DJI Inspire 3 camera drone

DJI Inspire 3 is a full-frame, 8K cinema drone: is it worth the $16,500 price tag?

The DJI Inspire 3 is DJI’s most powerful, cinematography drone yet, with all sorts of features including a full-frame 8K imaging system, Tilt Boost and 360° Pan dual configurations and dual-control for operators.

The DJI Inspire 3 was formally announced in April 2023 in a product launch that was surprising to pretty much no one (especially if you read my blog post with DJI Inspire 3 predictions). But with the DJI Inspire 3 launch did come long-awaited follow-up to the original Inspire and Inspire 2 drones that targeted filmmakers.

That said, it’s hardly fair to even group the Inspire 3 together with the Inspire 1 and 2, given those felt like high-end consumer drones. The Inspire 3 marks DJI’s only cinema-grade drone.

DJI Inspire 3 camera drone

It earns that moniker because the Inspire 3 is more powerful and reliable than those before it — and its camera is far-higher quality too. Among its key features:

  • A full-frame 8K cinema camera
  • Up to 28 minutes of flight time
  • 161° ultra-wide FOV night-vision FPV
  • O3 Pro transmission and control
  • Supports omnidirectional sensing
  • Supports RTK- powered Waypoint Pro
  • Supports internal recording of up to 8K/25fps CinemaDNG video as well as 8K/75fps Apple ProRes RAW video

But if you’re more of a casual photographer then — unless you’re also a lottery winner — this drone probably isn’t for you. It’s priced at $16,499, and that’s before you add on all the additional accessories, which you might as well spring for if you’re already going this far on what is easily DJI’s highest-end camera drone.

Perhaps unsurprisingly (though still unfortunate), you’ll have to purchase the license key for Apple ProRes RAW video separately. You’ll also need a separate license key for CinemaDNG video.

Here’s a deep dive into everything this drone is about:

DJI Inspire 3 camera: a full-frame Zenmuse X9-8K Air Gimbal Camera

The feature everyone wants most — a full-frame 8K Zenmuse X9 gimbal camera — is in fact a part of the DJI Inspire 3 drone.

Seriously, we asked Drone Girl readers to vote on their most-wanted feature of the upcoming Inspire 3 drone last week, and you overwhelmingly said the full-frame, 8K camera. 22.2% of you asked for foldable propellers and 11.1% asked for O3+ video transmission as a top priority).

Here are some key details of the camera:

  • Features DJI’s latest image processing system, CineCore 3.0
  • Supports internal recording of up to 8K/25fps CinemaDNG video
  • Supports 8K/75fps Apple ProRes RAW video
    • In S&Q mode, X9-8K Air supports internal recording of up to full-frame 4K/120fps ProRes RAW video without cropping. 
  • Dual native ISO
    • At full-frame 30fps and below: Offers EI 800/4000 (this supports the 24fps commonly seen in film productions and the 25fps used in commercial and television productions).
    • At above 30fps: Offers EI 320/1600 (this is good especially for still getting details in low-light scenes)
  • 14+ tops of dynamic range
  • Uses DJI’s proprietary DL mount

That proprietary DL mount allows for compatible with a range of lenses, which include:

  • An additional 18 mm F2.8 full-frame ultra-wide lens
  • A new telephoto lens specially made for 8K aerial cinematography (though it hasn’t been released yet and there’s no firm date when it’ll arrive)
  • Full-frame 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm lenses

The camera also uses DJI’s in-house color science tech, called the DJI Cinema Color System (DCCS), which is designed to “retain authentic colors that redefine the look of aerial cinematography…and also accurately captures skin tones in different environments and lighting conditions.”

DCCS is also designed to pair with the company’s ground-based cinema cameras, like the DJI Ronin 4D. A filmmaker in theory would film the bulk of the footage on the ground with this camera, but those aerial shots would seamlessly blend given the same DCCS.

Another nice feature is the included DJI PROSSD 1TB, offers up to 1100MBps write speed and up to 900MBps read speed. The footage can be read on a computer directly through the provided USB-C to USB-C cable without the need for a card reader, convenient for DITs.

