The folks at DJI have done great things with their compact, folding drones. It all started with the DJI Mavic Pro in 2016, a machine that, ultimately, revolutionized the consumer drone market. Not only has DJI built upon the success of this smaller format of drone, but many others have followed, building similarly sized quadcopters of their own.
Truth is, very few have what it takes to compare to the Mavic Pro, let alone the newer and better Mavic drones.
DJI is a step above the rest in many regards, but we’ll explore the competition another day. Today, let’s explore the DJI Mavic drones, from Mavic Pro to Mavic 3 Cine.
What are Mavic drones?
DJI began a successful series of folding quadcopters when they launched the DJI Mavic Pro in 2016. These are smaller drones, able to fit into water bottle holders when folded for transport, but they continue to offer some of the best flight features for consumer drones today. Fully stabilized, 3-axis camera gimbals ensure smooth capture of at least 2.7K, but mostly 4K video, and the higher-end Mavic drones offer OcuSync 3.0 with over 7 miles of range.
Mavic drones are primarily designed for the consumer market, but they are good enough to tackle some inspection and photography needs. There is a commercial-grade Mavic, the Mavic 2 Enterprise, that is designed for tasks like search & rescue as well.
Today, you can choose from a few Mavic drones. There’s the Mini series, which all weigh less than 250g. The Air series which focuses on portability, but has better cameras and flight features than the mini drones. Then there’s the full Mavic drones, with the Mavic 3 Cine at the top, offering a 5.1K Micro Four thirds camera and 1TB of internal storage.
As these drones serve different purposes, it’s hard to crown a definitive winner. We can confidently say that the Mavic 3 Cine is the best camera drone, and that the Mini 2 is the best bang-for-the-buck.
The Mavic Air 2S is one of our favorite Mavic drones to fly. It produces great images from the sky, but it’s really about the feel. Make no mistake, almost all Mavic drones are designed with familiar flight features and characteristics, but the Air 2S was pleasantly smooth in the sky.
Know before you fly: Drone laws in your area
DJI Mavic drones
From oldest to newest.
DJI Mavic Pro: The original Mavic
The DJI Mavic Pro impressed the technology community when it launched in 2016. We were accustomed to large aircraft with moderate cameras, but along came DJI with this things that could almost fit in your pocket, and hauled around a smooth 4K camera. The folding design was a first for DJI products, transforming a full aircraft down into a small rectangle, safe to travel.
DJI Mavic Air: Small, yet powerful
The DJI Mavic Air began a trend that DJI is proud to continue, this little drone shook the industry by offering a very compact size with very few compromises. In fact, the Mavic Air rocked one of the very best cameras for a drone under $1,400 when it launched, considering it cost half that price, we were all impressed. The 4K camera with 100Mbps video bitrate is on the lower-end of average today, but at launch, folks were hanging up their more expensive Mavic Pro in favor of the smaller design with smoother video capture.
DJI Mavic Pro Platinum: Introduced high-efficiency motors and propellers
The DJI Mavic Pro Platinum confused people at first – was DJI really just launching a new color?!?! Then the details came out, and the Mavic Pro Platinum proved one of the most important stepping stones for the Mavic line of drones. Behind the new paint was new motors, new ESCs, new power management software, and sleek high-efficiency propellers. These subtle changes made huge results, including much quieter flight, longer flight time, and an increase in stability.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro: First 1-inch camera on a Mavic drone
The DJI Mavic 2 Pro hit the market in a big way. Fans of the Mavic Pro could now get a larger, more powerful, faster, and stronger folding drone with a far superior camera. The Mavic 2 series offers all-direction obstacle avoidance sensors, downward facing lights, and launched with new self-piloted functions that made them the best drones around for many pilots.
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom: Superb optical zoom
The DJI Mavic 2 Zoom launched along side the Mavic 2 Pro in 2018. The Mavic 2 Zoom differs by offering a smaller camera sensor, but with a feature you can probably guess, optical zoom. The glass lenses are able to distort light for 2x and 4x magnification, then you can use digital zoom to double that again, taking the stock 28mm focal length out to 96mm, if you desire to see far, far away.
