Drones are incredible tools for capturing images & video in a totally different perspective. With the new DJI Mavic Pro, we finally have a drone that’s easy to travel with too!
The other day I was kayaking at a stunning blue lagoon in Mexico. To capture its beauty, I brought along a daypack filled with camera gear — my Sony A7Rii, GoPro Hero5, and the new DJI Mavic Pro.
All of this gear, including accessories, fit neatly inside a single camera backpack that I use as my airline carry-on!
The ability to pack a drone, along with the rest of my camera gear, into a single bag has been a dream of mine ever since I first started flying drones in my travel photography and video workflow.
But it just wasn’t possible until now.
Sure, there are small drones out there. And more powerful ones too. Unfortunately you couldn’t have the best of both worlds — until the new DJI Mavic Pro came along.
The Mavic has all the features of the original DJI Phantom 4, but is half the size and weight.
Folded up, the Mavic is about the same size as a Nalgene water bottle!
To make this possible, DJI really put a lot of thought into the Mavic’s design. It has four “wings” that neatly fold up when not in use. You no longer need to remove the drone’s propellers either, they fold up too.
Even the Mavic’s remote controller is about half the size as previous models. Yet DJI’s new drone still boasts about 21 minutes of flight time, speeds up to 40mph, and a super impressive 4 mile range.
With the ability to shoot 4k video and capture RAW photos, the Mavic is just as powerful as its predecessor (DJI Phantom 4). It also has front-facing optical sensors that help you avoid obstacles and prevents the drone from crashing into things.
Video Recording: 4K in 24/30p or 1080 in 60/30/24p
Pixels: 12 Megapixels
Max Resolution: 4000 x 3000
Memory Card: Micro SD
ISO Sensitivity: 100 – 3200
Max Speed: 40 mph
Average Flight Time: 21 minutes
Max Distance: 4 miles
Weight: 1.62 lbs (734 g)
The DJI Mavic is surprisingly easy to fly. It feels a lot like a video game. If you let go of the controls, the drone simply hovers in one place.
But drones are complicated machines too — you need to be aware of your surroundings in multiple dimensions, something most of us aren’t used to.
Before you do anything, make sure to watch all of the Mavic tutorial videos here. Then, practice flying the drone simulator on the DJI GO app.
When you finally think you’re ready, I recommend practicing with the Mavic in a wide open field until you get the hang of how it handles. Then practice some more.
The Mavic has a beginner mode that forces the drone to fly a bit slower, and limits height and distance. Use this mode while you’re learning.
Unfolding and preparing the Mavic for flight takes less than 2 minutes. First I start the DJI GO App on my phone, connect the phone to the remote controller, turn on the remote controller, then power on the drone.
The Mavic will attempt to lock on to GPS satellites, which keeps it stable during flight.
Before you fly in a new location, remember to calibrate the compass (aka do the “drone dance”). It’s an easy process that takes less than 20 seconds
One of the drawbacks to the DJI Mavic’s compact design is that it has much less ground clearance than the Phantom 4, meaning the belly of the drone is closer to the ground.
This can be a problem if you want to launch or land in tall grass. So try to find a wide, flat base to launch it from. I actually launch it from the back of my LowePro Whistler Camera Backpack most of the time.
If you run low on battery power or lose your connection, the Mavic will automatically “return to home” using GPS.
Cameras on the bottom of the Mavic take a photo of the launch site, helping it land in the same exact spot once you’re finished. Pretty impressive technology!
When the Mavic was first released, there were a bunch of videos saying the image was fuzzy. This is because the camera wasn’t in focus — users didn’t realize they needed to touch the screen and focus the camera first.
However this issue has been resolved, as the latest software update gives the Mavic an autofocus mode, which you can turn on or off depending on your preference.
Both video footage & still photos from the Mavic are crisp and clean, sharp enough for most video applications, especially on the web.
If you want to make high-end movies, drones like the new DJI Phantom 4 Pro and DJI Inspire 2 boast larger camera sensors which can pick up more detail in lower light. The caveat is these drones aren’t nearly as portable as the Mavic.
