Review: The DJI Mavic 2 Pro is the Best Drone Ever Made
posted Thursday, November 8, 2018 at 12:45 PM EDT
I urge you to watch our video review of the Mavic 2 Pro, because just talking about it without seeing its capabilities doesn't really do justice to it. Once you are done watching it, I can't imagine many of you are going to argue with me when I say that the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is an outstanding product. Amazingly, however, it's still better than you think it is. Put yourself behind the control sticks and your heart will melt as you see, in real time, the world unfold in front of you in glorious aerial majesty. Drones get a bad rap all over the world, with new laws prohibiting use and breaking news stories regarding pilots who don't bother to read those laws spiraling into a cesspool of bad vibes. A lot of the public hates drones, and many drone pilots have a distaste for flying because of it. I, for one, rarely flew my drone over the past couple years because of that unpleasantness, and the quality of the footage I was getting on my old Phantom 4 wasn't so great that I felt like I was missing out by not putting my thousands of dollar investment into the air.
With the Mavic 2 Pro, that has changed. That has changed so, so much. When I had the Mavic 2 Pro, which I have since returned to DJI because the loan period ended, I never left the house without it. As a package it was smaller than some of my cameras and absolutely lighter. It easily slipped into just about any bag I would carry with me and be ready to put up in the air in scant few seconds. DJI has made flying so easy that I don't question whether it's worth the effort anymore, but instead I'm more willing to just throw the drone up on a whim because it's so easy rather than "hummm and haww" on the ground debating the worthiness of a shot I can't even see. I have gotten so many more shots because of this attitude.
To me, thanks to the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, drone photography has begun to peak. We are no longer forced to make a decision of choosing either drone size or camera quality; we can have both in one package, and that one package isn't even a budget-breaker at $1,500.
The Mavic 2 Pro makes me want to be a better pilot. It gives me a sense of joy and wonder that I have not experienced since I first saw a drone photo and then before that, when HD video came to DSLRs. It's a wholly special experience, feeling "wowed" by the possibilities available to you as a creative person, and the Mavic 2 Pro made me feel that over, and over, and over again.
I want to spend the majority of the time in this review talking about what the DJI Mavic 2 Pro brings new to the drone flying party. Obviously that Hasselblad-branded camera is the most obvious new addition, but there are other hardware and software advances that make this drone magnificent.
I will try and keep this short and sweet: the Mavic 2 Pro, aside from continually getting better at obstacle avoidance with its array of on-body sensors, makes two huge strides over its predecessors: battery life and quietness of operation.
The battery life is exceptional; 31 minutes per battery is enough to get a series of video shots and a hyperlapse of a location all without landing in between. I actually ran out of stuff to shoot at the locations I went to with two batteries, which is an hour of air time. If you plan to go out and shoot a bunch of locations in one day with only two batteries, that might not be enough. But if you're like me and go out for one or two very specific locations a day, it's way more than enough.
DJI is doing some real magic with their rotor motors, because this drone is the quietest I've ever experienced. In one case, I flew a drone around a bunch of onlookers and a few of them, who had watched me set up and were excited to see it fly, didn't even realize I had started flying it. One even came up to me and said, "Looks like you couldn't get a signal, eh?" To which I replied simply by pointing to the sky, and watching his shocked face reply, "I couldn't even hear it!"
The quiet operation helps a lot for urban shooters like myself because it's easy to be ignored when I'm flying. I don't have to talk to curious tourists, and I don't attract unwanted attention to the guy with thousands of dollars of photo equipment staring into a tiny screen and is an easy mark. The Mavic 2 Pro is so quiet when it flies that it's not even noticed by a vast majority of the people that are around me. I absolutely cannot overstate how awesome this is.
Otherwise, the drone is super light, very easy to set up, take off, land and stash, and takes up almost no room in any backpack I own. It really ticks all the boxes in the "design and build quality" categories.
I'm a video shooter. More specifically, I'm a professional commercial videographer. It's where I make my living and it's what I find myself shooting the most. When I work with new cameras, you'll find more .MP4 or .MOV files on my memory cards than .JPG or raw files nine times out of ten. It's what is important to me, and it's what I will spend the majority of my time shooting. But with the Mavic 2 Pro, that changed. When I looked through my footage I found that I actually was taking pictures more than I was capturing video.
That is because the camera on the Mavic 2 Pro is just spectacular for stills. It's jaw-droppingly good actually. I never expected it to be this exceptional, especially considering the small size of the camera itself. But over and over again, I've found myself just absolutely loving what you can do with the Mavic 2 Pro camera for making still images. Imagine putting a fixed-lens RX100 into the sky, or more accurately the RX0 (since it's highly likely that it is the same sensor as that little camera). Of course the photos look good. They're the best-looking images taken from any fixed-camera drone I've ever seen.
