DJI may have a wide range of drones in its portfolio, but it’s the Mavic line that symbolizes the beginning of a new era for DJI drones. With the latest Mavic 3, DJI is introducing dual camera systems with hybrid zoom lenses, built-in SSDs, ability to shoot ProRes video, and better autonomous features. It’s a blend of pro-focused photo and video features with an easy-to-fly and easy-to-transport drone.
There are two drones to choose from — the standard $2,199 Mavic 3 ($2,999 if you buy the Fly More bundle) and the Mavic 3 Cine. Some of the mentioned features, like the ProRes 422 HQ video and 1TB built-in SSD, are reserved for the $4,999 Mavic 3 Cine. And let’s get this out of the way: it is the best consumer drone for video and photography you can buy right now. But that doesn’t mean it’s the drone for everyone.
When folded, the Mavic 3 is essentially the same size as its predecessor, the Mavic 2 Pro. It’s a bit longer but about the same height and just slightly heavier. Basically, it has the same footprint as before, and you won’t notice much of a difference carrying it in your bag.
The wingspan and, therefore, the arms are a bit longer, which adds more room for slightly longer propellers. You’ll notice the drone is larger when unfolded. One benefit of these larger propellers is that the Mavic 3 is slightly quieter in the air. In my testing, the difference in loudness is -3.6 dB, but the pitch of the Mavic 3 has more bass, which is always nice.
The new camera module is big. It houses the main 24mm lens and also this 28x hybrid zoom lens above it. It does stick out, which is both good and bad — it’s bad because it leaves the camera exposed, so any potential crashes might be catastrophic. Luckily, I didn’t find myself in that situation. But it’s good because this camera can tilt upwards by quite a bit — almost 30 degrees.
One neat little new feature I greatly appreciate is that the gimbal locks itself after each flight so it won’t dangle around in transport. The camera cover looks like a muzzle and is downright strange. It’s made out of faux leather, cradles the camera system, and wraps around the drone lengthwise, holding the propellers in place. It’s an improvement over the gimbal covers that usually required an engineering degree just to figure out how to put one on, but it’s still a bit odd.
As I mentioned, DJI released two Mavic 3s. I have only been testing the Cine version. Aside from the 1TB SSD, which, unfortunately, is not user-replaceable, and ProRes 422 HQ video, all the other specs and features are identical between them. The Mavic 3 can shoot 5.1K video up to 50fps, 4K video up to 120fps, or 1080p up to 200fps. It has 46 minutes of flight time and uses DJI’s latest OcuSync 3+ with 15km of range. Out of all those improvements over the Mavic 2 Pro, the one I noticed the most was the battery life.
It’s rare that you actually get the full 46 minutes of flight time, but it still is a significant improvement over the 31 minutes I’d typically see on the Mavic 2 Pro. As someone who is accustomed to maximizing battery life with each flight, I was pleasantly surprised when I’d glance over at my controller and find out I still have around 70–75% battery. If you buy the $4,999 Cine model, you get three batteries and plenty of flight time.
Both the Cine Premium bundle and the $2,999 Fly More Combo bundle come with a charging hub, and the reason why I’m devoting a whole paragraph to it is that it finally supports USB-C. You can charge the batteries with basically anything that supports USB-C, including your portable battery packs or car chargers. Just note that each one of those 5000mAh batteries takes a while to charge, even with a high wattage charger, so plan accordingly. It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to charge from 11% to 100% using a 65W brick.
This new camera module houses two sensors. The one you should care about more is the new 4/3-inch sensor, which is to say it’s a third of an inch larger than the Mavic 2 Pro. It is also a 4:3 sensor, which means your photos are no longer in 3:2 aspect ratio. With increase in sensor size, you get better noise handling, richer detail, greater dynamic range, reduced diffraction, and better control over depth of field — effectively better image quality all around.
I have been impressed with how the drone handles noise at higher ISO. I don’t want to oversell it; there is still a good amount of noise, but the differences between the two drones have been easy to spot — for both video and photo. I still wouldn’t film over ISO 3200, and ISO 6400 is definitely pushing it past my comfort zone. You can get away with showing it on something like a phone, but it might not be suitable for larger displays. Chances are you likely won’t film with ISO levels that high anyway, but it’s good to see those improvements.
But when it comes to ProRes video, don’t expect any major noticeable improvements. Looking at the same clips shot in ProRes and H.264 codec, it’s very hard to pick out any changes. ProRes is really here for professional filmmakers who are dependent on filming and delivering assets in ProRes. For lots of other drone videographers, ProRes might be overkill. Besides, Mavic 3’s maximum video bitrate is 200mbps, compared to Mavic 2 Pro’s 100mbps, so there’s already enough improvement in video quality between those two drones.
This new camera can also shoot 4K up to 120FPS. And personally, I usually shoot everything in 24fps, but I’m truly over the moon that we can now shoot 120FPS in 4K. However, there is significant cropping, so even while the footage still looks good, know that you’re not using the entire sensor when in this mode.
When it comes to photos, the differences between the two drones are not as obvious. You might find it surprising that the Mavic 3 dynamic range is rated for 12.8 stops compared to Mavic 2 Pro’s 14 stops of DR — but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In practice, I didn’t really feel like I was losing much dynamic range between the two drones when editing photos.
