In a year that has seen DJI's relentless product cycle reach new heights it is the Mavic Pro that has proven to be the most hotly anticipated drone of them all.
Gathering the kind of momentum usually associated with the launch of a new iPhone, its appeal has crossed over into mainstream consciousness.
Delays in production and shipping (now largely resolved) only served to fuel the excitement, with rumors and conspiracy theories flourishing.
Put simply, the promise of everything DJI had to offer in a drone, only smaller, lighter and more portable than anything it had produced before.
As GoPro's Karma (and its share price) crashed and burned, the idea of a fully-capable folding drone seemed further away than ever.
|DJI MAVIC PRO DRONE SPECIFICATIONS|
|STREET PRICE||$1,089 (base model)|
|DIMENSIONS||83 x 83 x 198mm (when folded)|
|WEIGHT||743g (inc. battery, props and gimbal cover)|
|CAMERA||1 / 2.3-inch CMOS. 4K/1080p, 12.7MP|
|BATTERY TYPE||3830mAh, 3S Li-Po|
|FLIGHT TIME||27 mins|
|RANGE||4.3 miles (7km)|
More importantly, could DJI deliver a truly professional platform, featuring a 3-axis gimbal and obstacle avoidance, in a craft weighing less than 750g and costing just a little north of $1,000?
The wait is finally over, and with the Mavic Pro now here we finally got some serious hands-on time with DJI's little wonder.
And we were very keen to find out just how much of its heavyweight R&D the company could cram into its smallest quadcopter to date...
Our first thought when we saw the courier arrive with the Mavic Pro was that someone had made a mistake or played a cruel practical joke on us.
We were expecting a folding lightweight drone but this package looked more like something that a smartphone or a book would be shipped in.
Unboxing the Mavic Pro drone it became clear just how much effort DJI has gone to in cramming its premium technology into such a small craft.
No space (or weight) is wasted in transport mode. All four rotor arms and propellers sit tight to the fuselage to give an overall footprint of just 83 x 83 x 198mm.
Fully folded the quadcopter will fit comfortably into a lens case or a pocket (of the coat variety, even the Mavic Pro might struggle with skinny jeans!).
Total take-off weight including the flight battery is 734g - which is pretty close to half that of DJl's own Phantom series.
The Mavic Pro is almost completely finished in a dark gunmetal grey. Weight savings seem to extend to the paitwork, too, with only a couple of subtle gold stripes and a dash of white on its propeller tips.
A 4K / 12.7MP camera sits just under the drone's nose, mounted on what is possibly the Mavic's crowning glory - a remarkably delicate 3-axis stabilized gimbal, smaller and lighter than anything else we've come across. A clear plastic dome encapsulates the whole unit to protect it between flights.
A top-mounted 3S LiPo battery makes up the bulk of the main fuselage, clipping into place with a squeeze-button release mechanism. It powers up with the familiar press-release-press-hold routine found on most DJI machines, complete with the four obligatory LEDs.
We've always been wary of having 'external' battery compartments but this one seems solid enough to be able to take a few bumps in its stride.
The Mavic Pro's 'eyes' (its forward vision sensors) sit just above and to either side of its camera/gimbal unit. At the rear of the body is the aircraft status LED and on the belly you'll find the cameras and sensors which provide the information for the drone's Downward Vision System. On the sides of the fuselage there are two small panels - one concealing a Micro SD card slot, the other a micro USB port.
The Mavic's size makes it a fun portable companion - but the tech inside it means it can be so much more than that.
With its antennae and phone holder tucked away, the Mavic Pro's remote controller is simple and elegant, with a pleasing lack of superfluous buttons and switches. At its center is a small LCD panel; it's not particularly flashy but it hosts enough telemetry information to keep you flying in the event of a lost video feed.
Camera and video triggers are located on the controller's shoulders along with gimbal and camera settings dials, with a slider on the right hand side to unleash "Sport' mode.
Some customization is possible via the C1 and C2 buttons on the back of the unit, as well as a 5D button next to the right stick.
The front of the controller is also home to a failsafe (RTH) button and a pause' button which applies emergency braking. Charging is by means of a USB port, with a separate connection for sending the video feed to your smartphone.
The real fun started when we got the Mavic Pro ready for flight. If you've ever played with Transformers toy's you will be in your element, both with the aircraft and its controller.
