Following the wildly successful Phantom Quadcopter series, DJI has taken its first shot at the professional photographer/cinematographer market with the Inspire 1. Its sleek shape and impressive stats will initially attract your attention, but it’s the flying characteristics that will truly wow you.
Before you read on, I humbly ask that if you are new to flying, please do some research on the do’s and don’ts of radio control flying. There has been a rash of individuals making RC flying look bad in the press, so please don’t contribute to this problem. Learn the basics and fly safe!
- GPS-enabled flight, allowing for a smooth and easy flying experience
- 4k video and 12-megapixel photos
- Camera is upgradeable
- 360-degree obstruction-free camera movement
- HD Live feed to a tablet or smartphone
- Capable of two-controller operations
- One to operate the Quadcopter (pilot)
- One to operate the camera
- Full-feature and easy-to-use mobile application
|Burst shooting: 3/5/7 frames|
|Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB): 3/5 bracketed frames at 0.7EV Bias|
|Max Image Size 4000 x 3000 pixels|
|Video Recording Modes||UHD (4K): 4096x2160p24/25, 3840x2160p24/25/30|
|Supported File Formats||FAT32/exFAT|
|Photo: JPEG, DNG (RAW files)|
|Video: MP4/MOV (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264)|
|Max Flight Time||Approximately 18 minutes|
|Hovering Accuracy||Vertical: 0.5 m|
|Horizontal: 2.5 m|
|Max Ascent Speed||5 m/s|
|Max Descent Speed||4 m/s (very fast in the industry)|
|Max Speed||22 m/s|
|Max Wind Speed Resistance||10 m/s|
|Operating Temperature Range||10° to 40° C|
|Dimensions||438 x 451 x 301 mm|
When it comes to aesthetics and design, it is clear that DJI wanted the Inspire to stand out in a major way. DJI decided to move away from the Phantom’s symmetrical design and instead chose a sleek sport car look. The outer shell of the Inspire 1 is made of a hard plastic, while the inner components are either plastic or carbon fiber to reduce weight. When handling the quadcopter, it feels well-constructed; every component has an intended place, but with its minimalistic skeletal design, you probably don’t want to test its crash durability. That sort of treatment is something more suited to entry-level Phantom devices. It’s definitely a sleek-looking machine, but this makes it hard to pick up with one hand and carrying it long distances outside of its case can be awkward or inconvenient.
The radio controller (transmitter) construction is excellent and definitely feels like quality construction with its combination of aluminum and polymer elements. When using the transmitter, I never got the sense that I needed to upgrade to a better controller. Both control sticks move smoothly and self-center. You can easily make precise motions when flying the quadcopter or when controlling the camera. Most of the buttons are placed on top, allowing you to keep your thumbs on the control sticks. Most of the most important functions for flying the craft or controlling the camera can be done without taking your hands off the controller to use the DJI application.
Lastly, the semi-hard case that the Inspire 1 comes with is a welcome bonus. It can definitely hold up to occasional use, but if the Inspire 1 is going to be used on a daily basis, I think upgrading to a hard case that will survive daily use is a wise choice.
Assembly and Adjustments
One of the main reasons why people buy DJI equipment is because a majority of their equipment is ready to fly (RTF) right out of the box. The only assembly necessary is installing the camera onto the Inspire 1. This is a very simple process and can be done in minutes.
After flying multiple DJI Inspire 1’s, I have found no need to make any flight tuning adjustments. There are options to tune the Inspire 1, but I would not recommend this to novices. If you buy the two radio controller version, your camera operator might want to fine-tune the camera movements to their taste.
Now that I have sung the praises of the Inspire 1 design, here are some of the things that I don’t like.
- First and foremost, the LED color lights are backwards. DJI uses red for the front and green for the back. Anyone with a driver’s license knows that this is just wrong! Red and green are traditionally used to mark the port (left) and starboard (right) of vessels, including planes, boats, barges, etc.
- The firmware upgrade procedure is far from intuitive. Everything else on the Inspire is easy to adjust and fine tune, so it really stands out when you have to go through this painful process.
- One improvement I would like to see is making the motor/landing legs detachable. This would make the UAV much more compact for travel and further increase modularity for easy repair and upgrades.
