Does DJI’s New Drone Hit the Target Market?

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Does DJI’s New Drone Hit the Target Market?

[UPDATE 9/10/2015 – See update in comments]

 

I think it’s futuristic – the drone that is.  The camera, on the other hand, is another story.

The drone

For a guy like me who not only follows the commercial market for drones but is also an avid photography and multirotor enthusiast, the new DJI Inspire 1 is, well, inspiring. It’s chock full of features I wish I had four years ago when I first started mounting GoPro cameras on quadcopter kits — things like ease of use, a simple interface, controller ergonomics, telemetry, a 3D-axis gimbal, integrated HD video downlink, optical flow for indoor flying (how cool is that!?).

Much has already been written on the Inspire 1 T600 (like here and here) so I won’t repeat it.  The question for this post is: Did DJI hit the mark for the target market?  For that answer, we need to go beyond the drone itself and look at how professional photographers and videographers use drones and cameras.

The market

As a primer, you may want to read what I have already written about this market in Film or Farm: Which is the Bigger Drone Market? and The Democratization of Aerial Photography.

Drone manufacturers understand photographers have longed for inexpensive ways to take aerial images, and DJI heralded the turnkey consumer-level camera drone with its DJI Phantom Vision. Some billed it as a toy. But it didn’t take long for professional photographers to notice its package of features and ease of use. Soon, every camera retailer, from Adorama and Amazon to B&H Foto, carried the Phantom line. Even photography software companies like Adobe tailored offerings to it. Product sales skyrocketed.

Concurrently, drone manufacturers like DJI and FreeFly Systems created larger multirotor airframes, controllers, gimbals, and componentry to satisfy the growing market for high-end aerial photography and cinematography.  On these machines, users can mount their favorite (and heavy) Sony, Canon, and Panasonic DSLR – and even Red Epics. However, these drones do not arrive ready-to-fly (RTF).  They require considerable assembly to get operational.  This left the door open for savvy resellers like Aerial Media Pros, DSLR Pros, and Quadrocopter to do that work and offer high-margin RTF packages.  Besides video and cinematography, these packages are used for the following photo applications:

  • REAL ESTATE – showcase homes, marquee properties, commercial buildings, and structures
  • LEGAL – support forensic investigations, insurance claims, and property assessments
  • CONSTRUCTION – progress reporting for commercial, residential, and civil engineering
  • LAND – landscape architecture, land development, and research

I think DJI correctly assessed the entry level and high-end camera drone markets and recognized the middle was open.  Why not offer a better turnkey package that satisfies the demands of professionals but does not cannibalize their own high-end products?

The camera

For professional photographers and videographers, it’s not about the drone; it’s about the camera. The drone is just an extension of their reach. It’s a camera platform, a flying dolly, a zooming boom, a tripod in the sky.  Mounted on a drone, a camera becomes a tool for better storytelling, and its unique aerial perspective broadens the possibilities for those stories and gives audiences a better sense of an object’s physical space and context to location. As a tool for this kind of storytelling, camera resolution matters.

But herein lies the rub for the Inspire 1 T600.  The drone has very high-end features, but the camera (see specs here) may not satisfy all intended professionals.  Clearly, 4K video meets the needs of a large population of aerial videographers, but 12-megapixel still photos will not meet the needs of aerial photographers involved in supplying images for the applications listed above.  It will if the image is destined only for the web, but not if it’s used in print (think real estate brochures) or detailed investigative work (like construction exploration, legal investigations, and land surveying).

Two factors are unknown about the T600’s camera at this point: the resolving power of the lens and the dynamic range / image noise.  These two issues matter greatly to photography professionals, who will surely scrutinize and vet these over social media.  No doubt comparisons will be made between cameras of all types – including the one on the less expensive Phantom 2 Vision+.  On the surface it looks like DJI may have got the lens right.  Apparently gone is the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ wide-angle distortion that professional photographers and videographers had to correct post production (same problem with GoPro).  Low light sensitivity and noise is TBD.

The upgrade?

