DJI Mavic 3 is a Video Monster if You Have the Budget
Fans of the original Mavic and Mavic Pro camera drones have waited literally years for their successor. Now that it’s arrived in the form of the Mavic 3, the feature list includes just about everything a drone owner could wish for. But those features come with a much higher price tag ($2,199 for the basic kit, $2,899 for the Fly-more Combo, and a whopping $4.999 for the Cine version). We’ve been flying a Mavic 3 since before its launch, and have plenty to report. All of this comes with the important caveat that several heavily promoted features — some of which were briefly available prior to launch — have been delayed. Even without headline features like Active Track 5, it is an impressive drone, with an even more impressive camera. So, rather than wait until they ship, we’re reviewing the product as it stands now, and will post an updated review when it is feature complete.
DJI Mavic 3 By the Numbers
The first and most obvious upgrade is the impressive dual-camera cluster on the front. The main, 20MP, 4/3-forma Hasselblad-designed camera promises — and delivers — greatly improved image quality over previous models. There is also a second telephoto camera. Using it can provide up to a 28x zoom, using a combination of its longer optical lens and digital enhancement.
Next on the upgrade list are object sensors. The drone is practically covered with them, and they offer obstacle avoidance in every direction. DJI claims that by early next year the combination of Mavic 3 hardware and upgraded firmware will allow full tracking capability in difficult scenarios — currently high-ground claimed by Skydio.
While not specifically touted by DJI, the build quality of the Mavic 3 is impressive. At one point we pushed the limits of obstacle avoidance by doing a rapid descent through some bare trees and the drone hit one branch about 20 feet up, reacted by going up into another one, and then spinning out of control, crashing, and sliding down a leaf-covered slope for about 100 feet. Fortunately, the Find My Drone feature helped us locate it. We were sure it was going to be a wreck. However, other than some mud and dirt, along with a few damaged propellors, it seemed to be completely fine. Unfortunately, we weren’t recording video at the time.
The Mavic 3 also features an improved 46-minute rated flight time, thanks to an impressively large battery that helps keep its 899 grams in the air. The drone has the capability to alert you of manned aircraft in your vicinity, but of course unless you have an appropriate license or permit, you typically shouldn’t be near one anyway. You can set how sensitive you want the alert system to be. On the default setting, even when the Mavic was only a few feet up, we’d get notified of commercial jets flying overhead at close to 10,000 feet.
Return-to-Home (RTH) is also becoming more impressive. Eventually, it will be able to intelligently avoid obstacles (in daylight) and choose the most efficient flight path on its return. Unfortunately, that feature has been delayed until January, but in the meantime, it is at least smart enough to avoid obstacles when in use. If it doesn’t see a path home, it simply stops in mid-air. The drone also keeps track of, and shows you, how long it will be before it needs to return, how long before it will be forced to land, and how long until the battery is completely depleted. The RTH calculations now take into account wind conditions (that feature alone would have saved me the loss of my first Mavic). Instead of battery percentage you see a continuously updated estimate of how long you can keep flying until you run out of power.
DJI Fly App
Like many of DJI’s newer drones, the Mavic 3 uses the Fly app (downloadable from DJI). We weren’t impressed by earlier versions, but it has grown into a decent replacement for DJI Go and has a more touch-friendly way to set camera and other parameters. It is still missing some of the more advanced photo and video setting options found in DJI Fly, but given that the top-end Mavic 3 is a $5K model aimed at serious film makers, hopefully Fly will offer more options soon.
Flying the Mavic 3
First and foremost, the Mavic 3 is fun to fly. It is powerful, responsive, and offers a solid connection to the remote. However, with the standard remote we found that we couldn’t get a good signal over a longer range than with the Mavic Pro. So we assume the massive 15km range DJI claims for the 3 requires the $1200 upgraded remote (it is included with the Cine kit).
The obstacle avoidance is also very impressive. In the sample clips we’ve posted, every time the drone stopped was due to me getting cold feet. It was pretty happy working its way through all sorts of obstacles. But it can be a bit like a Tesla on Autopilot, as you’re always a bit nervous that it’ll make a mistake.
An Awesome Camera
Along with obstacle avoidance, the highlight of the Mavic 3 is definitely the main camera. Designed by DJI subsidiary Hasselblad, its 4/3 format 20MP sensor is coupled with a variable aperture (f/2.8 – f/11) lens to provide both great resolution and shooting flexibility. What we found most impressive is the native video quality and color rendering. With the Mavic and even Mavic Pro, I relied on a shooting with a Log-based profile, converting it, and post-processing to reduce noise — a complex workflow that we explain here. With the Mavic 3 I was getting gorgeous results right out of the box.
Using the Telephoto Camera
The telephoto capability of the Mavic 3 is another novel feature. You get to “Explore” around the scene in front of you, zooming in on the center to get a close-up shot. The 12MP telephoto camera has a full-frame equivalent focal length of 162mm, which is about 7x the main camera at 24mm. On top of that, DJI uses up to 4x digital zoom to get to a claimed potential 28x. As you’d expect, once you get to digital zoom territory, quality drops off fairly quickly.
Lots of Unfinished Business
Unfortunately, quite a few of the most-touted new features of the Mavic 3 aren’t yet available and won’t be until later in January. That includes an upgraded ActiveTrack that the company seems to be willing to position against Skydio, Intelligent Return to Home, and 100MP panoramas. There is enough missing that we’re planning to do an additional review once the Mavic 3 delivers on all fronts. In the meantime, you’re getting a very impressive video drone with advanced flying capabilities, at a price point to match.
Is the Mavic 3 the Drone for You?
If you’re a DJI fan, and want an amazing drone for video, the only question is whether you have the budget for it. Otherwise, the DJI Air 2 S is quite tempting. After all, even if you crash it, you can buy a couple more before you rack up the cost of a Mavic 3. If you want to move on from Skydio now that they seem to be leaving even well-heeled hobbyists behind, then we suggest waiting until ActiveTrack and Intelligent Return-to-Home are released. We’ll be adding additional coverage at that point as well.
If you’re looking for an impressive video drone and don’t have any particular affinity for DJI, the other drone that looks very good on paper is the Autel Evo II Pro. We haven’t flown one, but I’m particularly intrigued by their mission-planning software.