How a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) flies is by far one of the most important aspects to understand before deciding to spend money on a new machine. The Inspire 1 uses a 6s (six-cell) battery to power its four 34mm motors. Combine this with crisp controls and highly accurate GPS and you have a UAV that can execute “turn on a dime” maneuvers, yet still be extremely stable. People new to aerial multi-rotors will be amazed at how easy it is to fly. Veterans of multi-rotor flying will enjoy the crisp controls and fast acceleration. The only annoyance that I found was when you let the transmitter sticks self-center, the flight controller has a very aggressive self-braking feature. Experienced fliers will find it a little disconcerting, as it feels like they lose control for a fraction of a second.
Having flown the Inspire 1 in all sorts of wind conditions, I can say with confidence that it can handle any reasonable wind conditions under 10 meters per second. Anything above that, and you may see the Inspire get carried away by the wind, which is preferable to having it drop out of the sky.
I’m also happy to report that the boot-up time and GPS acquisition is very quick. Moving around from shot to shot is a breeze. The Phantom Quadcopter series can take up to 5 minutes to acquire the proper amount of satellites (6+) before taking off. The Inspire 1 can usually do this in under 30 seconds.
DJI also touts that the Inspire 1 can fly indoors with its Vision Positioning System. Using a camera that recognizes patterns on the floor and a sonar system to measure distance, the system will be able to stay in one position without the aid of GPS. Personally, however, I have found the system to be marginally useful at best. The system does not work very far off the ground, and in most cases, any operations above 8 feet will cause the Quadcopter to start losing accuracy. You will also need plenty of lighting for the camera to recognize patterns on the floor. If the floor does not have patterns, the system will not work at all. The concept of indoor flying is a really good idea, but it seems like this particulat technology still needs time to mature.
When flying outside, the sonar can also help when flying low to the ground. For example, if you are floating 4 feet above the ground, but decide to pilot the Inspire down a hill, the Inspire will actually maintain that 4-foot height. It’s a bit scary at first, but once you get used to trusting the system to maintain that height, you can get some amazing video over uneven terrain. One word of warning concerning this: There have been reports that the system can get confused over water. I personally have not tried flying low over water, but if you need to, keep this in mind.
Ground Station and Controller
Even if you’re new to aerial flying, you’ve probably heard the term “ground station”. It basically means data being transmitted down from the UAV to a device on the ground. This could be a live video feed or telemetry data about the aircraft. For the Inspire 1, the ground station is built into the radio controller and you can interact with that information via the DJI Pilot Application running on your tablet/smartphone; iPhone and Android devices are supported. There is also the option to send the video feed to a larger display via a standard mini-HDMI to HDMI cable (not included).
If you intend to invest in a two-controller Inspire 1, the UAV operator (pilot) will enjoy using the real-time map on the tablet/smartphone to help better understand exactly where the Inspire 1 is at all times. Line of sight is extremely important, but it becomes difficult to gauge distance and your location in relation to obstacles. With the map pinpointing where the Inspire is at all times, you can have a more complete picture, which makes it safer to operate.
The camera operator will enjoy a reliable HD (720p) video feed from the camera down to a tablet/smartphone. In our experience, a 7-inch display gives you the best size, weight and image combination. There are dedicated buttons on the radio controller for taking pictures and recording video. There are also two wheels that will adjust the pitch of the camera (looking up and down) and the EV value (exposure of the image). Lastly, there are two programmable buttons on the back of the radio controller if you want to assign them a function. One of the most useful functions to assign is resetting the camera to face forward.
The radio controller design is elegant and functional, but it does have one major downside that is crucial for professionals that count on this equipment being ready at all times. The batteries are not replaceable and recharging them takes hours. If you intend to do a day-long flying session, you will have to be charging the controllers (and most likely your tablet/smartphone) at every available opportunity. I have found that on a full charge, the radio controller can reliably last for half a day.
The Inspire 1 camera system is one of the best on the market for its price point and size. The gimbal system eliminates all the jitters and jello of those perfect shots. It’s quite amazing how smooth the video is. The quality is definitely good enough for Internet and television applications. All of the data is also saved to a mini SD card, so you won’t need to worry about running out of space.
Having said that, you should accurately set your expectations: the images and video quality can compete with entry-level professional DSLR cameras. There are always tradeoffs between size, weight, and the quality of images/photos. In order to keep the weight and size down, the only way to change the dynamic range of the camera is to use lens filters.
If image and video quality is supremely important to your work, I would highly recommend getting access to the raw images or footage before buying it