Xiaomi’s new Mi Drone boasts 4K Video and RAW for only $460

May 26, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Xiaomi’s new Mi Drone boasts 4K Video and RAW for only $460

May 26, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Xiaomi have been teasing us about their foray into the drone market for a little while now.  Now they have officially announced the Mi Drone, a 4K quadcopter which also shoots RAW stills, for a mere $460.

Boasting an array of impressive features, the Chinese electronics company looks all set to take on the big boys at a fraction of the price.

YouTube video

If the $460 price tag doesn’t already make it one of the least expensive drones in its class, a $380 1080p version is also planned.  This makes them even cheaper than DJI’s previous generation of Phantom 3 drones, which currently stand at around $600 for the 4K model, and $490 for the 2.7K version.

Xiaomi live streamed the event across several online platforms, but for those that missed it, Hugo Barra’s unboxing video, going through the Mi Drone’s features has been uploaded to YouTube.  It’s not a short video, so be prepared to sit back and relax for a while.

YouTube video

So let’s get some of the technical specs out of the way first.

  • 4-propeller system with detachable shields
  • 17.4V battery 5100mAh, 27 minutes non-stop flying
  • 1080p or 4K UHD camera, with 104° wide-angle lens
  • 4K camera at 3840 x 2160 pixels; supports recording of stills in RAW format
  • 720p live video with low latency from up to 2km distance
  • Camera attached to a 3-axis gimbal, stabilizes up to 2000 vibrations per second
  • Unbelievably lightweight design
  • GPS + GLONASS + vision-based positioning for max precision
  • Autopilot options: automatic take-off + landing, waypoint flight path planning, tap to fly on map, circle an object on the ground
  • Intelligently detects low battery and returns home automatically
  • Real-time location tracking for easy retrieval even post crash
  • Hovers automatically at the edge of no-fly zones
  • Built-in PCB antenna array in remote control for maximum reach
  • Modular design and foldable landing gear

Immediately, two things jump out as being missing.  Collision avoidance, and a “follow” mode.

Personally, I’m not that bothered about collision avoidance.  It would be a handy feature, sure, but when it comes to safety, I still think it’s better to just use some common sense and learn how to fly it safely.  Better to do that than to take stupid risks and hope the software covers your backside when the worst is about to happen.

The lack of a “follow” mode, however, would be a big deal for me.  Being able to circle an object on the ground might be a nice compromise for the kinds of shots I’d need a follow mode for, but I can see it not being a realistic alternative for many.

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A follow mode would possibly just mean an update to the firmware, though, so we can’t rule out that this feature may be added in the future (and I really hope they do!).

What’s very impressive for me in such an inexpensive drone is the quality of the gimbal.  Capable of correcting 3-axis and handling up to 2,000 vibrations per second, it seems to offer near flawless stabilisation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHruqnY128Y

Now, you’re obviously not going to get the kind of quality you’d expect from something like a DSLR mounted to a DJI Matrice with a Ronin-MX, but you’re also not paying out the same kind of money, either.

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Coming in at less than the price of a GoPro Hero4 Black (which can’t fly without help), the quality of footage from this drone does, however, seems to hold up quite well.  That being said, so far all we’ve seen are 720p and 1080p samples from a camera that purports to shoot 4K.  So, I’ll reserve my final judgement on quality until we see some actual 4K footage shot by it.

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The modular design of the Mi Drone and folding landing gear means that it should be very easy to pack up and transport, overcoming a big problem with some drone models out there.  What good is it if you can’t easily take it out to the places you really want to shoot?

Packing away into a backpack (which doesn’t appear to be included, but I may be wrong), this lightweight drone should be easy to lug around all day.

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One obviously desired feature is that of streaming video to the controller.  Not being able to see what you’re recording can make things very difficult when you’re trying to line up a shot or track a moving subject.

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The promotional images and videos all show the feature being demonstrated with an Android device and I’ve not heard confirmation either way, but hopefully iPhone support will also be there.  Given Xiaomi’s dedication to Android with its other products, Apple users may be disappointed.

