I have no idea how to fly a drone. So, I thought it would be a good idea to try the most professional model in the DJI range.
Brain damage situation here? Perhaps, but this isn’t so much a review as it is about sharing an experience. To be fair, there is a point to this seemingly pointless exercise: I wanted to know if there is any merit to buying a best-in-class drone if money and foolhardiness were no object, given how much they have advanced in recent years. I’m pleased to say that the answer is surprisingly yes, with some caveats.
The Mavic Pro is surprisingly easy to set up, and the menu instructions are pretty straightforward and borderline idiotproof–if you discount the fact that this idiot did a quick check to see if the motors were running properly while indoors and proceeded to smack two blades out of commission less than a minute of turning it on. That said, I had the pleasure of finding out how easy it was to replace the blades, which I suspect are effectively consumables for budding pilots. Buy a couple of spares, please.
The good thing about going with a big name like DJI is that the user base is large enough and filled with many enthusiasts and professionals. When I realised that the camera unit might occasionally misalign and prompt an error message, I quickly found a solution online without too much digging: I tilted the drone on its side when turning it on so the sensors could recalibrate properly. Being able to find solutions online with a series of Google searches is a significant checkmark in my book, especially when it’s not a mainstream gadget.
Chottomattekudasai (One moment, please)
Before I could fly this handheld Tesla, paperwork was necessary for this particular drone. Because of the Mavic 3 Pro’s weight, I needed to register the drone and tell the powers that be: yes, if the law is infringed, this one my pasal lah (my business). The whole process is fairly straightforward, and thankfully, that was the end of that–no further need for licences and permits. Yet.
With that out of the way, I had to figure out where to pilot the drone legally. The One Map is the best starting point to check in real-time if there are any restrictions in the airspace, and it’s something you have to constantly refer to as sometimes events like National Day will impose restrictions on the airspace. Regarding spots conducive to flying, sites like Garuda and Droneller provide suggestions of several popular locations (check if they are still around before heading down). I found Old Holland Road Field to be especially assuring, as it is in the middle of nowhere (but in the middle of the island), so you don’t have to be flying above water; I can’t fathom flying with the fear that there is a tiny chance something goes wrong and you have to find some way to fish the drone from the murky depths of a reservoir.
Maybe not so easy to fly, but there’s help
With those out of the way, it was time to try not to make a fool of myself. It didn’t help that I was trying to fly a pretty expensive piece of kit with zero flight experience, and immediately, I was bemused by the thought I was trusted with the drone to begin with. Mind you, I was even sent the more expensive RC Pro controller, which was a real treat–the combination of a full range of physical controls and a large, bright touchscreen of up to 1,000 units and an extended broadcast range of 15 kilometres. The range might be overkill for casuals, but the brightness of the touchscreen alone might be all the persuasion you need, especially when flying during the day. There’s also an option for you to control the drone via a smartphone app, but having done so for a few minutes, I was just filled with anxiety that something would eventually go wrong–it didn’t, but I wasn’t sticking around long enough to find out.
Initially, I could only nudge the control sticks gingerly, afraid of sudden twitches that would send the drone careening disastrously into a tree or something more embarrassing. While the RC Pro controller gives you a first-person view that should allow you to fly intuitively, it was hard for me not to take my eyes off the drone. Despite all this, the good thing is that the controls are highly responsive, and as long as I let go of the sticks, the drone snaps to a halt. If I lost my bearings or my nerve (or motor skills), I smacked the Home button like a little beach and watched my anxiety drain away– the drone safely floated back to its starting point, and all was well once more.
It didn’t take long before I became more adventurous. With repeated flights under my belt, I relied less on the Home button and started to gain more confidence in the knowledge that if I ever had a senior moment, the Home button would get me out of a jam. The drone is also jam-packed with sensors, significantly improving its obstacle-detection capabilities. The assurances really do go a long way.
An elaborate gimbal
The Mavic Pro is pretty nimble despite its weight and seems like an excellent drone for casual flights, despite the fact it is primarily a camera with a drone built around it. Bearing a four-thirds sensor on its primary 24mm Hasselblad camera, the Mavic Pro naturally delivers the best video footage at base focal length.
The camera module sports two other lenses: a 1/1.3″ 48MP 70mm equivalent lens and a 1/2″ 12MP 166mm lens; the former is reasonably good, while the latter falls in the ‘good to have’ category–this lens doesn’t support D Log as well. Of course, the image quality at 166mm isn’t ideal, but knowing you can stretch if needed is excellent, and you can utilise a 28x hybrid (over 600mm) that’s usable depending on the subject and lighting. The dropoff from 24mm to 70mm is less drastic, and more often than not, for most of us, we wouldn’t notice in passing if the lighting is adequate. There’s also a slight delay when switching between lenses. The drone also comes with 8GB of internal storage, which feels more like a buffer for those ‘oops’ moments when you forget your SD card.
While the idea of a drone with a built-in gimbal doesn’t feel like cutting-edge tech (to me, at least), I now profoundly appreciate how magical this ensemble can achieve such a smooth panning effect from using it first-hand. It’s easy to forget how much effort it takes to make something effortless–mind you, just decades ago, you would need a camera in a helicopter to do the same thing.
Truly a luxury
While the DJI Mavic 3 Pro paired with an RC Pro controller is a tool, foremost, I can’t help but think the quality of life features that these bring to the table will fall into the luxury category as well. It’s been a near-faultless experience, even though you can argue that I have not pushed the drone to its absolute limits. And that is the point–it’s surprisingly easy for beginners to pick up. I’m sure professional drone users will have more complaints about the specifics, but I’m not evaluating the Mavic 3 Pro performance as a professional tool. Overkill for casuals? Certainly. Was it a blast? Oh definitely.
The experience was an eye-opener, but not in the manner I had originally imagined. It’s a hobby that takes a lot of love and commitment; you need to be mindful of restrictions and rules here and overseas should you wish to bring one on your travels, and a drone of this size might not be practical. The regulations vary from country to country, so the onus is to ensure you understand and comply with their laws. What’s universal is that drones that weigh less than 250g are less troublesome in this respect. In that case, you should probably consider the Mini 4 Pro.
It’s all good when you’ve done your research and feel confident that you’re complying with all legalities and sussing out the best locations to fly your drone without running afoul of the law or complaints. But the point is that this is not entirely an out-of-the-box experience, even though the drone is pretty idiotproof despite its pro-grade features.
Would I recommend the Mavic 3 Pro to anyone? I would, just for how polished it is as a general consumer product. It lowers the barrier of entry for those who want a top-of-the-line drone camera without jumping through hoops to use it.
But the obstacles are primarily external, and you must be extremely passionate or can afford to buy this on a whim. To be fair, this caveat applies to drones in general; the cost of the Mavic 3 Pro exacerbates the point.
I only understood this after my experience and sharing the airspace with drone enthusiasts flying with kits they spent countless hours fine-tuning. Given how much extra trouble you must go through to make it happen, you truly need a passion for drone flying, regardless of whether you’re in this to take cinematic shots or for the thrill of aerobatics.