Review: DJI Mavic 2 Zoom and Pro drones present an agonizing choice
DJI's new super-portable Mavic 2 drones have landed, and they're an impressive upgrade from the previous model. Now, you get to choose whether you want a gorgeous Hasselblad-developed Pro lens, or a fully integrated 2x optical zoom on your Mavic – and the choice isn't as simple as we first thought.
We've now been playing with the two new Mavics for a couple of days. Not enough for an exhaustive review, but more than enough to give you our first thoughts. Here they are:
Let's get these out of the way. The Mavic 2 no longer fits in its box with all four propellers on. You've got to pull the bottom two off. That's a pain. Of course, you'll probably throw it in a camera bag or something instead, where it'll fit just fine.
Furthermore, the controller now has removable screw-in thumbsticks, which must also be removed to fit it in the supplied box. So far, I have almost a 100 percent strike rate of setting up the drone and taking off without remembering to screw those stupid things on, and I find it really annoying.
These are minor issues, and won't stop the Mavic 2 series being incredibly quick and convenient to launch once you've got something better to carry them around in.
In terms of the cameras, we found the buttons are a little hit and miss. Holding the camera button down to take a photo sometimes does the job, other times it seems to get lost in the task of auto-focusing and forgets to shoot. This didn't seem to happen when using the on-screen buttons.
The Mavic 2 drones feel like a well-thought-out upgrade to the original original Mavics in a lot of little ways. New prop designs make them quieter. They're more stable in the wind, and the control system seems to allow for smoother flight, even at speed. In short, they're much more of a pleasure to fly than the OG Mavic.
There's also a few other nifty things, like the new gimbal locks, which are easier to put on than the old jiggers, and which hold and protect the cameras really nicely. And 8 gigabytes of internal memory just in case you forget your MicroSD card. And a controller that slow-charges your phone, so you don't burn your phone battery filming. Nice!
I was stoked to discover the new Mavics had 360-degree obstacle avoidance built in – 9 out of 10 times I crash or nearly crash drones it's because I'm going for a sideways-moving parallax shot and clip a tree I can't see on my screen. But it turns out the sideways obstacle sensors are only active in certain modes, particularly automated flight modes, and they won't solve my problems at all yet.
Feature-wise, there's some nice surprises too. When landing in low light, the Mavic 2 drones deploy downlighting to make sure their automated landing systems can do the job. And the controller range has been boosted to a terrifying 8 kilometers (5 mi) with 1080p footage streaming back to the controller. That's an absolutely absurd distance. I once flew a Phantom 3 out to 5 km, in the barren plains of Mongolia, and that was quite far enough to have my several thousand dollar aerial gadget dangling in the air out of my sight.
The Mavic 2 Zoom
The Mavic 2 Zoom instantly becomes the first compact consumer drone to pack an optical zoom lens. I've been waiting for something like this for years. Why? Well, wide angle lenses might cram a whole lot into a shot, but they're terrible for giving things a feeling of size and substance.
The Zoom's camera goes from 24 mm to 48 mm. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it makes a huge difference when you're shooting or filming. When zoomed in, you can get closer to your subject than ever before, and backgrounds begin to take on a feeling of scale and importance. Parallax type movements gain a very cool cinematic feel. You can get quite an intimate shot of a subject without them even realizing there's a drone nearby, and when it's time to put a subject or two in the shot and arrange them nicely against a background, a zoom lens gives you lots more options. From the same spot, here's wide:
And here's tight:
And of course, it enables the new "dolly zoom" automated shot mode, which you're going to be seeing absolutely everywhere from now on. Select a subject on the screen by dragging a box around it, and the Mavic 2 Zoom will hurtle backwards while slowly zooming in (with a combination of optical and digital zoom) to keep that subject the same size while wildly compressing the background.
It looks absolutely stunning, if your stomach can handle it, and it's a terrific demonstration of the power of perspective and exactly why you'd want a zoom lens on a drone to begin with. You can achieve a similar effect on the Pro, or any other fixed lens drone for that matter, but you need to do it in your video editing software using digital zoom, which simply doesn't change perspective like optics can.
The Zoom camera also stays impressively stable during movement and in high winds. I was worried it would be harder to hold a subject steady while zoomed in – but nope, it's terrific. In fact, perhaps the worst thing about the Zoom is that now I want something with a 5x zoom. Or a 10x zoom, you know, to really hone in on a subject from distance. That'll be incredible. Everyone's going to need to close their bathroom windows when those hit the market, and Cineflex might as well throw in the towel.
The Mavic 2 Pro
On the other end of the scale is the Mavic 2 Pro, which doesn't have a zoom lens at all. Instead, it's got a fixed 28 mm lens connected to a camera DJI has developed in conjunction with Hasselblad, in which it owns a sizeable stake.
This camera uses a full 1-inch sensor (as opposed to the 1/2.3" one on the Pro) and an aperture that's adjustable from f/2.8 to f/11, and makes use of Hasselblad's Natural Color Solution algorithms in its image processing.
While the Zoom might be more fun to shoot with, the quality of vision coming out of the Pro is a clear cut ahead. As well as additional resolution (20 megapixels vs 12 megapixels for still shooting), the Hasselblad camera also offers significantly better performance as the ISO levels move up in lower light.
Then there's crispness and contrast, dynamic range, sharpness, color reproduction and metering ... it's no contest. The images coming out of the Pro camera are flat out nicer to look at, even if you throw the RAWs from the Zoom into Lightroom and try to spruce them up and give them a similar feel. It's not that the Zoom takes terrible photos, in fact they're on a par if not better than previous Mavic stills. But next to the Pro there's no discussion – it takes a few minutes of adjustments to get the Zoom's shots to feel close to what comes straight out of the Pro.
The additional sharpness, lack of distortion, color contrast and general feeling of high quality extend to video footage as well, but it feels like less of an advantage here. If you're going to go and shoot Cinestyle-type flat footage and put everything through color grading, then sure, you're the kind of person who's likely to get more out of the Pro. If you're posting footage to YouTube or Facebook, frankly I think it'll be hard to spot the difference, and the Zoom is the clear winner just for its extra utility.
Which one should you get?
If photography is your key goal, go for the Mavic 2 Pro. You'll appreciate a camera that takes better shots straight out of the box, in a wider range of lighting conditions, and gives you RAWs with even greater post-processing capability. There really is no contest.
If you're mainly into video, the Zoom is an absolute revelation to work with and will get you shots the Pro just can't. Once you start shooting zoomed in, you'll find it difficult to stop. It feels amazing.
But if you're really going for super high quality video, to the degree that you want to post-process it and color correct for maximum cinematic impact, the Pro will get you a sharper image with better color and contrast, that grades better and will let you move to a higher level of slickness in post.
So what we really need next, DJI, if it's not too much to ask, is a Mavic 3 Zoom Pro, with a 10x optical zoom, a 1-inch sensor and all the Hasselblad goodies. Choosing between these two is going to cause people to tear their hair out, to the point where DJI might actually lose sales overall. And that'd be sad, because these are two of the best camera drones we've ever flown, and their tiny form factor and ultra-portability make them super usable.
The Mavic 2 Pro is on sale now at US$1,449 / AU$2,299. The Mavic 2 Zoom goes for US$1,249 / AU$1,999. And this time, the importers tell me, there's gonna be plenty of stock instead of the long wait times some people experienced for the original Mavic.