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DJI’s eye in the sky gets closer to land with optical zoom

One of the biggest players in the drone photography industry today announced a big first: an optical zoom. The DJI Zenmuse Z3 camera is the company’s first camera to include a zoom lens with a 3.5x optical zoom alongside 4K footage.

The Z3 isn’t the first aerial camera to include zoom (with one of the most notable options being the Aeryon HDZoom30 with a 30x zoom) but it is a first for DJI’s wide range of products. The Z3 is compatible with the Inspire 1 and both the Matrice 100 and 600.

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Alongside the 3.5x optical zoom, the camera includes a 2x digital zoom — combining the two brings up the total to 7x, or the equivalent to a 22-77mm lens on a DSLR. While digital zoom just crops the footage, with 4K quality, losing a bit to digital zoom won’t be such a big loss. The zoom, along with the camera’s other settings, can be controlled by swiping within the DJI Go app.

The camera is designed with a 12 megapixel 1/2.3 inch Sony sensor. And along with that zoom, the Z3 adds a reaction wheel that works alongside the motorized yaw control for more stable shots.

While the zoom could be a handy tool simply for aerial photography, the Z3 is designed more for industrial and commercial use. Thanks to the zoom, the drone can fly at a safer distance from obstacles as well as fly a little farther from disasters in search and rescue applications.

“Before this camera, the only way to zoom in on a subject or object was to fly closer to it,” said Paul Pan, senior product manager. “Now, pilots in a search-and-rescue situation, or conducting surveys or inspections, can maintain distance and still zoom in for sharp, detailed images.”

The DJI Zenmuse Z3 will start shipping at the end of the month with a $899 price tag.