New year, new drone

New year, new drone

At beda:photo we like to invest in proven technology rather than be the first out of the starting blocks with a new toy, but unusually we now find ourselves in posession of a brand new DJI Mavic 3, which has been hyped up as the start of the art, best ever drone. Initial reactions were, however, alarm and despondency when it became obvious that some of the advertised functions didn’t work properly, or simply displayed the message ‘coming soon’. Fortunately this was quickly rectified by two firmware updates in quick succession (about a month apart) and we can now report that all systems are fully functioning. It does beg the question, however, why release a half-finished product onto the market, especially something like a drone, which relies upon everything working perfectly?

But never mind, let’s be positive. True, it is much easier to handle than an Inspire, the bells and whistles (like point of interest ) do actually appear to function properly, although we tend to do most things manually for best results, and it does take amazing photos. Even the JPEGs are astonishingly sharp and have lots of dynamic range, straight ‘out of the box’. The lack of interchangeable lenses is a bit of a drag, and the telephoto secondary lens goes some way to making up for this, but it will never compete with the beautiful images from the 49mm Olympus lens on the Inspire Pro.

The JPEGs straight out of the camera are astonishingly crisp and usable with a wide dynamic range, suggesting that the lens is as good as the 4/3 sensor.
Before: The DNG files come up at about 43mb and have considerable latitude for post processing. This image was shot with very low January sun, which would normally have resulted in either burnt out highlights on the houses or black impenetrable shadows.
After: With a minimum of adjustment to retrieve the highlights and shadows and warm up the colour balance the images are the best we’ve seen from a drone camera other than the X5.
Detail from the photo above, taken at 380ft. Amazing detail, requiring only a minimum of sharpening.

The aforementioned firmware update did, however, go a long way to towards improving the image output from that much-criticised second lens. The photos are now much sharper and crisper and once again you find yourself wondering, ‘if all it took was a firmware update why not do it in the first place’, particularly as the lens itself was good enough for the job? It’s still only a digital zoom for most of its range, with a genuine focal length of 162mm, which is about 7x the main camera at 24mm. On top of that, DJI uses up to 4x digital zoom to get to a claimed potential 28x magnification. For our purposes (mostly roof surveys) this is easily good enough for inspections and provides more than enough detail, a definite plus point.

Colour rendition is extremely accurate. This image has been warmed up slightly, but still retains the subtleties of the actual weak winter sunlight.

There is no denying that, compared to an Inspire, this thing does resemble a cheap plastic toy, but therein lie its greatest qualities. It is ridiculously easy to fly and quite docile. So much so in fact that you can just tell it to stay while working out the next shot, confident in the knowledge that it won’t fly into anything, run out of power or simply annoy the neighbours with its rotor noise. So far, our experience has been that all the claims about its quieter motors and long life batteries are true. 40-45 minutes or so is suddenly a lot of flying time. The downside of this appears to be that the batteries take forever to charge, nowhere near the 1.5 hours DJI claim. In fact the latest battery purchased took over 8 hours for its initial charge. Let’s hope this improves with use.

And of course, long term use will be the big test for this drone as it doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as resilient as a Phantom 4 or an Inspire. The camera also is mostly plastic, with a distinctly flimsy feel to the gimbal, but presumably the requirements of a folding design and new weight restrictions mean more compromises on durability.

Time will tell whether the new Mavic 3 is up to the job of a professional drone. It certainly produces amazing photos and 10 bit video footage, but professional camera equipment needs to be able to withstand a lot of wear and tear.

As with all new kit, the spending doesn’t stop with the purchase and the Mavic 3 is no exception. Even though it has a variable aperture it still requires a full set of ND filters, which, because of the weird shape are obtainable only from DJI or a handful of suppliers and consequently very expensive. New, faster Micro SD cards are suddenly required as well to handle the 10 bit video if you want to film at 60 frames per second or at 5K. Going back to using a mobile phone (with the standard controller) is also something we could do without. It really is about time DJI stopped making controllers without screens. They have proved that it can be easily done, and it certainly doesn’t need to cost another £879!

Ipad mini adapters for the Mavic 3 start at £9.99 on Ebay!