DJI Zenmuse x7 — A photographer’s first impressions

This review focuses on photographer’s perspective, with sample still images rather than video. At the bottom there is a link to full size, unedited RAW files you can download and review yourself.

As a landscape photographer I always look for vantage points, elevated views, try to avoid those branches (or power lines) getting into the frame. I also love aerial photography but haven’t done it much for two reasons, costs and the fact that arranging the flight is not really straight-forward.

With the rise of popularity of drones I became more interested in using one myself. I am not really interested in video production so my biggest reason why not jump on this train was the quality of still images. I did get a Mavic Pro a few months ago and loved it. It’s size and ease of use is amazing. However, being used of DSLR quality of images I was disappointed. Not to mention crazy flare that ruined most of the shots.

When DJI announced Zenmuse x7 camera with prime, interchangeable lenses they really got my attention. This could be the first aerial camera system for landscape photography that would give me satisfying image quality. So I ordered the whole system at Kopterworx (recommended retailer if you are in EU).

After initial problems with updating firmware, getting used to flying the Inspire 2 beast and the first crash (yes, I already crashed it, more on this in another post) here are my thoughts and sample images (including 100% crops):

1) Some edited shots that I like — this is why I bought the system.

1) Lake Bled, Slovenia — DJI Zenmuse x7 with 16mm lens (ISO 200, f8, 1/15s and 1/5s, two exposures blended)
2) Lake Bled, Slovenia — DJI Zenmuse x7 with 50mm lens (ISO 100, f9, 1/80s, three horizontal images stitched into vertical panorama)
3) Lake Cerknica, Slovenia — DJI Zenmuse x7 with 16mm lens (ISO 100, f7.1, 0.6s)
4) Lake Cerknica, Slovenia — DJI Zenmuse x7 with 16mm lens (ISO 100, f5.6, 1s)

2) Cropped image samples at actual pixel size

Actual pixels of the the fourth image above. Note that this was taken at 1s shutter speed!
Shooting into the sun with 50mm lens (ISO 100, f16, 1/30s) — download the original RAW file below
100% crop of a low light shot with 16mm lens (ISO 400, f2.8, 1/50s) — download the original RAW file below
Well controlled dynamic range with noticeable flare (but manageable) — download the original RAW file below
DJI Zenmuse x7 with 35mm lens (ISO 100, f8, 1/25s, cropped, actual pixels) The distance from the camera to the castle is 1.6km (1 mile) — download the original RAW file below
Harsh sunlight reflecting from white surface. Very well controlled highlights and shadows. DJI Zenmuse x7 with 50mm lens (ISO 100, f9, 1/50s)
Shadows. Unless the image is totally underexposed you can bring back details from the shadows with almost no noise.

3) Here you can download the original RAW files of the above images.

And a short recap with Pros and Cons of using a drone:

Pros:

  • Image quality. Comparable to the high-end DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Sharpness throughout the frame, controllable flare, dynamic range.
  • Interchangeable lenses. A set of four lenses will give you focal lengths of 24–75mm (full frame equivalent) which gives you much more usability than just wide angle of most other consumer drones.
  • Ease if use. DJI managed to build a system that everyone can use without long period of training and learning. There is still much room for improvement, but I am sure that this is coming too.

Cons:

  • Price. If you purchase a full set, Inspire 2, Zenmuse x7 camera, all four lenses, SSD drives, video licences and other smaller (but necessary) stuff it will easily cost you 15,000€. And it is too easy to break it..
  • Portability. Inspire 2 is a big drone. And heavy. While it is still possible to pack it into a backpack, you can forget about carrying a drone AND a camera. Pick one of the two.

In the next post I will write more about handling Inspire 2 drone and more sample shots taken with Zenmuse x7 camera. Stay tuned.

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