For the safety conscious, the Mi Drone also comes with propeller guards.  Whether these are to protect the propellers in the event of a collision, or to protect your your subject should you choose to fly it into their head isn’t clear.  But it’s a nice touch, and hopefully one that proves to be effective.

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With waypoint flight path planning, tap-to-fly on a map, automatic take-off and landing, realtime location tracking, return home and remote low battery detection, and up 27 minutes of flying on a single charge, it seems to tick all of the boxes for a drone in this class.

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With a price of only $460 for the 4K version and $380 for the 1080p version, Xiaomi are seriously lowering the barrier to entry into the world of aerial cinematography.

The 4K Model of the Mi Drone will enter public beta sometime at the end of July.  The 1080p model will run a crowd funding campaign shortly thereafter.

Sites like Banggood already have a “Xiaomi Mi Drone” listed as “Coming soon” in their online store.  Since Xiomi says that at least the 1080p version (which Banggood have labelled as “2K”) will be crowd funded, I am not sure how that would work.

What do you think?  Has the Mi Drone’s price got you interested in joining the drone owners club?  Or does the low price put you off, worried that it just won’t be able to do the job as well as a fancy Phantom 4?  Let us know in the comments.

[Miui via No Film School]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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8 responses to “Xiaomi’s new Mi Drone boasts 4K Video and RAW for only $460”

  1. Boats Avatar
    Boats

    “Personally, I’m not that bothered about collision avoidance. It would be a handy feature, sure, but when it comes to safety, I still think it’s better to just use some common sense and learn how to fly it safely. Better to do that than to take stupid risks and hope the software covers your backside when the worst is about to happen.”

    That’s like saying that you don’t care about airbags, because people will be careless and take unnecessary risks. And that it’s much better to be a careful driver.

    Unexpected things happen. The more security features, the better. Less risk of having a bad accident.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      It’s hardly an adequate analogy. The risk is there as soon as you get inside a car and start to move. With a drone, it isn’t.

      Airbags existing in cars aren’t what are causing people to take stupid risks while driving either. They took those same risks long before airbags became standard.

      What you call a “security feature”, I call “automated compensation for inadequate experience”. :)

      1. Boats Avatar
        Boats

        It’s the same with drones (except less chance to kill people). The risk is there as soon as you take off. An unexpected wind gust can send the drone towards a person. The pilot might not react quickly enough, but the collision avoidance feature might prevent an accident.

        There have been many accidents and not all of them can attributed to recklessness.

        Safety is specially important in these kind of drones were a single person is the pilot and the camera man. It’s very easy to lose track of things. Ask any aircraft pilot. Although they have a lot more stuff to keep track of, it’s a similar situation. So any extra help is welcome.

        1. Kaouthia Avatar
          Kaouthia

          They shouldn’t be getting flown close enough to people to where a gust of wind could cause them to hit a person. If it was being flown that close that it could hit somebody, then I would say that is absolutely recklessness.

  2. Robin Horton Avatar
    Robin Horton

    That was one very unprofessional presentation, too many erm’s, too long, telling us it shoots RAW and then going on to explain what it means to shoot RAW, I jumped past the first quarter, then stopped half way. On the plus side it looks a good buy at that price, will be interesting to see a proper review by a user.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      It did seem a little lengthy, but as I understand it, this wasn’t the main live streamed presentation annoucing the drone, but I haven’t found an online archive of that anywhere yet, though.

      This was a sort of supplemental unboxing presentation (also done as a live stream) mostly to answer questions.

      You’re right, though, at that price it’s going to be tough for others to beat if it really can stand up to the job.

      1. Nancy Disengers Avatar
        Nancy Disengers

        That’s a great price for what it is, but prices have fallen a lot lately, look around. I wish the gimball would be able to mount a “real” camera – GM1, GM5, GF7 sized or P&S.

  3. TByte Avatar
    TByte

    Great. Now drones will be affordable to even more irresponsible yahoos.