Small drones are the next big thing. The DJI Mavic Pro (£999 – current price on Amazon UK) joins the GoPro Karma, the Vantage Robotics Snap, and the Yuneec Breeze as the latest downsized model. It’s twice the price of the Breeze, but delivers almost all of the features of DJI’s top-end consumer drone, the Phantom 4. If you’re looking for a small quadcopter that doesn’t compromise on functionality, the Mavic Pro is worth considering. The Magic Pro’s predecessor, the Phantom 4, is larger and more powerful, but the compact design of the Mavic Pro makes this model significantly more user friendly. DJI describes the Pro as about the size of a water bottle when folded. It measures 8.4cm by 8.4cm by 19.8cm when folded so if you’re looking for something that doesn’t take up too much space then this little beauty is just the thing.
The Mavic weighs in at a measly 0.73Kg when ready to fly with a microSD memory card installed. The Android and iOS DJI Go smartphone app, which is required to see the view from the Mavic’s camera and change settings, includes a flight simulator to help you get used to the controls.
The drone is finished in grey, with yellow accents. You’ll need to unfold its arms before flight, first pulling the front rotors out and away from the body and locking them into the forward position, then pulling the rear struts down and back into their locked setting. The rotors, which fold in half, don’t have to be removed between flights. If you need to replace one, they have a push and twist design for installation and removal, they are also available from Amazon (UK) for £8. A clear dome protects the camera, you can fly with or without it, but you’ll need to remove the gimbal clamp, a small piece of plastic that locks the camera into place during transport, before flight.
The battery snaps in and out of the top. DJI claims it can power the Mavic for up to 27 minutes under ideal conditions. But should cope with at least 20 minutes of flight and recording time. Recharging the battery takes about an hour, and spare batteries are priced at £85.
The Mavic Pro ships with six propellers, one battery, and doesn’t include the carrying case. The remote is smaller than an Xbox controller when folded and flying a drone with joysticks offers more control and range than just using the smartphone app. DJI states that you can fly up to 4.3 miles, but that’s under absolutely ideal conditions. In built up areas with many sources of electronic interference expect the total range to be significantly less. The top speed is 22mph, and you can enable Sport mode to enable 40mph flight which will be more than enough for virtually all circumstances.
The controller features dual joysticks, the left controls altitude and spins the Mavic about its axis, while the right moves it in in the direction you push the stick. It also has two control wheels that adjusts the gimbal tilt and brightens or darkens video. There are buttons to take a picture, start and stop video recording, activate Return to Home mode, and pause automated flight. Two rear buttons launch the the app’s camera menu by default, but can be customised. Likewise, any of the four directional presses of the small joypad that sits at the right of the monochrome information LCD can be customised. The two antennas on the controller also fold down for storage.
Your smartphone runs the DJI Go app, which allows you to change camera settings, view live video from the Mavic’s camera, and see where the drone is on a world map, useful if you’ve lost track of it in the sky. It’s technically possible to fly the Mavic with the remote control only, but we don’t recommend it. You won’t be able to adjust video or image settings, you can’t access any of the intelligent flight modes, and you won’t be able to see what the drone’s camera is seeing. The app really lets you take control of the 4K camera. You can adjust the colour balance if desired, capturing video that’s more vividly saturated, or with a flat colour profile that can be graded in post-production. You can also filter JPG photos, or set the camera to capture Raw images in DNG format.
The app is also where the Mavic’s Intelligent Flight Modes live. Like the Phantom 4, you can set the drone to orbit a point in space (Point of Interest), repeat flights along a preset path (Waypoints), follow you (Follow Me), and change the way it responds to joystick control (Home Lock and Course Lock).
It also inherits TapFly, which allows you to control the drone’s path in the air simply by tapping on a portion of the screen. A generation raised on smartphones may find this to be more intuitive than flying via a joystick, but it’s not my favourite way to pilot. There’s also ActiveTrack, which can recognise and follow a moving target. Both of these work with the obstacle avoidance system, which reduces the chance of an accident.