It’s hard for me to believe DJI didn’t know that still image resolution didn’t matter for the target market and it’s quite plausible that a better or different camera is coming.  And it should!  I have talked to several existing Phantom owners who are professional photographers and many say they’ll wait to buy one when a better / more versatile camera is available.  As DJI explained at its press launch, the Inspire 1’s gimbal and camera system is “modular and upgradable.”  That’s important if the company wants to keep up with professionals who demand ever better sensor and image processors.  Whatever the reason, it’s paramount that DJI get this right – especially if it wants to provision other commercial markets like GIS where the camera’s still resolution is king.

While the $2,900 price point is set right for a mid-tier turnkey camera drone system, it seems the camera spec is too skinny and the price just high enough to create a barrier for some existing customers, especially those who are professional photographers.

I would love to hear your thoughts.  Feel free to comment or write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

This post also appears in sUAS News ‘Multirotor‘ section.

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10 Comments

  1. Drone Magazine November 17, 2014 at 8:24 AM - Reply

    Price is too high for mass market. But having such a drone makes you someone for your friends.

  2. Colin Snow November 17, 2014 at 10:14 AM - Reply

    Be sure to check out the comments about this subject on DIY Drones: http://diydrones.com/profiles/blogs/does-dji-s-new-drone-hit-the-target-market

  3. Colin Snow November 17, 2014 at 2:01 PM - Reply

    I’ve received many comments by email and here are some posted with permission:

    What a great article and devoid of the ridiculous emotion and DJI (big company) hating that seems to surround these releases. I find it hard to believe that people get angry because a company release an innovative product that is missing something they want or has minor faults. Don’t buy it then… You have to take hard steps sometimes. It’s also reassuring that DJI reposted your article despite your comments about the camera.

    You addressed the markets needs very well, your list is relevant here in UK as anywhere. The one point I would like to make as a photographer and videographer who is just finishing my remote pilot license is that 12 mega pixels is fine for most applications outside the fashion industry. Newspapers, brochures, real estate etc., etc. I frequently print 12 mega pixel prints up to 20×16 with little chance of people being able to tell that its over it recommended print size. For video you only need 8 megapixels for 4k so that’s not an issue. However your point about quality of sensor and dynamic range is relevant. If the camera cannot render blacks and highlights well it inherently will be an issue… Why? Well we like to fly on sunny days and that’s when the contrast is at its highest most challenging.

    I have been building my own drones over past 3 years because I wanted an understanding of what I was flying for safety reasons, now however I’m am ready for something that I pick up in the middle of a wedding, get the shots and put it back in its box. Be able to frame the images properly and even show people what amazing footage I’m getting so they feel happy about the money they paid me. The inspire looks like that product to me.

    I need a product that will look professional to high end clients like estate agents, surveyors, fire service etc. this could be that product.

    It will be interesting to see some more examples of the DNG files, the one I’ve seen so far looked great.

    The price…. Well I would have liked it to be less but when you add up Lightbridge, new FC, camera, amazing looking frame then you could not build one for less.

    Thanks for the article and the links and I will now keep a lookout for your posts and articles.” Andrew, Photographer, UK

    And

    Just read your article “Does DJI’s New Drone Hit the Target Market?“ and couldn’t agree more. I’ve been playing around with this technology for over 5 years now, having started with a German Mikrokopter Okto. I was somewhat impressed with the new Inspire 1 system, but see no reason to spend that much money on something that in all likelihood will deliver still photos that are equal to what a GoPro can deliver. That is to say absolute crap.

    As a still photographer I’d say that they will need to have something that is at the very minimum equal in quality to what a Sony a6000 camera will produce.

    Will see what they will come out with in the future, but for now I see no reason to spend more money! Richard, Photographer, Colorado, USA

    And

    great article, and I think you hit the nail on the head, I use a phantom 2 with camera (gopro) professionally, film+photography, although surveying and 3d modelling is the area I am trying to push ( 15 years a 3d modeller and animator). The gopro its Achilles heal, yet why do manufacturers keep coming out with new frames and gimbals for just such a camera, none of them beat the phantom, for many reasons, portability being the most obvious. I was so looking forward to the inspire launch, I though, yes, mid market product, possible with a sony rx100 mark 3 type camera, that will do me, so let down, hopefully, and it looks likely, like you say, the gimbal/camera is modular, and hopefully they will bring one out that cuts the mustard in still photography and surveying needs.
    many thanks for the article – Alan, Director/3D Artist, UK

