Image Size 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 for Drone Photography?

Image size 4:3, 3:2, or 16:9 – there is plenty of uncertainty around this particular camera menu setting in the DJIGo4 app. What do all those numbers mean, and which is our wise option? The app menu name image size may be misleading in itself, as it might be assumed by the drone operator that the larger numbers mean a larger image size. This is not the case. For instance, 16:9 is the smallest file size recorded of the options below.

In the professional photography industry, we more often refer to image size as the aspect ratio. Both terms are interchangeable in this articleWhen setting up your camera to capture a photograph, image size is the term used to describe the active horizontal and vertical dimensions of your camera’s digital sensor; the aspects you are opting to use. These dimensions are expressed in a ratio – width:height (width always comes first).

Virtually every popular digital camera has a sensor with one of these two aspect ratios: 3:2 or 4:3. All of these seemingly random numbers are based on film sizes from decades ago. The most popular film size ever was called 35mm. The 35mm strip of film was measured at 35mm tall. The actual image size of each frame was 36:24mm.

This reduces mathematically down to a 3:2 ratio. With today’s typical electronic cameras, we still compare digital sensor sizes to the old traditional 35mm strip of film. You might hear an older photographer talking about the “35mm equivalent,” or about a “35mm crop factor;” these are terms that still rebound from the good ‘ol days of film.

Enough history.

The native aspect ratio of your DJI drone photographs is determined by the width:height measurement of the sensor in the camera. You can override the native aspect ratio using settings in the menu of the DJIGo4 app.  If you select an aspect ratio different than the native ratio (for example, you select 16:9, when your drone has a maximum sensor image ratio of 3:2), you are essentially allowing the camera to crop every image for you, even before you take out the micro-SD card and transfer the images on to your computer. In weighing the pros and cons of image sizes, there are more good reasons to stick to the largest native aspect ratio, which you should consider as the greatest number of pixels you can effectively use per each photograph captured on your camera.

So what is the native aspect ratio of the sensor in your particular DJI drone? For still photography here are the answers.

Native Aspect Ratio for DJI Drones:

  • Inspire 2 Zenmuse X7, 24MP, 6016×4008 = native ratio of 3:2
  • Inspire 1 Zenmuse X5, 16MP, 4608×3456 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Inspire 1 Zenmuse X3, 12MP, 4056×3040 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Phantom 4Pro, 20MP, 5472×3648 = native ratio of 3:2
  • Phantom 4 Pro V.2, 20MP, 5472×3648 = native ratio of 3:2
  • Phantom 4 (original), 12MP, 4000×3000 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Phantom 3 (all versions), 12MP, 4000×3000 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Mavic 2 Pro, 20MP, 5472×3648 = native ratio of 3:2.
  • Mavic 2 Zoom, 12MP, 4000×3000 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Mavic Pro, 12MP, 4000×3000 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Mavic Pro Platinum, 12MP, 4000×3000 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Mavic Air, 12MP, 4056×3040 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Mavic Air 2, 12MP = native aspect ratio of 4:3
  • Spark, 12MP, 3968×2976 = native ratio of 4:3
  • Mavic Mini, 12MP, 4000×3000 = native aspect ratio of 4:3

You might notice that some of the numbers, as advertised in the spec sheets, are rounded up or down slightly. This is to simplify and standardize tiny variations in actual pixels versus effective pixels. When you see the native ratio of any of these popular drones, it will be either 3:2 or 4:3. Knowing this information will help you max out on your sensor space and capture the greatest amount of data possible inside the camera.

Personally, my workflow as a photographer is to use the maximum number of pixels available on the image sensor each time I capture a photograph. More pixels captured ultimately means more pixels to work with as I move my images into post-processing.

This is where you find the “Image Size” on the DJIGo4 app.

Once you load drone images into your computer for editing (I typically use Adobe Lightroom, with a touch of Photoshop), then you will be able to make smarter cropping decisions, given a wider field of pixels from which to select. Final cropping at home on the computer makes good sense. Why?

  • You have a larger viewing screen.
  • You are no longer under a time constraint. (When the drone is draining its battery in the air, we often feel that pressure to work quickly.)
  • All drones tend to bounce around slightly while in the sky – especially in high wind – making critical cropping a challenge.

But wait! Why is there also that unusual 16:9 image size offered as an option on the DJIGo4 App?

The 16:9 size is offered generally to videographers because this is the same ratio as in wide-screen TV cropping. As a still photographer, you might think the 16:9 aspect ratio gives a nice panoramic feel to an image. True, but you are still throwing away pixels before you get to the editing table. Overcome that urge and stick with the native aspect ratio. It will pay off later with your creative control.

Authors Randy Jay Braun and Stacy Garlington are co-founders of the DJI Aerial Photo Academy, providing live city-to-city workshops helping attendees to create better aerial drone photographs for work or for play. A current workshop schedule can be found at www.djiphotoacademy.com and on their facebook page.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face classes are currently very limited to small groups. They hope to resume full-sized classes in Q2 of 2021.

A book about Aerial Drone Photography? Yep. These two have energy! Randy and Stacy have just laid down the outline. There will be a nicely discounted price for every person on the MailChimp list. Chaaa-ching $$$$$. 

Until then, HECK YEAH, Randy & Stacy are teaching the same course (and more) to you as you sit in your LazyBoy chair at home. This is a bargain because you get a full six hours of bite-sized lessons that you can digest whenever you want. Take a look at our online Premium Masterclass.

Download our personal pre-flight checklists for:

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