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The Best Drones: Wirecutter Reviews


dji mavic pro drone on a boulder outside
The DJI Mavic Pro is a fantastic drone that collapses to a tiny size. Photo: Mike Perlman

Our pick

DJI Mavic Pro

The DJI Mavic Pro is easy to fly, and it excels in portability. Its ability to fold down to the size of a sandwich means you can stow it in a messenger bag with room to spare. Its propellers are also constantly attached, which cuts down on prep time. The Mavic Pro offers a 4K-capable camera with a low-distortion, wide-angle lens, as well as a three-axis gimbal for effective image stabilization. It also has a standout wireless range that gives you the ability to see both real-time flight stats and a 1080p first-person view of what you’re shooting from up to a bit more than 4 miles away, using a smartphone mounted to your radio controller. Forward and downward vision sensors help the drone avoid obstacles by automatically flying out of harm’s way. It also has preprogrammed flight controls with modes tailored to both beginners and advanced pilots, good battery life (around 20 minutes in our testing), the ability to fly autonomously via ActiveTrack and TapFly settings, and a fail-safe setting that prompts the drone to return to its launch site or current pilot location automatically if it loses connection with the radio transmitter.

The Mavic Pro combines all of the best technology found in DJI’s Phantom 3 and 4 models, yet folds down to around 3 by 3 by 8 inches. The remote controller is about the size of an eclair when compacted into its stowable form. The 4K-camera-and-gimbal apparatus works just as well as its larger counterpart on the Phantom series but is small enough to sit flush with the bottom of the drone, making for a more compact and streamlined body. And unlike older designs that require you to install the propellers prior to flight, on the Mavic Pro the blades stay attached and need only to be unfolded. Best of all, the whole thing weighs just 1.6 pounds. Before the Mavic Pro, just about every serious drone model available required a separate carrying case the size of a small suitcase. Now, you can carry the Mavic Pro in a messenger bag, the top compartment of a backpack, or even a large purse.

You might think the Mavic Pro’s diminutive size would be a disadvantage when flying, but in reality the Mavic Pro is the most consistently stable drone I’ve flown to date. In my tests it hovered accurately and resisted drifting. This is because the Mavic Pro uses a combination of GPS and GLONASS satellites, as well as the four vision cameras, to monitor movement and altitude changes. It also captures images of the takeoff point so that it can land in exactly the same spot from which it took off. The drone corners on a dime and responds sensitively to the remote controller’s joysticks.

While flying, the Mavic Pro uses five vision sensors (two forward, two down, and the main camera) to sense obstacles up to 49 feet away, and it can either stop or change course to avoid a potentially fatal crash. I witnessed this on several occasions with both the Mavic Pro and the Phantom 4 Pro, as I tried taking full-speed runs at my barn only to have each drone come to a halt roughly 15 to 20 feet away from its certain demise. Crash avoidance is enabled in every intelligent flight mode, including Return to Home, and it’s something the DJI Phantom 3 series lacks.

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The Mavic Pro is the most consistently stable drone I’ve flown to date.

The Mavic Pro has a new wireless transmission system called OcuSync, which has a range of more than 4 miles (though current FAA rulings demand that you keep your drone in sight). I was able to fly the Mavic Pro over 2 miles away before realizing that the battery was more than half depleted—luckily I was able to have it return with only 10 percent battery capacity remaining. The moral here is that the Mavic Pro will run out of battery before it goes out of range. OcuSync delivers a 720p or 1080p feed, automatically scans for the best frequency band before takeoff, and supports several devices at once, so you can use the remote controller, the Mavic Pro, and a secondary controller at the same time. DJI released a set of FPV goggles designed to pair with the Mavic Pro, the Phantom 4, and the Inspire series. The DJI Goggles headset allows you to fly your drone and control the camera gimbal with head gestures. The headset offers two 1920×1080 screens inside, one for each eye, and a single charge should give you six hours of playtime.

The Mavic Pro’s wireless controller is a completely new, highly portable design that displays helpful information such as distance, altitude, battery life, speed, and wireless connection strength on a secondary LCD. The controller is designed to use a smartphone for displaying the main FPV feed and controlling the main options, including drone calibration, camera settings, GPS maps, and intelligent flight modes. The smartphone connects to the controller via a specialized USB or Lightning cable threaded through the side of the left brace—you can use a standard cable, but it sticks out oddly and limits motion.

With ActiveTrack, the Mavic Pro can follow you without your needing to directly control the drone.

You’ll find a number of modes and features that are both fun and useful: Tripod Mode, which limits the Mavic Pro’s speed to 3 mph and softens the controls to prevent jerky movement for cinematic shots (Philip Bloom is especially into Tripod Mode); Gesture, which recognizes you and takes a picture when you stand with your arms in a Y shape; TapFly, which lets you tap on the screen to tell the drone to fly to a location; Terrain Follow Mode, which allows you to fly the Mavic Pro forward while the internal computers automatically adjust the altitude to follow the lay of the land; and an improved ActiveTrack mode suite, which follows a moving subject in a variety of ways. The bottom line: The Mavic Pro is packed with intelligent flight modes that will accommodate weekend adventurers, hobbyists, and cinematographers.

Despite having a smaller camera and gimbal than the DJI Phantom models, the Mavic Pro still sports a 12-megapixel 1/2.3-inch sensor capable of shooting 4K video up to 30 fps, with a 60 Mbps max bit rate (the processing speed at which the camera is recording digital media) and an identical ISO range. It can’t match the slow-motion 120 fps frame rate in 1080p video mode and the wider 20 mm FOV lens of the Phantom 4 Pro—but the lens does let in more light, which is handy when the sun starts to set.

Early reviews of the Mavic Pro dinged it for images that were blurry and out of focus—but you can remedy this problem by simply tapping the screen of the controller, since it uses tap to focus. In our tests, videos were also very stable, thanks to the three-axis gimbal, and the propellers did not make their way into the frame nearly as frequently as they did with the Phantom models.

In video quality, the Mavic Pro stacks up very nicely to the Phantom 4 Pro—it has more saturated colors by default (several YouTube comparison videos confirm this), but shooting in the D-Log color profile, which flattens the colors substantially so that you can correct and grade them in post-production, fixes that. The ability to manually set white balance, ISO, exposure, and picture controls is also a major plus.

You can capture still photos in JPEG and raw, and the Mavic Pro offers several modes such as burst shooting (up to 7 frames per second), auto exposure bracketing, HDR, and interval (capturing images every predetermined number of seconds). As with the video capture, its still-image quality was very good in our tests, especially in raw images. With the amount of customization and control, it’s very possible to capture professional-looking images with the Mavic Pro. One especially neat trait is that the camera can rotate 90 degrees within the gimbal in order to shoot portrait orientation.

The DJI Go application is very user-friendly and tracks all of your flight information, which you can then replay if you’re trying to repeat a shot. It also lets you live-stream over Periscope, Facebook Live, or YouTube; has built-in video-editing tools; and even offers a flight simulator for training (though we think a dedicated starter drone is a better learning tool).



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