The ISO performance isn't fantastic, but it's far better than any drone I've shot on before outside of the Zenmuse cameras that mount on the Inspire. For a small, single-operator drone, I am so, so impressed.
Utilizing long exposure in stills is going to be your best friend for low-light photography. As you can see above, there is a marked difference between ISO 6400 (which is incredibly noisy) vs a long exposure at ISO 200. I did my best to shoot with the ISO as low as possible as often as possible knowing the limitations of a small sensor at night.
I think the most standout reason to love the stills performance is the dynamic range: it's very good. Let me give you an example.
I put the Mavic 2 Pro up over a waterfall in a densely filled jungle area in Hawaii and really wanted to capture the movement of the water. However, at the time there were no ND filters available for the drone, so I wasn't really able to properly drag the shutter and get the right exposure. I was forced to close the aperture down pretty far to f/11 (that might be the maximum), set the ISO as low as it would go which is ISO 100, and drag the shutter for half a second.
When I look at the unedited file, it is most certainly overexposed; three stops overexposed to be precise. For a small camera, recovering three stops worth of highlights is no easy ask... in fact, before this I would have said it was not possible. No drone I'd ever used outside of the Zenmuse was going to have that kind of flexibility.
The Mavic 2 Pro does. In fact, it could keep going. I was being careful in Hawaii since my experience with what it was capable of was rather limited, but today if I had to reshoot that same image, I would have dragged for a full second. Maybe more. Looking at the DNG, that RAW file had plenty more ability to bring highlight data back down to earth. I'm confident in getting four, maybe even five stops of range there. That's hand-held, on-earth, level dynamic range. Putting that kind of power in the sky? Unbelievable.
It's also worth noting that the waterfall shot is even possible at all. That's a half second shutter drag, in the air, with no motion. Look at how sharp the result is! The Mavic 2 Pro is absolutely outstanding at maintaining its position and not moving at all, making this shot possible. Forget dynamic range for a moment and just think about how incredible that fact is.
The quality of the photography on this drone leads directly into its next new ability: Hyperlapse. Aside from the "Hasselblad" written on the front of the lens, this was the next big feature DJI wanted customers to notice about the new drone. Shooting in different environments with the Mavic 2 Pro, I've had some mixed results with this feature. But before I get into that, it's really important to say that no matter what I personally experienced, the fact that this is possible at all is really pretty awesome.
In the intro of the video review, you may have noticed a Hyperlapse of the sun rising over Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. This was the first hyperlapse shot I attempted where it wasn't just a test, but a legitimate attempt to get a beautiful shot, and it remains the only hyperlapse where I feel like it lives up to the hype. When you get a perfect situation like this, hyperlapse is absolutely worth the time and effort of putting it together. This shot took 12 minutes with a two second interval, which is the shortest interval you can make, and I chose to have the drone do a kind of partial circle from its takeoff location, focused on the Tower as its center point.
There are several different modes you can choose for Hyperlapse, like a line, or custom waypoints, etc, but the settings within each are pretty much the same. You cannot drag the shutter for more than 1/30 second which does limit the kinds of water effects you can get, as well as how dark it can be when you shoot.
Why the limit? I found this explanation from a DJI Admin on their forum: "The optical measurement technology used by the Mavic 2 requires continuous image information, so if the shutter speed is too low the video bitrate will stop, causing the visual measurement to fail; therefore the minimum shutter speed is limited to 1/30." So for those who were worried that this feature would "kill" the standard hyperlapse moves that require a larger camera and a rail, you can see that isn't the case. It's a cool feature, but it has limitations.
Further, I mentioned that I had mixed results with Hyperlapse, and that's due mostly to wind, from what I can tell. Even in that Salesforce Tower shot, you can see some "wobbly" corners. I noticed them in a few other Hyperlapses to the point that they made the end result pretty unusable, the wobble was so distracting. Also, because of the shutter speed limit, shooting at night is really challenging. In another hyperlapse I did, the end result is pretty ugly due to a ton of noise and pretty disgusting color shifting.
All this said, when Hyperlapse is working, the result is really special.
The Mavic 2 Pro will generate a finished HD file in the drone after each completed hyperlapse, but also keeps every DNG that it shoots so that you can make your own edits later should you desire (like I do). Thanks to the very good DNG files that the Mavic 2 Pro makes, you have a ton of latitude in post to make some pretty stellar hyperlapses, or at least pull some stills if your lapse doesn't do well thanks to wind or other factors.
Speaking of wind...
As much as I'll gush about how stable and easy to control the Mavic 2 Pro is, I was a bit disheartened with how weak the gimbal felt when flying quickly and into the wind. I've never experienced this before, and maybe it also happened on the original Mavic that I never tested, but if you attempt to fly into the wind at any higher acceleration that the Mavic 2 Pro is capable, you may see the gimbal just give out.
In a few cases where I know that I was flying in the upper threshold of what the Mavic 2 Pro finds acceptable (before blaring a warning at you that winds are too high), the tilt of the gimbal would just stop working, and the shot I was getting would be ruined.