Inspire 3 SSD

The Inspire 3 drone itself

Despite being much larger than drones like the Mavic 3 Cine, it’s still a lightweight, portable drone. The FPV camera, visual sensors, positioning antennas, and storage card slot are integrated into the airframe, which cuts down on free-dangling parts and streamlines the airframe.

Flight time is up to 28 minutes using hot-swappable TB51 intelligent dual batteries. Hot swapping means that — when replacing the battery — the aircraft does not need to power off.

If you need to fly fast, use the propulsion system which brings a flight speed of up to 94km/h, 8m/s ascent and descent speed and even dive speed up to 10m/s.

New features that aren’t in DJI’s other drones include Tilt Boost and 360° Pan structures. With that, the gimbal supports obstruction-free 80° upward-angle shooting when the landing gear is lowered.

An FPV lens

While this isn’t what you’d film with, there’s also a 161° FOV ultra wide-angle FPV lens with a 1/1.8-inch night-vision sensor. It’s got 3μm pixel size and offers up to 1080p/60fps live feed.

Pilots can use that for a stabilized, ultra low latency view that gives them situational awareness even in low-light.

The Inspire 3 FPV lens

The controller

The Inspire 3 comes with the DJI RC Plus controller, which entails a 7-inch 1,200-nit high-brightness screen to operate even in strong sunlight.

The controller’s internal battery provides up to 3.3 hours operation time, and extends to 6 hours with an external hot-swappable WB37 battery.

Other features include an HDMI out port, customizable buttons and dials and an-installed DJI Pilot 2 app.

DJI’s smartest omnidirectional sensing system to date

If the drone is zipping around filming all sorts of complicated shots, then it better not hit any objects in its route. That’s possible thanks to DJI’s most-advanced omnidirectional sensing system to date, which puts nine visual sensors on the drone.

DJI promises that the Inspire can detect obstacles in all directions.

But you don’t have to use all nine sensors if you don’t want to. There’s a new customizable function where you can choose to independently enabled or disable the horizontal, upward, and downward obstacle sensors. You can also preset an obstacle alert range manually. That’s helpful if you want to fly close to an object and still have obstacle avoidance on — but you need to fly closer than what the old presets allowed.

You can also choose to turn off active avoidance. Even if you do, there are safety features including the ability to view the distance from an obstacle on the navigation display in real-time, and/or receive an audio alert when an obstacle is within a set range — even without the aircraft performing an automatic avoidance movement.

O3 Pro Transmission

Another feature that pilots desperately wanted was an improved transmission system.

DJI’s newest drone up until this new Inspire 3, the DJI Avata, offers DJI’s O3+ video transmission, allowing for a max transmission range of 15 km and a more stable signal.

The Inspire 3 offers an even better version called O3 Pro Transmission. Like O3+, the O3 Pro Transmission enables a transmission range of up to 15 km. But that’s assuming just one controller.

Now, you have the option for dual-control mode, which offers transmission range up to 12 km. With the enhanced dual-control mode, two remote controllers can now receive transmission and control links from the drone independently, so the pilot and gimbal operator can be at different positions on set.

There’s the option to display a live feed of up to 1080p/60fps, with an ultra-low latency of 90 ms. But with this new Pro version, the 4K/30fps live feeds are also supported with a reduced 5km transmission range, which unlocks the ability for ultra-HD output and livestreaming on set.

RTK- powered Waypoint Pro

A huge leg-up on the Inspire 3 is the high-precision RTK positioning technology, which allows the drone to fly routes with centimeter-level accuracy. This is a must-have spec in more industrial applications such as inspections, precision mapping and surveying, where a drone can’t afford to be off by a centimeter if a model or map needs to be made.

While this hasn’t typically been a must-have spec in the cinematography world, it very well could be as the Inspire 3 sets this strong precedent. RTK not only makes flying more stable, but also flight-route planning more accurate, thus allowing filmmakers to get repeatable routes that are truly accurate, even in challenging environments.

Waypoint Pro

This function enables customized flight-route and shot planning, allowing for the drone to capture video in highly-complex scenes — whether solo shooting or in a professional crew.

