Drone-maker DJI announced a new, high-end camera module for its Inspire 2 aerial platform. Called the Zenmuse X7, it is the first dedicated aerial camera from the company to use a large Super35 sensor, the standard format of professional cinema (or “digital film”) cameras from the likes of Arri, Red, Blackmagic Design, and Canon. Arriving in November, this is more than a high-end aerial camera; it’s an impressive camera from any perspective.
Capable of shooting 6K RAW video at up to 30 frames per second in the Cinema DNG format, the X7 is built with professional cinematographers in mind. It can also shoot 5.2K Apple ProRes video for a streamlined postproduction workflow, and even offers both h.265 (also known as HEVC) and h.264 formats for greater compression and space savings.
DJI claims the X7 can capture 14 stops of dynamic range, putting in league with other Super35 cameras. That means it should be able to capture epic landscape vistas without blowing out highlights in the sky or losing detail in shadows on the ground. And thanks do a new D-Log gamma profile, users should get most of that dynamic range even if they choose not to shoot in RAW.
Perhaps more impressive, however, is that DJI has outfitted the Zenmuze X7 with interchangeable lenses. To stay within the strict weight and balance requirements of aerial cameras (particularly those built for small drones like the Inspire 2, DJI designed its own mount with an ultra-short flange back distance and custom lenses that are housed in carbon fiber bodies.
A 16mm, 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm will be available initially, all with f/2.8 apertures. The 16mm has a built-in 2-stop ND filter while the others all feature mechanical shutters (which should eliminate the “jello cam” effect of rolling electronic shutter that plagues many digital video cameras).
The most exciting part may simply be the price: $2,699. Sure, that’s not exactly what most amateur drone enthusiasts would call affordable — and you have to consider the cost of the Inspire 2 drone itself ($2,999) and lenses (ranging from $1,199 to $1,299) — but compared to the tens of thousands of dollars needed to put a typical cinema camera in the sky, it’s a bargain. If the Zenmuse X7 pans out to be as good in practice as it looks on paper, this could be a real game changer for both indie and big studio filmmaking.
Update November 8, 2017: The Zenmuse X7 has been independently tested by DxOMark, who found it to be essentially identical in performance to the top-rated APS-C sensor (found in the Nikon D7500). With high scores in dynamic range, ISO sensitivity, and color depth, it would seem the X7 is indeed living up to its impressive spec sheet. Notably, it scored considerably higher in every category than DJI’s Micro Four Thirds-based X5S, so aerial cinematographers should notice a difference if they choose to upgrade.