This obviously isn't ideal, and in places like San Francisco where I fly and where wind conditions and temperature vary wildly in different pockets of the city, it sucks. But most of the time, flying up to and under the legal height limit in good conditions, you should not have a problem.
Not one time while flying in Hawaii, for example, did I run into this issue. And I already expounded on the virtues of the drones ability to maintain its position and hold the camera steady good enough to land a tack sharp long exposure, so all in all you have to tip your hat to the drone. It may have limits, but when you work within them you're going to be happy.
Ok, finally we can talk about video performance, which is probably what most of you care about. Looking at the footage, you already know how I feel about this drone: it's excellent. This is some of the best-looking footage I've seen out of any drone, period. Due to the size of the sensor, the types of lighting situations you'll be able to shoot in is much more limited than when shooting with the Inspire, but the Mavic 2 Pro is also an eighth the size of that drone, so that's a pretty good tradeoff.
What may be confusing to some of you are the two different 4K shooting modes: Full FOV and High Quality modes.
There is considerable discussion online about what each of these are actually doing, whether one is really 10 bit or if it's really 8-bit, and what kind of image quality loss you will experience if you use the Full FOV.
If you're like me and spend a lot of time editing, color grading and staring at videos, you probably will notice that when shooting at the full frame of view, something negative happens to your video footage on the Mavic 2 Pro. It seems to lose "quality" (just looks worse) and you may experience some "blocking" happening in areas (used to happen a lot on the original Phantom 4).
I have to recommend that if you want the best possible footage, you absolutely should be in the cropped, high quality mode, especially if you are planning to shoot in D-Log (which is great, by the way). But I should also point out that there are times where you cannot properly frame your shot if you're not using the full frame of view, which happened to me at a waterfall shot. I was physically pinned into a small break in the foliage and could not back my drone up any farther than it was. If I chose to use the cropped framing, my shot would have looked really bad. So, I took the risk and captured it in the full FOV mode in D-Log.
Because I happened to hit my exposure correctly in camera, I did not have to do a lot in post to make it look good. I did, however, notice that if I tried to push or pull the blacks even a little, a lot of artifacting would appear.
In short, be smart about how you shoot with the Mavic 2 Pro and how you intend to use the footage. Just like with any camera, it's important to know this one's limits.
All in all, I am disappointed that in order to get the best footage out of the Mavic 2 Pro, you have to use what really is a very significant crop. It's not ideal, but when you take a step back and consider what you get as an entire package, which is a very powerful and extremely small flying camera, it's less of a big deal. I'm willing to make this sacrifice.
Let's talk a bit about ISO performance because this isn't the Mavic 2 Pro's strong suit. With enough available light, night shooting can be pretty rewarding. Comparing a shot I got facing the San Francisco Bay, for example, looks pretty bad when compared to when I turned the drone around and flew towards the city, which gives off a lot more light at night. In both cases, there is noticeable noise, though the shots of the Ferry Building and downtown are a lot more acceptable than the ones of the Bay Bridge, which kind of need to be in black and white to hide all the noise.
Stick under ISO 1600 and you'll probably be happy with your videos. If you have to push it beyond that, you're going to be dealing with an increasing amount of noise, color shifting, and a lot of sharpness loss.
- Super small and unobtrusive
- Ridiculously quiet
- Very easy to control, though slightly less sensitive to small adjustments to the sticks than other DJI drones
- Outstanding stills image quality
- Very good video quality, albeit limited due to the crop in high quality
- Useful and fun Hyperlapse mode
- Extremely long battery life of 31 minutes
- Includes D-Log, writes 4:2:2 10-bit in HQ mode
- Excellent ability to combat wind, generally speaking
- Very good at holding totally still, allowing for long exposures and tripod-like shots
- Great value for the price, $1,500
- That crop in 4K high quality mode is a real bummer
- You have to buy a completely new set of filters for this single drone model
- Gimbal is a little weaker than expected, making it vulnerable in higher wind conditions; this is likely due to the much larger physical size of the camera on the Mavic 2 vs the original Mavic
- ISO performance is better than original Mavic and other DJI drones with smaller sensors, but still limited
Look, we can nitpick things like quality of footage and the strength of the gimbal, but in the end they're all basically meaningless in the face of this near-unassailable fact: this is the best overall drone anyone has ever made. It gets so much more right than it does wrong, and the quality of the photo and video next to the life of the battery and the quality of the build along with the new features and the... you get the point. It's just a stacked deck of a product. If you already fly drones regularly and don't own the Mavic 2 Pro, you should. If you have never flown a drone before and are considering buying one, this is the one you should buy (with perhaps the lone exception of the Mavic Air). It is so easy to fly and transport that when you compare the sheer value of that part of this product alone it's criminal how good it is when you add in the quality of the footage you can capture with it.