With a great deal of excitement, I picked up my DJI Mavic Pro for a trip to Thailand last April. I picked it up in the form of the Fly More kit that includes the drone, the remote, a 16GB micro-SD card, three batteries, spare propellers, a carrying case, and several charging options. Since then, I've added one more battery and a set of neutral density (ND) filters.
The Mavic reignited the excitement for drone flying that had been robbed when the FAA instituted their jack-booted approach to regulation. After receiving the drone system, I flew a bunch up to the receipt of my commercial drone rating at the end of May, and I've logged quite a few hours in my logbook since. So I've had plenty of time for my opinion of the Mavic system to evolve.
So what do I think now?
Well, in a nut shell, I still love the thing. While I've discovered some shortcomings along the way, I still consider it to be an outstanding system.
I'll start with talking about its form factor. With the actual drone folding to a size smaller than a Nerf football (Are those still made?), and a remote that folds down to the size of a paperback novel, the system is really darn easy to take with me wherever I go. And I go a lot of places, both in my Jeep and on foot.
As to the included accessories with the Fly More kit, I have mixed emotions.
While traveling internationally, I used the include bag as extra padding to protect the drone and remote. But it really doesn't fit extra batteries or other accessories like my ND filter set. Now that I'm back stateside, I rarely use it. Instead, I've reconfigured my Lowepro Trekker 300 AW backpack to accept all of the parts of the kit I want to carry plus other camera gear I may want to take. That doesn't mean the bag is useless. If your flying time is going to be equivalent to one battery or you have another solution for carrying other batteries and gear, then the included bag may be everything you'll need. Several days ago, I talked to a horse trail guide who had a Mavic bag that was as well worn as a pair of my old Army boots. He loved it.
The included charging accessories are kind of handy and kind of a joke. My biggest gripe is with the four-battery charging accessory. While it provides a set-it-and-forget-it solution to charge four batteries, it only charges one battery at a time. So what should be a one hour charging operation (if all batteries were charged simultaneously) takes four hours. If I have overnight or a day off to do my charging, this is fine. But if I'm on site and have cranked through my batteries, I have an hour for to wait for my next flight, and then around 40 minutes to wait after I've exhausted my first recharged battery, 40 minutes for the next, and so on.
One great thing the charger has is the ability to charge both my remote and cellphone while the batteries are charging via USB ports on the charger's converter pack. Another is a cool little device that can be plugged into one of my batteries to power USB devices while traveling and not actively flying the drone. Considering that, while in a commercial airplane I must take my batteries onto the passenger compartment with me anyway, this eliminates the need to take a separate USB battery pack. The kit also has a car charger that can be pretty handy.
Now let's talk about the imaging system and gimbal.
The gimbal is brilliant. I've flown the drone up, down, sideways, and all around. The I always end up with motion imagery that is far more stabilized than I deserve. It's beautiful.
The drone is small and the onboard camera is small. So by necessity, the camera's sensor is small (about a half-inch diagonally). Colors are represented admirably for such a tiny sensor. But noise is pretty pronounced, even in the lowest ISO settings. And high-contrast situations become a process of making the image as good as possible and then accepting that the darker spots are going to look kind of rubbish.
To deal with the noise, DJI uses noise reduction that is so severe that it softens images to look more like watercolor paintings than digital imagery. I searched around in the internet and experimented to find what I felt were the best settings to negate this problem. I eventually landed on a custom sharpening setting of +1.
The overall settings I use are the D-Log color profile with a custom style of +1 sharpness, -2 contrast, and -2 saturation and white balance set to the outside conditions (usually Sunny). Others will have have their own differing settings, but this setup gives me nice and flat source imagery that I've become comfortable working off of. I also typically use an ND-32 filter to slow the shutter speed so I can keep the it down to 1/60sec when shooting at 29.97 frames per second and 1/50sec when shooting at 23.98 fps This produces the proper per-frame motion blur for video that isn't choppy-looking. In this, good ND filters are worth their weight in gold (or more since they're really light).
Speaking of the image itself, in D-Log I get an image that is really quite warm with extra red in the shadows. So in post after bumping up the saturation, I'm always pushing the tint and temperature sliders to the left. Then I go in deeper and push the shadows towards blue. I do this every time to get my baseline to work from.
For imagery settings, a quick tap with my finger on a button mounted on the back of the remote quickly brings up all the camera settings I need. Aperture is fixed at f/2.2. But ISO and shutter speed are the first options to pop up. And some quick and intuitive navigating gets me to other options like aspect ratio, recording file format, color profile, color style, and (for photos) RAW vs. JPG.
Unfolding the drone and remote, system setup, and pre-flight inspections are all quick and easy. From arrival to my takeoff spot to launch takes less than five minutes. By the way, if you're wondering if your phone can be fit into the remote's holders with the phone's protector still on, the answer is no. I need to take mine off every time I mount my phone.
As to the flying itself, the thing is a joy to have up in the air. It's very easy to move around, and its collision avoidance has saved me from severe tree-based interactions. With the drone's body being so small, following the FAA-mandated rule of having the drone in sight with the naked eye can get to be kind of a chore. But if you suddenly lose sight of it, some up-and-down or side-to-side movement usually works for reacquisition. And the DJI GO 4 app's map that has a handy line from you to the drone, so you can bring the drone straight back to you until you see it again.
For flying techniques to prevent propeller introduction into my shot, the forward position of the camera means that this is never a problem unless I'm flying aggressively in Sport Mode.
So there are my thoughts based on the last 3+ months of heavy use. I do love the Mavic Pro. But as I get deeper into my professional life, I'll consider something with a larger sensor like the one-inch one on the Phantom 4 Pro for cleaner images. For now, though, the Mavic Pro has everything I need.