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Hands on with DJI's better, faster $3,000 Inspire 2 drone

It might look the same as the original, but the company's latest professional camera drone promises to be better in every way.

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Andrew Lanxon Editor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe

Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

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DJI's ready-to-fly professional camera drone, the Inspire 1, has for the most part gone unchallenged since it launched two years ago. Compared to the company's Phantom line and new Mavic Pro, though, its tech is showing its age. That changes now.

The Inspire 2 looks essentially the same as the first-gen model, but this time it's made from magnesium-aluminum alloy, which DJI says increases stiffness to help flying while reducing weight. The weight reduction is mainly just to increase battery life -- while it's easy enough to pick up, it's really designed to be transported in a flight case, probably in the back of a car.

You might have noticed in the picture above that it has dual sensors in front for obstacle avoidance (there's a set on the bottom as well), but it also has infrared sensors on top of the aircraft to help keep you from crashing when flying in enclosed spaces or, where we were, on a go-kart track in a warehouse in East London.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Dual batteries provide up to 27-minutes of flight time as well as redundancy just in case one of the batteries fails in flight. The battery system is also self-heating, so you won't lose performance even in temperatures down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. And with optional high-altitude propellers, you'll be able to fly it up to 16,404 feet above sea level (5 km).

The controls are identical to those on the Inspire and DJI's more affordable Phantom range of drones. If you've had any experience flying them before then you'll have no trouble getting up to speed here. Even if you're new to flying, they don't take a lot of practice to get going.

The controller, too, remains almost identical -- it's comfortable to hold and has a mount for your tablet or smartphone which acts as the display for the camera.


The Inspire 2 features interchangeable cameras.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Like the original, the Inspire 2 has an interchangeable camera mount so you can swap cameras based on your needs. With the launch, DJI introduced the Zenmuse X4S and X5S cameras. The former features a 1-inch 20-megapixel sensor with an f2.8 24mm lens (35mm equivalent) and a mechanical shutter. The latter is an interchangeable lens camera with a 20-megapixel micro four-thirds sensor.

It's every bit as easy to swap out the lens on the Inspire as it is on any regular DSLR, making it very simple to get the right shots when time is tight.

One of the key benefits of the Inspire is the capability to have both a pilot and a camera operator work simultaneously with separate master and slave controllers. On the Inspire 1, this requires the pilot to navigate using the live video from the camera, which might not always be pointed forward. The Inspire 2 adds a second first-person-view camera that gives the pilot the best view for flying, while allowing the camera operator to set the ideal shot.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Other important features include:

  • New CineCore 2.0 embedded image processing system
  • Captures 5.2K-resolution video at 4.2Gbps for Adobe CinemaDNG raw videos
  • Supported formats include Adobe CinemaDNG, Apple ProRes 422 HQ (5.2K, 4K) and ProRes 4444 XQ (4K), H.264 and H.265
  • Records 4K-resolution video in H.264 and H.265 with a bit rate up to 100Mbps
  • Streams video at broadcast standards of 1080i50/720p60
  • New propulsion system reaches 50 mph (kph) in 4 seconds
  • Top speed of 67 mph (108 kph)
  • Ascends at up to 23 feet per second (7 m/s) and descends at up to 30 feet per second (9 m/s)
  • New master and slave controller range extends to 328 feet and users can switch between 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz frequencies.
  • Optional DJI CrystalSky high-brightness IPS monitors available in 5.5-inch and 7.85-inch sizes, which reduce video transmission latency and have dual microSD Card slots for backups, transfers and playback.

The DJI Inspire 2 is $3,000 and starts shipping in January (AU$5,200 and £3,060). You can also pick it up as a combo with the Zenmuse X5S, CinemaDNG and Apple ProRes license key for $6,200, but DJI will lop $200 off if you order before January 1, 2017, and it will ship in December.

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