DJI Inspire 2 Review – The Drone that Rivals ARRI Alexa Image Quality?

Many people were thoroughly impressed when the new DJI Inspire 2 drone was announced. And rightfully so, as it features a 5.2K RAW camera, Apple ProRes, obstacle avoidance, redundancy systems and double the flying power of its predecessor – all at a fairly reasonable price.

I spent a week testing the drone in the field and I’ve seen what the camera is capable of after testing it in our lab. In this DJI Inspire 2 review I will show you how the drone performs and what kind of image quality you can expect. Stay tuned for part II of our DJI Inspire 2 review.

If you are interested in our DJI Inspire 2 LUT and Inspire 2 RAW to LOG converter, please see this article.

Please note: I abided by all laws to make this video. Due to concerns of some viewers I would like to point out that flight safety is very important. You should at all times see your drone. My night shots were filmed at dawn and I did not fly above people, buildings or streets for them. I flew slightly next to the highway, not above it, the church shots were filmed from above the yard and not above people and the shot inside the fog has an invisible cut, so I myself was positioned above and below fog for a clear sight of the drone at all times. Determine all risks carefully. Achieving many of these shots is much more work than it might appear.

DJI Inspire 2 Review – The Next Generation

This video review was my most extensive and time-consuming ever, but the more I worked with the DJI Inspire 2, the more I found that there is no way around creating an in-depth hands-on piece which I hope you will enjoy and find useful. As the successor to the Inspire 1, the DJI Inspire 2 really marks the next generation of drone flying for me. I was already impressed with the Inspire 1 RAW, but the 2 is a much more serious cinematography tool as the images it can produce are truly remarkable.

Please note that the YouTube/Vimeo compression, even in 4K is very strong. If you want to see how the actual image quality is in 4K, make sure you download the source file and watch it on a 4K screen before giving your final judgement to the image.

DJI Inspire 2 Flying

Photos shot by Gavin Fürst

I don’t want to repeat myself too much, as I mention most of what I found important in my hands-on video. In this written DJI Inspire 2 review, I want first of all to simply give you “the list”:

PROs

  • The X5S camera quality
  • 5.2K clean image quality – depth and resolution is amazing
  • Apple ProRes Codec integration is very handy
  • The overall ergonomics (case, battery, setup time, charger, etc…)
  • The extended flying time of up to 25 minutes (I think I managed to get 20)
  • Improved flying stability for smoother shots
  • Improved flying speed, ideal for aerial cinematography
  • SSD workflow
  • Safety features (redundant batteries and IMU)
  • Wider viewing angle
  • Acceptable low-light capabilities

CONs

  • ProRes color always defaults to “none” and burns in a “bad look” when not changed manually
  • Obstacle avoidance triggers too quickly and ruins my “flyby” shots
  • The DJI Go App is too crowded, some buttons are too small and popups are unorganised
  • The image transmission often broke up too quickly, at a distance of around 800m
  • Every second shot had a bad horizon, although this can be fixed in post easily
  • Focusing is still horrible. You tap to auto-focus but never know if you’re in focus or not until after the shoot.

DJI Inspire 2 Review - Seb and the remote

It is clear that DJI had been working on further improving the ergonomics of the drone, which is very nice to see. Small things like the remote control automatically charging your phone or tablet, the inclusion of an automatic landing gear, self-heating batteries, dual charging – all of these all make your life easier, especially as a one-man operator. It’s easier and safer to fly the DJI Inspire 2 than any other drone before.

DJI inspire 2 Review - dual batteries

I’m sure DJI will be working on future updates to address some of the issues I encountered. One should keep in mind that the first DJI Inspire 2 units are only just starting to ship to a few testers, and that the software for this complex machine is still in its early stages. In my correspondence with DJI, however, I did feel that the company took my feedback seriously.

dji-inspire-2-review-dji-go-4-app

DJI Go 4 App. The Color of ProRes recordings right now s defaults back to “none” whenever you change format.

The Camera – Zenmuse X5S

At the time of this review, I still couldn’t get the more affordable Zenmuse X4S camera to work, so I was only looking at the higher-priced Zenmuse X5S. The perfomance of the Zenmuse X4S will be, among other things, one of the points we will look at in Part II of our DJI Inspire 2 Review.

DJI Inspire 2 Review - Zenmuse X5S Camera

DJI Zenmuse X5S Camera – Gives you RAW and ProRes recording options.

As mentioned in the video, the results I got from the Zenmuse X5S are truly remarkable. Not only could I match it pretty closely to the the colors of the ARRI Alexa, but the 5.2K resolution for me is rather mind-blowing. This kind of frame size is very useful, especially on aerial shots. That said, the dynamic range is not quite up there with the Alexa, and the colors of the Alexa are a tad smoother and more accurate out of the box.

DJI Inspire 2 review - flying in the church

You should also know that the Zenmuse X5S has a micro four-thirds sensor, while the Alexa shines in super35. During my skintone test with our model, I used the 45mm Olympus lens, which I believe would be a 60mm equivalent on a super35 size. I used the Zeiss 50mm Cp2 macro lens on the Alexa.