Cranking up the shadows and dropping the highlights in this single photo, there’s not much difference between the two, and chances are you really won’t notice it day to day. I know I haven’t. There is still a lot of information saved up in the RAW photos, and you can reveal a lot of info from a single photo.
ISO handling has also been improved. Some of the photos taken with ISO 1600 or 3200 look better than I expected them to. When comparing it directly with the Mavic 2 Pro, there are significant improvements with clarity in objects further away in the frame, and the overall noise grain looks a lot smaller.
Upon hearing the photo specs for this camera, I was a little bit worried that we’re not getting much improvement between Mavic 3, Mavic 2 Pro, or even Air 2S. It was still “just” 20MP and rated for less dynamic range than before. I would’ve still liked a megapixel increase as I think the ability to zoom and crop after the fact is a lot more useful with drone photography than other disciplines. But there’s more detail available, even if you have to go hunting to find it.
It’s worth noting that the minimal shutter speed is 2 seconds. Long exposure drone photos are often hard to pull off, but I do wish that shutter speed was longer. Lastly, aperture is adjustable from f/2.8 all the way to f/11, which works for both photos and videos, of course.
Which brings me to the final thing I want to talk about, and that is the hybrid lens. To put it simply — I don’t love it. I understand why it exists, but I’m not convinced it’s necessary. It’s fun, sure, and sometimes you can find some cool things or just look around, but that’s about it. Don’t expect to use it to actually capture jaw-dropping videos or photos.
It is an entirely separate camera mounted above the main camera, complete with its own lens and ½” CMOS sensor. It is capable of a 28x zoom or 162mm in focal length at f/4.4 aperture; however, the aperture number here isn’t as important since all the zoom is digital. You can’t shoot in ProRes with it — understandable. And you can’t shoot in D-log — less understandable. And you’re locked in at 4K or 1080p @ 30FPS. You also can’t take RAW photos, only 12MP jpegs.
When you enter the “explore mode” by tapping on the binoculars icon, you enable digital zoom. At first, that digital zoom is happening on the main lens, and I think 2x zoom looks decent. Once you get to 7x zoom, that’s when the switch happens, and the hybrid lens “takes over.” And at that 7x, it actually looks good. There’s a big difference between the 6.9x on the main camera and the 7x on the telephoto lens. But once you start going to 14x or 28x, it’s really not something you’d proudly post on your portfolio. The overall dropoff in quality between the two lenses is a little jarring at times.
There’s a new remote controller in the Cine Premium bundle; it’s very similar to the Smart Controller that came out a few years ago. It has a great screen, performance is snappy, and a redesigned OS built on Android is good. It doesn’t have exceptional battery life, though. I get anywhere from 3–6 hours, depending mostly on the screen brightness. Range is also comparable to the standard remote controller, which is an improvement over the original Smart Controller.
There are new obstacle sensors on this drone. They are still omnidirectional but fortunately not as sensitive or as obnoxiously loud as before. The app numerically tells you precisely how close you are to objects (in either feet or meters), and that really really helps when flying near objects. And, as per usual, they don’t work unless there’s adequate light.
The new OcuSync 3+ is fantastic. I didn’t anticipate liking it as much as I did, but I really noticed a difference, particularly with the overall steadiness of the connection. Going behind buildings or trees wasn’t a problem as much as it was with many other drones I’ve tested.
Last two things: APAS 5.0 and Active Track. I didn’t have time to test it properly because those features weren’t available during my testing period. APAS got enabled a few days ago, and from very little testing I did, I do like what I’m seeing. Mavic 3’s sensors are able to register objects as far away as 200 meters, and it really helps with how the drone predicts its pathway and autonomously avoids obstacles.
But the Active Track 5.0 is still not ready. And DJI says it will be ready in January. It is a real shame. I have high hopes for Active Track, and I’m curious to see how it works paired with the upgraded APAS 5.0. I’m expecting some major improvement from DJI in this category. Everyone is waiting for them to catch up with Skydio, and that is a very high bar.
There are things I was hoping to see in this drone after following years of rumors. One of which is built-in ND filters. It’s not here. Part of me was hoping for interchangeable lenses, and I still think those would be more useful than the hybrid lens. But I do agree with a lot of the decisions DJI made — increasing the sensor size instead of simply slapping an 8K sticker on the drone for one. And by enabling 4K up to 120FPS and adding ProRes video, this drone is now very close to an Inspire 2.
But I also have to say that the product, as a whole, feels a bit unfinished. Aside from Active Track, some of the other features just weren’t available during my testing — including panorama photos, Mastershots, Quickshots, and hyperlapse. There is a wide-angle lens attachment coming out soon, but I haven’t had a chance to test that either. All the core features that were available here work spectacularly well, but the rest still feel incomplete.
If you can afford it and know what you will use it for, the Mavic 3 is an easy recommendation. Most people can probably ignore the Cine model — $5,000 is a lot of money, and if you add warranty on top of that, and if you live in a place where you pay sales taxes, that price can go up really quickly. The standard Mavic 3 is also not really for beginners — if you’re a hobbyist or prosumer mostly posting on your social feeds, you can probably get away with an Air 2, 2S, or even a Mini 2.
But if this isn’t your first drone, and you’re ready to step up to a new level of image quality, want the best of the best in a relatively small package, and have enough computing power to edit these massive files — you really can’t go wrong with the Mavic 3.
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