Xiaomi have announced that they are releasing their first drone with gimbal-stabilized 4K video: the Xiaomi Mi Drone. A problem I see facing many people is finding a drone with a gimbal-stabilized 4K camera without paying $800+ for a DJI Phantom series drone such as the Phantom 3 4K. The technology not only to make a gimbal-stabilized camera, but to integrate it properly with a flying drone platform has traditionally been rather expensive. A drone with a gimbal-stabilized camera offers a superior experience over drones with a fixed camera.
A gimbal-stabilized camera allows both precise camera control and helps eliminate camera shake and vibration which is especially noticeable when a camera is fixed to a flying drone. Now that the major Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi has entered the drone industry, it can use its economies of scale to significantly reduce drone production costs and lower the final price for consumers. This will make drones with gimbal-stabilized cameras accessible to more people.
Here are some of the key features of the Xiaomi Mi Drone:
- The controller can be paired with an iPhone or Android phone for first-person video streaming
- Simple takeoff and landing button (flies straight up to 4m then hovers).
- Go home switch (switching to it automatically makes the drone fly toward its takeoff point)
- 27 minutes of flight time (versus 25 minutes for the Phantom 3 4K)
- 1080p or 4K UHD camera, with 104° wide-angle lens
- Can take pictures in RAW or JPEG format
- 2km range for 4K version (compared to 1.2km range for the Phantom 3 4K), 1km range for 1080p version
- GPS, GLONASS, vision-based positioning
- Autopilot Take-off, landing, waypoint, tap to fly, circle an object
- Detects low battery and returns home automatically
- The camera and gimbal are removable and the landing legs fold up for greater portability
4K version: Up to 2km control distance and live video view
After playing around with the Xiaomi Mi Drone demo units, the initial testers reported that aside from from the camera tilt being a little slower than desired, the drone flew easily and precisely and produced quality video, as shown below. The only other concerns at the moment were the artificial 120m max height, and the initial newbie mode. The newbie mode reduces max speed to 5.6m/s for the first 300 minutes to help ease new pilots into learning how to fly. Both restrictions are software based and could be changed in the future as the Xiaomi Mi Drone is updated.
Xiaomi may be new to the drone industry and lacking the experience of DJI, but let’s be honest DJI isn’t exactly perfect (customer service? hello?), it’s merely the least bad option at the moment. On the other hand Xiaomi does have an excellent track record of releasing high quality yet inexpensive smartphones. Wait until the 4K Xiaomi Mi Drone version is released in late July for around $450 USD, then buy it if you want the lowest priced drone with a gimbal-stabilized 4K camera. The 1080p version will be released a bit earlier for around $390, but the upgrade to the 4K version with twice the range for only $60 more is a no-brainer. Until then the cheapest drone with a gimbal-stabilized 4K camera is still the DJI Phantom 3 4K at $799.