DJI Inspire 1 Drone | Review

March 09, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

P.S. I hate the term "drone" but it seems to have become the defacto name for anything that flies and has a camera. I'm adding one to my gear bag a little sooner than expected. Actually I've owned the first and second gen Phantoms from DJI in the past which I've used for various weddings and outdoor events. The company has progressed a far way with these quads since then.

The Inspire 1 is a year old now but I've always resisted buying one because of the ridiculous price and also because I couldn't justify it. The lion's share of my work up to now takes place firmly on the ground. If I'm totally honest, I wasn't sure it was a valuable tool to have. I've changed my opinion since though and the reason is pretty simple...the photography industry is still undergoing a major shift and professionals have to adjust. It's now common to be asked for both stills and video even if it's just "Behind The Scenes or (BTS) footage. Clients and collaborators often use these in their social media endeavours. I think aerial video/stills is going to become the new differentiating service to offer so best to start early, get experienced and put yourself in a good position to respond to pending legislation from the government. Since the launch of the Inspire 1, DJI has introduced a new camera/gimbal product called the X5. Of course...they charge accordingly. It's not cheap but a nice option if you have deep pockets and need that extra control. It's an upgrade to a Micro 4/3 sensor which as you know....I'm a huge fan. I'll only part with my Olympus E-M1 when a newer model comes out. The new camera allows for greater manual control for Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO, the exposure triangle. Nice of DJI to design a product with future expansion in mind. I brought it with me to the British Virgin Islands where  have plenty of room to fly. There is a small airport about 15 km away from the villa so I kept my altitude under 200ft. Flying it is easy enough if you have experience with other drones, especially ones from DJI. The Inspire 1 does give you lot extra though such as dual control (pilot and camera operators), heavier payload capability and much more stability as I found out.

It's been windy on Virgin Gorda and as you can see at 00:47 of the sample video. By locking on to multiple GPS sources the aircraft can maintain it's relative position until you command it to move. It remains steady enough to take pretty nice stills if you have a fast enough shutter speed to help out. Even when the sun dips it's capable of delivering smooth video and sharp stills providing the weather conditions cooperate. The wind hasn't dipped below 20 knots since I've been here.

Probably the single most fantastic use for a drone (IMO) is the ability to get a sunset shot nobody on the ground can match. These were shot late into the afternoon when the Sun had dipped below the tree line. Pop the drone up about 100ft and it holds it's position so you can Pitch/Yaw the camera into the desired composition. The small sensor of the camera ensures that pretty much everything is in focus to infinity. Just like a point and shoot compact camera. a Point & Shoot camera, the low light shots over ISO1000 can start to look downright grainy. The X5 camera improves that due to the larger sensor of course. I don't anticipate needing that anytime soon though. ISO 1600 is usable with careful post-processing. Then's it's as simple as pushing the shutter or video record buttons. The remote is well designed for average sized hands. The gimbal, video record and flight mode controls are on the front leftt. The shutter controls and playback function on the right. On top are your flight sticks, power, recall and landing gear controls. At the heart of the controller is the tablet or smartphone. From there you can access all of the aircrafts features. There is an HDMI output for monitoring purposes.

BTW: If you are buying one of these get a newer tablet or Smartphone. The older stuff is too slow to handle the demands of the HD video streaming. DJI was good enough to include a 16GB Micro SD card in the package. Nice fills up fast when you shoot 4K video and DNG (RAW) stills though. I may upgrade it to a 64GB card.

So....brass tacks

The DJI Inspire 1 is a big step up over the Phantom line of Quads. It's definitely a ready to fly aircraft, only requiring a Smartphone or Tablet running iOS or Android operating systems.But...that price. Another ding is the high cost of repair should you crash it. I did that very thing less than a 36 hours before I was scheduled to leave Toronto. The right arm which is made from carbon fibre, cracked when the aircraft hit the ground after connecting with some low branches. Very embarrassing.

DJI requires that you send the whole thing  back to them for service (or an authorized dealer/service party). They don't sell replacement parts and the dealers have a hard time getting replacement parts to keep up with demand. They were talking something north of $1300 for the repair not including shipping and the wait time for return. Not an option when your leaving on a trip with less than 3 days to go. Luckily I found a guy out of Calgary who had a replacement arm complete with wiring. All I had to provide was the motors and other little bits. After some tense wrangling we managed to get the item shipped to Toronto overnight, and my local shop carried out the repair/replacement literally hours before I left.

Big shout out to Todd at Drone Shop Canada for hustling that part out to me, and Frasier at Drones Plus Toronto for owning that rebuild in just a few short hours.

So in short, this aircraft crashes badly and it's rarely a simple matter to fix don't crash it. Think of it as a Ferrari or Maserati...nice to look at, great for serious work and respect it and your abilities.

Battery life...get an extra battery or two. DJI says 18 to 20 minutes but in practice I'm getting closer to 15 minutes but recharges are an hour or so. Your mileage will vary based on wind conditions, operation speed etc. Maintaining it's stability in difficult wind requires a lot of fast corrections every second and can grind the battery down. ATTI mode does a fair bit better because you are in effect in full control. I've stretched battery time to about 20 the expense of an increased heart rate. One evening I switched into ATTI mode and slapped a mosquito dining on my arm. I look up and the aircraft is halfway across the property, carried away by strong wind gusts. It can happen that fast. The remote battery last forever...I've charged it twice in a week.

Travelling with the Inspire 1

It comes with a case (Suitcase) but it's not small enough to carry on. It will survive being checked but some airlines just aren't that careful as I discovered with Delta. The case dented with no apparent damage to the aircraft. I'll have to take a closer look when time permits. I'm looking in a custom Pelican case or backpack. LiPo batteries can't be checked, remove them from the case along with the remote and put them in your carry-on bag.

Version 1, 2, 3 Make sure you get one with either variations of the quick release props. The older screw-on type can come loose and fly off while in operation. Guaranteed to brick your Inspire 1. Mine came with Ver2 props.

A few other bits to know...

Setup to fly time is longer than the Phantom. Typically 10 minutes to get it out of the case, take it out of Travel Mode and install the props. Then as usual you have to calibrate the Compass, lock on to to a min. number of GPS satellites, set the Homepoint etc.

Guaranteed you will attract a crowd. It's obvious when you look at this thing that it's no ordinary remote control toy. It looks serious and the raised landing gear makes it even more interesting to passing traffic

My Setup

VIDEO: 4K at 30 fps. I use Final Cut Pro X to drop the footage unto a 1080p at 24 fps timeline. Then I slow it down by 20%. I also apply the Optical Flow tool to get things super smooth. I didn't do much color grading on the sample video which was shot in D-LOG.

Stills: DNG format and post-processed in Adobe Lightroom CC.


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