After a wait of three years and three months, DJI has finally updated its flagship folding drone series with the release of the Mavic 3 in November 2021. Enthusiasts and fans were eagerly awaiting the new drone, which boasts features such as a Micro 4/3 sensor, 5.1K resolution, 120 fps slow motion in 4K, telephoto module, multidirectional obstacle detection, improved video transmission system, and record-breaking autonomy.
While it might be tempting to compare the Mavic 3 exclusively to its predecessors, the Mavic 2 Pro and 2 Zoom, it’s essential to understand that DJI’s product line had become somewhat confusing. The Air 2S, launched in April 2021, features a similarly sized sensor and software functionalities but at a more affordable price point. The Mavic 3 aims to restore the lineup’s prestige and can even be compared to the Inspire 2, a drone designed for professional videography. We tested the Mavic 3 as a consumer and found it difficult to comprehend the removal of the “Pro” from its name, given its high-end features.
A True Mavic
The Mavic 3 retains the folding design that has made DJI’s recreational drones so popular, providing minimal bulk when folded. As the most advanced foldable DJI drone, the Mavic 3 is positioned above the Mini and Air series.
Although slightly less compact than the Mavic 2 Pro, the difference isn’t significant for transportation or in-flight use. The Mavic 3 weighs 895 grams (899 grams for the Cine Premium version). This mass, just under 900 grams, is noteworthy, but we’ll discuss that later.
As expected, DJI’s build quality is excellent, providing a sense of robustness and natural handling when unfolding the arms. This year, the manufacturer even thought to lock the gimbal after turning off the drone, a simple yet valuable detail. This feature not only makes storing the drone easier but also provides maximum protection to the gimbal during transportation. DJI includes a storage protector with the Mavic 3, which is well-designed, easy to install, and protects both the gimbal and propellers.
The dual module at the front of the drone is its most visually distinctive feature. It includes a telephoto camera in addition to the main camera. By displaying a Hasselblad logo on the top left of the camera block, DJI reminds us of its majority stake in the renowned Swedish manufacturer.
DJI does not provide information on the motors used, but the Mavic 3 has a slightly higher top speed than the Mavic 2 and other foldable DJI drones. The Mavic 3 can reach 75 km/h, compared to 68.4 km/h for the Air 2S and 57.6 km/h for the Mini 2. The Mavic 3’s propellers feature a quick-release mechanism, making them easy to replace with a simple press and twist.
As part of the Mavic series, the drone is equipped with numerous obstacle detection sensors. The placement of these sensors has been intelligently revised, such as those in the front and rear corners, which cover a larger area than a single sensor placed on the front or side.
The Mavic 3 also includes top and bottom sensors, as well as the usual infrared detection system for landing. The Mavic 3 offers omnidirectional obstacle detection, and we have tested the drone’s performance in this area, but you will have to wait for the dedicated section of this review to read our conclusions.
Let’s finish the tour of the drone’s features at the back, where we find the microSD slot and the USB-C port. This is how you will charge your Mavic 3, as its battery lacks such a port. However, it is compatible with the charging station sold separately by DJI and included in the Fly More and Cine Premium versions. Note that with the standard Mavic 3, you must leave the battery in the drone for charging.
It’s worth noting that the Mavic 3’s battery accounts for 37% of its total weight. Speaking of weight, it’s time for a quick overview of the regulations in place for DJI’s new high-end drone.
The Mavic 3 does not have a CE class marking, at least at the time of writing this in late February 2022. It is possible that the drone will soon be marked C1, the class for drones weighing between 250 grams and 900 grams – DJI has, of course, planned for this by meeting this limit within a few grams. The C1 marking is desired by professionals, as it is less restrictive, especially regarding flying over people.
As it stands, the Mavic 3 flies in the so-called open category and must therefore comply with the usual European regulations. These include restrictions on night flying, flying over people, sensitive areas, private properties, and urban areas. The maximum flight height is 120 meters – and no more than 150 meters. The drone must always remain within the pilot’s line of sight. If you haven’t already, be sure to complete the online training for the open category. You will also need to register your new toy on AlphaTango, and then display your operator number directly on the drone.
No RC Pro, but ultra-reliable transmission
The remote control supplied with the Mavic 3 is the same as the one sold with the Mini 2, Air 2, and Air 2S. The brand likely decided that there was no need for a new version of the remote control when the current one does an excellent job. It is indeed well designed: comfortable to hold and features just the right amount of physical buttons, although a second customizable button would not be refused.
