Yesterday we have published “The Most Complete Aerial Cameras Development History (I)” in which we focused on the core point—camera and analyzed the development history of previous drones carrying a GoPro, Panasonic GH4 or Sony A7. The results show that the all-in-one design is necessary because it’s better for flight experience and the combination of cameras with video transmission and app can make the operation and parameter settings more convenient.

Now taking DJI as an example, this article will explain what independent attempts the drone manufacturers have made in recent years to realize “all-in-one aerial photography”.

I. 【The First Ready-to-Fly Drone】Phantom 2 Vision

The Phantom 2 Vision released on October 2013 is DJI’s first all-in-one drone carrying an independent R&D camera—the DJI FC20. This ready-to-fly drone has unfolded the all-in-one design trend, freeing the consumers from installing gimbal camera and setting video transmission signal. Afterwards, a series of drones released by DJI and other drone manufacturers start to follow the “all-in-one” design trend.

Phantom 2

This drone camera uses a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor and supports 14 megapixel RAW and JEPG photo shooting and 1080 30p/60i video recording. Besides, its built-in single axis gimbal can be used for tilt stabilization. So it is literally the first “gimbal camera”.

Half a year later, DJI released Phantom 2 Vision + equipped with a 1/2.3 CMOS senor and 14 megapixel camera, but smaller and more delicate appearance. Moreover, the built-in gimbal improved a lot in that the previous servo was replaced by brushless motors and the stabilization effect was enhanced by a 3-axis gimbal.

DJI PHANTOM 2

II. 【Clearer and More Flexible】DJI Inspire 1

In November 2014, DJI released its professional drone Inspire 1. This drone with an awe-inspiring transforming design is equipped with Zenmuse X3, the first Zenmuse series camera which improved a lot in image quality and parameter adjustment.

Inspire 1

This camera features 4K video shooting and offer various parameter adjustment options, such as 100-3200 ISO scale and shutter speed. The camera lens comes with 20mm infinite focus length and wide angle. Compared with motion cameras, it is specially optimized to eliminate distortions for aerial photography. Besides, the 3-axis gimbal with retractable landing gears enables a full 360⁰ unobstructed view and allows separate pilot monitoring and camerawork, enabling flexible and multi-angle shooting.

III. 【Let Your Creativity Fly】DJI Phantom 3 Series

So far, DJI has released four Phantom 3 Series including Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced in April 2015, Phantom 3 Standard in August 2015 and Phantom 3 4K in January 2016. Similar in appearance, the Phantom Professional and 4K supports 4K video shooting while the Phantom Advanced and Standard only supports 2.7K video shooting. Compared to the Phantom 2 Series, the Phantom 3 Series cameras have made a qualitative leap in their image quality. The cameras on Phantom 3 Series all have 12 megapixel sensors and 20mm f/2.8 lens, which can rival DJI Zenmuse X3.

DJI Phantom 3

IV.【Aerial Camera】Zenmuse X5 & X5R

In September 2015, DJI released two professional aerial cameras, Zenmuse X5 and X5R compatible with Inspire 1. As the updated version of Zenmuse X3, Zenmuse X5 and X5R can also work with DJI Matrice 100 and DJI Matrice 600.

Zenmuse X5 & X5R

As the best in DJI’s independent R&D cameras, Zenmuse X5 & X5R are equipped with the M4/3 sensor, a significant progress compared to the previous 1/2.3 sensor.

SENSOR

Zenmuse X5 & X5R can take 16 megapixel photos with 12.8 stops of dynamic range. High lighting ratio allows Zenmuse X5 & X5R to capture images with stunning details. And the ISO range from 100 to 25600 empowers Zenmuse X5 & X5R with higher image sensitivity and better noise reduction performance compared to previous cameras. Besides, Zenmuse X5 & X5R support LOG mode shooting. In addition, Zenmuse X5 & X5R come with interchangeable lens compatible with several M4/3 lenses through the MFT mount. Zenmuse X5 & X5R feature a maximum aperture up to F/1.7, Focus Remote Controller and video streaming at 4K 30p and 1080 60p. X5R mainly differs from X5 in that X5R can record 4K RAW Cinema DNG sequence, uses DJI’s SSD for storage with 1.7Gbps average bitrate, allowing more space for post-production. This is really an exciting surprise for filmmaking professionals who expect higher image quality.

V. 【Professional Advancement Thermal Imaging Camera】Zenmuse XT

Three months later, DJI released the thermal imaging camera Zenmuse XT which can be mounted on the Inspire 1, Matrice 100 and Matrice 600. Zenmuse XT made specifically for industrial application offers two different resolution ratios (640*512 and 336*256), 6 lens options with different focus length and digital zoom up to 8x. The Zenmuse XT is a joint product created by DJI and FLIR. As the global leader in infrared thermal imaging technology with 50 years’ experience, FLIR has produced thousands of thermal imaging systems applied in different industries over the world.

DJI Zenmuse XT

VI. 【Visionary Intelligence, Elevated Imagination】Phantom 4

In March 2016, DJI released the latest Phantom 4. Compared to earlier generations, the Phantom 4’s aircraft performance has been significantly improved with remarkable breakthrough in obstacle avoidance. Just as DJI’s founder Frank Wang said, “The sexiest drone that DJI ever designed, welcome to the era of VISION.” Regarding the imaging system, the Phantom 4’s biggest progress lies in that it supports 1080/120p video recording. Besides, the optimized lens enables clearer images with stunning details with the distortion degree reduced by 36% and colour aberration decreased by 56%. Featuring a specially designed U-frame structure, the Phantom 4’s gimbal enables the camera to capture more stable and smooth footage even during high-speed flight. So to speak, the Phantom 4 is a perfectly designed all-in-one drone.

Phantom 4

VII.【Zoom Camera】Zenmuse Z3

In July 2016, DJI released the first zoom drone camera, the Zenmuse Z3 with 22-77mm equivalent focal length and 7x zoom obtained by 3.5x optical zoom and 2x lossless digital zoom (only under 1080p mode). The 2x lossless digital zoom here means that compared to the digital zoom technology based on pixel interpolation algorithm, the Zenmuse Z3 won’t lose image qualities when you zoom in the 4k footage. Thanks to the reaction wheel stabilization technology, Zenmuse Z3 can capture clear and stable footage even at long focus. The Zenmuse Z3 can be mounted on the Inspire Series, Matrice 100 and Matrice 600 and it is made specifically for industrial application.

Zenmuse Z3

In only three years’ time, from the single axis gimbal camera FC20 to the current 4k RAW aerial cameras, we can see that DJI has been striving for higher image quality to meet the users’ demand as well as the industrial development trend.

Will DJI make major breakthroughs in aerial cameras in the future after it becomes a shareholder of Hasselblad? What improvements can be made for the aerial imaging system? Whether there will be any aerial camera solutions that can rival DJI in the drone industry? For more details, please stay tuned to us.

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