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Monday, March 19, 2018

DJI Mavic Pro Review

TDJI Mavic Pro Review

Just a week after GoPro announced its first drone, DJI unveiled the Mavic Pro. Both are similarly priced consumer drones which fold up and are easy to transport. But is it worth spending a bit extra on the Mavic Pro? We flew the Mavic Pro to find out. 

Note: Our video player reduces video quality. The original footage is sharper and has more detail. Also, it will automatically select a lower resolution for the best streaming: be sure to choose 2160p for the best quality on offer. To see the full detail, you'll obviously need a 4K screen too!



PRICE
You can buy the Mavic Pro for £999 from Apple. There's also be a Fly More Combo pack, which includes the Mavic Pro along with two extra Intelligent Flight Batteries, extra propellers, a charging hub, an adapter, a car charger and a shoulder bag for £1359 from Heliguy.

The shoulder bag alone costs £75, so if you can find your own, you'll save money. Batteries are £85 each and spare props are £4 each (they come in pairs). Also check out the smaller and cheaper Mavic Air.

Update 19 March: Amazon has the Mavic Pro on offer in its Easter Sale so you can get the Fly More bundle for £979 - this low price is only available for one day.

DESIGN
If you don't buy the special carry case, you can safely stuff the Mavic Pro into a rucsack or small bag thanks to a plastic gimbal cover (replacements are £10). It's certainly worth investing in a dedicated case of some sort to avoid damaging the fold-up propellers, though.

You can whip out the drone, unfold the four legs and be flying in around a minute as per DJI's claims. The front two legs flip out, and the back two unfold from the base and sit slightly lower - it looks odd, but doesn't affect flight performance at all.

The gimbal protector unclips and there's a second smaller clamp that keeps the gimbal from moving around too much in transit - you can't fly the Mavic with this in place, so you either leave it off for quick launches, or get into the habit of removing both pieces. You can leave the main protector in place if you're "just having fun" according to DJI, but you'll want to remove it to get the best quality for filming and photos.

There's no need to unfold the propellers as these automatically flip out into place when the motors start.

Compared to the Phantoms which preceded it, the Mavic Pro is tiny. It's noticeably lighter, and - when folded up - much, much smaller. It's not quite as small as the water bottle we were expecting, but it's eminently portable. Think of a 1.5 litre Coke bottle and you're not far off.

A small cover hides the microSD slot and a switch which is for changing between flying with the controller and flying using only your phone.

The controller is relatively quick to set up, although it's a little fiddly to plug the Lightning connector into an iPhone as it's not fixed in place. That's because the controller is built to be universal and accept just about any iPhone or Android. You get Lightning and microUSB cables in the box, but others are optional - we're told USB-C will be available to buy separately.

The controller's fold out arms have rubber inserts which tightly grip your phone, so you'll likely have to remove it from any case as it will probably be too thick. We just managed to squeeze in an iPhone 7 in Apple's leather case. The 5.5in iPhone 6S Plus (in the photo above) sticks out the bottom a little, but it fits OK.

What's awkward is that the leg mostly obstructs a 4.7in iPhone's home button, although you shouldn't need to use it if you fire up the DJI GO app before you insert it.

The controller is completely different to DJI's previous transmitters, and we're big fans of the new LCD screen. This shows a lot of information and means you don't have to peer at your phone's screen to see the drone's altitude and distance from you. It also has signal meters for GPS, motor RPM and the drone's speed - the latter two are also precisely displayed in numbers in the left- and right corners respectively.

It also shows the drone and controller's battery levels and a central section displays messages such as 'GPS OK' and 'SD ERR' as well as LANDING or TAKING OFF.

At the bottom, a 'clearance' indicator shows the distance to a detected obstacle.

The smaller dimensions make it more comfortable to use with smaller hands, and the smaller sticks are no less precise or usable than on the Phantom controllers. Like a console gamepad there are two buttons on the back which can be programmed to do different things, and there's the expected gimbal tilt wheel on the top-left corner.

Shoulder buttons allow you to start and stop video recording and take a photo, while a jog wheel on the top right corner can be set to change exposure correction, ISO and other image settings.

FEATURES AND FLYING
Thanks to its smaller dimensions and lighter weight, the Mavic Pro feels more agile than a Phantom in the air. Flip the switch on the side of the controller into Sport mode and it becomes ultra-responsive, darting around like a fly. It's fast, too, and you really get a sensation of its speed when you don DJI's new Goggles (more on those later).

But while Sport mode is fun, we were more interested in the new ActiveTrack features.