The Mavic Pro's front rotor arms pivot away from the fuselage horizontally while the rear pair come up from under the body to lock into position.
It all feels solid enough - our only concern was over the pinch-points where electrical cabling is passed out through the joints to the motors and ESCs.
In fairness it is covered in a thick protective braid and if there was going to be a problem it would probably only become apparent in the long-term. A split propeller design means that the Mavic Pro can be stored and transported without the need to remove them.
There is no real landing gear to speak of; instead the two front rotor arms have antennae mounted underneath them which also serve to lift the aircraft's nose and keep its camera/gimbal off the ground.
It's a clever touch and one which solves two problems in the quest for weight efficiency. We would recommend using a landing pad. though, to keep dust and moisture away from the downward facing sensors and cameras.
The Mavic Pro's controller is equally compact, but when you fold out the hinged holders and plug in a smartphone it really comes alive. It was something new for us to try a screen mounted below the controller, but it really works. The added weight sits closer to the pilot rather than toppling the unit away from them and is much more ergonomic.
The connection to hook up to your phone sits inside the frame of the controller, making it extremely difficult to dislodge it in use.
Overall we were pleasantly surprised. We had expected the diminutive size to be a limiting factor but in reality it proved to be a well thought-out design which was, for the most part, a joy to use. Feedback from the control sticks was a bit springy, but there are three separate flight modes to give the pilot some flexibility with their inputs: Normal (P-Mode), Sport (S-Mode) and Tripod (selectable in the DJI Go app).
Crucial to the Mavic Pro's ease-of-use is its combination of the DJI Go app and company's flagship OcuSync transmission technology. As well as low latency HD video and autonomous flight modes it makes the whole process of getting airborne straightforward and painless. Within five minutes we had completed all of the calibration steps and flight settings and were ready to go.
After turning on the controller and starting the DJI Go app we powered up the Mavic Pro. It took around 10-15 seconds on average to acquire a solid satellite fix, and the combination of GPS and GLONASS meant we never flew with less than 15 satellites. Throughout our test flights position hold was excellent with only some minor drifting, mostly at higher altitudes.
It might be a personal preference, but we found the bottom-mounted screen to be a more natural fit.
Take-off is achieved either by the usual CSC input on the controller or the command on the DJI Go app. The Mavic defaults to P-Mode when started up (even if you've left the controller slider in the Sport position) and climbs to around 4ft above the ground. It then holds its position until the pilot is ready to take over.
Even without Sport mode enabled we started to get an idea of how quick and responsive the Mavic Pro is. Despite its quiet motors it really zipped about, changing direction with ease and settling into place as soon as we let go of the control sticks. The smaller format controller took a bit of getting used to, although it wasn't long before we'd built up the confidence to try some aggressive lines at low level.
One thing we loved was the welcome lack of propellers in the top of our video feed - in fact we had to push the Mavic Pro flat out in Sport mode to get even a suggestion of props in the camera's line of sight.
It would benefit from an ND Filter when filming in harsh lighting conditions, though (these are already available from PolarPro, and you can expect more manufacturers to follow suit).
We also experienced a bit of horizon tilt at high speed and with fast direction changes. This was easy to right within the app and was generally not a problem during more sensible lines.
We didn't have the chance to test all of the Mavic Pro's autonomous flight modes for two reasons. The first was the Great British weather which followed a cycle of dark-foggy-wet-dark for most of our week's testing.
The second reason was our decision quite early on to try Sport mode. What we lost by not having full vision positioning, we more than got back through the pure thrill of throwing the Mavic Pro drone around at speed.
The DJI Go app recorded our fastest line at just under 19m/s (42mph) - a touch higher than DJI's stated top speed of 40mph. We would suspect that with a following wind it would be possible to get much closer (or even over) 50mph. In a small-format photography quadcopter that is seriously swift.
The Mavic Pro's lightweight design does mean that it has some limitations in high winds or at altitude. That said, it coped admirably with the gusts which came its way when we flew it along the coast.
The app provides audible alerts and information during the flight, and more than once we encountered excessive wind warnings. We were expecting to hate this function and its 'sat-nav' voice, but in all honesty it proved to be remarkably discreet and didn't detract from the flying experience. It was actually quite useful at letting us know when we'd switched flight modes or triggered a function bv mistake.