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise: The search & Rescue drone
The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise was a powerful update to the Mavic 2 airframe. DJI added an accessory port, built a handful of accessories, and bumped the software security. The result is a capable search & rescue drone, if nothing else. The optional infrared camera enables other inspection tasks, while the loud speaker, spotlight, and more help serve multiple uses.
DJI Mavic Mini: Powerful drone, miniaturized
The DJI Mavic Mini was another first for DJI, this time it was the first GPS-enabled camera drone to weigh less then 250 grams. This meant that it was the first DJI drone that could be flown without having to first register it with the FAA. While that is a benefit for many, the true value is that the Mavic Mini is a very compact drone that is very easy to transport. The kind of drone you hardly notice if you toss it in a backpack when you hit the hiking trail.
DJI Mavic Air 2: Stepping up the camera game
DJI did it again, the Mavic Air 2 hit the market as a compact machine that offered class-leading specifications. The big number was a jump to 34 minutes of flight time. Those three extra minutes over many other drones is a significant leap. The camera on the new drone also set new records for the Mavic line, offering the first 48MP camera. The Sony sensor in use is able to capture 8K video and 48MP stills, but DJI did the smart thing by using pixel binning to produce great 4K video and 12MP still using all those extra pixels to improve image quality.
DJI Mini 2: 4K camera for under $500
The DJI Mini 2 launched not long after the first Mini, this time offering a 4K camera and Ocusync connectivity. Ocusync is a powerful tool in the Mavic drone arsenal, providing clear 1080p live video feeds up to several miles away. That kind of range is beyond legal limits for most pilots, but means that your connection in close range should be better than ever. The Mini 2 was also one of the first Mavic drones to share a number of parts and accessories with an older model, making it an easy upgrade for Mavic Mini owners that want that 4K camera.
DJI Air 2S: 5.4K camera for under $1000
The DJI Air 2S once again raised the bar for the small consumer drone market. The Air 2S is basically the same airframe as the Mavic Air 2, so most parts and accessories are cross compatible, but the internals are another story. The Air 2S rocks Ocusync 3.0, which extends your flight range up to about 7.5 miles! Hanging un der the nose of the craft is a new camera as well, this one shoots up to 5.4K video!
The DJI FPV seems like a machine unto its own, but it’s a capable camera drone with shared features and functions as the rest of the modern Mavic line. As a hybrid racing drone, the FPV is as capable around a race track as it is as a camera drone. That is, it’s not perfectly suited to either task, and is a little pricey if you only want one of the two flight modes, but the combined packed is absolutely exhilarating to fly, and is ideal for new race pilots to learn how to fly in full manual.
Ignoring that the DJI FPV connects to the new DJI FPV Goggles V2.0, another cool feature of the DJI FPV is the new Motion Controller. This optional one-handed controller allows to fly in a new way. The Motion Controller makes the drone feel and act more like an RC airplane than a quadcopter. DJI did something similar with a head tracking mode on the original Mavic Pro when connected to the original DJI Goggles, but this new controller is smoother and more responsive, and is actually one-hand controlled.
DJI Mavic 3: Best camera
The DJI Mavic 3 series launched in the fall of 2021, instantly hitting the market as the best, and most expensive, consumer drones.
Breaking new bounds, the Mavic 3 rocks 46 minutes of flight time, packs a Micro Four Thirds camera that can shoot 5.1K video, and is one of the smoothest drones we’ve ever flown.
The Mavic 3 comes in two models, both offering the same flight experience. The difference between the two is in the storage space and video processing. The DJI Mavic 3 Cine is the higher-end model, with a 1TB internal SSD, that drive enables high-speed ProRes video recording.
DJI Mini 3 Pro
The Mini 3 Pro launched in early 2022. One might call it an engineering marvel, with it’s powerful 4K camera and huge flight time all packed in a sub-250g airframe.
