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Hands-on Gear Review
DJI Mavic Pro Review
Price: $1,000 List | $999.00 at Amazon
Pros: Small and packable, good video, great flight performance
Cons: Relatively expensive, can't match video quality of Phantom 4s
Bottom line: Really the only option if you want a capable filming tool that can fit in a normal daypack
The DJI Mavic Pro almost creates an entire new category of camera drone. It captures good 4K video and provides top notch flight performance, yet folds down into a tiny package about the size of a 1 liter water bottle. That tiny size earned it our Editors' Choice Award for the best camera drone for travelling, as it is the only drone we would ever consider taking along on a backpacking trip or throwing into a daypack for travel. If you want your video to look truly professional you'll need to upgrade to one of the Phantom 4 models, and if you're looking for a great value any one of the Phantom 3 models will provide comparable video quality at a much lower price. If you don't care about video quality and just want a small, fun drone for selfies or your kids to play with both the Parrot Bebop 2 and the Yuneec Breeze would fit the bill and cost much less. However, if you're looking for a good balance between portability and video quality, the Mavic Pro is just the ticket.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The DJI Mavic Pro was possibly the most anticipated camera drone DJI has ever released. And it mostly lives up to the hype. delivering great video in an almost unbelievably tiny package. Sure, it's not the drone to end all drones that some were predicting, as some larger models still do provide significantly better video quality. However, if portability is anywhere near the top of your priority list the Mavic can't be beat.
Should I Get the Mavic or the Spark?
With the introduction of the DJI Spark the Mavic is no longer the smallest drone in DJI's arsenal. Many people will end up with these two models on their short list. So which one should you get? It all comes down to video quality. The Mavic balances portability and video quality. It is small enough to be shoved in a backpack, but still produces video worthy of being shown on a 42" HD TV. The Spark, with its ultra compact body, tends more towards the portable side of the spectrum. It is very fun to fly and is great for home movies and selfies, but its tiny camera sensor can't match the video quality of the Mavic.
Despiteits tiny size, the Mavic still ended up near the top of our overall score sheet, as the graph below shows.
Below we discuss its performance in all the different tests we used to create these overall scores.
The Mavic Pro delivers impressive video quality, but its small stature and gimbal do represent significant drawbacks when compared to other top models. It scored a 7 out of 10 in this metric, where gimbal models earned from 6 to 10. For comparison, this is the same score as the Phantom 3 Professional and just slightly better than the Phantom 3 Standard and the Phantom 3 Advanced (we would like to take this opportunity to formally request that DJI diversify its naming scheme, because this can get confusing fast).
The Mavic produced clear footage with good color composition in our testing. However, the Mavic has a relatively small image sensor, so these vivd colors were often achieved by the camera compensating and cranking up saturation in certain areas of the image. This generally looks good upon first glance, but look more closely and colors can seem unrealistically acrylic, and objects can look so sharp they almost seem pixelated. Also, since these are essentially editing decision the camera is making for you, its hard to undo them in any editing program. Don't get us wrong, the footage looks good, it just wouldn't cut the mustard for any professional applications.
Considering its miniaturized gimbal the Mavic camera stabilization was quite impressive, though somewhat inferior to its Phantom 3 siblings. If we jostled the sticks around we could induce some camera shake, but panoramic panning shots were velvety smooth. Its design limits propellor intrusion, we only saw the telltale propellor flickering when taking turns at high speed. In this capacity it was better than all of the Phantoms that we tested. Bottom line, the Mavic produces good footage, but its real advantage is the fact that it can easily be touted along in situations where a full sized camera drone would be cumbersome.
The plastic bubble over the Mavic's camera can be left on during flight if you prefer an extra level of protection, but any small smudge or scratch will clearly show up in your footage, and lens flares will be magnified into lens bonfires that dominate the entire frame. If you're looking for quality footage better to take the plastic bubble off.
An Issue of Focus
You don't have to look far to find people complaining about the Mavic producing 'soft' footage. This is mostly because DJI has introduced a focus feature in its new drone offerings that allows you to touch the screen and focus on a particular subject. This is great if your subject is close, like if you're using the Mavic to get a quick summit selfie of you and your friends, and you want to get the blurred background look that is all the rage. However, if the focus is off it can ruin landscape footage, so if you're flying far make sure your focus is set to 'infinity' before takeoff.
