DJI Mavic 3 - the best creator's drone got even better
Noticeable improvements across the board, but at a price.
DJI has been on the forefront of the creator's drones business for years with their Mavic lineup, offering a great balance between capture abilities, flight time and ease of use. With the next iteration hitting the stores soon, it's time to take a look at what's changed and is it enough for you to upgrade from the previous generation.
Separating photo and video
DJI Mavic 3 will be offered in two versions - a normal one and a Cine version, optimised for capturing video footage. Well, I say optimised - I mean pricey as hell, but stuffed with storage. 1TB built-in SSD and a ProRes 422 HQ video capture is what makes the difference, but the price of the Cine edition will be around $4999! As I've mentioned that, my wallet came out of my pocket and just ran away screaming...
Of course, not all is rosy, despite the price tag of the Cine. While the 1TB SSD is a welcomed addition, it is not user-replaceable, meaning you can't swap it for a roomier one. That is a shame, because ProRes is eating up a lot of storage and fast. And speaking of formats, I feel that ProRes has been added in an attempt to justify the price. Why am I saying that? Because the standard video bitrate of the Mavic 3 is 200 mbps and that's already plenty. It's double the previous generation and it's only 20 mbps short of what ProRes 422 HQ offers. Meaning you won't notice a conceivable difference between formats.
DJI went zoom-zoom
No, JDM lovers, I'm not talking about Mazda. DJI decided to put a telephoto lens and a separate sensor, combining the long shots with digital zoom, calling the whole thing a "Hybrid Zoom" and bragging about "up to 28x" of it. Yeah, sure . . but then the zoom is done by cropping the image from the main camera from 0.1x to 6.9x, then switching to the telephoto lens for 7x and cropping again from there. The results even in DJI's own gallery (which presumably have some retouches) are less than impressive at a level, different from 7x.
Digital zoom is still pretty much useless, but there is another, arguably bigger elephant in the room. Video capturing from the telephoto camera cannot be done in either ProRes or D-Log, which is baffling. The resolution can either be 4K or 1080p, but the frame rate is locked at 30 fps for some reason. As for the photos, you can't shoot in RAW with the telephoto - only JPEGs at 12MP. So DJI added something that can only be described as useless at launch. I hope they'll release some updates in the future to make something out of the telephoto camera, because right now it's just an added weight.
The main shooter got game!
The wide camera got a bigger sensor and a 4:3 aspect ratio, compared to the awkward 3:2 of the previous generation, meaning less cropping will be done in post. The aperture is adjustable from f/2.8 all the way up to f/11 and this is perfect. The resolution is 20MP and I'm starting to ask myself - is this enough for a drone? It's probably sufficient for most people, but the sky-high perspective captures a tonne of details, so there will be a situation where that high level of details will be more than the actual pixels on the sensor.
With the new bigger and arguably better sensor, something unexplainable has been done to the dynamic range. It got lower, with more than a full stop, compared to the previous generation, yet it has been advertised as a feature on DJI's own website. But by looking at the initial RAW samples, you can hardly spot a difference. And since the higher ISO shooting has visibly improved, I'm starting to think DJI has traded dynamic range for sensitivity. And surprisingly that is a good move! Up to ISO 3200 the clarity is good and the noise is at a manageable levels. I personally wouldn't go further than that.
When it comes to capture resolution, things just get sweet. 5.1K at 50 fps is both great for fast-paced action moves and it gives you enough overhead to crop out some of the bad framing without losing much crispy resolution. Then there's the usual 4K at 120 fps affair and 1080p caps out at 200 fps. What's not perfect and visible in the framing is the lack of full-sensor readout, meaning the lower the resolution, the less of the sensor is utilised. Cropping is immediately visible when you jump to 4K and it's jarringly obvious in 1080p.
The drone itself
The size of the Mavic 3 while folded is nearly identical to its predecessor and it's only slightly heavier. The arms and propellers are just a touch longer, but there is a benefit to that, as the new Mavic is marginally quieter. Even better, the sound pitch is more concentrated in the lower frequency spectrum and it's less intrusive. The new camera module is much bulkier this time and it's exposed, so you have to be careful not to crash it. Good thing - the whole camera module can tilt upwards, up to 30 degrees, which is a bliss for tricky framing.
Another nifty feature is that the gimbal locks itself after a flight is over, so it will not move during transportation. DJI has rated the flight time at 46 minutes, which is a welcomed improvement over the 31 minutes of the previous generation. Both iterations of Mavic 3 come with a charging hub which is finally a USB-C, but the charging is still on the slow side, taking a good two hours from empty to full. The Cine version gets a special new remote with an improved screen and snappier behaviour. It's still based on Android, so it should be familiar and easy to use. The range is comparable to the standard remote, which is not a bad thing.
There are new omnidirectional obstacle sensors, which are more precise than the previous generation and can tell you how close you are to an object and in which direction. As previously, those won't work if the lighting conditions are insufficient. The new OcuSync 3+ system is greatly improved, keeping a very stable connection even behind some previously serious obstacles. The newer version of the advanced pilot assistance brings mostly minor improvements and the same can be said about the active tracking, although the latter one is still in beta.
There's plenty of accessories to buy as an extra, but annoyingly the ND filters are still a separate entity and not built-in. I mean - how hard can it be? Phone makers have done it since the glory days of Nokia. For the price you're paying, those should be an inseparable part of the camera! Having said that, the new DJI Mavic 3 is still the creator's wet dream, even with the aforementioned shortcomings. Delivering various improvements all across the board, so the pricing can be somewhat justified.