I don’t intend to suggest that you should shoot your whole movie with a drone, even though DJI tried that in their promo video, but I do think the Inspire 2 can be used in high-budget movie productions mixed with ARRI Alexa footage. It is nice to see how powerful the DJI Inspire 2 RAW files really are, coming out of such a small and ergonomic single-operator drone.

DJI Inspire 2 - 5.2K RAW file, converted to LOG

DJI Inspire 2 – 5.2K RAW file, converted to LOG (right-click open for full size)

And then there is the Apple ProRes codec, although please note that it is limited to 4K UHD. In my tests, I found that 4K ProRes gives you nicer results than using 4K RAW, because the 4K RAW files have some aliasing distortion. Instead, you should shoot 5.2K RAW and convert to 4K later for the best possible quality in 4K.

DJI Inspire 2 Flying in Church

I took night shots for the beginning of my film by intention, in order to see how the camera performs in lowlight. The compressed YouTube film looks rather noise, but the actual footage had less grain and was clean, so shooting a lit city at night is very much possble with the Inspire 2 Zenmuse X5S camera. I shot at around ISO 400, though it is hard to determine exactly as the source was RAW.

We will do further tests and present the results in my DJI Inspire 2 Review Part II that is coming soon.

Inspire RAW to LOG Conversion

During my analysis, I found that the best workflow for .cdng RAW from both the Inspire 1 and Inspire 2 is a little complicated, so I made a separate article and video that describes the process in detail. There you will also find a download to conversion presets and LUTs that can be used to improve and optimize the post production workflow of Inspire 2 Raw and ProRes D-Log files. In particular I tried to come close to Arri Alexa Log C gamma and colors.

DJI Inspire 2 Review - RAW to LOG flat gamma

In the test lab, the colors coming from the X5S and X5R (Inspire) cameras appeared to be off by quite a bit in comparison to an Arri ALEXA. The idea behind the workflow and presets/LUTs was to convert Inspire 2 Raw (Or Inspire 1 for that matter) to a well-preserving video format in order to edit and colorize later (without having to go back to Raw). And furthermore to match and get a neutral Gamma on all my video files, ideally right while transcoding, so I can apply LUTs and grade easily.

Go HERE for the workflow tutorial

DJI Inspire 2 Review - Front

DJI Inspire 2 Package – What else do I need?

If you’re going for the high end DJI Inspire 2 Premium model with the Zenmuse X5S camera, here’s what I’d recommend you get:

The X5S package comes with most of what you need to fly professionally. Some kits come without the 15mm lens. You can either get that or any other of the recommended MFT lenses.

The drone comes with 2 batteries. These will let you fly for about 20-25 minutes. If you want more fly-time, get more batteries. I’d get 3 more sets, for a total of 8. This means I can spend about 2-3 hours in the field. I’d also recommend you get another charging hub and power adaptor, because the included one only charges 2 of the batteries at once, which takes about 90 minutes.

If you want to pilot and have someone else operate the drone, this can be achieved with a second remote. And another set of propellers might come in handy in case one of them breaks for some reason, although it is better to stay safe and never let that happen.

Ah yes, the Inspire 2 bundle will ship without SSDs, so if you plan to record anything you’ll have to get those as well. If you want to save money, you could go for two 120GB SSDs and only record ProRes 422 HQ in 4K UHD. If you want to do 5.2K, then two 480GB SSDs would be useful. In any case, I’d recommend to get two, because you can’t delete individual clips and transferring files takes ages, but also because if you lose or break one it would mean you can’t film anymore. Don’t forget the SSD Reader.

The minimum complete package is a little bit more expensive than expected, costing about $8,000. Considering the package DJI promotes costs $6,000, that’s a large extra and reminds me of the experience of getting a RED camera. But considering what you get, $8,000 is a well-deserved price, and in comparison to any other drone + camera that achieves this kind of quality, you could even consider this affordable.

Conclusion

There is no question about it, the DJI Inspire 2 is an impressive drone and a testament to the irritatingly fast pace at which DJI is advancing drone technology way beyond the competition. If you are a single operator and you are looking for a drone with great ergonomics and flying power, as well as the best possible cinema-worthy image quality in a small package, then look no further. There is nothing comparable out there, as any large drone will only outperform this if it is equipped with an ARRI Alexa. Even then, the resolution of the DJI Inspire 2 has no match. Maybe the RED Helium 8K could compete, but we hear the color science is not quite ready yet.

5.2K on a 4K screen is really, really impressive, the ProRes integration is a big improvement and the intelligent features this drone brings to the table will be a great help on any shoot. I hope DJI can work out some of the issues I have pointed out, especially the default color on ProRes and the horrible focusing limitations, but overall, the Inspire 2 is a great step up from the Inspire 1. Now all we need is this camera on a shoulder mount, but I have a feeling this is exactly what DJI will have in store for us soon.

What option would this leave the rest of the camera manufacturers? I have no clue.

DJI Inspire 2 Seb flying

We hope you liked our DJI Inspire 2 Review and camera analysis. If you have any questions or thoughts please let us know in the comments.

Special Thanks

To musicbed.com for providing the song.
Stray Theories – “We Never Left”
www.straytheoriesmusic.com

Skintone model – Ieva Pocytė

Big thanks to Gavin Fürst for his help flying the drone, photos and navigating the city!!!

 
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