DJI Mavic 3 drone test: cinematic power at a price

Image source: Samuel Dejours / Engadget

The larger sensor also offers better low-light performance, more detail, improved dynamic range, and a generally more cinematic look. At the same time, the variable aperture from f / 2.8 to f / 11 makes the camera more flexible in different lighting conditions. However, if you do a lot of photography in really bright sunlight, I recommend purchasing the neutral density filter kit.

When we shot at ISO 1600 and 3200, we got clean shots with some noise in shadows and dark areas. However, the noise is well controlled and organic so it is not annoying and can be attenuated with a slight amount of noise cancellation. At ISO 6400 the noise level starts to get excessive, but this setting is still useful for night scenes when you don’t need a lot of shadow detail.

DJI increased the H.264 data rate significantly from 100 Mbit / s to 200 Mbit / s and introduced the H.265 acquisition with up to 140 Mbit / s. This is an important update as aerial photography captured by drones can have details that confuse Long GOP (MP4) compression. This will improve the quality in most cases, and noticeably in detail shots.

This begs the question of whether you even need the ProRes option and 1 TB SSD in view of the high price difference. I would say it’s a valuable feature for broadcast shooters as it pushes the drone into professional terrain. For others like YouTubers or industrial users, the H.264 quality is easily good enough.

Taken with the Mavic 3 main camera.

Samuel Dejours / Engadget

The Mavic 3 uses Hasselblad’s color profile which is designed to provide accurate color tones. In general, it did well across the color spectrum whether we were shooting in cities, coastlines, or the countryside. The skin tones are warm, and while you might think this isn’t that important for a drone, the Mavic 3 could find a lot of use in weddings, documentaries, and even movies. It’s so smooth that it can replace a crane or dolly for certain shots.

To maximize dynamic range and editing flexibility, you can capture 10-bit D-Log footage. When shooting directly in the sun and in other difficult situations, I found that I was able to maintain the dynamic range and bring out additional detail in highlights and shadows.

One of the most important innovations of the Mavic 3 is the 162 mm equivalent telephoto camera with a half-inch sensor. I’ve seen some confusion with zooming in on the Mavic 3, so here’s how it works.

DJI Mavic 3 drone test: cinematic power at a priceTaken with 7X Tele (MP4).

Samuel Dejours / Engadget

The main camera with no digital zoom is equivalent to a 24mm full frame lens, or what DJI calls 1X zoom. To zoom in further, fold the drone into Explorer mode in the Fly app. From there, you can either select discrete zoom settings (1X, 2X, 4X, 7X, 14X, and 28X) or use a slider for intermediate settings. Up to fourfold zooming is done digitally with the main camera, but the 4X zoom is very pixelated and cannot be used for any production work.

The 161 mm telephoto camera with 12 megapixels f / 4.4 starts with a 7x zoom and offers 4K video with up to 30 fps. It can digitally zoom up to 28X, but the quality suffers here too. For the best looking footage, you’ll need to stick between 1X and 2X zoom, or go exactly 7X.

The Mavic 2 (not pro), on the other hand, has a 28 mm lens with 2X zoom. The Mavic 3’s 7x zoom is more extreme, but opens up some interesting creative possibilities. However, the optical quality of this camera is not surprising given the small sensor size. So it has only limited value for professional use.

DJI Mavic 3 drone test: cinematic power at a pricePhoto taken with DNG and retouched in Lightroom.

Samuel Dejours / Engadget

On the subject of JPEGs, it’s also a solid photo drone. I was a little disappointed to hear that the Mavic 3 has the same 20 megapixel sensor and lower dynamic range than the Mavic 2 Pro (12.8 stops versus 14 claimed stops). However, the larger pixels more than make up for this with improved photosensitivity and lower noise levels.

That said, you should make sure that your footage is properly exposed. The Mavic 3 generally freezes exposure in the auto-shoot modes, but it can stumble when shooting in the sun. It helps to record with RAW DNG files which gives you much more leeway to adjust images in Lightroom.

Photo quality with the telephoto lens was better than video quality, producing crisp photos with good color accuracy, but with one important caveat. You can only record JPEGs and not RAW files, which limits your ability to adjust recordings in post-processing. This also makes the telephoto lens less useful for professionals. On the other hand, it can be extremely handy for other types of work like inspection, search and rescue, bird watching, etc.

DJI Mavic 3 Fly app

Steve Dent / Engadget

The Mavic 3 is DJI’s easiest drone to fly thanks to improved obstacle avoidance and other features. It offers three flight modes: Cine, a slow flight mode for smooth recordings, normal and sport, the fastest setting.

