DJI has been a renowned company for bringing innovations to the consumer camera market. They make a wide range of products from robotic selfie sticks to professional filmmaking tools. But their greatest contribution has been the development of usable consumer-grade drones. Today DJI is another name for drones. But how did a company like DJI which was started in a dorm room, became the first-ever billion-dollar drone company? In this article, we are going to discuss about the history of DJI and find out the reasons for its success. So with that being said, let’s get started.
The journey of DJI started in 2005 with Frank Wang who was a student of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and a robotics and aeronautics enthusiast. He was given a project by his university to build a drone prototype along with a 2300 dollar funding. After making successful prototypes in his dorm room, frank started selling those to universities and Chinese electric companies.
In the next year, Frank officially established DJI in 2006. But you know what DJI stands for and what it means? Well, DJI stands for Da-Jiang Innovations which means “great innovation without limits.” After the foundation of the company, Wang hired a small number of employees and rented a small office in Shenzhen in the same year. And throughout the year, DJI built a lot of prototype components like autopilot systems and gimbals and sold them. But still, it needed financial backup to go for bigger projects. Lu Di who was a family friend of Frank, invested 90,000 dollars to manage the company’s finances. In 2009, DJI was able to successfully fly and control a drone around the peak of Mount Everest.
The first DJI consumer-grade drone was released in 2013, the DJI phantom one. It had a white plastic body with some ground-breaking technologies. For example: Before the phantom one, users couldn’t control the position or orientation of their drones. To solve this issue, the Phantom came with an integrated GPS, which was something that wasn’t before. The Phantom one could also hold Its position during flight, which was kind of magical at that time. But one problem was, it took 90 minutes to charge the battery but it could fly only for 10 minutes. Besides, it was just a drone, with no camera and no Mount for a camera.
Within a couple of months after the release of phantom one, DJI released the Phantom 2, and this time, DJI fixed some of the issues of the previous version. The newer version could fly for 25 minutes and go as far as 300 meters. The phantom 2 vision version also has an integrated camera that is capable of recording full HD videos at 30 frames per second. Besides the vision plus version also featured a 3-axis gimbal for smooth and shake-free footage.
The drones we have talked about so far were small drones capable of housing small cameras. But what about flying a DSLR or mirrorless camera? Well, to address those filmmaking needs, DJI released s900 and s1000. And with those drones, it was possible to shoot 4k aerial footage with a consumer-grade drone for the first time ever, though it came with a bigger price tag.
At the end of 2014, DJI came up with the Inspire 1 with a Comparatively lower price tag and some cool new features. Like it had a removable 4k camera module and dual control system in which one would control the drone and the other one would control the camera. In 2015, the phantom three came in with three different versions: standard, advanced and professional. The standard and advanced versions were able to shoot 2.7k while the professional could record 4k videos. The next year, DJI expanded the inspire series with inspire 2 and it could fly for 27 minutes and came with an astonishing speed of 65 miles per hour. That allowed users to shoot those cars chasing aerial shots like Hollywood movies.
The innovation of DJI didn’t stop there. DJI continued to make magic in its next release, the DJI Phantom 4, which featured the obstacle avoidance system and it was a game-changer as it was the first of its kind. Till now DJI did everything to upgrade the drone technology. And in the process of doing so, they became bulkier and could be carried along in backpacks. So DJI again came up with a solution, the DJI Mavic pro. It featured a foldable form factor which makes it a travel-friendly drone. DJI spark was also a good product with a smaller form factor. In addition to that, there is DJI mini which weighed less than 250 grams that cuts the registration fee for drones. Want to fly a film camera like Red? No problem, DJI has the Matrice 600 to help your filmmaking. So in short, when it comes to drones, DJI always has an answer. Almost All the innovations that we see today in drones are mostly brought by DJI. and this is why it is ruling the drone market.
Back in 2015, DJI announced that it gained Hasselblad’s majority of stakes. This was huge news for DJI and of course for Hasselblad as it was suffering from a lack of capital. It was important for DJI as, for the first time, DJI showed some real intention to go for mainstream camera manufacturing. This partnership also resulted in an impressive medium format camera, the X1-D. This also proves that DJI has a firm belief in business diversification and almost all the businesses they stepped in became a huge success in the future. Moreover, it came with an impressive price point of around 2000 dollars compared to the inspire 1 which was about 3000 dollars.
Other Filmmaking Products
DJI Didn’t confine its expertise to drone technology only. As it had a vast knowledge of gimbals from the beginning, it also created a gimbal lineup for filmmakers, the DJI Ronin. And just like the Drone market, DJI is also leading the consumer-grade gimbal market. Though initially, the main focus of DJI was drones, it had to adopt new technologies to make its gimbal work at the consumer end. And with time, the company gained vast experience in the camera market also. And with that experience, DJI entered the action camera market with its Osmo action in 2019.
Though the action camera market was mostly captured by GoPro, but it still made a good impression on the users and quickly became popular. Not only that, DJI also invested itself in developing pocket camera gimbals, which again gave a tough competition to the GoPro Cameras. And with the mechanical gimbal, DJI has a slight edge over GoPro in terms of basic stabilization.
So that was all about the fascinating history of DJI. The company has crossed a long way from and now it is one of the most renowned names in the camera industry. And there are two major reasons for their success, continuous technological innovations, and business diversification. It has never ceased to amaze us with its ground-breaking camera products.