Review: Inspire 2 Premium Combo with Zenmuse X5S is a Fantastic Drone. Plus, Our Take on the Phantom 4 Pro+
We have a long history covering DJI drones, from the original Phantom 1 to the complete Inspire line and the many Zenmuse cameras. With their newest releases, we had a unique perspective, having a lot of time with their predecessors. Having flown all of the past Inspire versions, we needed to know what was new, what was different and why someone might want to upgrade. In this review, we’re going to talk mostly about the DJI Inspire 2. Don’t worry if you’re here for the Phantom 4 Pro info; we have a special section just for you.
You have options.
The Inspire 2 can be built in multiple configurations, depending on the camera you require. Plus, you can add in a second controller for independant gimbal and camera control. Depending on the configuration, the Inspire 2 can be bought for as low as 3,000 dollars. However, that’s without a camera or ProRes and CinemaDNG codecs. The unit we reviewed is configured at $7,795. Added from the base model are dual controllers, a 480GB SSD and the Zenmuse X5S camera and gimbal.
Can be controlled by two operators
If there is anything DJI does well, it’s a unified user experience. No matter if you fly the Mavic Pro or the Inspire 2, the user experience is almost identical. Sure each will have their individual flight characteristics, but overall DJI drones all feel similar. With that said, not all things shared across the models is positive. Without fail, every DJI drone we have reviewed, at least once before a flight, has required an update of some kind. Sometimes, it’s just a software update on the app or controller. Other times involve a firmware update for the aircraft.
Prior to any flight with a drone, it’s important to look over the physical condition of the aircraft and make sure it’s ready for flight. During this process, we have found it typical that an update is needed. Sometimes this takes as little as five minutes but in other cases, the updates take more than an hour. Because we plan our flights, the time it takes for the update isn’t an issue, but it does take time. However, we have also had updates say they were complete, only to find when we got out to where we were going to fly, the update wasn’t complete and either started over, or continued to need to be updated. We have wasted time driving to locations, organizing the time to fly and spent the time to set up for the flight, only to not fly because we don’t have enough battery life after the update has been served, or because we were limited in time to begin with.
It’s understandable that the rapidly growing drone world would have to serve updates more often than is typical for a camera, but how often DJI drones require them is not cool. We understand that the updates are a double edged sword. You don’t want to crash, so you do them. To conclude our rant on the updates; why does DJI always make doing the updates require special cables? Depending on the phone you have, what cable you need will change. Why not use the SD card slot to serve the updates? It just seems too easy. By the way, there is already an SD card slot on the Inspire 2 — just sayin.
Now that I have that off my chest, let’s talk about flying the DJI Inspire 2. The first thing we did is take it out of its box. Just like the Inspire 1, the Inspire 2 has a travel mode for storing the drone. To get it out of this mode, you must either tell it to get into flight mode from the app, or physically retract the landing gear with a screwdriver. We have had to do the latter to an Inspire 1 and it’s not fun. The controls are hidden behind things that you must move out of the way. If you are not comfortable taking a drone apart, then this can be a bit nerve racking.
After we took it out of travel mode via the app, we attached the camera. The X5S attaches to the Inspire 2 much better than to the Inspire 1. Just like attaching a lens on an interchangeable lens camera, you press a button and turn to attach the camera. This is a far easier process compared to the Inspire 1, and it’s easier to identify if it’s fully and properly connected. It wouldn’t be a good day for your camera and gimbal to fall off mid flight. This change is definitely an upgrade.
MFT sensor and lens mount
The Inspire 2 has also been upgraded to two batteries instead of just one, as was the case with the Inspire1. We experienced an average flight time of 22 minutes. Like all drones, how hard you fly it and the conditions in which you are flying will greatly affect flight time. Flying as aggressive as we needed to to get the shots and amongst multiple windy flying situations, we would expect to at least always get a 20 minute flight per charge. Would we like more flight time? Yup, you bet. However always getting over 20 minute flights are exceptional when compared to most out there. And when you consider its size, its power consumption is worthy of praise. We could see how you could fly conservatively on a still day and get as much as the 27 minutes DJI suggests, but you might nod off from the excitement of a flight like that.
Getting Off the Ground
The maiden flight for the Inspire 2 started with a flight using the Phantom 4 Pro + to get acclimated to the flying conditions. At the time, we had more flights on the Phantom 4 Pro +. That gave us more confidence when flying the Inspire 2 for the first time. The most noticeable difference between the two in flight is the amount of sound the rotors and motors put out. The Phantom 4 Pro + sounds very typical, like most drones —much like an angry swarm of bees. The Inspire 2 is significantly quieter and because of that, the drone can be closer to you without you hearing it. When flying the Inspire 2, it’s a dream. Its fast; it responds quickly. Even when we were flying sporadically, between shots, the footage was still shake free. Overall, the flight characteristics of the Inspire 2 are the best we have yet experienced.
