Sony Airpeak S1 drone gets official launch and starts aerial dogfight with DJI

The Sony Airpeak S1 drone has officially taken off in a full launch — and it’s promising to be the DJI-beating aerial tool for pro filmmakers.

Sony has been teasing its first drone Airpeak since the project was first announced in November 2020, but has now released the full specs and price tag of its Alpha-friendly flying machine.

Sony says the Airpeak S1 will be a three-part filmmaking system that includes a drone, the Airpeak Flight app (which, curiously, is iOS only), and the Airpeak Plus cloud service. Of course, the drone itself is the most interesting of these, and the Airpeak S1 has some pretty impressive specs.

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Sony says the Airpeak S1 will be able to zip from 0-50mph in just 3.5 seconds, which is 1.5 seconds faster than the equivalent acceleration of the DJI Inspire 2, DJI’s fastest drone outside of the DJI FPV.

This falcon-like agility is backed by a top speed of 56mph – while it’s not exactly into racing in drone territory, it’s pretty nippy for a drone that weighs 2.53kg (including a camera). The Airpeak’s weight and four propellers also ensure that it will remain clearly stable in winds of up to 44.7mph, which is almost twice the resistance of the DJI Inspire 2.

Beyond these specifications, Sony is hoping that the key selling point for the Airpeak S1 will be its close association with full-frame Alpha cameras like the Sony A7S III and Sony A1. These cameras, and their impressive range of G Master lenses in a wide range of focal lengths, certainly promise to produce some great aerial footage if the Airpeak S1 flies as well as its specifications suggest.

While it was previously possible to use Sony’s cameras with other drones using gimbals from DJI and other third-party companies, their integration with AirPeak promises to be much more, thanks to features like the new AirPeak Flight app.

planning control

Oddly, the app is currently iOS-only with no current plans for an Android version, which seems odd given that Sony Xperia phones run on Google’s OS. But AirPic flyers are more likely to use a tablet like the iPad as their viewfinder, which makes more sense if iOS-only compatibility.

The Airpeak Flight app and controller will obviously give you separate control over all aspects of the system, including the drone, camera, and gimbal. And in another nod to the AirPic’s professional filmmaking bent, a dual operation mode will also allow independent control of the aircraft and gimbal.

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We’ve still only seen small snippets of the Sony AirPeak in flight, so it remains to be seen whether it can match the stability and performance of its DJI rivals in the real world. But Sony is confident that the combination of five stereo cameras, two infrared sensors and Sony’s vision sensing processor in the AirPeak S1 will provide a solid aerial platform for its Alpha cameras.

This combination of in-house processing and sensing power will also apparently allow the AirPeak S1 to maintain stable flight without GNSS satellite location data, which is much needed in remote areas.

In fact, one of the only aspects of the Airpeak system that isn’t made by Sony is the gimbal, which is instead supplied by a third-party company called Gremsy. It’s made a custom version of its three-axis T3 gimbal, with a handy quick-release system.

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The Airpeak S1’s gimbal isn’t included in its final price tag—and if you thought the drone itself looked scary, you should check out its MSRP. It’s available for pre-order ahead of availability in Fall 2021 (in other words, sometime between September and December) for $8,999 (about £6,350 / AU$11,620). Ouch.

The special custom Gremsy T3 gimbal will cost the same as the current version ($1,750, or around £1,235 / AU$2,260) and of course, you need to take into account the cost of the camera as well. Clearly, this is a five-figure system for professional filmmakers and studios alike, but it’s an equally exciting one.

In the history of Hawaiian filmmaking, the Airpeak S1’s price tag is also a relative low. The kind of full-frame cinematography and photographs it promises were, less than a decade ago, only possible with a helicopter.

While helicopters are capable of flying at higher altitudes and battery life is not a concern – the AirPic S1 has a relatively limited flight time of 12 minutes when carrying a camera, or 22 minutes without – drones are more economical and agile, which Gives filmmakers more creative flexibility.

With Sony now a movie and TV powerhouse, you can bet AirPeak will be behind some great shots in its upcoming movies, which include the likes of Uncharted and Morbius.

What about the Airpeak Drone for the Hobbyist Flyer? The fact that Sony has given the Airpeak S1 a model number suggests that it could eventually be part of a range. But given that Sony is focusing its photographic efforts on full-frame Alpha cameras, it looks like its AirPic project will remain similarly high-end.

Drones like the DJI Air 2S, Skydio 2 and the rumored DJI Mavic 3 Pro already have plenty sewn into the consumer drone market, and the margins are too slim for Sony to compete in that space with areas like the gimbal. Given the paucity of heritage. Still, we’re certainly looking forward to seeing the Airpeak S1 in action and also where the system flies next.

  • Read our in-depth review of the DJI Air 2S

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