(Pocket-lint) - The Mavic 3 is DJI's latest and greatest flagship drone - one that aims to help cement the brand as the go-to name in the industry.
However, it got off to a bit of a shaky start. While the Mavic 3 did impress upon release, it was also missing some key features - such as ActiveTrack, QuickShots, MasterShots and Panorama Mode. DJI promised they were coming in future updates, but it was a strange decision to ship out a product that seemingly wasn't quite finished.
Now, though, it's a very different story. Massive firmware updates in the time since the Mavic 3's release have brought with them the missing features and more.
So, is this the drone to beat? And who exactly is this the Mavic 3 for? Let's find out.
The Mavic 3 is easy to use, packs down to a convenient size and produces an image that is second to none. Of course, there's always room for improvements, but, as it stands, there simply isn't a better drone available to consumers - especially now that all of the features are present in the current firmware.
Compared to its predecessor, the Mavic 3 is a step up in almost every regard. Increased battery life, superb stable flight, better tracking, refined accessories and a truly unmatched image. It's top marks all around.
This product is more of a videographer's tool than a consumer drone, so we do feel that majority of people would be better off with something more affordable and compact, like the Air 2S or Mini 2.
However, if you want the best image quality possible for content creation, movie-making or client work, this is as good as it gets.
DJI Mavic 3
- Superb image quality
- Large sensor and adjustable aperture
- Long flight times
- Thoughtful and compact design
- A significant improvement on the Mavic 2 Pro
- The telephoto camera is much lower quality than the main sensor
- Very expensive
- The DJI Fly app could use some tweaks
Choosing your options
- Standard edition
- Fly More combo
- Cine Premium Combo
The Mavic 3 is available in three distinct packages: the standard version, the Fly More Combo and the Cine Premium Combo. The Mavic 3 standard is the cheapest option, but it's a fairly barebones kit that nets you the drone itself, the controller, one battery, some spares and the associated wires to get you up and running.
The option we're testing is the Fly More Combo, which gives you two additional batteries, a charging hub, an ND filter set and a lovely carrying bag. We think this option will prove to be the most popular, as, without the additional batteries, you'll struggle to get the most out of a flying session.
Finally, there is the Cine Premium Combo, and it comes with an eye-watering price tag. The Cine variant is really only going to appeal to those using the Mavic for professional work The main draw is the addition of ProRes HQ recording, and those who can benefit will already know it. To allow the recording of this exceptionally heavy codec, the Mavic 3 Cine comes with an onboard 1TB SSD, whereas the standard Mavic 3 relies on microSD card storage.
The Cine Premium Combo also includes the flashy RC Pro controller, which has its own screen and doesn't rely on your smartphone for control. The RC Pro controller alone costs four figures, so it's easy to see where that price tag is coming from.
Design and features
- Takeoff Weight: 895g
- Diagonal Length: 380.1mm
- Storage: 8GB internal + microSD card slot
The Mavic 3 is larger than its predecessor, but it's also lighter. This is increasingly important, as the 900g mark is often the limit for legal flying - something we explore in more detail in our guide to drone laws in the UK and US.
The Mavic 2 Pro exceeded this limit, but the Mavic 2 just slides in at 895g (or 899g for the Cine). That's not the only benefit, however, as the additional propeller diameter and weight reductions come together to allow for longer flight times and a lower-pitch, less intrusive noise while flying.
One of the largest changes on the design side is the new muzzle style gimbal protector. It's a little fiddly at first, but, once you get the hang of it, it's an incredibly thoughtful and convenient way to store your drone.
Every propeller clips neatly into place, the sensors are covered, and the gimbal is secured from all angles - all with one convenient strap around the drone. This level of protection used to require multiple fiddly accessories, so we're really glad to see this elegant new approach.
The carrying bag from the Fly More kit has impressed us, too. While DJI could have included a fairly cheap solution and not seen many complaints, we can tell some serious design went into this thing, and it feels durable enough to last a lifetime.
The interior is finished with luxurious velour-style fabric to protect your gear and all the buckles are aluminium with a soft-touch coating. What's more, it can be easily converted and used as either a backpack, shoulder bag or waist-pack. The only downside is that it's fairly big and heavy. This bag is available separately and costs in the region of £219 / $319, so its inclusion in the Fly More Combo is very welcome indeed.
The Mavic 3 comes with the DJI RC-N1 remote controller, which is the same remote that comes with the DJI Air 2S and Mini 2. We were a little disappointed to see the same controller used for such an advanced model, which could certainly benefit from some extra physical buttons. Even just changing the finish to match the darker grey body of the Mavic 3 would have been nice.
But, disappointment aside, the RC-N1 is still a great controller that also benefits from DJI's smart design choices. Little touches, like a place to store the stick ends, and the way the cable is neatly stored inside the controller, put it head and shoulders above the competition.
The flying experience
- Max speed: 42mph in Sport mode
- Max flight time: 46 minutes
- DJI Fly app with O3+ video transmission
The Mavic 3 is a delight to fly. Its larger propellers mean it remains rock solid even in strong winds, and the controls are simple and intuitive enough for a complete beginner to pick up in minutes. It's speedier than its predecessor, too, and that's particularly noticeable on ascents and descents. This allows you to get some really interesting shots while obstacle avoidance takes care of any danger. Of course, if you've got the need for speed, you can whack it in Sport mode and really tear up the skies, but we doubt you'll be doing that very often.