Ease of Use
Despite the Mavic Pro's radical new design, its user experience retains the quality of other DJI models we tested. It shared the top score of 9 out of 10 in this metric with the Phantom 4 Pro models, well distanced from the bottom score of 3. Initial setup was a breeze, we had it in the air within 15 minutes of opening the box, and that includes passing it around the office so that everyone could remark how cute and tiny it was.
The real advantage of the Mavic is its portability. Where most drones that can produce at least reasonable video footage require a dedicated case large enough to be counted as your one carry on item, the Mavic's legs and rotors fold in to create a package small enough that it can disappear in a normal backpack. The folding mechanisms all feel solid, and it folds up in an intuitive enough manner as to not induce nightmares of trying to fix the transformer toys you had as a kid (rest in peace Optimus Prime). If you travel a lot, this is the only model we've found that can produce good footage without forcing you to completely remodel your packing logistics.
Controller: Small but Functional
In our opinion DJI knocked it out of the park with the Mavic controller design. It matches the Mavic compactness without feeling limited. The raised joysticks lend a tactile experience similar to that of the larger phantom controllers, and feel supple enough to whip the Mavic to and fro like the tiny falcon it is at heart. A small display screen on the controller itself displays crucial flight information, freeing up some real estate on the smartphone that must be connected in order to display the video downlink. Two arms extend from the bottom of the controller to create a slot for a smartphone. This slot is tight enough that most of our testers had to take their smartphone cases off before docking. This is less than ideal, but felt like a minor annoyance considering the overall superb design of the controller.
Despite the Mavic's high price tag its small size and weight lend some assurance that you won't manage to crash and destroy it on your first outing. After unfolding the legs and propellers a simple press and swipe in the DJI GO app automatically lifts it off the ground and puts it into low hover. The joysticks have a natural feel to them that quickly becomes instinctive and you'll be whizzing around and framing nice shots within a matter of minutes. Piloting the Mavic back home will most likely feel easy by the end of your first flight. Once you have it above your intended landing zone another tap and swipe brings it into a controlled and gentle descent. Then fold it back up, toss it in your backpack and be on your merry way. It's so light you'll probably forget you're toting around $1000 of aerial photography equipment, until you find the next stunning view.
The Mavic Pro flies like a champion. It shared the top score of 9 in our flight performance testing, well above the worst scoring model, which earned a 5.
DJI has clearly designed a drone that could be paired with first person view (FPV) headset and used for drone racing, if desired. It is nimble in the air and can reach speeds of 40 mph when in sport mode. We found it to be very stable both when moving and hovering. Its smaller size did make it feel a bit more squirrely in high wind than other models, but we never felt like it was out of control. Its orbit and cable cam autonomous flight modes produced smooth, solid footage in our testing, and its return to home function worked well (disclaimer: this function should only be used if some sort of malfunction prevents you from flying the drone back home, not as the de facto way to end a flight). If you're looking for something maneuverable, the Mavic won't disappoint.
The Mavic Pro's video downlink was superb in our testing. It scored a 9 out of 10 in a metric where scores ranged from 7 to 10 for gimbal models and 4 to 10 for all models.
The downlink was consistently clear with vivid colors. This quality never wavered, even on our 2000 foot flight test. Some of our testers found it odd that the downlink was displayed below the hands rather than above, but once they got used to this orientation the downlink felt just as immersive as any other.
Though it dominates the market in every other capacity, DJI's customer service is at the bottom of the barrel. It earned the low score of 3 in this metric, well off the top score of 9. This is mostly because they do not have a customer service phone line, and we found them to be slow and generally unhelpful when responding to emails. We don't think this should be a deal breaker, just make sure you purchase your DJI drone from a reputable dealer, in case you have any issues.
At a list price of $1000 the DJI Mavic Pro Certainly is not cheap. If you're mostly concerned about video quality one of the Phantom 3s would deliver the same quality at a lower price, and the DJI Phantom 4 is often available for the same price and offers professional level video quality. However, If you want something compact and portable that can produce good footage the Mavic is really the only good option out there, and thus a pretty good value.
The DJI Mavic Pro essentially takes the video recording capabilities of a mid level camera drone and stuffs them into a tiny body. If you're mainly looking for something extremely portable that can produce clear, stable video, you can't go wrong with the Mavic.
Mavic Pro Battery
Mavic Pro Propellers
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
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