Battery life for the DJI Mavic is solid, averaging 21 minutes on a typical flight (that’s with 15% battery remaining). I travel with 3 batteries to maximize my flight time in each location.
It takes about 60 minutes to re-charge a battery, about 2 hours to re-charge the controller.
DJI recommends deep-discharging (cycling) your intelligent flight battery after every 20 re-charges, to maximize battery life. You can view how many cycles a battery has gone through in the DJI GO App.
Actually, neither. After doing a lot of research on this subject, it appears that the best footage on the DJI Mavic Pro comes from recording in 2.7k at 30p.
It’s complicated, but basically true 4k video footage needs a bitrate of 100mps. The Mavic can only handle a 65mps bitrate, meaning the footage gets compressed, and doesn’t look as good.
The sweet-spot seems to be recording at 2.7k, which you can then downsample to 1080 for web, and it will still look better than shooting at 1080 directly from the drone.
Also, while the Mavic can technically shoot video at 60 frames per second, it doesn’t look very good in practice. So make sure to keep it at 24p or 30p for the best looking footage.
If you aren’t planning to color-grade your video footage the default color profile settings work fine. However if you use color grading techniques or LUTs with software like Color Finale, you’ll want to adjust the color profile.
These are the settings I’ve found work best for me.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say color grading or LUTS, here’s more information explaining the process.
The default gimbal tilt/pitch speed (aiming the camera up or down) was moving too fast for me, so I slowed it down to 20 in the remote control settings. This helps you get smoother, more cinematic camera movements for your videos.
The drone’s YAW is what controls its rotation left or right. I prefer to slow this down a bit, again for smoother footage. You can do this in advanced settings under “rudder control”. I changed mine from 0.25 to 0.20.
The DJI Mavic drone has 11 cool intelligent flight modes, software that helps fly the drone for you, to get different kinds of unique shots that are difficult when flying with full manual control.
To activate them, you need to go into the flight mode settings. You can then pause or stop the program when necessary and go back to manual control. Here are some of my favorites.
Active Track visually locks onto a person or object, and tracks their movement while keeping them in frame. It automatically follows the subject, or you can even fly circles around a moving subject. It’s great for following bikers, kayakers, people walking, and even cars (as long as they aren’t driving faster than 20 mph).
This is the Mavic’s “selfie” setting. Send the drone up into the air, put down your remote control (or hide it out of frame), wave your hands to get the Mavic’s attention, then gesture with your hands in a frame around your head, and the drone will lock on and snap a photo after 3 seconds. You need to switch from video into photo mode to make this work.
Cinematic Mode is available with the new DJI Go V4.0 App. Basically it slows down certain drone movements, smoothing out the flying for more cinematic looking shots. But it’s important to note that this function slows down braking speed too, so the drone no longer stops on a dime if you let go of the control sticks. It “drifts” to a stop — so you need to be careful near objects like walls & trees.
Tripod Mode is very cool. It drastically slows down the speed of the drone, to about 3-4mph maximum. It too is wonderful for slow, smooth, cinematic shots. It holds as steady as possible, but still stops quickly unlike cinematic mode. It’s great for maneuvering in tight spaces like narrow pathways or around trees. I use it when I’m afraid of running into something.
Another favorite mode of mine is Course Lock, where the drone will fly in one direction no matter which way the camera is facing. So if you wanted to fly parallel with a moving car, but change the direction of the camera angle as you fly alongside, you can do that without altering the course of the drone’s path.
Say you wanted to fly around a particular building or monument. With Point Of Interest, you hover over a stationary object, lock on, then adjust the diameter and speed you want to fly at, and the drone will then circle your chosen subject keeping it in frame. Manually flying perfect circles around something is very difficult, this mode does the hard work for you, so you can focus on filming.
Terrain Mode is great for flying low over a rough landscape, or up the side of a hill. The Mavic’s bottom sensors track the changing ground features, and keep the drone at a certain height over it. So you don’t have to worry about adjusting it’s altitude to avoid running into the side of a hill, it takes care of that for you.
The Mavic’s 12mp camera can capture great still photos too, in DNG RAW format for those who like to post-process their images, or normal JPG. You can also shoot in manual mode for adjusting ISO, exposure compensation, and shutter speed.