The Mavic 3 works with DJI’s simplified Fly app rather than the Go 4 app used with the Mavic 2 Pro. Camera settings such as shutter, ISO, video resolution, etc. are adjusted on the main flight screen in the lower right corner. On the right side are the record button and various video / photo settings (QuickShot, Hyperlapse etc.). For advanced settings like security, controls, cameras and transmission, you have to dive into the three-point menu.

As soon as you have started the app and connected your smartphone to the RC-N1 controller, you can switch on the drone. It plays a lively three-tone melody when it starts and is ready to use in less time than the Mavic Air 2S or 2 Pro.

When you lift off, it remembers your home position for the RTH (return-to-home function). It can be maneuvered flawlessly and helps pilots to make smooth recordings under manual control. It’s no quieter than the Mavic 2 or 2 Pro, but it has a slightly lower tone that is less likely to annoy people or wildlife.

DJI Mavic 3 drone test: cinematic power at a price

Steve Dent / Engadget

It’s also faster, reaching speeds of up to 42 MPH in Sport mode. Remember that obstacle avoidance is disabled in this mode. So you have to be careful to avoid (high-speed) crashes.

The Mavic 3 is equipped with omnidirectional sensors at the front, back, top and bottom. The app shows potential obstacles so you can avoid them, while the APAS 5 system allows you to program the Mavic 3 to either stop when it encounters an obstacle or bypass it.

We took it through a number of hazards including gnarled trees, power lines, and more. It either stopped them or dodged them, depending on which option we set. It flew over a leaf once while descending in RTH mode even though it was not phasing the drone. However, this could indicate potential problems with the drone’s lower sensor array. The obstacle avoidance function can be deactivated in all modes if you dare.

DJI Mavic 3 drone test: cinematic power at a price

Steve Dent / Engadget

The RTH function brings the drone back when the battery is almost empty and chooses the most efficient route. We’ve found it to work under all circumstances, even in difficult terrain and from miles away. The only downside is that the drone does not return at high speed, so many pilots prefer to return manually in normal or sport mode.

One key feature that unfortunately won’t come until January is ActiveTrack 5. As with DJI’s previous tracking systems, it’s designed to follow you while cycling, windsurfing, and other activities. The latest version is designed to track subjects no matter which direction they are moving and to continue tracking even if they move outside the frame. As this is an important feature, I can update this review later once I get a grip on it.

Other missing features are QuickShots, to perform fancy camera maneuvers like circles and boomerangs, and MasterShots, which are designed to produce quick video clips for social media users. It also lacks the popular Panorama mode for creating stitched photos and QuickTransfer for fast WiFi video and photo transfers.

Those missing features aren’t ideal, but their delay at least allowed DJI to unlock the drone. Cameras from Sony, Canon and others have often added important functions afterwards with firmware updates, so DJI is not alone with this. Buyers will likely forgive the delays, but only if the updates arrive in January as promised.

DJI Mavic 3 drone test: cinematic power at a price

Steve Dent / Engadget

Starting at $ 2,200, the Mavic 3 is designed to capture great videos and photos for professional and professional users alike. In that regard, it delivers a strong performance thanks to the professional sensor that delivers stunning image quality, along with stabilization that allows insanely smooth shots. The ProRes video and the internal 1 TB SSD are also huge features for professional shooters.

However, it’s not perfect. The same users may find the telecamera a little useless as it doesn’t even come close to the same quality as the main camera. You may also be wondering why, given the relatively high price, the standard model comes with a simple controller and a limited Fly app. The missing features like ActiveTrack 5 are a shame, but once they arrive, everyone will quickly forget that they weren’t there when they started.

As for the competition, DJI has no competition in terms of image quality (the Mavic 3’s slogan is “Imaging Above Everything”). In other words, it’s laser focused on cameras as recently demonstrated with its crazy, amazing Ronin 4D. However, other companies like Skydio arguably offer better flying drones with superior obstacle avoidance.

Should these factors influence your purchase decision? I leave the final say to Samuel, the professional photographer and certified pilot who owns several DJI drones and helped with this review.

“I’m definitely interested in buying it because it has a larger sensor and high performance, which is a big step up in terms of image quality. The additional battery life also makes planning easier and the drone is extremely stable even in windy conditions, so that you have the feeling of having a “tripod in the sky”. It certainly has a few flaws, but for me these are outweighed by the benefits of the image quality. “

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