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Posted by on Aug 14, 2016

First Look: DJI Zenmuse Z3 Zoom Camera/Gimbal for Inspire 1 and M600

First Look: DJI Zenmuse Z3 Zoom Camera/Gimbal for Inspire 1 and M600

While I’ve been waiting for the right time (and $$) to save up for an X5 camera and get multiple lenses so I could have some creative latitude in my aerial photography/videography, DJI comes out with the Z3 cam with up to 7x zoom capabilities and I pounce on the pre-order rush through Multicopter Warehouse. So here are my first thoughts about this innovative new prosumer aerial camera/gimbal.

Multi-lens Zoom

DJI Zenmuse Z3 7x Zoom Camera/Gimbal

The Zenmuse Z3 is an integrated aerial zoom camera that is an upgrade to the Zenmuse X3 that comes with the Inspire 1, yet features  an optical zoom of up to 3.5x at all resolutions of video and still photography. The digital 2x zoom is a “lossless” (sensor crop) of lower-resolution JPGs images and video 1080p HD and lower. The 1/2.3 CMOS sensor supports 4K video recording and 12MP still images.

Z3 mountsAs with the Zenmuse X3 camera, the Z3 can be mounted to the DJI Inspire 1, Inspire 1 v2.0, Inspire Pro, Matrice 100 and M600 airframes.

Contrary to rumors (possibly from pre-release beta test units), the Z3 WILL NOT work on the DJI Osmo handle. Trust me – I tried it. The fan will run but the gimbal & camera won’t power up and the DJI Go app will not connect to the Osmo. Bummer, too, because as useful as the Osmo is in so many production scenarios, this would be a great Prosumer solution for under $1000, where the X5 is still out of reach for so many folks (not to mention is bigger/heavier to handle on such a small handle). I really hope that DJI will get enough pressure from their user base to eventually add firmware that will allow the Z3 to work with the Osmo. Consider this my first request.

The Z3 is considerably larger than the X3 and weighs in at 262 grams. Here’s a shot of them side-by-side:
Size-compare

 

The integrated zoom lens in the Z3 camera housing in the newly-designed, dual support gimbal doesn’t extend outside of the face of the camera, so you can still use your PolarPro PL and ND filters from the X3. This also maintains better camera/gimbal balance through the entire zoom range.

PolarProThe dual-armed gimbal provides a steadier support for longer focal length shots. And unlike the X3, the Z3 gimbal rotates all the way around on its X-axis, although it’s unknown if there will ever be a need for roll past 90º of level.

One suggestion I’d provide for anyone upgrading from the X3 to the Z3 is to also buy/install a Zenmuse X5 Vibration Absorbing Board – which greatly reduces camera vibrations and wobble, even on the X3. You’ll want all the vibration dampening and stabilization you can get with the Z3 at longer focal lengths.

X5-vibr-plate

Zenmuse Z3 Camera Performance

What most readers have been asking for are specs, images and video examples, and I’ve got quite a few for comparison.

The first thing people have been asking about is how the zoom affects image quality. If you’re shooting still images, then realize you’re only going to get the 3.5x optical zoom for your RAW (DNG) images and the full 7x for JPGs. When you’re shooting video, you’ll get up to 3.5x optical zoom for 4k/24-30 and 7x for 1080p/24-30-48-60 and lower. Zoomed-out, the Z3 gives you an approximate 22mm equivalent focal length. Zoomed-in to the 3.5mm is approximately 40mm (92º FOV and F2.8) and with the digital zoom 2X crop close to 77mm in frame (35º FOV and F5.2).

This is because the “2x lossless digital zoom” is actually cropping the sensor and up-scaling for you in-camera. This is okay for some commercial purposed like inspections, journalism, environmental and agriculture, search & rescue/fire, construction, industrial, etc. As you’ll see in some of my examples below, I wouldn’t recommend using the digital zoom for cinematic work for 2 main reasons:

  1. Even minimal camera shake/vibration causes rolling shutter and lower-quality video/photo output on long focal length shots
  2. Cropping the sensor does not equate to a longer focal length through the lens, so you’re not gaining an actual increased focal length

Photo zoom comparisons (JPG + RAW):

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0009.JPG

Here are some examples that you can download and see the full-resolution files to compare at 100% (note that due to server and size constraints, I’ve combined each of these files to RGB PNG so they can be accessed for single download). Click on image to view/download the full-size file (22MB)

Click image to download full-res image

Video zoom comparisons (1080p & 4k):

I’ve compiled some test video examples – both unprocessed and finally, with stabilization and color grading in the final 4K. You’ll notice a bit of jello in the extreme zoomed-in shots, as some vibration from the craft does come through and we were flying with about 10mph winds in some shots. These were all shot with the Zenmuse Z3 mounted on an Inspire 1 with the X5 Vibration Absorbing Board and a PolarPro PL filter. You can compare between 1080p/60 and 4k/30, plus I’ve included a version of the 4k that’s been stabilized for comparison with straight out of the camera.

These are hosted on YouTube so you will get a sense of what your videos could look like streaming online – which is most likely the most popular use for a camera such as the Z3. Be sure to click the “Watch on YouTube” button to view in their full HD resolution full-screen!

1080p/60fps (unprocessed) video via YouTube:

4K/30fps (unprocessed) video via YouTube:

4K/30fps Stabilized/Color Graded with Adobe Premier Pro CC via YouTube:

Camera zoom controls on the DJI Co App and Radio Controller

You can control the zoom of the camera either with the touchscreen of your tablet or the combination of the C2 button on your controller and the camera tilt wheel simultaneously. The autofocus does a pretty good job on it’s own but sometimes you need to tap an object to get proper focus/exposure compensation to lock in. You can also tap/hold/drag your finger on the screen to move the camera gimbal around in the scene or reposition to center the target object – similar to the way the Osmo works. This could be really useful for a 2nd cam op to control the gimbal smoothly while the pilot maintains a smooth flight path.

AF-app-screen

Things to consider when upgrading to the Zenmuse Z3

As with most major product upgrades and new designs, there are bound to be some setup steps to consider.

  • Be sure to update your smart device/tablet OS and DJI Go App is up to date.
  • Make sure your Inspire’s firmware is up to date, as well as all of your radio controllers.
  • If you encounter issues with the controller not operating the zoom correctly or the app isn’t responding to your camera’s feed, or your 2nd controller won’t respond as a slave cam op anymore, then you might try to remove the Go app altogether and reboot your device. Reinstall the Go app and set up your controller again as a Slave to the main controller Master. That combination has been working for a lot of early adopters so far.

The Zenmus Z3 camera/gimbal sells for $899 and the X5 Vibration Absorbing Board sells for $99. Both are currently available and usually in stock at Multicopter Warehouse.

  • J.W. Ramp

    Great info! Thanks for taking the time to put all of these comparison shots together. I had a no-fly issue a few weeks back where it wouldn’t let me authorize my flight 5hr before an MLB game. Did the app delete and reinstall trick and we were up in the air in no time.