New to the Mavic is a Terrain Follow mode, which uses its downward facing obstacle sensors in order to maintain a constant altitude above the ground. It’s a solid choice for low tracking shots when flying over uneven terrain. And there’s Gesture, which snaps your picture when you wave at the Mavic. The app also displays important telemetry information, the current altitude, distance from the home point, speed, and orientation. You can swap the full-screen live view feed with the embedded area map, a big plus in locating the Mavic in the air if it’s flown a good distance from its takeoff point. The Mavic Pro includes forward and downward obstacle avoidance detection, as well as a downward Vision Positioning, which has been a staple of the Phantom series since the introduction of the Phantom 3 Professional. The systems do a solid job in preventing the aircraft from flying into objects, bringing it to a halt a few feet away.
As a smaller drone, the Mavic Pro doesn’t handle as well in high wind as the Phantom, which has stronger motors and a higher top speed. I flew in wind varying from 5mph up to around 12mph and the aircraft was steady in the air. At a high altitude, about 90 metres, the app did warn me that the wind was on the strong side, after a gust. But I had no problems controlling the Mavic, and was able to bring it back home and to a lower altitude with no problems.
There’s one notable drawback to the low-profile design. That is you need to have a flat and stable takeoff platform to hand. Placing the drone on grass makes it sit unevenly and causes issues with the gimble alignment. That being said a small square of cardboard will do the trick if push comes to shove.
The Mavic’s camera is a new design, smaller than the 4K unit used by the Phantom 4, but matching it in video modes and bit rate (60Mbps). Its field of view is slightly narrower, closer to a 25mm full-frame lens than the wider 20mm optic on the larger Phantom. Landscapes won’t appear quite as wide, but you still get solid coverage for aerial video. In a first for a drone, the camera module can rotate from the standard landscape orientation to a vertical portrait orientation. This works for both stills and videos.
The drone camera is also the first that supports focus adjustment. Most are fixed focus designs that capture everything from a certain distance to infinity in crisp detail. The Mavic can focus closer—to 19 inches (0.5-meter)—but locking in close means that distant objects will appear blurred. You aren’t likely to use the close focus ability for aerial shots, the obstacle avoidance system will stop you from getting 19 inches away from your subject, but the Mavic is tiny enough where I can see it being used as a handheld camera. Just make sure you don’t start the motors when doing so.
The 4K footage captured by the Mavic is just as crisp and detailed as that from the Phantom 4. The lens doesn’t show any noticeable barrel distortion, and video is steadied by a 3-axis gimbal. I took my first test flight on a breezy day, and did notice the occasional wobble if a gust hit the drone, as well as jitter if you bring it to an abrupt stop. But for the most part video is silky smooth and steady, even when flying in the high-speed Sport mode, where the extra distance that the Mavic needs to go from full speed to stop actually helps reduce the jitter you get from abrupt stops and turns at lower speeds.
Photos are captured at 12MP resolution in JPG or Raw DNG format. Image quality is what you expect from a point-and-shoot camera, which is typical for most drones. If you want to get more than that, you’ll need to go for a much more expensive drone with a Micro Four Thirds camera, like the Yuneec Tornado H920 or the DJI Inspire 1 Pro. Still shooters will appreciate the new Tripod mode, which slows the maximum speed considerably, making it easier to make very precise adjustments to the drone’s position so you can set up the perfect shot.
The DJI Mavic Pro is a prime example of just how quickly the drone market has evolved. A few months ago a small drone, even one with GPS, was by underpowered and less than capable when compared with larger models. The Mavic Pro changes that. When folded it stows easily in a smaller bag, and while it’s not quite as quick or as powerful as the larger Phantom 4, it can fly high, move through the air at a solid pace, and capture 4K video that’s just as detailed. If you’ve coveted the Phantom 4, but think it’s just too big to carry with you to exotic locales to capture stunning aerial footage, the Mavic Pro i is the new gold standard, with a combination of portability and power which leaves the rest of the competition far behind.