In November, DJI released its long-awaited Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Cine drones. Although they arrived before the holiday shopping season, both models were missing several advertised features at launch, which we called out in our review. These included APAS 5.0 (Advanced Piloting Assistance System), ActiveTrack 5.0, the ability to capture slow-motion and hyperlapse clips, panoramic capture and autonomous Intelligent Flight Modes.
Since December, DJI has released several significant firmware updates that gradually added these features, updated the DJI Fly app’s interface, and fixed bugs. But the question remains: are the Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Cine models, which retail for up to $5,000, worth the hefty price tag? Does the 28X zoom offer high-quality imagery? And, finally, has the GPS connectivity issue been resolved?
Updated firmware brings an improved color profile to the Mavic 3 series.
ISO 100 | 1/8 sec | F2.8
The past several months also brought significant improvements to the Fly app, making it a more logical choice to power the Mavic 3 series and future models. The color profile has also improved since we first tested the drone. Is this enough? Let’s find out.
APAS (Advanced Piloting Assistance System) is DJI’s technology to enable the drone to detect, avoid, and even bypass obstacles in all directions. Version 5.0 is a vast improvement over previous iterations for several reasons. It can detect and maneuver around tiny twigs and through tight spaces more efficiently. It can also record video at 5.1K/50p or 4K/60p. Previously, it was only possible to capture 4K/30p video when APAS was engaged.
This video shows DJI’s APAS 5.0 (Advanced Pilot Assistance System) in action as the drone flies through a series of tight tree branches. Although it’s not able to zoom through the forest at high speed, it manages to avoid collisions.
With ActiveTrack, you trace a box around an object, whether a person, boat, animal or car, and the drone will focus on and follow it. There are three different modes: Spotlight, Point of Interest (POI), and ActiveTrack. In previous drone models, including the Air 2S, obstacle avoidance was only effective on the front and rear. With the Mavic 3, the drone can also be flown sideways and detect and avoid obstacles.
Point of Interest (POI) in action.
Once the Video mode is activated, you can select your subject, and a menu will pop up at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to choose which mode you want to fly. POI is pretty straightforward, flying a whole revolution around your selected target. It does so smoothly and fluidly. Spotlight keeps your chosen subject in the center of the frame, no matter which direction you fly.
ActiveTrack 5.0 in action.
ActiveTrack follows along with your designated subject. An icon appears to confirm which type of subject you’re tracking. I tried it along a road and noticed the Mavic 3 drifted off to the side of the target. I also stopped the drone after roughly a minute of filming as it came perilously close to the top of a tree. However, version 5.0 will lock on to subjects and track them much more effectively than previous models, especially at distances several hundred feet away.
The Mavic 3 series can capture up to 4K/120p slow-motion footage. It’s easy to activate this mode from the DJI Fly app instantly. Under Video, select an icon that says ‘Slow Mo’, and you’re ready to record. I’m pretty impressed with how fluid, crisp and clear the footage was in various weather conditions, some even windy. Overall, this is one of the Mavic 3’s better features.
A slow motion clip captured on the Mavic 3, shot at 4K/120p. It’s easy to access in the Video menu in DJI’s Fly app. This is a top down of ice chunks rolling in the waves on the shore of Lake Michigan. Roughly 45 seconds to 1 minute of recording will give you close to 3 minutes of footage.
Panoramas are another feature that arrived in January of this year. They can be stitched together instantly in-app; alternatively, it’s possible to place individual photos in a separate folder for later post-processing. I had issues with the drone completing panoramas when it was freezing out (0ºC / 32ºF). I waited until the weather warmed up again and they still didn’t complete on my review unit. My final frustration is that the app displays the percent complete instead of how many photos it has completed in the panorama.
It’s possible to take a screen recording with DJI’s RC Pro remote control, and I did this to illustrate the issues I had completing my panoramic shots, but I can’t share them here. The video files are pretty large – a 2-minute clip was 75.2 MB, and a much smaller clip was around 1.5 MB – but neither would sync to my phone when connected by Bluetooth.
DJI’s Fly app makes setting up a hyperlapse clip in four different modes – Orbit, Free, Course Lock and Waypoint – straightforward and seamless. The interface is incredibly user-friendly. You can designate how fast the drone will travel and have the option to choose much slower speeds (down to 0.2 mph) compared to the Mavic 2 Pro. You can then select interval speeds from two to fifteen seconds and record clips up to 30 seconds. While capturing a holy grail clip might be tempting, the Mavic 3 will always auto-land with 3 minutes of battery remaining.
This video shows a hyperlapse clip captured on the Mavic 3.
I discovered one issue while recording hyperlapse clips. When I stitched a hyperlapse together in the Fly app, it cut off roughly the top 3rd of the scene. What I saw on the remote’s display screen (with the Cine model) did not accurately reflect the final footage. However, the individual saved images were correct and could be used to create a hyperlapse in post-processing. This glitch may be resolved with a future firmware update.
The Explorer Mode is still easy to access. While you can Zoom up to 7x in Raw using the main camera on the dual-camera system, anything beyond 7x can only be captured in JPEG format, which is, quite frankly, poor quality.
This series of photos illustrates the digital zoom system on the Mavic 3 drone in action. On the top-left-hand corner is a regular photo. To the right is 2X zoomed in. The next photo in the progression is 4X, followed by 7X, 14X and finally 28X in the bottom-right-hand corner. Once the zoom works its way to 7X, it come from the tele camera on top, with a 1/2″ sensor. All files are JPEG.
ISO 200 | 1/15 sec | F2.8
Footage isn’t very sharp when zooming up to 2X for video capture. Hopefully, a future firmware update can improve the quality of the zoom feature.
The Mavic 3 features a 2x zoom feature, but footage isn’t very sharp at 2x (and less than we would expect at this price point).
Fly App improvements and final thoughts
In my initial review, I expressed misgivings about DJI using the Fly App, which also powers the consumer-oriented Mini and Air series, for such an advanced model. When I tested it at launch, it only included Pro and Auto modes in the camera profile. Since then, DJI has made significant updates to the app. Users can leave ISO, Shutter and Aperture on Auto mode, but now you also have the option to adjust one or all settings manually, giving you maximum flexibility with your settings.
|DJI has made significant updates to its Fly app, including the ability to adjust all exposure settings manually if desired.|
I also appreciate that it’s easy to toggle between Auto and Pro settings without losing your manual adjustments. As of this writing, the one unfortunate omission is still the lack of ATTI (or attitude) mode. While it’s usually preferable to fly with GPS, there are times when you need to take off and land in this mode, especially in a congested area where GPS can be spotty.
As of this writing, the one unfortunate omission is still the lack of ATTI (or attitude) mode
This leads to the final disappointment. With the latest firmware update, v01.00.0600, it still takes 5 minutes on a cold (first flight) to connect to at least 12 satellites and get a GPS signal. Once GPS is working, though, the drone has excellent connectivity, especially in those congested urban areas. I took it up to 494m (1,620 ft.) while close to a tall building, and it did not lose its connection.
Ultimately, it still feels like the Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Cine are still lacking in certain areas, particularly considering the premium price points. The Phantom 4 Pro, in my opinion, still has the sharpest and highest-quality camera in DJI’s prosumer all-in-one line. The Mavic 3 drones should have optical zoom and the ability to save Raw files across all functions instead of being limited to JPEG-only at some settings. Time will tell, with further firmware updates, if the Mavic 3 series is a must-have for professional drone pilots.