DJI Mavic 3 Hands-On
The DJI Mavic 3 aims to be the biggest, baddest drone there ever was. It comes loaded to bear with two separate cameras – a four-thirds sensor, the first-ever on a drone, and a supplemental telephoto camera with 28x hybrid zoom – up to 46 minutes of flight time, and nearly 360-degree obstacle detection. Of course, such a capable drone like this demands an incredibly high price – $2,199, which puts it far out of scope for most – but is it worth the price of admission?
Before we get too in-depth with the cameras, I want to note how much DJI has redesigned the Mavic 3 in every aspect. Compared to the Mavic Pro 2, this feels like the drone equivalent of a next-gen console.
Between the darker paint scheme and downward-angled front limbs, it looks more aggressive and futuristic than the rest of DJI’s current fleet, including the Air 2S and Mini 2. The entire chassis is new, sleeker, and larger than the Mavic Pro 2, with the battery compartment located in the rear instead of on top of the airframe. All of the limbs and rotor blades are also longer than the previous model, which improves the drone’s aerodynamics.
Of course, what’s bigger than ever is the Mavic 3’s main camera, which now features a four-thirds 20MP sensor – a sensor you would more typically find in Panasonic or Olympus mirrorless cameras — paired with a 24mm f2.8 prime lens. This is by far the largest sensor I’ve seen on a drone, and it’s a major step up from the 1-inch sensor on the Mavic 2. The larger sensor size allows this drone to capture more light while shooting stills and video, not to mention higher quality content overall.
Just from a few DJI Mavic 3 flights I was able to take last weekend, I’m already impressed by the expanded dynamic range and improved low-light image quality I saw in both my photos and video.
The new 20MP camera also unlocks plenty of new video capabilities, including 4K at 120 fps. For even higher-res video (at the cost of some frame rate), the Mavic 3 can also record at 5.1K (5,120 x 2,700 pixels) and up to 50 fps.
Moving onto the Mavic 3’s other camera, there’s a telephoto shooter that sits right on top of the four-thirds sensor. It uses a more pedestrian 1-inch 20MP sensor with a 7x lens (for an equivalent 161mm f4.4 lens), but think of it as more of a secondary zoom camera for scouting as it lets you zoom between 1x, 2x, 4x, 7x, 14x, and 28x. From 1x to 4x, the Mavic 3 is actually just using digital zoom with its main camera and it switches to the secondary telephoto camera for 7x and up.
With this telephoto lens, you can scout out locations before you fly to them, get a tighter framing of what you want to shoot, or check out your landing zone from far away. Or in a more morally gray to straight-up nefarious use case, you could use the zoom camera to take photos of places in a restricted flying zone.
Of course, this much zoom on what is essentially a flying camera makes you feel like you’re flying an actual spy tool. While I was searching for where to land I found myself amidst the scenery after zooming all the way in, which gave me the strangest sense of invading my own privacy.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, images shot at 28x zoom are so pixelated you won’t have to worry about feeling strange or being labeled as a spy. Photos and videos taken at 4x are the best quality you can get out of this camera before the digital distortion starts taking hold. Using the telephoto camera at this range is useful for cropping in your field of view and getting a tighter frame than the main camera affords you. The only other unfortunate thing about using the secondary sensor is you’re limited to taking JPG images and 4K 30p video.
The next major shift the Mavic 3 introduces is its new suite of obstacle detection sensors. The front and rear cameras notably sit at a 45-degree angle instead of pointing dead on. This slight shift allows them to also see part-way to the sides. Paired with the bottom- and top-mounted sensors, the Mavic 3 effectively has an omnidirectional sense of its surroundings.
What’s even cooler is you can see how close the drone is to flying to obstacles in every direction thanks to a sort of threat ring that looks like it came straight out of a first-person shooter. But instead of showing where you’re getting shot from, this threat ring gets redder as you get closer in proximity to objects, while also showing their exact distance from your drone. It makes flying a drone feel even more like playing a video game and it’s an ingenious addition to the DJI Fly app’s UI.
All of this obstacle detection plays into the latest and most sophisticated version of DJI’s obstacle-avoiding Advanced Pilot Assistance System (APAS 5.0). According to DJI, the Mavic 3 can detect and deftly avoid walls, trees, people, and other objects up to 200 meters away. I purposely sent the drone flying into a line of trees and it intelligently dipped between tree branches on its own.
While this was impressive, I’m much more looking forward to seeing how intelligently the Mavic 3 can avoid obstacles while flying on its own using its Active Track 5.0 and other master shot modes. Unfortunately, DJI has told me these features won’t roll out until January 2022 with a firmware update.
The Mavic 3 moves the battery from the top of its frame to the rear. This move allows for significantly larger battery packs while also lowering the center of gravity for the aircraft. You can also now perfectly balance it on a single finger, whereas previous iterations were always a bit front-heavy.
Those larger batteries allow the Mavic 3 to fly up to 46 minutes, a major improvement from the 30-minute benchmark I’ve seen from the best drones today. While flying the drone in Cine mode at its slowest speeds of about 10mph and below, the battery life was definitely sitting around the 40-minute mark. However, when you push the Mavic 3 to its max speeds – up to 46mph in my testing – the flight time dipped to as low as 15 minutes. In other words, your flight time will largely depend on how fast you’re flying and what type of content you’re capturing.
It’s a little too early to say if the DJI Mavic 3 is worth its high asking price of $2,199. There’s still a long wait until January 2022 for some of its major features. But in terms of its video shooting capabilities ([email protected] and [email protected]) and the image quality I’ve seen so far, this drone has no equal. Stay tuned for my full review.
The DJI Mavic 3 is available for purchase starting now. The drone also comes in a $2,999 Fly More Combo that adds a battery charging hub, two additional batteries, an ND filter set, and a convertible carry bag.
Additionally, the higher-end $4,999 DJI Mavic 3 Cine Premium Combo comes with an upgraded drone equipped with a built-in 1TB SSD and Apple ProRes 422 HQ video recording support. This particular package also includes a DJI 10Gbps Lightspeed data cable and the DJI RC Pro controller with a built-in screen.
Have a tip for us? Want to discuss a possible story? Please send an email to [email protected].
Kevin Lee is IGN’s SEO Updates Editor. Follow him on Twitter @baggingspam.