DJI Innovations is best known for its Phantom line of consumer-grade quadcopters and the Spreading Wings, a professional-use multicopter that features, among other things, retractable landing gear to prevent the landing gear from showing up in video when the undercarriage mounted camera is in use.
DJI’s newest product, the DJI Inspire 1, combines features from both models in an attempt to create the ultimate prosumer drone.
High-end camera equipment, excellent flight stability, and a host of other premium features combine to create a complete professional-grade quadcopter that is ready to go right out of the box.
Every component is manufactured to work together and despite having a nearly out-of-reach price point for entry-level enthusiasts, the DJI Inspire 1 is hands-down one of the best RTF flying cameras straight out of the box.
Despite a variety of high-end features, the general consensus is that some firmware upgrades still need to be tweaked by DJI before the Inspire 1 can truly take the podium as the best super drone on the market today.
Although these updates refer mostly to the undercarriage-mounted sonar and camera, support for a limited number of Android and iOS devices is another problem that needs to be addressed.
In the following DJI Inspire 1 review, I’ll break down the key features, pros/cons, and my overall recommendation.
Overview of the Inspire 1
The Inspire 1 comes with a 4K/30fps video camera mounted on a three-axis gimbal. The camera is also capable of shooting in 1080p and capturing 12MP still shots. The gimbal allows the camera to pan 360 degrees and tilt 135 degrees.
Unlike the Spreading Wings (where the landing struts retract independently), the Inspire 1 raises both the propeller arms and landing struts together, but the result is still the same: no accidental landing gear shots.
Full-resolution video is recorded onboard the quadcopter, but a 720p video feed is also transmitted from the camera that can be viewed in real-time up to one mile away using an iOS or Android app. The app allows users to start and stop recording as well as manually adjust camera settings.
The camera can also be controlled using dials found on the radio control unit. The Inspire 1 also supports the use of a second radio control unit – allowing one person to concentrate on flying the aircraft while the other person controls only the camera equipment onboard.
Like the DJI Phantom 2, the Inspire 1 is equipped with an onboard GPS unit to maintain its position while flying outdoors. For indoor flying, the Inspire 1 is also equipped with a downward-facing stereoscopic camera and ultrasonic sensor to maintain its position.
For power, the Inspire 1 relies on a new 6-cell 4,500mAh battery that provides flight times of around 18 minutes on a full charge.
While this is flight time is slightly shorter than other models (even the Phantom models average about 25 minutes), it’s certainly not bad considering the additional features offered by this model.
Weighing in at 6.5lbs, the Inspire 1 is capable of horizontal flight speeds of nearly 50 mph and is capable of taking off and landing automatically.
DJI Inspire 1 Performance
The Inspire 1 is much bigger than its predecessor, the Phantom 2. Despite being larger and weighing almost twice as much, the Inspire 1 takes off much faster than Phantom quadcopters and with a top speed of almost 50 mph, offers users the opportunity to film bikes, boats, and cars in a way that slower drones simply cannot match.
The additional size and weight of the Inspire 1 also improves its stability in the air. It is noticeably less resistant to wind buffeting and the addition of the optical and ultrasonic technology to the undercarriage improves its stability when flying close to the ground, indoors, or in adverse weather conditions.
The ultrasonic sensor is also used to provide a ground proximity reading that the Inspire 1 uses to raise and lower the landing strut/propeller arms automatically.
With the camera located so far below the propeller arms during flight, it is impossible to accidentally record video with propellers or landing gear photobombing the shot (even when the camera is completely horizontal during recording).
The 4K camera provides a crystal clear image that is way ahead of pretty much every other drone on the market. A rectilinear lens corrects distortion and the 12 MP still shots are saved as RAW files – providing a lot more options when processing images using photo-editing software.
The Inspire makes use of an integrated Lightbridge transmitter to stream 720p video back to the operator at ranges of up to one mile away. Considering that the quadcopter isn’t visible with the naked eye at a quarter of that distance, the high-resolution video feed allows operators to capture shots that just aren’t possible with less advanced equipment.
Despite all of the advanced features available on the Inspire 1, there are two areas where the Inspire 1 falls short of its starting price. First, the ultrasonic/camera combo on the bottom of the quadcopter struggles to maintain position when flying indoors over certain types of surfaces.
Glossy floors and carpet seem to give the Inspire 1 the most trouble. As a result, the aircraft needs continuous pilot correction when flying indoors over these surfaces.
Second, the retractable landing gear, which automatically lower when the Inspire 1 comes within three feet of the ground, leave the camera susceptible to damage during an emergency landing situation.
Also, the gear system used to raise and lower the propeller arms is rather complex and could prove difficult to repair should the system become damaged.
Although not as big of a concern, it’s also worth noting that the 4K camera can only record video at 25fps in 4K mode (unlike the GoPro Hero4 Black that records at a full 30fps in 4K). The best resolution available at 30fps is 3840 x 2160 – certainly not shabby but still short of true 4K clarity.
That said, the rectilinear lens of the camera doesn’t distort images like the fisheye lens found on the Phantom and even the GoPro Hero4 Black. The lens also comes with a filter ring pre-installed to make recording with a polarized filter easy.
Despite the few kinks that DJI still needs to work out (mostly firmware-related tweaks are needed), the Inspire 1 is an amazing piece of equipment that represents the first complete system that is ready-to-go right out of the box.
Granted the price point may be out of reach for beginners, but the ease of flying the machine makes it a great choice for anyone who wants to fork over the cash for the latest-and-greatest flying camera technology.
- A complete system that interoperates well in one compact quadcopter
- Practical design
- Lots of features and settings
- Relatively long flight times (18 minutes with standard battery, 20+ minutes with optional 5,700mAh battery)
- Ground sensors for position hold while indoors (performance varies based on ground surface)
- Integrated Zenmuse X3 3-axis gimbal and 4K camera
- GPS functionality built into radio could allow for a “Follow Me” feature in the future
- Dual remote functionality available right out-of-the-box (for an additional fee)
- Firmware bugs still need to be worked out by DJI
- No waypoint navigation
- Expensive batteries
- Ground sensors can be picky over certain ground surfaces (especially indoors)
- No PC interface
- Tablet or smartphone required for FPV sold separately
There’s no question that the Inspire 1 is a high-end piece of equipment and once some of the bugs have been worked out, there are likely to be very few quadcopter options that can compete with the features and overall quality of this product.
That is, of course, keeping in mind the imminent release of DJI’s next product – the Phantom 3. Using many of the same components as the Inspire 1, the Phantom 3 offers a lot of features and a significantly lower price point.
Perhaps DJI will learn how to address some of the issues present in the firmware of the Inspire 1 during manufacturing of the latest Phantom model. For the best pricing, I’ve found the Inspire 1 here for below retail price.
Further read, The Parrot AR Drone vs DJI Phantom Comparison