Ready to take your big boy camera to the skies? The DJI M600 is DJI’s latest flying platform and a heavy lifter that can even carry the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K. Check out this M600 review and see which things you should consider if you’ve got your eye on the latest toy in affordable drone and camera technology.
The DJI M600 was first introduced to us during NAB 2016 in Las Vegas. It is a large hexacopter camera drone for serious professional aerial cinematography. What makes the DJI M600 so interesting for us is that it competes with other large camera drones and can lift heavy payloads, but is comparably easy to use (more on that later), affordable and integrates with DJI’s ergonomic flying solutions compatible with many camera types.
DJI M600 Review – The Boss of the Skies
Compared to DJI’s earlier large drones, the DJI Spreadwings S900 and S1000, the new DJI M600 can lift heavier weight, integrates the Ronin MX gimbal stabilizer for large camera compatibility and is easier to set up. It also uses DJI’s next generation A3 flight controller and Lightbridge 2, and can be upgraded with the D-RTK GNSS system for centimeter-accurate flight positioning.
In this review I will not compare other large flying platforms, but rather focus on the differences, benefits and downsides in comparison to the much smaller DJI Inspire 1 RAW drone. I believe this will be helpful for those struggling to decide whether to upgrade their small flying platforms to a bigger form factor and use larger cameras like the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K. There are other reviews out there that discuss how the M600 stacks up against other large drones.
When the DJI M600 and Ronin MX packages arrived at our office in Vienna, there was no doubt that there was a long process of preparation ahead of us before undertaking our DJI M600 review in Switzerland later that month. We had to assemble and test many parts because, as in any other production, you want to be ready for any eventualities when shooting begins.
That preparation time took longer than expected. I estimate it takes about 3-4 hours to assemble a DJI M600 with a Ronin MX for the first time. There are well made instruction videos on the internet, and if everything goes according to plan you’ll have a drone ready to fly by the end of it. In my case, the HDMI cable inside the drone was DOA, so it had to be replaced.
Other than that, the software for the M600 and Ronin MX needed to be updated with a Windows computer, because software wasn’t yet available for Mac. I will not hold this against DJI, as I applaud them for bringing out new technology to the market so quickly, and I heard from other professional flyers that setup time is much quicker and easier in comparison to previous or competing platforms as everything comes readily integrated and setup with the M600.
One thing is clear for me after setting up the DJI M600, though. This is not a product that’s anywhere near ready to be used out of the box. It needs time, care and a basic set of technical skills. It cannot be compared to a DJI Inspire 1 RAW, which you can just pull out of the box, switch on and fly.
Looking at the charging process below is a good visual representation of the complexity between using an Inspire 1 RAW, and M600 with Ronin MX and URSA Mini 4.6K camera. Both can fly for about 15 minutes with these batteries:
Even though preparing to fly with a DJI M600 is a lot more time-consuming and difficult than with a DJI inspire 1 RAW, there are several reasons why you could decide to go with an M600 anyway. The simplest argument is that you can fly any camera, while the DJI Inspire 1 RAW restricts you to always fly the Zenmuse X5R, but more on that topic later.
If you’re interested to find out how the DJI Inspire 1 RAW performs, you should check out these extensive reviews I did:
Let’s fly that M600 beast with an URSA Mini 4.6K now, shall we? :)
Working with the DJI M600 & URSA Mini 4.6K
Getting the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K airborne on a DJI M600 turned out to be harder than expected. Installing the DJI Ronin MX on the M600 is a straight forward process, and the gimbal works just like it would on the ground. You don’t have to tune anything, if you did it all right, it should just all work together. In addition, you can easily control and manipulate settings on the Ronin MX via the DJI Go App and the remote that controls the M600 itself. Perfect!
But then, I quickly found out that the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K with a small V-Mount battery is already on the brink of the weight limit of the M600, and only fits on the Ronin MX with some creative techniques. The biggest problem is the camera’s LCD is on a side of the camera body that can’t be accessed while it’s mounted on the Ronin MX. The second problem is that the camera’s power button is behind said LCD, meaning I needed to switch the camera on and then quickly assemble the gimbal before flight. Not ideal, but this is a problem specific to the combination of the URSA Mini and Ronin gimbal.
The SDI signal was run through an HDMI converter into the drone, and the length of the camera was on the Ronin MX size limit by a few milimeters with the Canon EF-S 24mm pancake lens that I used. Ideally you would get the DJI wireless link to transfer the camera preview to the drone. I simply used the HDMI cable straight into the camera. Not ideal, but it works.