Carbon fiber arms
The sensors for crash avoidance allow for forward and downward detection. When engaged, flight speed is limited to 34 miles per hour. Just like other DJI drones with crash avoidance systems, having it on changes the flight speeds significantly and makes the drone not nearly as quick to respond to commands. With a drone at this level, most owners of the Inspire 2 won’t use the avoidance system; they just don’t need it. However in some situations, like flying indoors or close to a subject, it could make or break your ability to get a shot. It’s a great perk, but may not be a necessity in a drone targeted at a more savvy and experienced pilot. We’d happily take a cheaper version of the Inspire 2 without the avoidance. Even moreover, we feel its cost and quality point to a pilot with experience vs being someone’s first drone. And for those that need it there could be a upgraded version to buy as well.
How does the video look?
Up to this point, every new camera that DJI offers is better than the last; the X5S is no different. Recording to a onboard SSD, you can shoot in Cinema DNG, 4444 ProRes and many others. Its has a Micro Four Thirds image sensor and lens mount and the image quality is fantastic. You get ISO, aperture and shutter speed control, so getting the best exposure isn’t difficult. Neutral density (ND) filters will most likely be necessary on a sunny day, so make sure to know the size of the threads on your lens and save room in your budget to buy a few NDs. Your shooting will benefit from it. You can shoot up to 60 frames per second when shooting H.264. It will even make proxy files on the fly to a MicroSD card.
What’s up with the Phantom?
The Phantom 4 Pro + is not a huge jump from the Phantom 4. The image quality is better, but outside of that, it’s not too different. Sure, it has the crash avoidance, but it’s likely outside of new pilots, it has limited need. Again, when flying indoors, it could be helpful, but learning to be a good pilot is a far better investment. The sensors just give a false sense of security in many situations. The better the pilot, the less likelihood of their aircraft crashing. Of course, the caveat to that is when flying close to a subject.
The standout feature of the 4 Pro + is the “+” part – a built in screen.
The standout feature of the 4 Pro + is the “+” part – a built in screen. It’s a touch screen, and is quite bright(1000 nit). Most flying is done in good weather, so although we did experience some glare, the brightness of the screen was good enough to counter that. The best part of the built-in screen is that you don’t need to use your phone anymore. If you’re like us, when you use your phone it might not always be at full charge. When that’s the case, even if you have a fully charged controller and drone, your phone might limit your flight time. Yes, you can plan more and get around this, but get the + and you don’t need to plan for that.
The Phantom 4 Pro + lends itself to being flown more because of the built-in screen. We found, like with the Mavic Pro, the simpler the setup is, the more likely you are to fly more often. The size of the Mavic Pro made this true, and the screen from the 4 Pro + also has the same effect.
When considering the Phantom 4 Pro +, we would recommend it. It’s more expensive than we’d like it to be, but it’s a nice upgrade from the Phantom 4 and the screen is of significant benefit. If looking outside of DJI for a drone, there are many other options in the Phantom’s price range. If you are looking, take a glimpse at Yuneec or Autel for an alternative to the Phantom 4.
The Drone marketplace is a bit like the wild west. Although some pricepoint trends are starting to take place with the entry level aircraft, drones that are in the $2,000 plus price range are all over the place. This is unlike the camera marketplace, where every camera has a rival at a similar price point. Let’s look at a drone that is near the price of the Inspire 2.
Yuneec isn’t new to the game, but has yet to develop a drone that connects in a significant way. The Tornado H920 is $3,500 without a camera. Add in a GH4 for $1,500 and your all-in price is $5,000. Configured the same way, the Inspire 2 is $6,200 and that doesn’t include the expensive SSD. Both drones have retractable landing gear and are made of carbon fiber. Now, we have not flown the H920, but Yuneec says it will be here soon, but until then, we can’t speak to how good of a drone it is or its value outside of the specs. However, having flown the Inspire 2, it is worthy of its price tag. Plus, the image is at least equal to or better than what comes from a GH4.
The Inspire 2 is a fantastic drone. Get it with the X5S, and it’s a cinema camera in the sky. It flies great and has a pretty good battery life. We didn’t like how often it needed to be updated and how long it took. The SSD is not cheap, but gives the ability to shoot RAW from the sky. As reviewed, the cost of the Inspire 2 is enough to give anyone heartburn. However, its capability matches the cost. We would recommend the DJI Inspire 2.
Inspire 2 – $7,795
Phantom 4 Pro + – $1,800
The Inspire 2 flies great, has a great battery life and the X5S has superb image quality. We would like DJI drones as a whole to have fewer updates and offer a more affordable Inspire 2 without crash avoidance.
Maximum Speed: 58 mph (94 km/h)
Obstacle Sensory Range: 0-16.4′ / 0-5 m
Maximum Transmission Distance: 2.4 GHz: 4.3 mi / 7 km, 5.8 GHz: 4.3 mi / 7 km
Sensor: CMOS, 4/3”
Effective Pixels: 20.8MP
Photo Formats: DNG, JPEG, DNG + JEPG
Electronic Shutter Speed: 8-1/8000s
H.264 – Up to DCI 4k -59.94p @100Mbps
H.265 – Up to DCI 4k -29.97p @100Mbps, HD: 119.88p @100Mbps
C-DNG RAW – Up to 5.2K 29.97p, up to 4.2Gbps, 4K: 59.94p, up to 4.0Gbps
Apple ProRes – 5.2K: 5280×2160 29.97p, 422 HQ @1.3Gbps, UHD 4K: 29.97p, 422 HQ @900Mbps, UHD 4K: 29.97p, 4444 XQ @2.0Gbps