During my visit to NAB 2016, I had the opportunity to get up and personal with DJI’s new Matrice (M600), as well as get the lowdown from the guys on staff regarding its performance. While I’m not blown away by everything they had to say, there are some pretty interesting facts I uncovered that you’ll want to know.
As an industry pro, I can tell you that manufacturers have clearly gained ground in this race, and while they may not match DJI in some ways, they’re outpacing them in others. Is the DJI M600 the machine to buy in 2016? Does the price point make sense for your needs? Here are my initial impressions…
The M600 may look like a larger version of the S900, but there are more differences than similarities. The retractable landing gear, folding arms and overall shape are clearly carried over from the previous generation. On the other hand, the center section, propulsion system and electronics are all new.
TB47S LiP0 Intelligent Flight Battery
On display was a center section with a clear top plate so you could see the construction and overall design. The M600 center section has incorporated slots for six DJI “Intelligent Flight” LiPo packs. This brilliantly cleans up the installation and gracefully sidesteps FAA airline travel issues (the packs are all under the line for maximum capacity). At the same time, it takes safety, telemetry and battery redundancy to a new level. The flip side is that you’re trapped into using DJI battery packs which are double the cost of a traditional LiPo configuration and you have to charge six at a time to fly in most cases.
With the Inspire, a set of six TB48 packs will set you back nearly $1000 dollars for 27,000 mAh of total capacity. For $1200 you can opt for the TB47 packs which offer two more minutes of flight with a cinema camera but aren’t airline friendly. Pricing for replacement M600 TB47S batteries is not yet available. It’s also a shame that my current battery charger and lot of expensive packs are simply not compatible. The brick-style chargers are convenient if you have one, but a hassle if you have six or twelve individual unites to contend with. Fortunately, a charger specific for the M600 will be available soon to rapid charge the bank of packs in under an hour. While the proprietary approach may cause some to hastily turn a cold shoulder to DJI for forcing them to adhere to their products, I think the benefits are overwhelming.
Another initial disappointing but understandable limitation revolves around the video link from the gimbal to the LightBridge 2. The new Ronin MX has slip rings in the pan motor quick release dovetail but this connection does not pass video up to the LightBridge. The connection is instead for the A3 to communicate with the Ronin and provide operator control. This is the first time DJI has offered a universal camera platform with flight controller integration so stabilization should be class leading in theory. In order to get the video from your camera to the LightBridge and maintain 360 degree continuous panning, you need to add a transmitter from DJI called the SRW-60G designed to transmit the video from the camera to the Lightbridge mounted above the gimbal. The problem is that as of now, this device is not FCC approved for use in the air. DJI reps at NAB claim the FCC is open to changing that policy so I don’t doubt that it will change in the future or people will simply ignore the problem until it goes away. The frequency is approved for ground use as of now. Pricing for the SRW-60G hasn’t yet been announced.
Payload and AUW
The E2000 tuned propulsion system has been tailored for use on the M600. Featuring 21 inch folding props and 6010 motors, the M600 has a maximum take off weight of 15.1 KG or roughly 33 pounds. This may seem impressive but lets do some math. The M600 with batteries weighs 9.1 – 9.6 KG without a gimbal or camera. Add the Ronin MX underneath and this leaves you with approximately 2.73kg for your camera package, SRW-60G video transmitter, and any optional upgrades like A3 Pro sensors, D-RTK and DataLink Pro. That’s six total pounds of available payload. What this means is that the M600 is designed for efficiency, but is not truly a heavy lift platform. A Red Epic body alone weighs 5 pounds without a lens. In other words, the Ronin MX is still too heavy to make the M600 a useable Red camera platform for many directors. These guys are not going to want to hear they can’t fly the lens they want and will literally throw you off the set.
A fully outfitted M600 with all the A3 bells and whistles will not only be shy of payload capacity, it will also cost you more than double the selling price. D-RTK precision GNSS isn’t included and that’s $4599 alone. Add the other options, a couple more sets of batteries and the M600 could easily hit the $15 -17k mark while being underpowered. In my honest opinion, the M600 should be able to carry more payload but at an exponential loss of flight time or potentially hitting the limitations of heat dissipation in the power distribution or ESC’s motors. Most heavy lift machines flying cinema cameras are between 38-45 pounds in the air without all the extra goodies and fly about 8-12 minutes.
In an effort to cut weight, the Matrice has an extremely thin upper and lower center section carbon fiber plate that immediately raised concerns regarding strength and flex. Landing gear retracts with 25mm tubes will always be a weak link. I’ve cracked and broke many skids and legs trying to implement retractable gear on the big rigs. This is the reason why AerialPixels, Intuitive Aerial and Freefly use crab leg landing gear instead of weaker retract. Crab legs mount to the gimbal and turn with while providing a tripod to land on.
Ok, so let’s assume you aren’t worried about all the goodies or flying a cinema camera. What if you just want the M600 for a mirrorless camera like the X5? That brings up a whole bunch of questions. Since the Inspire 1 is built to fly the X5, let’s compare two X5 platforms. The Inspire 1 Pro with X5 costs significantly less and is insanely easier to transport. It can fly for fifteen minutes or more with one battery, where the M600 needs six in order to get only double the flight time. While double may seem fantastic, I’ve never needed that on a pro shoot once. Most aerial takes are seconds long and landing to discuss shots, review footage or reset the scene take place many times in 10-20 minutes.
Mapping or other applications that can take advantage of the extra runtime are reasonable examples of when the M600 would be better, but it takes significantly more battery power to do it. Consider the cost of 3 sets of packs for each machine and what it would take to transport, charge and keep track of before pulling out that credit card. Many times an Inspire can go a considerable amount of time on six batteries before even worrying about generators or power in the middle of nowhere.
What do you think? Are you planning on purchasing? How would you use the DJI Matrice 600? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!