DJI Professional Offers Master Wheels and Force Pro

Several new drone and gimbal enhancements for professional cinematography and video, including 14-bit Apple ProRes RAW.

During NAB this past April, Rodney Charters, ASC — given a Lifetime Career Achievement in Television award by the ASC in 2013 and nominated twice for an Emmy on his cinematography for the show 24 — led an action-packed dialogue on drone photography in modern media. He spoke about his usage of the DJI Inspire 2 drone for the MTV and Spike television production The Shannara Chronicles, a fantasy he was shooting for in New Zealand.

Rodney Charters, ASC used the DJI Inspire to capture previously unseen footage from a 300'-deep sinkhole in New Zealand.

“I took my Mavic Pro up and the director would insist that I took it up whenever we went on a regular scout and he wanted to see an overhead,” Charters explained, who then went on to highlight several clips of his drone crew struggling to land a model against 40-knot wind, shooting from the bottom of a previously unseen 300'-deep sinkhole, and whipping a smaller racing drone through the woods into a tree, on purpose, to simulate the POV of a bolt from a crossbow as it pierced the beechwood. 

“One of my first things that this team taught me was that if you don't know how to fly a racing drone, you shouldn't be a pilot for photography," Charters continued. "It's so fundamental, the safety aspect, and the ability to fly under duress... If someone can race a drone, that's really kind of essential if you're going to employ someone at a professional level. If you're seeking good teams, find out if they can race!”

The DJI Force Pro handset for reliable remote control of drones.

At the same panel, DJI discussed their “Pro” line of top-shelf drone products specifically designed for the needs of production and cinematography. Able to stand in for shots that would have previously required cranes, cable cams and even helicopters, the focus of the panel discussion was in many ways the amount of money and costs that a production can save by employing drone solutions.

The company also had two additions to the DJI Pro line, extending remote-control capabilities and the reliability of wireless signals. At $1,200, the motion-sensing Force Pro has embedded compass and IMU Inertial Measurement Unit that ensure consistency in framing by compensating for any drift.

With dual-band 2.4/5.8GHz frequency communication, it also has a low latency of less than 10 milliseconds at a signal tested to 1.9 miles. For areas with crowded bandwidth or obstructive natural elements, the Force Pro can also be tethered through CANBUS cable with 200Hz signal to eliminate any interference. 

Offered as an ease-of-use handset, the included lightweight handlebar is provided for various accessories to expand the capabilities, including monitors, video transmission sets, and thumb controllers. It includes OLED screen for equipment status and controls over gimbal and camera, as well as two custom profiles for speed settings.

Running up to 5 hours on internal battery, powering options are also available through USB-C, CANBUS port, or the built-in DC-IN port for compatibility with V Lock batteries. With base mount, it will also sit on a tripod to free the hands.

The DJI Master Wheels remote control with separate "handwheel" modules for pan, tilt and roll.

For more advanced users, DJI’s Master Wheels has similar specifications in an entirely different form factor. It features three weighted handwheel modules that can be attached or removed from the base unit for individual, dedicated control over pan, tilt and roll. “Ultra-high-resolution” optical encoders detect any of these movements and send high-speed, detailed transmissions to the drone or gimbal. Like the Force Pro, it also has latency of only 10 milliseconds at up to 1.9 miles.

With handset dials for speed, smoothness and damping, each module also has a three-stop toggle for setting directional controls. The main console has several more buttons for operations, including three that are programmable for frequently used adjustments. Using 5m cord, wired operation is an option, as well.

The CNC-machined stainless steel wheels have optimized encoders for precise control over drone movements.

Alongside removable radio transmission array, the CNC-machined, stainless steel wheels and respective control modules can be separated for use from the main console. The body can also be adjusted by each of the three for user ergonomics. In addition to Mitchell mount at the base, there are multiple 1/4" and 3/8" threads to fit accessories like external monitors.

Supporing third-party gimbals and V Mount through DC-IN port, the Master Wheels utilize the same DJI TB50 batteries as found on the DJI Pro Ronin 2 and Inspire 2, which will run the Master Wheels for up to 18-hours. The Master Wheels starts at $2,500 for a Single Wheel Control Module, with 2-Axis and 3-Axis models at $6,000 and $8,000 respectively.

“Force Pro offers simplicity and functionality for filmmakers seeking a more intuitive tool,” explained Paul Pan, Senior Product Manager at DJI, via press release, “and Master Wheels brings the highest degree of precision control when working with a gimbal setup.”

With new Apple ProRes RAW support, the Zenmuse X7 camera for drone solutions like the DJI Inspire 2.

Further extending the capabilities of the DJI Pro line, their top shelf Zenmuse X7 camera recently received support for Apple’s ProRes RAW standard, as well. Also available for the Zenmuse X5S (both fitting the correlative Inspire 2 drone), the firmware update gives several workflow and image quality enhancements, including single files captured at up to 32GB, 14-bit RAW and 6K resolution at 23.976 fps.

Available through DJI’s CinemaDNG Activation Key, priced at $1,000 standalone, or $1,300 for CinemaDNG with Apple ProRes 422 HQ/4444 XQ, a CINESSD Reader and CINESSD drive are required for the new exFAT file system, additionally. Drives start at $299.

Organized by continent and country, DJI has posted a database of recommendations and advice on flying safely and within regulations at their website. They’ve also posted a Geospatial Environment Online (GEO) section there for information on areas with potential flight limits.

The DJI Master Wheels can be adjusted for ergonomics and handling.

Updating their handheld solutions, the DJI Ronin-S and Osmo Mobile 2 were also released by DJI during the beginning of 2018 during CES. Now available at $699, the Ronin-S brings advanced three-axis gimbaling to DSLR and mirrorless systems, supporting payloads of up to 8 lbs, which includes compatibility with series like the Canon 1D and 5D, Panasonic GH, or Sony Alpha systems.

Also useful for vehicle mounts and crash cams, the Ronin-S has been tested to 47mph and comes with an industry-standard Manfrotto quick release. The DJI Ronin mobile app provides automatic creation of camera movements, like panorama, motionlapse and timelapse. 

With settings for speed, acceleration and “deadband”, which compensates for backlash, it can also be used to create three customizable profile settings for speed, smoothing, and deadband on the pan, tilt and roll axis. The SmoothTrack profiles mode creates similar adjustments by each axis.

DJI's handheld gimbal solutions, the Osmo Mobile and Ronin-S, both announced at CES.

Previously, DJI had a special unveiling of the Ronin 2 gimbal system at the ASC Clubhouse in July of 2017, with a presentation from Steve Gainer, ASC, who employed two Ronins and the Sony PMW-F55 to shoot his narrative feature Mayhem

During the evening, Paul Pan gave a detailed interview on the latest enhancements to the company’s flagship gimbal system, the Ronin 2, which updated the original Ronin after its initial release at NAB 2017. Remarkably, the company itself is only five years old.

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