In addition to the two front joysticks, there’s a power button, a dedicated takeoff/RTH button, a slider to switch between Cine, Normal, and Sport modes, as well as a photo/video button and a customizable button. The left index or middle finger rests on the usual gimbal tilt wheel, while the right one rests on the record button.
As usual, the joysticks unscrew and fit into dedicated spaces on the bottom edge of the remote control for easy storage. The phone is placed above the remote control using a retractable slider system and connects via one of the three provided cables – USB-C and microUSB for Android, Lightning for iOS. Don’t hesitate to change the phone’s orientation to avoid the slider constantly pressing the lock button or volume buttons.
Those who want the luxury of not having to connect and use their smartphone to control the Mavic 3 will need to increase their budget to acquire the famous DJI RC Pro remote control, which comes with a 5.5-inch 1080p display with a maximum brightness of 1,000 nits.
It also features more generous connectivity options, including a mini-HDMI port, a USB Type-C port, and a microSD card slot. Good to know: the RC Pro has recently (since January 2022) become compatible with the DJI Air 2S.
A new DJI drone means a new transmission version. Already excellent on the latest DJI drones, the in-house OcuSync transmission system gets a version 3+ on the Mavic 3. On paper, this O3+ transmission can provide a maximum transmission range of 15 kilometers in an “open” landscape, 3 to 9 kilometers in areas with more interference, and up to 3 kilometers in city centers where interference is logically more prevalent.
Let’s get back to reality: besides being purely theoretical, these figures cannot reflect a real use case with current legislation, as a pilot must keep their drone in sight.
Thanks to our keen-eyed testing, we found that our Mavic 3’s connection did not falter when we pushed it over 1,100 meters away from our position. It’s quite impressive: the video feed remained perfectly smooth, with no interruptions. Note that we were in the mountains, and the drone was picking up about 15 satellites at the time – compared to more than 20 usually.
In more reasonable situations and at lower altitudes, the Mavic 3 had no problem reaching the 750-meter distance mark (above a forest and without any major obstacles). However, the connection showed its limits when we sent the drone over a cliff about 450 meters away from our position, at the bottom of said cliff – which represents a significant obstacle.
In short, the O3+ version of DJI’s transmission system is excellent. It makes the flying experience enjoyable and provides peace of mind: we had no major dropouts or disconnections during our twenty flights, in various situations – high altitudes in the mountains, windy areas near the coast, etc. In other words, we trust the drone and can fully focus on capturing images.
Furthermore, this transmission allows for a video feed of up to 1080p at 60 frames per second, a first for a DJI drone. Combined with a latency of 130 ms, this high-definition feed enables responsive piloting and precise recordings.
Undeniable image quality, an accessory telephoto lens
The Mavic 3 marks a leap forward in image quality for the brand’s foldable drones, at least on paper. Already excellent on the Mavic 2 Pro and 2 Zoom, the new Mavic 3’s camera specifications are not to be taken lightly. Indeed, it features two camera modules.
The first is a micro 4/3 sensor, which captures more light due to its size, as the Mavic 2 Pro and Air 2S sensors were nearly half as small (1-inch sensor).
More importantly, as mentioned in our Mavic 3 announcement article, this 4/3 format is reminiscent of Panasonic’s renowned GH series, as well as the Zenmuse X5S gimbal, compatible with the DJI Inspire 2 cinema drone – which is much larger and more expensive than the Mavic 3.
It might be tempting to say that the Mavic 3 now outshines the Inspire 2, but there’s more to it than just the integrated sensor format.
By integrating a 4/3 sensor (signed by Hasselblad, by the way) into a foldable drone, DJI has clearly gone all out. Adding a variable aperture lens ranging from f/2.8 to f/11, this setup allows pilots tremendous freedom to adjust camera settings. As expected, this results in better details, improved dynamic range management (12.8 stops), and better noise handling. In other words, it’ll be difficult to mess up a shot, even for beginners.
Don’t hesitate to take advantage of the camera’s potential by increasing the ISO in challenging situations. Here, we notice that the Mavic 3 has usable noise at ISO 800 and understandably exhibits a significant loss of detail from 1600. A performance that other foldable drones in the lineup can’t technically achieve.
Regarding resolution, this first module caps at 20 megapixels for photos, just like the Mavic 2 Pro and Air 2S, which have smaller sensors. It’s unfortunate for those who wanted a higher megapixel count to crop their images or make prints. On the other hand, the pixels are larger and thus capture more light.
The Mavic 3 can record up to 5.1K (5120 x 2700 pixels) at 24 to 50 frames per second. In DCI 4K (4096 x 2160 pixels) or 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels), the frame rates range from 24 to 120 fps. Expect up to 200 frames per second in 1080p. Enough talking, here’s what the Mavic 3 is capable of in various situations.