    And

    Thanks for your well thought out and written article on the Inspire 1 camera. I do agree the camera results are key, but I disagree that 12 MP is two small for print. I shoot with a Nikon D700 with a 12.4 MP sensor and can use that output for almost any project. And so do a lot of photographers.
    The key is how do they use the pixels they have. I’m not expecting a full 35mm frame sensor performance in the Inspire 1, but will wait and see what the full raw files look like. The fact that I can get a raw file out of the Inspire camera to input into Lightroom is a plus. We’ll see soon enough. – Louis, Photographer

    And

    Just read your piece on sUAS News – Thanks for the commentary.
    I have to agree with you – I am an enthusiast in this space, about to make the plunge in purchase of a UAV to support my training towards a UAV Controller’s certificate.

    I have been doing a lot of trials at work using UAV of various designs in the applications of civil asset inspections, High Voltage asset inspections, mapping / photogrammetry and general photography. This work has had us using UAV in the 5-6 figure price range (Ascending Technologies and Microdrones) with larger scale imaging gear as payload. These are great, but the cost factor is a real inhibitor.

    For my own purposes, I have been weighing up the various pros / cons of platforms that are out there – While there can be great results from the more DIY based products out there, to be honest I was not very keen on having to construct / program / calibrate the craft myself. I am capable of this sort of work, but my interest is in the outputs, not necessarily in the journey itself.

    As you indicate, the real question is the quality of raw output from the camera in terms of stills and video. $5k (in Aus) is a lot to hand over for an unknown quantity – so I will be eagerly looking at samples when it arrives here. I’m also very interested to hear what other sensors DJI or its partners are looking to offer for the platform. It is encouraging to hear that they have opened up an SDK for their flight platforms.

    For my purposes, what would be ideal would be a range of specific use cameras for the Inspire that could be swapped over as easily as a battery change – these would include: 4k Video, Still photo with fixed wide angle lens, Still photo with ‘normal’ lens, Still photo with Medium tele lens, Thermal camera, Infrared Cam?

    I could see a lot of application beyond traditional cine use for such a platform – It would work very well in industrial and commercial applications.

    Meanwhile I’ll get back to my pondering between a S900 or an Inspire 1!

    Thanks again- Frank, Enthusiast, Australia

    And

    Hi. Regarding your article “Does DJI’s New Drone Hit the Target Market?, I think you were spot on with your assessment. I am a professional real estate photographer who entered the realm of aerial photography this past spring using a Phantom 2 Vision+. The photos were so well received I even had a couple of articles written about me—and plenty of business. The only downside was the marginal quality of the photos. It took everything I had in Photoshop to make the photos look acceptable—straightening, removing extreme distortion, noise reduction, saturation, enhancing, etc. The photos worked fine for most applications, but I surely wouldn’t want to enlarge them much.

    What’s most important to me in a quadcopter is a high quality camera (with an Adobe lens profile for fixing distortion), FPV, the ability to control camera functions and shutter from the ground and decent a flying time of at least 25 minutes.

    So when the Inspire was announced, I was very excited thinking they would come out with a 20mg camera with less distortion—and maybe even increase the flying time. Yet they did just the opposite, and I was very disappointed. You are exactly right—DJI doesn’t realize that not everyone wants to shoot video. Out of every 50 inquiries, I get perhaps one or two inquiries asking about video.

    So let’s hope that the Inspire will be able to use a Sony RX100 or Nex-5 in the near future. Until then, I keep scouring the internet looking for a system that fits what I mentioned above. I have my eye on the Thunder Tiger Ghost+. They are coming out with Sony RX100 II/III mount.

    Great article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Larry, Photographer, Illinois

    Thanks guys for your comments.

    I hope the raw images are better than the P2V+ I have never gotten the same kind of results from it like I get from my Sony RX100 II or a6000 (which I put on a CineStar 6 hex) – especially night shots or lighted buildings at dusk. To me the DJI camera on this drone should be at the current spec of the most popular prosumer mirrorless cameras like the Sony a7S and Panasonic GH4.