We found the tracking modes to be reliable and effective, and we were particularly impressed by the new ActiveTrack 5.0. The Mavic 3 can follow a subject, intelligently weaving around obstructions to maintain a visual. You can select which side of the subject you want the drone to fly on, and it does its best to keep framing from that orientation. It's not perfect, and definitely struggles with flying backwards to maintain a head-on shot, but it's a massive step up from previous iterations, and a very versatile tool to have at your disposal.
MasterShots and QuickShots are now present on the Mavic 3, as well, and we loved using them. These modes have pre-programmed flight paths that can soar around a subject and create a variety of impressive shots - all while you sit back and watch. It feels like a feature that's more at home on a consumer-focused drone than the pricey and professional Mavic 3, but, if you can get over the feeling that you're cheating, it's undeniably a great way to get some quick, beautiful shots of a locale.
The range is massive and the video transmission of the new O3+ system means that you get a lovely high-quality feed on your phone screen, even when the drone is over a mile out. We managed to lose signal once, but, as is the case with DJI quadcopters, it calmly began to return home autonomously. Then, when the signal returned, we took over control and went about our business as before.
The battery life is a big step up compared to the older Mavic models, too. We weren't quite able to reach the 46-minute flights that DJI touts, but we were flying in some pretty windy conditions at fairly high speeds. Despite the challenging weather, though, we still managed in excess of 30-minutes per battery. Very impressive stuff.
The Mavic 3 uses the DJI Fly app, whereas the Mavic 2 Pro used the older Go 4 app. The Fly app is much more streamlined, has a cleaner aesthetic and is more intuitive to newbies. However, with the Mavic 3 being a somewhat professional tool, the fly app can seem a little too dumbed down for seasoned filmmakers and photographers.
You'll often find more advanced options hidden away in submenus, and it seems a little odd for a drone of this calibre. That said, we didn't have any trouble finding the parameters that we wanted to adjust - with the exception of the onboard sharpening, which doesn't seem to be adjustable on the current firmware.
Cameras and image quality
- 24mm equivalent main camera with 4/3 CMOS sensor
- 162mm equivalent tele camera with 1/2-inch CMOS sensor
- Up to 20MP stills
- Up to 5.1k 50fps videos
One of the most exciting things about the Mavic 3 is the main camera's new, larger sensor. While 4/3 may sound like it's smaller than 1-inch, it's actually far larger. In fact, DJI has managed to squeeze in a sensor that's similarly sized to that found inside a Panasonic GH6. This massive sensor, combined with the adjustable aperture of the lens, means that you can achieve a sense of depth with your images, with noticeable background blur, if you get close enough.
It's quite simply the best image we've seen from a drone, and it holds up to serious scrutiny if you zoom in on 5.1K footage. The 4K recording is excellent, too, but we did notice a little more compression and susceptibility to noise. If your editing machine and storage solutions are up to the task, we'd advise sticking to the superior 5.1K format wherever possible.
The superb Hasselblad colour science ensures that you get beautiful footage, straight from the camera. The D-Log profile, meanwhile, is extremely flat and gives plenty of headroom, should you find yourself needing to push the image a few stops. Our only minor criticism is that the image is a touch over-sharpened in the standard colour profile, and there doesn't seem to be a way to adjust the sharpness at present. In D-Log, however, the sharpness is much more pleasing to our eyes.
The other interesting addition to the Mavic 3's camera system is the additional 162mm equivalent telephoto camera. This one uses a far smaller 1/2-inch sensor that's more akin to something you'd find on a camera phone than a high-end cinematography machine. Since the quality can't keep up with the main sensor, DJI has hidden it away in what it calls Explorer Mode.
Explorer mode can be accessed by tapping the binocular icon in the app, and, once active, will allow you to zoom in on objects to get a better look. It goes from 1x to 28x, with 1x being the main sensor and 7x being the tele lens. All of the other focal lengths are digital zooms which degrade the image quality, so when you jump from 4x to 7x the image noticeably cleans up as it switches from the main sensor to the secondary.
We really enjoyed using the tele lens, it's a unique feature that allows you to get shots that have never been possible with DJI drones in the past. Yes, the image quality isn't fantastic, but it's certainly good enough for social media, and with a bit of post-processing it cleans up rather well. We just wish that DJI would give you an easy way to switch to it. We wouldn't recommend using any of the digital zooms for anything other than acquiring focus, so to have to tap through all of them to get to the tele lens is quite frustrating. Of course, this can easily be addressed in future firmware, and we hope it is.
We've mainly been talking about video quality here, as it seems to be the way drones are primarily used, but let's not forget that they also make for excellent photography, too.
Stills from the Mavic 3 are excellent. There's loads of detail combined with natural, vibrant colours and sharpness that extends to the edges of the frame with very little fall off. Stills Mode also allows you to use more of the 20MP sensor, allowing for some nice wide landscape shots.
If you're looking for the best consumer drone on the market, and the price doesn't scare you, then the DJI Mavic 3 is the one to buy. Upon its initial release, it was already the best around, and now, after a number of updates, it has only further refined the user experience.