New Inspire Camera – A Broadcaster’s First Look

So the Inspire 1 just got a new camera. And thank goodness for that. The X3 we’ve been using until now has done a decent job but the limitations on bit-rate and codecs are a real pain.

Enter the X5 and X5R, just announced by DJI. How do they measure up, especially when it comes to broadcast? Having worked the last 18 years in the BBC I was interested to find out.

Initial verdict: a cautious thumbs-up.

First, the good news. A bigger (micro-four-thirds) sensor means much greater dynamic range. And interchangeable lenses mean that even if the glass in DJI’s own offering is not the best then we can opt for something else. The RAW capability on the X5R should be fantastic too, although it’s a bit annoying to have to use a proprietary SSD (presumably because of mounting issues on the aircraft?). The follow-focus option could be fantastic for those who like to operate close to the subject too.

But no optical zoom? That’s a disappointment. I know many will say ‘just fly closer to the subject’ but that’s not always practical or safe. A zoom really would be a useful asset to have, although perhaps the Zenmuse gimbal just couldn’t cope with the camera’s shifting centre of gravity.

There’s one big unknown too, namely the bit rate on the X5’s H264 recording. We do have a figure, 60Mbps, but that’s listed as a maximum. With the X3 average bit rates were found to be markedly lower. Clearly the X5R will solve the problem but most of the time we don’t want to be inflicting massive RAW files on our post-production colleagues. It really would be good to know that the H264 recordings on the standard X5 will be pumping at reasonable rates, unlike the existing X3.

That said, the new Inspire camera is massive news. It’s also, it would appear, a kick in the teeth for Blackmagic who are on the verge of launching their own specialist aerial camera. Or are DJI sourcing some of their components for the X5 from Blackmagic? Either way, the X5 looks to be the current best option for anyone who wants a professional aerial camera option at keen prices. I’m definitely getting one.

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