The images above were recorded in the normal color profile. In other words, these are not the most beautiful images you can get with this drone – to say these are the least attractive. Indeed, while the Mavic 3 may be categorized as a recreational drone by the brand, it remains dedicated to professionals or the so-called “prosumer” category.
Understand that it would be unwise to buy a drone with such potential without using DJI’s 10-bit D-Log color profile. This profile allows for much greater flexibility in color grading. Below, we compare two of the same images, one taken from a video in the normal color profile and the other in D-Log.
By applying a Rec. 709 lut and a slight contrast adjustment, we can see the sharpness and contrast artificially applied by DJI on the normal color profile.
Keep in mind: the images recorded in this format are still excellent, but those who want to achieve professional production quality and/or integrate drone footage with videos recorded by other devices should prioritize D-Log. Focus on the sharpness of the fields and ignore the more saturated grass on the right.
Here are two more comparisons with an image taken from another situation. The difference is again visible: the tree branches display more accurate colors and details.
Let’s talk about video formats. The Mavic 3 uses a microSD card and writes in H.264 or H.265 up to 200 Mb/s, which is technically twice as fast as the Mavic 2 Pro. A much more expensive version of the Mavic 3 offers Apple ProRes 422 HQ format. In this bundle, and to accommodate the large file sizes, the drone comes with a 1TB internal SSD. Otherwise, the drone is exactly the same: size, weight, battery, sensors, camera…
The Mavic 3 records 20-megapixel photos in JPEG, RAW, or JPEG+RAW format. It also features AEB, panorama (wide-angle, 180°, and sphere) and Hyperlapse modes. Here are some images taken with the drone.
A telephoto lens that is more creepy than impressive
Let’s finish this part on the image quality offered by the Mavic 3’s second camera module: the telephoto lens. This one is much less convincing. We strongly advise against using it unless you want to perform inspections or try to spy on someone.
Joking aside, the image quality is significantly reduced compared to the first module, but the telephoto lens is quite creepy when combined with the drone’s flight reliability. We were able to easily follow our car on a mountain road for several hundred meters while playing with the zoom, joysticks, and gimbal tilt. It was impossible to read the license plate, but it felt like watching a helicopter chase on American highways.
This second module features a 1/2-inch 12-megapixel sensor and a 6.75x telephoto lens (hybrid zoom up to 28x). It can record up to 4K at 30 frames per second and may be interesting under certain conditions, for example, if you cannot get close enough to a subject. You will notice a significant degradation in quality for 2x and 4x zooms. This is normal: the drone switches to the telephoto lens from 7x and applies a simple digital zoom to the micro 4/3 sensor before that. Beyond 7x, the zoom is also digital, but starting from the telephoto lens.
DJI Fly app catches up
The Mavic 3 is operated using the new app employed by the brand for all its recreational drones currently in the catalog: Mavic Mini, Mavic Air 2, Mini 2, FPV, Air 2S, Mini SE. Criticized at launch for its lack of “pro” features, the DJI Fly app has improved over time with updates and is gradually making people forget about the now abandoned DJI GO 4 app.
For example, it now offers the option to save photos in RAW only (versus the previous JPEG+RAW choice) and adds dedicated settings for joystick sensitivity – the drone’s behavior following joystick movements.
It was only towards the end of our test that DJI added one of the few missing features to the app: Color Display Assist. In practice, it displays a “normal” color rendering on the screen when recording in D-Log, the flat color profile that allows for extensive color grading. This avoids a dull preview of the shot and thus enables better composition.
The latest update has also made it easier to access camera settings – ISO, shutter speed, aperture, white balance, etc. This brings it closer to the old app, and professionals will be happy. Understand that in flight, it is crucial to have quick and easy access to such settings, so as not to waste time and not ruin a shot.
Finally, we encountered only one minor bug in the DJI Fly app during our 15 flights. A black screen appeared for a few seconds before everything returned to normal. We used the Google Pixel 5 and iPhone 13 Pro for our Mavic 3 test.
An impressive drone, features to refine
The DJI Mavic 3 is incredibly easy to use, offering a user-friendly experience from pairing, takeoff, and piloting to capturing footage and landing. The drone’s various assistance features, such as the highly precise RTH (return to home) mode, instill confidence in users.
Instead of flying at a preset altitude before descending, the drone automatically plots the shortest and safest return path, allowing it to gradually lower its altitude en route before reaching the final coordinates. If the drone encounters an obstacle, it maneuvers around it, resulting in quicker and more energy-efficient operation. However, it may have difficulty detecting electrical cables – a common issue for drone pilots.
