DJI Mini 3 Pro Review: Setting a New High Bar For Travel Drones
DJI is continuing to push its families of drones higher up the food chain with more features at higher prices for each revision. The new DJI Mini 3 Pro is no exception. It is a massive upgrade from the Mini 2, with a substantial price bump to go along with it. I’ve been flying a review unit with pre-release firmware for a couple weeks in both Europe and the US, and have been incredibly impressed with what DJI has packed into its newest sub-250 gram drone.
Starting with the basics, the Mini 3 Pro is available in three different versions. The drone only (suitable for those who already have a DJI remote) is $669. The drone plus a baseline remote (DJC RC-N1) is $759. The premium, and somewhat unique offering for a low-end drone, is the option to purchase the drone along with DJI’s new remote designed for use with the Mini (DJI RC). The DJI RC features its own display and is pre-loaded with the DJI Flight app. That configuration will set you back $909. The Fly More combo can be added to any of these. For an additional $189, it includes two batteries, a multi-battery charger, two sets of spare propellors, and a bag to hold it all. Pre-orders are being accepted now, with shipments expected to start on May 17th.
DJI Mini 3 Pro by the Numbers
The headline number for DJI Mini drones is of course the weight. At just under 250 grams, the Mini 3 Pro comes in under the minimum weight that requires registration in the US. It’s not completely clear to me what else that weight class gets you in the US, but in the EU and other places there are often additional benefits in terms of where you can fly.
Flight time is rated at an impressive 34 minutes, even with the amazingly-light batteries, and 47 minutes with an optional higher-capacity, but heavier, battery. To achieve this flight time the batteries no longer include status LEDs, but the drone has a set, as does the multi-battery charger.
The Mini 3 has also been upgraded to include 3-direction obstacle detection and APAS 4.0 intelligent obstacle avoidance (forward, backward, and down). That puts it right up at the level you might expect from an Air model, and ahead of the original Mavic. There is also a full suite of FocusTrack features.
The optional DJI RC with integrated display definitely makes it simpler to fly the drone, and saves your phone battery. However, to get maps (it uses Mapbox) it’ll need to have access to WiFi. Unlike with DJI’s Smart and Pro remotes, I couldn’t find a way to load additional applications on it. This could limit its appeal to those who use 3rd party applications for data logging or pre-programmed flying.
The Mini 3 Pro’s Camera
One of the highlights of the Mini 3 Pro is the upgraded camera. A 1/1.3-inch format sensor gives it 2.4 micron pixels when used at the default 12MP resolution. That helps its solid low-noise and low-light performance. The sensor is actually a 48MP design using a quad-Bayer array and pixel binning down to 12MP by default — like many new smartphones. You can turn off the binning to generate 48MP Raw images if you want. Note that I’ve already seen some articles that conflate the Raw and binned numbers by appearing to claim that the camera has 48 million 2.4 micron pixels. The camera features a fast f/1.7 lens. The sensor also offers dual native ISO — basically the ability to capture images at two different exposure levels at the same shutter speed and f-Stop. This improves the dynamic range of the camera even without needing to capture a bracket of frames.
With the current firmware the Mini 3 Pro can capture up to 4K/30fps using a default video profile. DJI plans to release updates that will add support for both 4K/60fps and a D-Cinelike profile, for those wishing for more control. There is also a set of neutral density filters available as accessories. Using the DJI RC, I got a crisp 1080p live image over the O3 link to the Mini 3 at distances of over 1km. (DJI claims a 12km nominal range for this configuration, but like usual, that’s more of a hypothetical test case).
One of the interesting features of recent DJI drones has been the addition of MasterShots, which combine a series of the pre-programmed Quickshots into a single clip.
Here is the 4K MasterShot of the pictured wine estate:
For reference, below are two versions of a MasterShot clip I recorded at a famous spomenik (monument) in Montenegro. The first one was recorded at 1080p resolution, while the second of the same subject was recorded at 4K, so you can compare. They are both uploaded straight from the drone to YouTube and were shot with the Mini 3’s default settings:
Another convenience feature is the generation of full spherical panoramas. The drone accomplishes this by using a type of content-aware fill to in-paint the above-horizon areas it can’t photograph with its camera. This makes it quick and easy to upload them to sites like Kuula that directly accept them. However, in my testing I found a lot of color problems in the painted areas. Perhaps that will be addressed in a future firmware update.
DJI’s “Twist”: Shooting in Portrait Orientation
While most of the Mini 3 specs were leaked there was definitely still some suspense when DJI teased the notion of a “Twist” just before launch. Indeed the physical camera can be rotated 90 degrees by the gimbal — allowing you to shoot portrait orientation photos and videos. While portrait orientation photos have been around for decades, video was largely confined by the horizontal orientation of TVs and monitors until the advent of the smartphone and social media. So it does finally make sense to add support for shooting vertical.
DJI RC (Remote Control)
The premium version of the Mini 3 includes a newly-designed remote. It looks and feels like a down-sized version of DJI’s Smart Remote or Pro Remote. Like the other two, it features a built-in screen and full wireless operation. When flying with the drone in line of sight, I could stay in touch with the Mini about a mile out (in situations where that was allowed). The screen isn’t as bright as on my Pro remote, so you’ll still want to hunt for some shade, but it was easier to read than a typical smartphone, and was quite responsive. Of course, it is larger than the base level remote, so for those looking for the sleekest possible travel experience, using your phone with the standard remote would still be a good option.
One thing to remember about using a DJI remote is that it doesn’t come with internet connectivity other than Wi-Fi. So if you are out somewhere and need to download maps, you’ll need to either connect it your phone’s hotspot or find another solution. On the bright side, the RC and the Mini were able to download photos from the drone to the RC at very-high speed (video download to the DJI RC isn’t available yet).
You can also view your photos and videos — including panos, on the RC, whether they are on the drone or you’ve downloaded them to the controller.
A Couple Glitches to Keep an Eye On
I found two glitches while flying the pre-production drone. First, on two occasions the RTH command tried to land the drone about 6 feet away from where it took off and the Home Point was set. The other times it landed spot on. It’s certainly possible that I did something wrong, but I’ve never had this problem before with any drone, so I suspect there may be an issue that DJI can hopefully address.
Second, the Mini currently has an echo of the GPS problems of the Mavic 3. Sometimes it would lock on to enough GPS satellites to fly fairly quickly, but it sometimes took as much as a minute, even in a clear area. In one particularly worrisome case, I flew the drone in an open area after it locked on in about 10-12 seconds. I then turned it off, then back on, and it took about a minute to get locked on again.
Is the DJI Mini 3 Pro Right For You?
DJI is targeting the Mini 3 Pro at serious hobbyists, video bloggers, and frequent travelers who want a minimal-weight rig. If you can deal with the price, I think they have scored across the board. It’s an incredibly-functional drone in a very-small package. With the high-end remote, you can be in the air with a premium flight experience without any cables or hassles. With a more traditional remote you have an incredibly light travel drone system.
For me, price is where the tradeoffs become less clear. The Mini 3 Pro creeps up close to the price point of an Air 2 S — which has a lot more flight and photo/video features. The good news is I think both models are great options, and represent good price points for those who don’t want to buy into a more expensive Mavic 3. If you want to look past DJI, Autel & Parrot also have entries in this category.