  4. Jason Schiffner February 24, 2015 at 11:39 PM - Reply

    Many liken DJI Global as the Apple of the consumer drone world. While that may be too high of a compliment I think there are many fair comparisons. I think the Inspire 1 is like the very first iPad. Remember when Steve Jobs first introduced us to it? Everyone wondered, “why do I need a tablet, when I have a smartphone and a computer?” The original iPad was not powerful and had little utility unique to it. Then the market adjusted to the product while the product simultaneously got better. Now the iPad and all tablets are undoubtedly useful devices. Some people say, “I will wait until the Inspire 1 has a better camera.” That’s fair. There are upgrades on the horizon, just like there will be a new iPad out nearly every year. You can wait or start having fun now. Either way, this platform represents the future of aerial photography.

    • Colin Snow February 25, 2015 at 8:56 AM - Reply

      Thanks Jason. Good insights.

  5. Joe Coyle April 24, 2015 at 12:07 PM - Reply

    I own a Phantom 2 Vision + as well as a new Inspire 1. I was hoping the camera on the Inspire would eclipse that on the Vision +. As a professional landscape photographer I hoped the raw (DNG) format and “superior” camera would allow me to print gallery-quality images up to about 16X24 in. I have only taken a few test images with the Inspire (albeit on a breezy day) but I have to say the camera on the Vision + makes better, clearer images than the camera on the Inspire. Of course they require more post to straighten horizons and curved fence lines, but overall, they are superior to images captured with the Inspire. Of particular note is edge and corner sharpness. In this area alone the Vision + runs circles around the Inspire. The video quality is excellent on the Inspire. At this point I think I either got a bad lens (I downloaded several unedited RAW images allegedly taken with an Inspire to evaluate them and these images were superior to unedited images from my Vision +) or the images I downloaded for evaluation were aberrations. One other thing: the images taken with my Inspire have what I consider to be excessive chromatic aberration. Luckily, there is a great tool in Adobe Camera Raw that does a terrific job of removing CA. All in all, I wish I had waited a while before plunking down three grand for the Inspire. Perhaps an upgraded camera aimed more toward the still market is in the wings. Sure hope so.

    • Colin Snow April 26, 2015 at 3:57 PM - Reply

      Thanks for your comments Joe. I’ve done the same comparison and I’m hoping for a better still camera for the Inspire 1 also. My take on that bird here: http://droneanalyst.com/2014/11/16/dji-new-drone-hit-target-market/

      • Joe Coyle May 3, 2015 at 4:00 PM - Reply

        Colin, an update on the Inspire 1 camera. There are many setting and aspect ratios available on this camera. After experimenting with them all (and after cleaning a glob of goomba off the inside of the ND filter, which had escaped my eye) I have finally been able to get acceptable RAW (DNG) images that can be nicely upsampled to 16 in. by 24 in. The far corners are not perfect, but by adding vignette to the final images (which I normally do anyway) and working them in post with Photoshop and a cadre of NIK plug-ins, they are quite acceptable and suitable for gallery display. Also, being new to the whole video thing, I am finding that very nice 8x10s can be printed from individual frames if you shoot in 4K video and export a freeze frame from a video editing program such as Adobe Premier. Again, a little post in a good photo editing program yields very nice images.

        I also notice that the sheer weight of the Inspire keeps it anchored fairly well in breezy conditions. I shot some straight-down mapping images this morning of a neighbor’s property from an altitude of 78 meters with winds gusting to about 15 mph and the images were very sharp, as was some incidental video I shot getting into position. All in all, I’m now very happy with the Inspire. It just takes a little work to find its sweet spots. Hope this is useful.

        • Colin Snow May 3, 2015 at 5:13 PM - Reply

          Thanks Joe for the update! I’m starting to experiment myself and as you point out it is possible to get fairly good results after a bit of post-production processing. I’m still hoping for a better plug and play still camera so the work flow is reduced. Cheers.

  6. Colin Snow September 12, 2015 at 2:10 PM - Reply

    UPDATE: 9/10/2015 – Finally we got the long-await announcement from DJI that brings a new camera option to this platform. Today they announced their new ZENMUSE X5 series of Micro Four Thirds Cameras for the Inspire 1 drone system. The question is, is this really the “game changer” some people are calling it, or will it really make any difference. This writer dissects some of the features and see what this will really do for aerial imaging: http://www.dronecoalition.net/kgarrison/djis-zenmuse-x5-camera-takes-aerial-video-to-new-levels/

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