The Mavic 3 is highly responsive, sometimes excessively so. Users who find this bothersome can adjust the joystick sensitivity in the EXP settings. The drone reacts quickly, so it’s recommended to use Cine mode for capturing stable footage.
The drone performs well in cold weather, with minimal impact on battery life. It is discreet, with a measured noise level of 65 dB at 5 meters, 54 dB at 20 meters, and 53 dB at 30 meters.
The drone has 8 GB of internal storage, which is useful for capturing short clips if you forget your microSD card. Equipped with numerous sensors, the Mavic 3 offers omnidirectional obstacle detection.
Coupled with an algorithm, the Mavic 3’s sensors provide DJI’s APAS 5.0 (Advanced Pilot Assistance System) for obstacle avoidance. Users can choose from three options in the app: disabling obstacle sensors, stopping the drone in front of obstacles, or maneuvering around obstacles.
APAS 5.0 and ActiveTrack 5.0
The DJI Mavic 3 is equipped with an array of sensors that provide omnidirectional obstacle detection. It features two wide-angle vision sensors at the front, two at the rear, two at the bottom, and two at the top. As mentioned earlier, the front and rear sensors are positioned in the corners and also serve as side sensors, which were absent in the brand’s previous Air 2S drone.
The detection ranges of the various wide-angle sensors on the Mavic 3 vary between 0.2m to 10m and 0.5m to 25m.
Combined with an algorithm, the Mavic 3’s sensors offer what DJI calls APAS 5.0, the version 5 of its Advanced Pilot Assistance System. This feature allows the drone to scan its environment and avoid potential obstacles. Users can choose from three options within the app:
- Ask the drone not to use obstacle sensors: useful in certain controlled flight situations for specific shots, but very risky;
- Ask the drone to stop in front of the obstacle and hover;
- Ask the drone to try to navigate around the obstacle.
This last option is quite impressive. To be honest, with this mode enabled, it takes a lot of effort to crash the drone. During tests in the woods, the drone consistently found small openings to pass through. This feature is also handy when using the automatic tracking mode, ActiveTrack 5.0, which allows the drone to follow a subject while the user focuses on something other than piloting.
The same type of tracking can be found in other DJI products, such as the OM 5 smartphone stabilizer. Simply frame a person or vehicle and choose the direction from which the subject should be followed by the drone. The following video shows examples of orange and red markings on the screen, indicating the drone’s detection of obstacles and their distance in one or more directions.
Tracking is very good, but it is not without flaws. For example, at 01:10, the drone follows a motorcycle. Initially, everything goes well, but on the return, the drone loses and then surprisingly regains the motorcycle’s trail. It then speeds up to catch up. It is unclear whether the drone let its guard down at that moment, but one thing is certain: it hit a thin branch (a challenging situation for the sensors) a few seconds later.
We immediately stopped automatic tracking to avoid damaging the propellers or crashing the drone. The Mavic 3 also came too close to branches in a confined forest environment, as seen at 08:35.
Another drawback is the limited maneuverability allowed to the pilot in this mode: interaction with the drone is too restricted, and it will return to its original position once the joysticks are released.
In ActiveTrack mode, the Mavic 3 is quite close to the person it follows. Allowing for a slightly larger distance would help reduce the abrupt movements caused by the algorithm’s constant calculations.
We have just discussed cases where obstacle detection was not convincing, but we remain impressed by its performance. ActiveTrack 5.0 is convenient despite the abrupt movements, especially since the drone’s tracking direction can be changed at any time (in front of the subject, on the side, diagonally, etc.).
Those who want to better understand this feature are invited to watch the entire video: we force the drone to reposition itself when we change direction, for example, at 02:54 with the car tracking.
The drone can recognize and distinguish a human from a car or boat before activating tracking; however, for motorcycles, it is important to frame the standing rider before they mount the bike. Be cautious when in a group, as the drone may sometimes switch between people.
Overall, the subject should be relatively distinct from its surroundings, especially the ground: wearing a brown coat near a wooded path didn’t help the drone on our end.
While the obstacle detection is impressive and seems reliable in the vast majority of cases, it’s the last few percentage points that make us hesitant to use the option without constantly keeping an eye on the drone and a finger on the stop button located on the remote control. With the drone priced over $2,000, trust in the sensor and algorithm combination is not enough. Note that obstacle detection is disabled in Sport mode.
What about the other automatic modes?
