Drone Review: DJI Mavic Pro
April 19, 2017
The arc of technological progress bends toward miniaturization. While DJI wasn’t the first company to glimpse the potential of foldable drones, they’ve had the good fortune to be among the first to market with one that didn’t have to be recalled.
Beyond its foldable design (more on that below), the Mavic Pro boasts a ½.3-inch CMOS sensor with a native ISO of 100-3200 for video and 100-1600 for stills. It can record 4K (4096 x 2160) at 24p or 30p video at 3840 x 2160. For faster moving subjects you can bump frame rates to 96p when shooting in full HD or up to 120p when shooting at 1280 x 720 resolution.
The camera sports a 28mm f/2.2 equivalent lens and sits on a 3-axis gimbal. The Mavic can snap 12-megapixel RAW still images in the DNG format. You’ll have some basic control over exposure settings through the DJI Go app (iOS and Android).
Beyond its imaging features, the Mavic Pro is the beneficiary of a number of DJI’s automated flying modes. Those modes include TapFly, which sends the drone off smoothly in the direction you tap on the DJI Go app, freeing you to focus on adjusting the camera. A Gesture Mode enables you to take aerial selfies (which we’re calling “dronies” now, apparently) by waving at the camera to trigger the shutter. There’s also a Tripod Mode to slow the drone’s movements to give you greater control.
It boasts five sensors (two forward facing and three aimed to the ground) to create 3D obstacle maps during takeoff and flight. These sensors ensure that the Mavic Pro will automatically avoid obstacles in its path during any of the autonomous flying modes and during a return-to-home flight. They also enable safe indoor flight when a GPS connection is lost, provided the surrounding area doesn’t confuse those sensors.
The Mavic Pro can hit speeds up to 40 MPH in sport mode, though Patiño tells us owners of larger drones may feel like the Mavic is even faster as its petite size gives it the appearance of speedier motion.
“It’s a Transformer, how cool is that?” Patiño tell us. And while Transformer fans will no doubt quibble with this description, it’s close enough to the mark. The Mavic Pro’s propellers and landing gear can be folded up so that they sit flush with the drone’s body. Once collapsed, the Mavic Pro is ridiculously small. It could be dropped into just about any backpack or handbag without trouble. At only 1.62 pounds, you could throw an extra battery in there and not notice. “Its size is its greatest asset,” Patiño says. For one thing, he says, you can likely dispense with the custom cases designed for large, fixed-propeller drones—for light day travel, you could use any well-padded photo gear bag. The Mavic Pro is small enough that it’s plausible that we’ll see dedicated compartments for it and similar-sized foldable drones in photo bags in the not-too-distant future.
You would think that the Mavic Pro’s foldable design implies a flimsy build, but quite the contrary. It’s surprisingly sturdy. The drone took a few unintended bumps during one indoor flight (the obstacle avoidance system gets confused with large white spaces like cyc walls) and emerged unscathed. The folding/unfolding process is also quick—a matter of seconds, not minutes, to have it up and flying. For outdoor/action filmmakers and photographers, the Mavic Pro is a compelling travel companion.
The remote control is also well designed, durable and the joysticks are responsive. It looks a bit like a PlayStation remote with a mount for Android or iOS phones. However, like other DJI remotes, the battery isn’t removable so if it craps out on you, you’re stuck. “This drives me nuts,” Patiño says. You can fly the Mavic Pro with just a phone using the DJI Go app, but that’s a much clumsier approach if you’re manually operating the craft. It also puts you at the mercy of your mobile phone battery, which could be shorter-lived than the Mavic’s own remote.
Patiño says the image quality from the Mavic Pro was excellent, given its small sensor. While the Mavic Pro won’t deliver the wider dynamic range shots you can expect from DJI’s Inspire 1 or 2, the image quality isn’t dramatically different from the Phantom 4.
Like small sensor action cams, you’re not enjoying a very wide ISO and highlights can get blown out. Color rendition was accurate. For aerial work that doesn’t require extensive pixel peeping, like some real estate photography, Patiño says the Mavic Pro should have no trouble fitting the bill.
If you’re considering a Mavic Pro and have used a Phantom 4 or Inspire (or similarly sized drone), you may be surprised by just how much the Mavic sways under the breeze, Patiño warns. Fortunately, the gimbal is responsive enough that the footage remains steady despite the craft’s movement, Patiño adds.
The battery life is also fairly solid at around 20-22 minutes of flight time in fairly calm weather.
DJI has been at the forefront of refining and advancing automated flying modes and the Mavic Pro is the beneficiary of advancements rolled out in the Phantom 4. We were able to safely fly indoors (barring the unfortunate cyc wall bump), avoid obstacles automatically and track subjects. Despite its tiny size, the Mavic isn’t substantially less noisy than larger drones, so the angry-swarm-of-bees sound will be with drone operators a bit longer.
For Patiño, the Mavic Pro’s size (or lack thereof) is really nothing short of game changing. The image quality is not on par with the larger-sensor models, but just as smartphone image quality has continued to improve, so has the imaging on small chip action and drone cameras, Patiño says. With its compact form, durable build and suite of intelligent flying features, the Mavic Pro marks a welcome new era of travel-friendly flying cameras.
DJI Mavic Pro
PROS: Tiny, foldable design; sturdy build; excellent remote; intelligent flying features; good image quality.
CONS: Remote battery is non-removable; drone less stable in the wind.