DJI has announced the Zenmuse Z3, its first integrated aerial zoom camera. The 12-megapixel shooter offers up to a 7x zoom and uses an updated version of DJI's gimbal technology to deliver sharp images even at longer focal lengths. This will allow drone photographers to get closer to the action, without actually having to fly their drone closer.

The Zenmuse Z3 camera, which is compatible with the Inspire 1, Matrice 100 and Matrice 600 drones, features the same 1/2.3-inch Sony image sensor as used on the Inspire 1 and the Phantom 4. However, here it's combined with a 4-mm to 14-mm 3.5x optical zoom giving a 22-mm to 77-mm equivalent focal length range, and a 2x digital zoom. It has a variable F2.8 to F5.2 maximum aperture range.

DJI says the zoom camera is designed for industry applications such as equipment inspection, surveying, fire control, or search and rescue, where the ability to zoom in on a subject without getting too close can be important.

The Zenmuse Z3 is integrated into the DJI GO app, allowing users to see a live feed, adjust camera settings, and swipe to zoom in and out. Camera controls are available through the drone's remote controller too. The camera is also compatible with DJI's HD video downlink, Lightbridge and Lightbridge 2, giving a 3.1-mile (5-km) HD transmission range.

In addition to being able to shoot 12-megapixel JPEG and DNG Raw images, the Zenmuse Z3 can shoot video at up to UHD 4K (4096 x 2160) at 24/25 fps (frames per second) with the frame rate increasing up to 30 fps for 4K (3840 x 2160) and 2.7K footage, and up to 60 fps for Full HD 1080p video.

An updated version of DJI's gimbal technology is used to work with the new zoom capabilities, offering more refined and controlled movement and greater stability. However, the firm states that the camera is "optimized for still photography" and that "still image capture is recommended when zoomed in" as magnification of shooting at longer focal lengths will likely result in shakier video.

At 262 g (9.2 oz) the Zenmuse Z3 is about half the weight of DJI's Zenmuse X5 Micro Four Thirds lens mount cameras. Flight time with the Zenmuse Z3 is said to be up to 19 minutes on the Inspire 1. This can be extended up to 30 minutes with the dual-battery-equipped M100, or 39 minutes with the M600.

The Zenmuse Z3 will start shipping later this month, when it will be priced at US$899.

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