We finally get a camera for the aerial photographers among us. The Zenmuse Z3 is the first of DJI’s proprietary cameras to offer optical zoom. DJI bills the Z3 as offering up to 7X zoom by pairing a 3.5x optical zoom with a 2x digital zoom.

Enthusiasts and professionals? Bank on the 3.5x zoom and leave the digital zoom alone. The digital zoom is lossless, so it will have its uses in certain applications.

Along with the zoom functions comes an improved yaw control to fine-tune against movements when zoomed in. The gimbal will correct for most, but still photography demands a stable platform.

DJI Z3 and X3

It will inevitably cause confusion, but the two cameras look alike and share nearly identical specs. If you want the zoom capability, make sure you’re ordering the Z3. It’s the more expensive one at $900, and DJI will make sure there are no accidental orders.

DJI's Zenmuse Z3 optical zoom

Drone owners won’t have to worry. They already know they have the X3 or X5(R). It’s the Osmo owners that could screw up. The Z3 slated for launch later this month is not compatible with the Osmo. Yeah, that sucks. But, the good news is August will see an Osmo-compatible Z3.

Zenmuse Z3 Sensor and Tech Specs

Have an Inspire 1 or a Phantom 4? The sensor in the Z3 is the same, allowing 12-megapixel shots and DNG RAW support. Its 1 / 2.3-inch Sony sensor can handle 4K video at 30fps.

Flight times depend on the platform. On a DJI Inspire 1, the Z3 hits 19 minutes. 30 minutes on the Matrice 100 and 39 minutes on the Matrice 600.

Controlling the zoom rests inside the DJI Go app. Swipe to zoom in and out on the screen. Makes you wish for more granular control in the menu settings. Yes, we are all used to gestures thanks to smartphones, but the ability to dictate the exact zoom for your shot? It wouldn’t be surprising to see that as an app update.

Focal length equivalents on the Z3 ranges from 22mm to 77mm, and a maximum aperture of f2.8 (22mm) and f5.2 (77mm).

DJI expects to ship the Z3 on July 28 for $900.

One downside? Expect the critics to lose their mind over the zoom functionality and privacy. That ignores the aerial platforms that already exist, but when has context ever stopped people? Don’t discount the criticism. Realize it’s on the community to rise above it and let the bad apples weed themselves out.

Phantom 4 and Beyond

Sorry Phantom owners. No zoom for us, yet. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where this camera tech doesn’t make it into a Phantom 4 Pro or something similar. Is it a lock? No, but camera tech is where drones distinguish themselves.

It’s the Inspire 2 where the Z3’s tech should enter the frame. The improved yaw control will make the platform more stable.

Will it come with optical zoom out-of-the-box? It seems fair to say something is in the works. With the Z3 announcement, expect upgrades to the X5 family to come shortly. And there has to be an Inspire 2 announcement waiting in the wings of DJI HQ.

Gear. TV. Movies. Lifestyle. Photography. Yeah, I’m the type who sees a shiny object and is immediately captivated. Wait... There’s another. You can reach me at marcus@newsledge.com

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