Zenmuse X5R (5)

DJI is putting professional-quality micro four thirds video into the air with the announcement of the Zenmuse X5 and X5R camera modules for the Inspire 1 quadcopter drone.

The Inspire 1 has quickly become one of the more sought-after quadcopters for professional videography, with a compact yet stable frame coupled with high-resolution live-streamable video. The one knock that some have put forward is that its camera system, while good, still isn’t up to that of the often-used GoPro, much less those higher-quality DSLRs that larger systems use.

The Zenmuse X5/X5R, announced at Interdrone in Las Vegas, puts a compact M4/3 sensor with interchangeable lenses onto a gimbal that clips onto the Inspire 1’s camera mount, the first activation of the interchangeable interface that was touted with the Inspire 1’s release last year. With the oversized sensor, videographers can make high-resolution videos (up to 4k) at higher dynamic ranges than smaller cameras can provide. It shoots stills at 16mp.

Zenmuse X5 (10)

The X5R goes a step past the X5 by adding RAW video to an attached SSD or microSD card, at bitrates up to 2.4Gbps — a big step forward for videographers who want to integrate aerial footage into that from larger high-quality rigs like Red. While it’s not Red’s cinema-grade levels by any means, the RAW footage meshes much more naturally than the compressed h.264 or other codec output that most tiny cameras use.

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The cameras integrate with a smartphone app, which offers a 256-zone touchable autofocus, along with focus assist and focus peaking.

Both systems allow for the use of various lenses too. Four were announced at the time of launch: two 15mm f/1.7 lenses, a 12mm f/2.0 lens, and an 18mm f/1.8. DJI director of aerial imaging Eric Cheng explained to me that these have been balanced with special hoods for use with the gimbal — and future lens releases will be balanced similarly to overcome the challenge of unbalancing.

Cheng also notes that the rig is also compatible with the DJI Focus, a follow-focus rig that was made official at the announcement after its prototype was shown at the NAB photo trade show earlier this year, for more precise operation. This works at distances of 1.2 miles or further.

Designed for professional use, it’s not a cheap system — the Zenmuse X5 costs $2,199, or with an Inspire 1 and DJI’s 15mm lens is $4,499, while the X5R version costs $7,999. Standalone price is not yet announced.

The announcement also teased the release of Lightbridge 2, the next generation of DJI’s wireless video interface.