After months of teasers and development announcements, the Sony Airpeak S1 drone has now officially landed – and it’s a powerful aerial photography tool for filmmakers.
Sony’s AirPeak project was first announced in November 2020, before Sony showed off its first drone at CES 2021. But we’ve only been given basic specs and glimpses of what this alpha-friendly flying machine can do so far.
Sony has now revealed the Airpeak S1’s specs, pricing, and release date, and these show that the Airpeak S1 Pro is pretty much a gun for the filmmaking space that currently houses the aging DJI Inspire 2.
Designed to house full-frame Sony Alpha cameras on high-budget film sets, the Airpeak S1 certainly isn’t a beginner-friendly drone in the vein of DJI’s Air and Mavic series. But it’s an exciting glimpse at how far drones have come in the past few years and will almost certainly be responsible for shooting some creative aerial shots at your favorite movies and TV shows over the next few years.
Here’s everything we know about Sony’s mildly terrifying, but very capable, flying machine and new DJI rival…
Sony has now given the AirPeak S1 a full launch after its initial announcement at CES 2021. It includes specifications like its top speed, acceleration, new app and its slightly intimidating price tag. For more information, read.
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sony airpeak drone release date and price
The Sony Airpeak S1 is available for pre-order ahead of its availability in “Fall 2021,” which means somewhere between September and December for those outside the Northern Hemisphere.
Given its professional leanings, we expected the Airpeak to be expensive – and that’s certainly the case. It costs $8,999 (about £6,350 / AU$11,620), and comes without the gimbal or camera.
The Airpeak S1’s gimbal is a custom version of the Gremsy T3, a three-axis case with a quick-release setup. Sony says this custom version will cost in the region of the current model, which is around $1,750 (or around £1,235 / AU$2,260).
When you take into account the cost of a full-frame Sony Alpha camera like the Sony A7S III ($3,499 / £3,800 / AU$5,999), it’s clear that the Sony Airpeak S1 is a five-figure setup for professional filmmakers and studios .
Still, its closest rival, the four-year-old DJI Inspire 2, isn’t exactly cheap at $3,299 / £3,059 / AU$4,699. And a closer look at the Airpeak S1’s technology and integration with Sony Alpha cameras reveals that it will be a new aerial toy tempted by big-budget filmmakers.
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Sony AirPeak Drone News, Rumors & Features
Sony AirPeak was officially announced at CES 2021, with Sony offering an exciting first glimpse at its new flying machine through a series of product shots and an impressive promotional video.
And it was a gateway, with the airpeak being filmed over a snowy landscape and carrying a Sony A7S III as it lined up with a prototype Sony Vision S car on a race track.
That short demo video vehemently answered our main question about the Sony AirPeak – what kind of drone would it be? With its lightweight formidable wings, nifty retractable landing gear and high-end Sony Alpha payload, there was no doubt in its professional pedigree (and price tag).
And now the full announcement of the Airpeak S1 by Sony, as it will be known, has filled many gaps. The AirPeak system will have three main parts: the drone itself, the new iOS-only AirPeak flight app, and the AirPeak Plus cloud service.
The Airpeak S1 will be capable of very fast acceleration for a 2.53kg drone, with Sony claiming it can go from 0-50mph in just 3.5 seconds. It’s 1.5 seconds faster than the DJI Inspire 2, its main rival, so it’s clear Sony is going for fast-action visuals (like the Sony Vision S demo).
This is backed by a top speed of 56mph and the ability to withstand winds of up to 44.7mph, although it is unclear if this is a steady gust of gusts coming from different directions. Either way, that’s almost twice the wind resistance cited by the DJI Inspire 2.
This new video (below) shows the AirPeak being tested in a wind tunnel and capable of withstanding wind speeds in excess of 19m/s. Camera footage remained remarkably stable, though it’s worth adding that the wind was coming from one direction at a fairly consistent speed, rather than the more realistic gusts.
Still, it’s an impressive feat, nonetheless, with the Inspire 2 – expected to be the AirPeak’s closest competitor – only able to withstand maximum wind speeds of around 10 m/s. That’s half what Sony is indicating for the AirPeak in its wind tunnel tests.
Sony says these tests on a prototype from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency show that it is “aiming for a higher level of wind resistance as we continue to develop the AirPeak’s frame”.
Aiding in that stability is a vast array of cameras and sensors: five stereo cameras, two infrared sensors and Sony’s own vision sensing processor, all of which will work together to keep this aerial platform as stable as possible for the Alpha payload.
Another important component of drone stability is the camera’s gimbal, an area in which DJI has excelled for a long time. For this, Sony has turned to third-party manufacturer Gremsy, which already makes alpha-friendly gimbals. Gremsy has built a custom version of its three-axis T3 gimbal for the Airpeak S1, though it’s not included in its price tag.
Perhaps a minor disappointment of the Airpeak S1’s specifications is its flight time. It can last only 12 minutes in the air when carrying the camera or 22 minutes without the camera. That sounds like a little less than the 30-minute flight time of today’s consumer drones like the DJI Air 2S, but it’s not exactly surprising when you consider the AirPeak’s weight when carrying a full-frame camera.
AirPeak’s professional operators will be planning flights carefully using AirPeak Base, which is a flight plan editor, fleet manager and logbook viewer, rather than taking and searching shots, so this proves to be a hindrance to the sort of flight time reduction Should not happen. S1 will probably be used for scenes.
To fly the drone, they will also use a combination of its controller and the new Airpeak Flight app. The app is only for iOS, which is a bit odd considering Sony Xperia phones run on Android. But pilots will mostly use iPads instead of the smaller smartphone screens, and Apple has a much larger tablet market.
The Airpeak Flight app will provide separate control over the drone, camera and gimbal, while a dual operation mode will also give you independent control over the aircraft and gimbal, allowing one person to fly while the other acts as the film director.
Will we see other Sony AirPeak drones?
The arrival of such a high-end professional drone would appear to dash earlier expectations that we might see the AirPeak rival some of DJI’s popular consumer drones like the DJI Mavic Air 2.
Sony also calls Airpeak a new business targeted at “professional photography and video production”. But there was a little glimmer of hope for hobbyists when Sony said it was “the first phase of this project”.
Could we finally see a Sony drone that’s the flying equivalent of the Sony RX100 VII instead of a professional rig for filmmakers? We would love to see it, but for the time being it seems unlikely.
That said, Sony has given us a glimpse of what that concept might be like with a few patents over the years. Of course, patents don’t necessarily lead to final products—in fact, more often than not, they remain wireframe concepts. But they at least show that Sony is considering a more consumer-focused drone.
The first patent for a Sony drone was taken back in 2018 by Sony Alpha Rumors. It featured a folding design where the rotors fold into a square holder, fronted by a touchscreen controller. The idea is that you can detach the touchscreen holder to fly the drone.
The concept was developed in another patent in October 2019, hinting at other features such as gesture controls – for example, a page containing an idea labeled “stretch palm under flight equipment”.
Interestingly, most of these patents refer to a device that has more in common with entry-level drones like the AirSelfie 2, which came out back at CES 2018, rather than aerial powerhouses like the new Sony AirPeak drone.
But one thing is clear from both the patent and the official AirPeak announcement – Sony’s idea of a drone is an AI-powered flying camera that does a lot of the lifting for you in both flight and image-taking terms. Whether Sony applies this philosophy to DJI-rivaling consumer drones, however, remains to be seen.
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