The announcement of the newDJI Zenmuse X5
cameras signals a major breakthrough for commercial drone operators. Not only do the Micro Four Thirds cameras offer improved quality and interchangeable lenses on such a relatively small platform, they can also take advantage of the versatile DJI GO app for accurate camera and drone control.
There certainly was a flurry of excitement when the two new cameras were revealed but, now the dust has begun to settle, which camera will be best for you?
DJI Inspire 1 Pro
The good news is that if you already own an Inspire 1 you can just buy a camera, although you will need to buy a separate vibration absorbing board
which also comes with small, landing leg extensions to accommodate the larger camera. You can also buy different Inspire and X5/X5R camera packages with one or two controllers. The X5 comes in a single controller Pro bundle
, while the X5R, designed for two man, professional use, comes in a two remote RAW package.
You can also buy items individually if you need to.
The vibration absorbing board for connecting the X5/X5R to an Inspire 1
The Inspire 1's original X3 camera
was, and still is, great for many people. It takes 12 megapixels stills and shoots Ultra High Definition 4K video. Its sensor is relatively small (1/2.3") and records 4K video at a maximum bit rate of 60 Mbps. Its fixed lens produces a 94 degree field of view from a 20mm lens.
The DJI Inspire 1 Zenmuse X5 camera
The X5 camera
, which is due to be released at the end of September, has the same bit rate of 60 Mbps but has the larger MFT sensor with a third more pixels than the X3 camera has (up from 12 to 16). Apart from capturing more detail the extra pixels make the sensor better in low light. They also mean that the camera has a much wider dynamic range - nearly 13 stops.
The DJI Zenmuse X5 camera and gimbal
The X5 still stores its data on micro SD card and the maximum size hasn't been increased from 64GB. However, if you want to handle bigger files, you'll have to wait until the end of the year for the X5R.
X5R for RAW
The X5R has almost the same spec as the X5 but it is capable of saving lossless 4K RAW video, which makes it great for serious, professional use where big videos files are needed to get get the best out of the pictures in post production. Filmmakers can pull detail out of the shadows and tone down highlights as well as adjust the look of the pictures to suit their needs. To handle this amount of data the X5R has a bit rate of 1.7 Gbps (maximum 2.4 Gbps). It also has a removable 512GB solid state hard drive which slots into the gimbal base. But it also still has a micro SD slot, which can simultaneously record smaller, proxy files.
The DJI Zenmuse X5R with removable SSD
DJI has also announced DJI Cinelight - a software package for handling the RAW files from the X5R. It'll handle exporting and editing, exposure settings, white balance and hue, tone curve, denoise and sharpening, colour LUT and D-LOG.
The big difference for both cameras is in the lens or lenses. The breakthrough on the X5 and X5R is that aerial camera operators can now choose from an initial list of 3 or 4 prime lenses, depending on who you listen to. On the Inspire 1 Pro kit, DJI supply their own 15mm f/1.7 ASPH lens
, which has a field of view of 72 degrees. The MFT sensor has a crop factor of X2 so the 15mm lens behaves like a 30mm on a full frame DSLR.
DJI MFT 15mm,F1.7 Prime Lens
The X5 can be bought on its own as a gimbal and camera body
or complete with the DJI lens
. The DJI lens
can also be purchased separately.
DJI have made the camera/gimbal combination capable of handling other lenses. Communication between the lens and the mount tells the gimbal to adjust the action of the brushless motors to compensate. DJI also specify a special lens hood for some of the lenses in order to achieve balance.
On their website DJI recommend two other lenses - the Olympus M.Zuiko ED Digital 12mm F/2.0 and the Panasonic Lumix 15mm G Leica DG Summilux F/1.7 ASPH. At Interdrone in Las Vegas, DJI's Eric Cheng revealed another Olympus lens with a narrower field of view than the others - the 17mm F/1.8 with a 66 degree field of view or a full frame equivalent of 34mm. The Olympus 12mm is the same lens DJI specify for the Panansonic Lumix GH4 camera on their Zenmuse gimbals for the S900 and S1000 heavy-lift drones. It's equivalent to a 24mm lens with an 84 degree field of view. The Panasonic 15mm lens is the equivalent of a 30mm with 72 degree field of view - that's the same as the DJI lens.
The DJI GO app has extra features when connected to the new cameras. Focus and aperture can be controlled from your tablet or smartphone. There's even a touch screen auto-focus facility. Tap the screen where you want to focus and the app will adjust the focus on the camera.
For the really serious professional DJI have also unveiled DJI Focus - a remote follow focus controller which can be cabled into the Inspire's remote controller and use the Lightbridge signal to control the lens. The built in wireless on the Focus has a range of up to 100 metres, which is great because it also works with DJI's hand held stabilisers - the Ronin and Ronin-M. You will need a DJI receiver and motor to connect to the camera.
DJI Focus follow focus remote
So choosing between the X5 and the X5R could be a tricky decision for you. One of our customers put a deposit down on a single controller Inspire with an X5 very soon after the announcement but then decided he'd be better off waiting for the X5R with its higher bitrate, RAW capability and a second controller in the bundle.
Another client paid a deposit on a RAW package because he was prepared to wait but then decided that he only needed one controller and the output of the X5 camera would be fine for his needs.
This major upgrade in camera capability on the Inspire 1 could even leave you wondering if going for a DJI S900 with a Panasonic GH4 is worth the extra investment but that's the subject for another blog.