Some features disable the Vision positioning system (as does Sport mode) so you won't get obstacle avoidance all the time. But thanks to the two bottom mounted cameras and pair of ultrasonic sensors, the Mavic Pro is able to maintain a certain height as it flies along close to the ground.

We tested this by flying the drone along a route which went up a hill with a hedge on it. No problem for the Mavic Pro: it simply detected the hedge and flew up and over it.

Gestures are also new and fun. You can get the drone to follow you by pointing in the direction you want it to go, or you can make a photo frame shape with your thumbs and forefingers, expanding the virtual frame to tell the Mavic that you want to take a selfie. All without holding the controller.

Taking a selfie proved a little hit and miss: it struggled to maintain a lock on one person when standing very close to other people. However, moving away from the group, re-drawing a rectangle around ourselves on the phone screen (to enable ActiveTrack) and then going back to the group seemed to be more effective.

Unfortunately we weren't able to test out ActiveTrack on animals or cars, although we did try to get a lock on a black cat sitting in some shade: it wasn't successful and only served to aggravate the cat, so it's probably best to avoid small animals as you have to fly relatively close. 

Another great new feature is the ability to select portrait mode, rather than landscape. This is ideal if, say, you want to take a photo of a waterfall, or anything else where a portrait orientation is preferable. It's also handy if you want to take a panorama, since portrait photos give you more height. 

In fact, useful for panoramas is the also-new Tripod mode. This reduces the drone's speed (consider it the opposite to Sport mode), and it also makes the control sticks less sensitive. It's useful when you want to pan across a landscape as it stops you going too fast. And if you're taking photos for a panorama, it's again easier to pan slowly before taking the next photo.

We also tested out the precise landing. Video is taken while taking off, and when you press and hold the return button, the drone flies to the preset height and returns to the take off location. It rotates until it's facing the same direction as it was for takeoff and slowly descends, landing in exactly the same spot it took off. Only once did it fail, and even then it was less than a foot away from its starting position.
The latest update to the DJI GO app tweaks the interface very slightly and moves a few options around, but it's also handy that it now warns you if it's too windy. Often you're unable to see or feel how windy it is at the drone's altitude, and it's typically much windier than ground level where you're likely to be standing while flying the Mavic Pro.

QUALITY - VIDEO AND PHOTOS
We were impressed with the Mavic Pro's quality. You’d imagine that it would take a hit because of the tiny camera and lens, which is much smaller than the Phantom 4's, but photos and video look great. Video tops out at 4096x2160 at 24fps, but it's best to choose 3840x2160 at 25fps as this has a 16:9 aspect ratio and will be more compatible with the screens you're likely to watch the footage on.

If you want to get the maximum possible quality from the Mavic Pro.

It’s crucial that you remember to tap on your phone's screen in the GO app to focus before recording any video or taking photos because the lens is no longer fixed focus as with previous DJI drones. This is supposed to be an advantage when photographing or filming things close up, but given than most things are far away when you’re in the air, it’s a bit inconvenient and easy to forget to do - at least for the first few flights.

Here's a resized photo taken in harsh sunlight in Portugal:

And here's a 100 percent crop of the original photo so you can see the detail and sharpness:

Here's another example, this time an original 12Mp jpg from the SD card:

There's noticeable moire on the roof in the background (we saw this in other photos too). This could be fixable with a camera firmware update.

For those considering the Mavic as a first drone, you will be blown away by the stabilised, ultra-steady video. If you let the drone hover in place and record video, you’ll think you’re looking at a photo when reviewing the video on a phone or tablet – it’s that stable.
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GOGGLES
You can pair up to two Goggles to a Mavic Pro, and each receives the same 1080p video feed from the camera. The Goggles have a large, padded plastic head band which you tighten using a screw on the back. They're heavy and our instinct was to support them with our hands. But when they're tight enough on your head, it's not too uncomfortable to use them for a few minutes. There's plenty of room to accommodate glasses, too.

Video quality is decent, but the image wasn't quite as sharp as we were expecting but it's a lot, lot better than most googles used for FPV drone racing. The sensation is similar to virtual reality and it's a fantastic feeling being able to see a bird’s eye view as you fly high over trees and buildings. Of course,you can also use them with the Mavic in Sport mode.

Quickly changing the Mavic's direction will almost certainly leave you nauseous though, at least to begin with.

SPECS

  • Flight time: Up to 27 minutes
  • Range: 7km (4.3 miles) with controller
  • Camera specs: 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 96fps, 12Mp photos in RAW or JPG
  • Max speed: 40mph
  • Stable flight in winds up to 24mph
  • Obstacle avoidance: up to 22mph
  • Weight: 743g

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