DJI Inspire 2 review (2020): still a cinematographic powerhouse
In November this year, it will be four years since DJI introduced the Inspire 2. This makes the Inspire 2 one of the oldest drones in the current range of DJI. Nevertheless, professional creators in particular still swear by this drone. In this review, we look at how the Inspire 2 compares to other drones in 2020 and discuss whether the system still has a future.
In 2016, the drone hype reached its peak. Drones went over the counter like hot cakes. DJI was at solitary heights in terms of market position, and with the Inspire 1 and popular Phantom series, the company had won the hearts of filmmakers worldwide. So when DJI announced both the Phantom 4 Pro and Inspire 2 on November 16, shockwaves of enthusiasm passed through the drone sector.
The Inspire 2 was a welcome successor to the Inspire 1, and the Inspire 1 had proven itself to be a robust and reliable platform, which equipped with the Zenmuse X5 or X5R camera stood its ground in terms of image production. Nevertheless, the image quality of the Inspire 1 was not sufficient for high-end productions, and the still limited flight time was a thorn of users.
On all those fronts, the Inspire 2 offered improvement. Not only was the flight time significantly improved, the drone also got access to obstacle detection in front and upward direction of flight. But the main improvements were still in the camera offerings and the new CineCore 2.0 image processor.
The Inspire 2 still stands out more than three years after its appearance for its robust construction and impressive appearance. Special is the carbon fiber H-frame that is pulled up after the drone has taken off. This allows the camera to rotate 360º in the round without obstructing vision. The system is powered by four powerful motors, which is at a top speed of no less than 94 km/h in Sport Mode. Two TB50 batteries are attached for the energy supply.
Users praise the stability in the air and flight performance, even in strong winds: up to six wind power can still be flown well with the drone. Partly because of this, the Inspire 2 is widely loved by emergency services. And although the Inspire 2 isn’t meant for it, there are plenty of examples of drone pilots that brought heavy 360º cameras or other non-DJI payloads into the air with this drone.
Zenmuse X4S and X5S
At the time of launch, DJI immediately offered two camera options at the Inspire 2: the Zenmuse X4S and the X5S. The former camera was very similar to that of the Phantom 4 Pro in terms of specs: a 1” sensor, adjustable aperture, fixed focal length, maximum 4K resolution and the option to write down images with H.264 or H.265 compression. The X4S camera quickly proved to offer too little added value and disappeared silently from DJI’s offer over time.
the same time as the X4S, DJI also introduced a successor to the X5 camera, namely the Zenmuse X5S. It features a larger MFT sensor and offered the ability to film 4K in 50 fps. With an optional codec, it even became possible to film in 5.2K and then save the images in ProRes or CinemaDNG. Thanks to the MFT mount, the X5S can be used in combination with various lenses from DJI, Panasonic and Olympus, among others.
A little year later, DJI would also announce a whole new camera system for the Inspire 2: the Zenmuse X7. This includes a light-sensitive Super 35mm sensor with the ability to film in 6K resolution, with a color depth of 14 bits. Together with the X7, DJI also released a series of DL mount lenses: in addition to the 16 mm standard lens, the user was given the opportunity to use lightweight 24, 35 and 50 mm lenses developed by DJI.
Especially after the introduction of the Zenmuse X7, the Inspire 2 was soon embraced by the film industry. And that has actually not changed. At the bottom of the market, DJI continued to introduce new drones, in the form of the Mavic Pro and later the Mavic Air, Mavic 2 and Mavic Mini. But at the top of the market, there have actually been no integrated systems with similar or better image quality.
The Zenmuse X5S and X7 cameras still offer unparalleled performance in the DJI lineup. With the note that you save the images in ProRes or CinemaDNG, because the Inspire 2’s H.264 and H.265 codec doesn’t really produce great results. Apart from the Phantom 4 Pro and the Mavic Air 2, there is no other DJI drone that allows 4K 50fps: the Mavic 2 Pro only goes up to 25fps in 4K resolution. In terms of maximum color depth, the X5S (12 bits) and X7 (14 bits) leave the other DJI drones far behind.
The Zenmuse X7 has the additional advantage that the sensor is larger than that of the X5S, resulting in better photosensitivity. The dynamic range of the X7 is no less than 14 stops. This camera can write images in 6K in CinemaDNG/RAW and 5.2K in Apple ProRes.
The biggest advantage of the X5S and X7 cameras is, of course, that it is possible to change lenses. Thus, wide-angle and telephoto are among the possibilities. Once again, the Inspire 2 distinguishes itself from, among other things, the Phantom and Mavic series drones.