It is probably easier to fit an Arri ALEXA Mini or a RED Epic on a Ronin MX gimbal, but none of them will deliver quality at the same price as the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K. This is why we tested with the latter. That said, if you plan to use an URSA Mini on this drone, be advised to use DJI’s Ronin MX camera battery solution, as you would not be able to fit any lens on it other than a pancake when using a heavy V-Mount battery, like I was. Also we hope Blackmagic Design will soon fix the magenta corner issue that was also apparent with the camera we tested (see video).
Maxing out the weight (15kg takeoff weight) of the M600 proved to affect the flying behaviour to a certain degree. On the one hand, this powerful drone had no troubles to take off the ground easily, but I noticed that the heavy camera would make the whole gimbal construction swing on fast movements, which was sometimes visible in the footage. This is of course to be expected and nothing the drone can’t handle. Quite the contrary, the DJI M600 is a beast that flies with an understated warm sound and follows your input accurately, just like a DJI Inspire 1 would. The M600 is a little quicker and the Inspire is more agile.
One thing that affected my test is that DJI could only provide 1 set of batteries at the time, so I had 15 minutes of flying time in the Swiss alps and I was not able to make that 10 hour travel a second time just for a reshoot. Unfortunately it started to rain in mid flight, so the flying time was reduced to just 8 minutes in total on two occasions.
The Benefits of Working with the DJI M600
What is great about working with the M600 is that you have a very powerful drone that fully integrates with DJI’s Go App system and is upgradable with the D-RTK GNSS for centimeter accurate flying, added redundancy, etc. Basically you can mount whatever other accessories you like, not only to the drone, but also to the camera. And this is the most important argument for this drone. Besides incorporating the A3 failsafe functions and latest DJI technology, it can be used with any camera, lens and accessories you choose. You can use a camera as small as the Inspire 1 RAW’s very own Zenmuse X5R or a camera as large as the Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K, and anything in between.
For me this is the kind of drone I would use to complement a project like a commercial or fiction film, where the highest quality and consistency is needed and where I have a safe and controlled environment to prepare and fly. I have not used a drone like the Freefly Cine Alta yet, and I’m sure it’s a great product if you have the money, but for $4,600 the DJI M600 is hard to beat: a heavy lifter that offers a lot of drone for little investment, and one that should certainly be considered by professionals.
The Downsides of Working with the DJI M600
Having had the direct comparison to the DJI Inspire 1 RAW while testing the DJI M600, I noticed a few things you might want to consider before upgrading to a drone as large as this one. First and foremost, size makes a huge difference here… and not in a good way. After going through several days of reviewing the DJI M600, I can now fully appreciate the benefits of a small drone, and I can say with confidence that smaller is better when it comes to flying them.
I have tested and used the DJI Inspire 1 RAW on several occasions now, and I’m still blown away by the quality of the Zenmuse X5R camera. Few other cameras reach this standard, and with an easy DaVinci Resolve workflow, this camera is, in my book at least, very hard to beat for aerial cinematography.
There are many factors about a drone that can contribute towards getting the desired shots. The ergonomics and small size of the DJI Inspire 1, for example, allow me to have everything with me in a single box and be ready and flying within roughly 2 minutes after getting out of my car. Four batteries will last me an hour. I could climb a mountain with it and get those precious shots.
The DJI M600 is much more limiting in this regard. I had the M600 and URSA Mini packed across six cases. You need an extra case for the M600. It was a lot of heavy luggage that took about 20-30 minutes to set up. Not to say that a large drone is not worth the extra effort, but the setup speed of smaller drones is an invaluable asset to getting great shots, especially when you’re a small crew or even on your own and out and about shooting special places. After all, it is all about content!
Another lesson I learned is that a large drone greatly limits your flying possibilities in the public. Setting up and flying a DJI M600 is a lot scarier for passerby’s than a small drone and people get more and more sensitive to them too.
Making this DJI M600 review was a great experience for me. On the one hand, I was very impressed with how the DJI M600 and Ronin MX combo give me the freedom to use any kind of camera and accessories in order to achieve the shots I need at a relatively affordable price. This drone would be a great help on commercial shoots where we need to fly a certain camera or lens with a reliable and familiar system while still keeping costs to a minimum.
On the other hand, I can now fully appreciate the ergonomics of smaller drones like the DJI Inspire 1, and especially that the possibilities that the DJI Inspire 1 RAW offers with the Zenmuse X5R camera and lenses will be more than sufficient for my creative vision on most projects.
In future versions of the DJI Matrice series I hope DJI will work on making the large form factor easier to use. I certainly see room for improvement when it comes to foldaway size and use of less batteries.
All in all, other user reports seem to suggest that DJI is once again ahead of the pack when it comes to the latest in drone flying technology. The price and eco system they have built continues to be probably their most compelling argument.
My advice: only go for a larger drone if you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you do, the DJI M600 is an affordable tool that can get the job done and is worth considering.
Music by: Art-List.io (Garden of Things – Two Third)