Landing the Mavic Pro was also a piece of cake and our worries over the lack of landing gear were soon dispelled. Both the automatic landing function and Return to Home modes brought the drone back to within a few inches of its take-off point and gently back to the ground.
Even landing manually was simple: no matter how fast we came down the Mavic Pro would detect its height and cushion itself into a position hold at around 2ft above the landing site. From here pulling the left stick fully down started a very sedate descent over the remaining distance.
When paired with the DJI Go app the Mavic Pro offers an incredible array of autonomous flight modes and functions. Everything we tried out behaved exactly as it was supposed to.
Some, like Tap Fly. Follow Me and Tripod are ideal for building the confidence of a new pilot. Other features unlock more of the Mavic's potential for more advanced or professional users.
In all there are an overwhelming number of possibilities, and we do have to issue a word of warning. Our advice to new pilots would be to learn the basics in P-Mode before introducing yourself to some of the more complex features. Read up on what they do and try them out one at a time in safe surroundings before moving on.
Our Mavic Pro behaved exactly as it was supposed to. but that doesn't make it crash-proof. The key is for the pilot to understand the limitations of each function and how it affects the craft. DJI has done pretty much everything it can to keep you in the air, so make the most of it!
Coming from a photography background this writer was fascinated to see how the Mavic Pro's tiny F220 camera and gimbal would compare to DJI's other consumer drones. To be honest we were staggered by just how capable it proved to be.
Video was smooth and luscious in 4K and 1080p with a good selection of manual settings to wring more quality from the diminutive sensor. There was some horizon tilt at high speed but nothing to concern us for general filming in decent conditions.
Our biggest surprise came while taking stills (especially in DNG (RAW) mode), as the 12.7MP camera was fantastic and a joy to shoot with.
For such a small unit the detail recovered from highlights and shadows was superb. There was a bit of noise from the compression in JPEG files but nothing a few tweaks in Lightroom couldn't put right. A welcome addition was Portrait mode.
This gave us more headroom in the frame and the option to stitch together some realty nice panoramas without getting the 'letterbox' aspect ratio.
The camera has all the usual features and more. We loved the option to shoot in JPEG and RAW. making it possible to view images straight away on any device while retaining a DNG file for later editing. However, this did slow our shooting down a bit (especially when combined with HDR mode) and it also eats through the storage space.
Another nice touch was DJTs decision to keep the MicroSD slot well away from the camera and gimbal unit. This minimizes the need to fiddle with the Mavic Pro's most sensitive components and avoids the frustration found on many other drones.
In conclusion, the Mavic Pro can't compete with high-end MFT and DSLR cameras, but put simply there is no other drone this small that can live with it. The narrow field of view means less distortion (even when shooting at oblique angles) than many other aerial or action cameras.
Judging by our experience at recent drone shows, the Mavic Pro is actually selling faster than hot cakes.
With a bit of tweaking it is possible to get some truly professional results. Will it replace your Inspire with an X5 camera? Of course not. but just try folding your Inspire up to carry in your pocket (and paying just over $1K for it!).
'Impressive' doesn't do the Mavic Pro's camera justice; what could have been a weak point in its armory is a genuine achievement. A new pilot can produce quality images and footage, while a professional can easily find room in their Peli case for a capable companion to their bigger bird.
We can't find much wrong with the Mavic Pro. It behaved impeccably throughout our testing and it was painful to have to send it back to DJI. We had a couple of issues with the DJI Go app crashing (which may well have been caused by our old Samsung Galaxy) and syncing photos and video to our phone without us realizing. Beyond that it is hard to find fault.
Technically it is a massive accomplishment to put so much capability into a quadcopter this size. If you'd told us three or four years ago that a 750g drone costing $1,089 would have a real-time HD video feed, obstacle avoidance, vision positioning and a professional quality camera we might have passed it off as science fiction.
That's only half the story, though. DJI has remembered that for many of us the thing that got us hooked on drones was the thrill of just flying them.
For all the tech and autonomy the Mavic Pro is undeniably fun to use. Even with no phone, app or positioning system we would happily spend hours in ATTI mode just enjoying the speed and handling.
In terms of a portable, affordable quadcopter the Mavic Pro is unrivaled. There is nothing currently on the market that delivers so much in such a small package.
Will DJI bring out a newer, faster, more capable version in the next 12 months? Almost definitely. Should that stop you from investing in a drone which could spark a lasting love affair with flight? Absolutely not. Well played DJI. well played.