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About Jacobs

Jacobs UK Ltd utilises UAS all around the UK. It has a team of 9 remote pilots operating 17 aircraft, which is a mix of multi-copter and fixed wing aircraft. Jacobs UK Ltd mainly captures mapping data for projects, however are more regularly capturing data for inspection work and even media type projects. The company's fleet of aircraft allows it to be able to capture data and adapt to its clients' needs.


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