In terms of obstacle detection, the Inspire 2 starts to become quite outdated. Today, obstacle detection is slowly starting to become standard in all directions, but the Inspire 2 can only deviate from obstacles in forward direction of flight. At the top is a sensor that should prevent you from flying against the ceiling when used indoors, in which the Inspire 2 is still quite unique.
The Inspire 2 was the first drone in the DJI range with a separate FPV camera. This feature is now also reflected on the drones from the Matrix series. The advantage is that the pilot has his or her own image regardless of the Zenmuse camera’s viewing direction. Especially in a dual operator setup, this FPV camera comes in handy.
Over the past few years, the Inspire 2 has proven itself to be a very robust and reliable platform. Not only on a mechanical level, but also the double-executed IMU and electronic compass contribute to this. Spare parts are readily available and apart from a number of cases where the attachment points of the engines were released, there are few structural problems known.
The Inspire 2 is powered by two TB50 batteries. The flight time with an X5S camera is in practice between 20 and 25 minutes. With an X7 camera, that goes down to about 20 minutes maximum. Compared to the latest Mavic drones, that may seem little, but still such flight times are quite acceptable in the higher segment.
The Inspire 2 uses the LightBridge system for image transfer. This protocol provides a stable video connection, even at longer distances. Professional users in particular often take advantage of the ability to operate the Inspire 2 with two controllers, one for the drone pilot and one for the camera operator.
The controller can be equipped with the CrystalSky display (available in two display sizes, with a diagonal of 5.85″ or 7.85″), for better visibility in daylight. And with the optional focus wheel, it is also possible to control focus infinitely. Incidentally, the Inspire 2 is also compatible with the Cendence controller.
Intelligent flight modes
The Inspire 2 supports a number of intelligent flight modes, including ActiveTrack, TapFly and Spotlight Pro. You use ActiveTrack to follow a subject, with TapFly, the drone flies in the direction of the point you’re tapping on the screen. The Spotlight Pro mode is perhaps the most interesting: the drone automatically keeps the desired subject in view, regardless of the direction of flight and distortion of the drone.
Licenses and CineSSD
Are you planning to purchase a new or second hand Inspire 2? Then check if it has licenses for CinemaDNG and/or ProRes. These codecs can only be used in combination with an activated — very pricey — license, which can be purchased via DJI. You also need to invest in special SSD memory cards and a CineSSD card reader if you want to start filming in CinemaDNG or ProRes, due to the very high bitrates.
That can be quite in the papers: the CinamaDNG license costs €1,100, -, which for ProRes’ only ‘€600, -. You can also buy a combination licence for both codecs, then you pay €1,500. A CineSSD with a capacity of 240 GB then costs another €569, -, and the CineSSD Station €349, -. So, not exactly change.
Despite the fact that the DJI Inspire 2 has been on the market for a few years, professional filmmakers still love to opt for this drone. With the X5S or X7 camera in combination with a CinemaDNG and/or ProRes license and CineSSD drive, the system still offers unparalleled video performance.
Alternatives to the Inspire 2 are hardly there. For (semi) professional video productions, the Phantom 4 Pro 2.0 and Mavic 2 Pro are sometimes used, but the sensors of these drones are less luminous and in both cases you are attached to one lens. The advantage of the P4P and the M2P is of course the much lower weight, the longer flight time and the obstacle detection in all directions.
Those looking for even better performance should quickly turn to much larger systems such as the Matrice 600 Pro, Acecore Neo or Freeflight Alta 8 in combination with Red or Arri cameras and suitable gimbals. Then, however, you talk about a completely different price range and usually (much) less ease of use.
Over een eventuele Inspire 3 zijn er nog maar weinig geruchten. Je kunt er van uitgaan dat DJI binnen een jaar met een opvolger van de Inspire 2 zal komen, die wellicht een nog langere vliegtijd biedt, met obstakeldetectie rondom, nieuwe intelligent flight modes en nieuwe camera-opties. Maar totdat het zover is haal je met de Inspire 2 nog altijd een zeer capabel en veelzijdig platform in huis.
A set price is difficult to give, given the countless configuration options. But if you’re based on an Inspire 2 with Zenmuse X5S, a few extra sets of batteries, two controllers, a ProRes/DNG license and some more accessories, you’ll soon come to an amount of more than 10,000 euros. That goes to 15,000 or more if you choose a Zenmuse X7 with its lens set.
Should you opt for a second-hand Inspire 2, check if the aforementioned codecs are part of the deal. Then check the flight logs to see how many flight hours the aircraft has made and see our general tips on buying a used drone.
(Cover Photo: Sven Teschke, CC-BY-SA)