Here’s what Waypoint Pro can do:

  • Fly repeatable routes: Pilots can input preset parameters such as altitude, speed, gimbal angle, and camera settings — and repeat that same flight mission over and over again. That’s crucial in improving the ability to film otherwise difficult one-takes. It’s also a useful function if you’re flying at different times in the same place, like if you’re taking long-duration timelapses (e.g. day to night or season to season).
  • Simulate a crane, cable cam or dolly: The Waypoint Pro has a function called 3D Dolly, which basically allows the drone to simulate a crane, cable cam, or a dolly — without actually needing to buy and setup one.
  • Spotlight Pro: This uses machine-learning algorithms to offer pilots single-object recognition and tracking. In turn, that allows the pilot to entirely focus on the flight while the gimbal camera stays automatically focused on the subject — even if it’s a complicated flight and they’re a single pilot.

How does RTK work on the Inspire 3?

The integrated 3 GNSS System (GPS + Galileo + BeiDou) is powered by built-in dual-layered ceramic RTK antennas. Activate the RTK network or set up a D-RTK 2 Mobile Station (which requires a separate purchase) to achieve highly accurate positioning — all without the need to mount any additional modules.

Because this tech provides the Inspire 3 with internal orientation, compass calibration isn’t needed in most scenarios. 

When RTK is disabled, DJI Inspire 3 uses GNSS positioning by default.

Other DJI Inspire 3 accessories, add-ons and ecosystem integrations

DJI doesn’t just want you to buy its Inspire 3. It wants you to buy into its full ecosystem of products designed for professional filmmaking — a field DJI is increasingly leaning into. Just last month, DJI announced the Ronin 4D Flex, a product designed for cinematographers that added the first cinema zoom lens add-on to DJI’s camera platform as well as introduced a way for operators to separate the Zenmuse X9 gimbal camera from the main body. Last month, DJI also finally enabled customers to be able to buy an activation license key for the Apple ProRes RAW codec on Ronin 4D at the DJI Store.

And that spirit of continuing to be a superpower on film sets lives on with the Inspire 3. One example of that is that the Inspire 3 features Timesync Support through a 3.5mm jack. That’s useful for teams dealing with tons of footage from multiple cameras, as timecode sync makes the editing process significantly more simplified and efficient.

The drone can also pair with one RC Plus and one High-Bright Remote Monitor. The monitor is in turn able to link your whole system to the DJI Pro Ecosystem, which brings in compatibility with other DJI products such as the DJI 4D Hand Grips and DJI Master Wheels.

DJI also today released a few accessories including:

  • New foldable quick-release propellers: With the new model 1671 propellers, you now likely won’t have to reinstall propellers before each flight and — should you take them off — are far easier to store. There’s also a version designed for high-altitudes of 3,000 meters or more that’s slightly more expensive (that’s model DJI 1676). Spare quick release propellers run for $69 per pair, while the high-altitude version runs for $89.
  • Foldable battery charging hub: Make your charging more efficient without demanding too much storage size. This hub can accommodate eight batteries and can charge two batteries to 90% simultaneously in just 35 minutes in fast charge mode, and to 100% in only 160 minutes . The included 65W USB-C port can also be used to charge an RC Plus. Though, it’ll cost you big: the hub comes in at $899.
  • A new trolley case: This version has an extendable handle, two side handles, and four 360-degree-movement wheels. 
  • Strap and waist support for the RC Plus remote controller: This should simply make shoots more comfortable. The DJI RC Plus Strap and Waist Support Kit costs an additional $99.

Also expect to pay an additional price to get the license keys for CinemaDNG video and/or Apple ProRes RAW video.

Here’s a full breakdown of all the add-on accessories and their costs:

Who is the DJI Inspire 3 best for?

Who is the DJI Inspire 3 best for? This is a drone for filmmakers and other content creators who don’t mind a serious, bulky rig in the name of the highest-quality camera.

But before we dive into why this drone is so ideal for filmmakers, let’s discuss the Inspire 3’s two closest competitors — and why (on some key levels) they aren’t really competitors at all.