There are options for bracketing images, a self-timer, and rapid fire shots.
The image sensor is the same size as the original Phantom 4, however DJI’s newer Phantom 4 Pro has a much larger sensor, about 4 times the size as the Mavic’s. This means images from the Phantom 4 Pro will come out better in low-light situations, with less sensor noise.
As stupid as this sounds, when I first started flying drones, I’d forget to start recording video. Maybe it was because I was so excited to fly the thing, or because I was mesmerized by the beautiful scenes it was showing me. Remember to hit record and capture that beauty!
The tiny DJI Mavic controller is pretty slick, displaying flight details like speed, altitude, distance, and battery level. This allows you to switch your phone into full-screen mode (swipe up for IOS), removing the information overlay so you can concentrate on framing your shots.
Racing around at 40mph in sport mode is fun as hell, but doesn’t make for great video footage. The best drone videos are smooth and steady. Small input changes can have a big effect — you don’t need to jam down on the control sticks full throttle. Plus, you can always speed things up later with editing software too.
It took me a while to realize the benefits of this feature. Why engage return to home when I can fly back myself? Well, the software is much more efficient than humans are. It takes the shortest path back, flying at optimal speed, saving you precious battery power. If you really want to land yourself, you can cancel it at the last minute and take control.
If I’m attempting to fly from uneven ground (rocks, tall grass, sand) I’ll generally launch the Mavic from my camera backpack, and catch-land it in my hand. However I do not recommend catch-landing a drone until you have a LOT of experience flying in all kinds of situations/weather. It can be dangerous if it goes wrong.
Everyone crashes their drone eventually. Everyone. I’ve crashed 2 times now, once in water! If you do crash your drone, the best way to get it back is using the GPS information stored on the DJI GO App. Click on the map, zoom into where the last signal was sent from, then head over and start searching. It’s crazy how accurate it is.
Did you know you can broadcast live video from your DJI Mavic to Facebook & YouTube? The video feed comes from the drone, while the audio comes from your phone. This lets you tell a story, or describe what you’re seeing, as you fly the drone live. It’s possible with a strong 3G signal, but wifi and 4G connections work best.
The DJI Mavic Sun Hood helps you see your phone’s screen in full-on sunlight, cutting out the glare. Especially if your eyes are sensitive to the sun like mine are. It makes flying in sunlight much more enjoyable, so you can actually see what you’re recording.
The DJI Mavic Car Charger can plug into a vehicle’s cigarette lighter and charge your battery while driving. It’s super helpful during travel photography road trips, so you always have fresh batteries for flying.
These Polar Pro Mavic ND Filters are a bit like sunglasses for your drone’s camera. It gives professional videographers the ability to shoot video at slower shutter speeds in bright sunlight, creating a more cinematic look.
Like I said earlier, everyone crashes their drone eventually. It’s best to be prepared and purchase the DJI Care Refresh insurance, so when you do crash one day, you can get back to flying as soon as possible at minimal cost. Drones are expensive machines! It would suck to lose one.
With the DJI Mavic Pro, I can now fit all my camera gear into a single airplane carry-on bag. It’s also far easier to bring my drone hiking in the mountains, snowboarding, on a boat, or on other kinds of adventures.
Not only is it much smaller and lighter than earlier drones, it’s still just as fast, stable, and easy to fly too.
The convenience of the Mavic’s super portable design means I’m more likely to take my drone with me — giving my travel photography and adventure videos a big-budget WOW factor that was previously only possible from an actual helicopter.
While traveling with a drone is probably overkill for most people, if you make your living with photography or video (or want to eventually), nothing can compete with the DJI Mavic Pro for its combination of power & portability. ★
Product: DJI Mavic Pro (click here for price)
Useful Notes: Even with a few downsides like less ground clearance and crappy 60p footage, the DJI Mavic Pro blows away the competition with its powerful features and extreme portability. It’s definitely the best drone for traveling photographers at the moment.
Suggested Reading: Remote Drone Pilot Test Prep Handbook
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Have any questions about the DJI Mavic Pro drone? Are you thinking of getting one? Drop me a message in the comments below!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.