In reality, ActiveTrack 5.0, which we just detailed, is part of a group of three features called FocusTrack. In addition to tracking a moving subject, the Mavic 3 also offers:
- Spotlight 2.0:
The drone always keeps the subject in the frame while the pilot can continue to interact with the joysticks. The goal is to focus on the drone’s movements and altitude without worrying too much about framing the subject. The subject can be stationary (e.g., a monument) or moving, but without any action on your part, the drone will hover while adjusting the gimbal angle to frame it.
- POI 3.0:
The drone circles around the subject at the selected speed and direction. Both stationary and moving subjects are supported.
These two modes benefit from obstacle avoidance and cater to specific needs. They proved to be very effective during the few times we used them. Be aware that the three FocusTrack features can be used up to 4K and DCI 4K at 60 frames per second – no 5.1K or 120 frames per second.
Mavic 3 Cine Premium owners can also forget about Apple ProRes format. The latest Mavic 3 update made the x2 digital zoom and D-Log compatible with the three FocusTrack modes.
In addition to these limitations, some professionals have expressed concerns about Mavic 3’s features, particularly since the release of Mavic 3 and the change of application. Videographer Gautier Veltri explained that Spotlight 2.0 no longer allows the drone to move in a straight line, causing issues for professionals who want to use this option while following a flight plan. This is something to consider. The critique is available on his YouTube channel.
Lastly, the Mavic 3 has two other automatic modes up its sleeve. The famous QuickShots, which are automated movements that provide smooth and stable shots for beginners or the lazy. Five types of movements are offered: Dronie, Helix, Rocket, Circle, and Boomerang, which are found on other DJI drones, like the Mini 2 or Air 2S.
Then there’s the MasterShots option, introduced with the Air 2S. This is a more advanced version of QuickShots: after selecting the subject and a few other parameters like distance, the drone autonomously performs 10 different movements and combines them into a short edited video with music – which can, of course, be shared on social media with just a few clicks.
We were not convinced by this feature and doubt that someone who has purchased a drone for over $2,000 would not take the time to create their own shots and especially their own edit.
Up to 35 minutes of autonomy!
Consumer drones have finally reached a more than sufficient battery life. Although not reaching the promised maximum endurance of 46 minutes, the Mavic 3 has proven to be very convincing. According to our tests in typical use, the drone usually lasts 30 to 35 minutes.
In Sport mode, the Mavic 3 will unsurprisingly need to land earlier. Regarding low battery warnings, the first Return-to-Home (RTH) suggestion appears at around 15% remaining battery life, and it starts beeping once the battery falls below 10%.
Here’s a concrete example of battery life performance, with full throttle on the joysticks for a good part of the flight:
|10:15 am||Drone takes off, captures footage in Normal mode||N/A|
|10:43 am||Switches to Sport mode, battery at 28%||28%|
|10:46 am||Battery at 17%, estimated 6 mins of flight time left||17%|
|10:47 am||Drone suggests Return-to-Home (RTH) at 15% battery life||15%|
|10:49 am||Drone lands on its own with 8% battery remaining||8%|
Such battery life for a drone must be highlighted:
|Flight Conditions||Battery Life||Percentage Remaining|
|No wind, Sport mode||~35 min||N/A|
|-7°C (19.4°F), challenging||15 min||63%|
|-3°C (26.6°F), challenging||20 min||39%|
|Windy, near the coast||28 min||11%|
The remote control, on the other hand, lost one of its four battery indicators after two full flights, equivalent to 1 hour and 8 minutes of use. According to our tests, a Mavic 3 battery takes between 1 hour 27 minutes and 1 hour 35 minutes to recharge.
Keep in mind that the Mavic 3’s 30 to 35 minutes of real flight time does not negate the recommendation to purchase additional batteries or acquire the drone in its Fly More version. Speaking of which, let’s discuss the pricing.
Get your checkbook ready
The DJI Mavic 3 is priced at $2,099 for the base version. Add $700, and you’ll get the Fly More bundle, which includes a total of three batteries (compared to one in the standard version), a charging station, a set of ND filters (4/8/16/32), and, most importantly, a superb carrying case. Although this is the largest carrying case offered for a foldable DJI drone, it proved extremely practical during our tests.
Beyond the provided finishes (typical of DJI), the case can be carried by hand, as a shoulder bag, or as a backpack. It’s perfect for carrying a light jacket or a laptop without needing an additional bag.
The Mavic 3 Cine Premium version, on the other hand, is on another level. It costs $4,799 and includes all the previously mentioned items, plus the RC Pro remote control (sold separately for $999) and, crucially, Apple ProRes 422 HQ compatibility and a built-in 1TB SSD for storing such files.