To be fair, the 47 minutes of flight time are with the optional large battery installed. This puts the drone over 250g, though, so beware if that’s a legal consideration for your flight.
We are particular fans of the new camera gimbal and propeller arm orientation. The Mini 3 Pro still looks like a Mavic drone, but the nose has been reconfigured to let the camera point further upwards. They also give you a 90° tilt to capture portrait images.
The new propeller arm orientation allows you to fold and unfold in any order you desire. More importantly, it changes the angle of attack of the drone. No longer does the fuselage provide a negative aerodynamic profile while in forward flight, instead the nose stays pointed up, allowing air to hit the bottom of the craft to encourage lift.
More to come?
We expect that DJI will continue the Mavic line for years to come. We are appreciating the size variance that DJI has introduced to the line. We get the small, medium, and large format idea of the Mini, Air and main Mavic drones, but we wonder if that will reduce down to just the main and mini in the future. we don’t see why the Mini airframe can’t handle the camera from the Air series.
We still love the concept of interchangeable payloads for the Mavic series. Our Mavic 2 Zoom is still in great shape, it flies as good as the day we bought it, and it’s more capable as an airframe than most newer Mavic drones, but our Zoom is collecting dust because the newer drones have better cameras.
The rumor of a Mavic 3 series drone lived in this paragraph for nearly three years. We were very excited to see the final release of the Mavic 3 in 2021. So what comes next? The Micro Four Thirds camera on the Mavic 3 is a superb image capture tool. Still not quite as good as the larger Micro Four Thirds camera on the Inspire 2, but close. The main difference, the Inspire camera has interchangeable lenses.
Dreams aside, we expect a new Mini this year, probably before the summer months, and we expect a new Air series drone before the holidays later in the year.
Frequently Asked Questions
The trade wars between the U.S. and China are certainly of concern for many users. We urge you to consider all the facts before you consider DJI to be a security risk at all, but that does not change that the brand is under scrutiny as the world edges ever closer to outright bans of Chinese products in the Unites States. Ignoring that, DJI drones are some of the best and most reliable machines in the sky. There are many ways to operate them, and a rich community for support and ideas.
There certainly are a few drones that can compete with DJI drones in the air, but it’s hard to find anything that competes as a full package of price, capability, and functions. There are drones with better cameras, but much larger price tags, there are drones that fly safer and have more features, again for larger price tags. There are less expensive drones that tick all the right boxes, but fall short in the sky.
Truth is, you need to identify what matters to you, DJI’s Mavic drones are a superb balance of what you get for the money, but with any balance you make compromises on the best features to make it work.
Yes. In the United States, licensing requirements are determined by your operation, not your drone. All hobby pilots must acquire their TRUST Certificate. If you will be compensated for your flight, or for photos or videos you capture during that flight, then it is a commercial operation, requiring you to be Part 107 certified, even if you fly a $30 toy drone, if you get paid, it’s a commercial operation. There are different laws across the globe.
Yes. DJI may have removed “Mavic” from the name of this craft, but it’s more of a Mavic drone than the Mavic Mini, to be honest. OcuSync is my argument, a connectivity technology that has been most popular with other Mavic drones. The Mavic Mini does not have this tech, but the Mini 2 does. Fantastic now that DJI has boosted it to a stable 6.2 mile connectivity.
Please keep in mind that your needs may change which drone is best for you, but, objectively speaking, the DJI Air 2S offers the best camera experience, balanced with the right amount of flight features for the price. For the general pilot that wants to put a camera into the sky, the Air 2S is our recommendation.
Of course, the Mini 2 is the best bang-for-the-buck, there’s no replacing the Mavic 2 Enterprise if you are out to saves lives, and the Mavic 3 Cine by far has the best camera.
Many airspace authorities across the globe have decided that 250 grams is a safe weight for which a drone should not cause harm to a human if there is a collision.
The FAA in the United States requires you to register all drones that weigh 250g or more. You still must follow the airspace laws, but you can skip the registration process if you buy a DJI Mavic Mini series drone.