DJI Mavic 3 The Drone Girl Sally French
The DJI Mavic 3

What about the DJI Mavic 3?

Travelers, bloggers and other folks who prefer a lighter-weight system and still want high quality video (say for YouTube) but don’t necessarily need cinema-quality footage would still be better served by the DJI Mavic 3. That drone is foldable and compact, and records in 5.1K and DCI 4K/120fps with Apple ProRes 422 HQ encoding — if you opt for the DJI Mavic 3 Cine. There are a few models of the DJI Mavic 3, starting at just $1,599 for the Mavic 3 Classic and past $5,000 for all the bells and whistles with the DJI Mavic 3 Cine Premium Combo.

It’s a lot cheaper than the Inspire 3, but also lacks a lot the truly top-of-the-line features.

Sony pilot Craig Coker flying the Sony Airpeak S1.

What about non-DJI competitors?

Given its high emphasis on cinematography, the DJI Inspire 3’s closest competitor is another ultra serious camera drone: the Sony Airpeak. The Airpeak is the best way to fly the Sony Alpha full frame cameras, as that line of mirrorless cameras coupled with a GBL-T3 from Gremsy integrate seamlessly into the drone.

This drone has one especially-major downfalls versus the Inspire 3, though: battery life. The battery life on this drone is abysmal. While it’s technically 22 minutes, that assumes no payload (and thus no gimbal or camera). Once you add on weight, like the camera, it drops too closer to 12 minutes, which can hardly be sufficient time to get the shot you need before you need to land the drone again.

With the hot-swappable TB51 intelligent dual batteries, the Inspire 3 provides flight time of up to 28 minutes — measured when the drone is flying a constant speed of 36 km/h in a windless environment at sea level with the gimbal camera and lens attached to the aircraft (though without other accessories).

On the cost front, the Airpeak and the Inspire 3 are a bit more aligned. The Airpeak drone itself costs $9,000, but that’s before the camera and gimbal. Expect to pay an additional $2,000+ for the gimbal, between $1,800 and $6,500 for the camera body, and we’ll say at least $1,000 for the lens. A $17,000 budget for the Airpeak rig is far more reasonable, which is roughly the same as the Inspire cost.

A big reason why the Airpeak might be better is that you can use your Alpha camera for more than just drone flying. You cannot use the Zenmuse X9-8K Air independently from the DJI Inspire 3. To get the same-level image quality on a ground-based platform, you’d want to buy a separate DJI Ronin 4D – which is an additional cost.

The DJI Inspire 3 definitely wins on battery life. All new hot-swappable TB51 intelligent dual batteries provide flight time of up to 28 minutes.

A history of the DJI Inspire line

The DJI Inspire 3 is a long time coming. The last time the Inspire got a significant upgrade was in November 2016, when DJI launched the Inspire 2 drone. The Inspire 2 was notable for features including 5.2K video and limited sense and avoid. At its launch, it cost $2,999 for the standalone drone, or just over $6,000 for a kit that includes the aircraft, Zenmuse X5S camera, CinemaDNG and Apple ProRes License Key.

When the Zenmuse X7 came out, the Inspire 2 also supported that camera — but the new Zenmuse X9-8K Air has even more features, serving up a full-frame image sensor that can record video at up to 8K RAW. In terms of lens mounting, the X9 adds a lens locking lever.

The DJI Inspire 2 drone

The Inspire 2 followed the DJI Inspire 1, which launched in November 2014 with a built-in Inspire 1 camera that could shoot up to 4K video and capture 12 megapixel photos.

The DJI Inspire 1 launched in November 2014

How to get your hands on an Inspire 3

If you’re ready to spring $16,499 for the Inspire 3 (and likely more, considering you’ll want the add-on accessories), start opening your wallet. It finall became available for purchase at the very end of May 2023.

Not only might you buy the drone, but there are also other accessories as well as DJI Care Pro, an extra insurance plan for accidental damage that offers an unlimited number of free repairs for covered reasons, which includes water damage, drop damage, improper use, and other accidents. Coverage also gets you two free replacements for new batteries each year and Flyaway coverage. Coverage is $2,099 for one year or $3,899 for two years of coverage.

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