DJI Mavic Pro 3
Four 'DJI Mavic Pro 3' stories
May 2021 - August 2021
Everyone’s asking: When will DJI’s Mavic 3 Pro be released? What features will it have? Should I buy the AIR 2S now… or wait? We’ll be up front and tell you we don’t have all the answers (yet). But we do have some of them.
DJI’s Mavic line, without a doubt, has been an incredible success. I was fortunate enough to be in New York for the launch of the original Mavic Pro in 2016, and recall how that drone really rocked the industry. As it should have: That machine packed an incredible number of features into a compact, foldable form capable of 4K video, Goggle capability, and even the ability to respond to some gestures (tracking, photos). The word “Mavic” would soon be a household name, at least in households that are interested in drones.
That was the beginning. And, though the Mavic name may be fading from DJI’s product line, the product line most of us will always identify as “Mavic” is not.
A fast review
Let’s take a low-altitude cruise through memory lane:
I still own one of these. In fact, I once flew it well below recommended operating temps (at -25C), a temp so cold my iPad screen blanked out. As a result, I buzzed the branches of a tree and chopped up the props (which were understandably brittle at those temperatures). I’d estimate that incident broke off between 30-50% of three of the props. And you know what? That thing flew back as if nothing had happened. (The group flying with me, all experienced pilots, could scarcely believe it.)
It was also a radical – and we do mean radical – change to the form factor. The Phantom style was ubiquitous at that point, so you can imagine just how revolutionary this was at the time. A phenomenal piece of engineering.
So that was the start. In addition to the 4K video, the original Mavic Pro also worked with the original DJI Goggles, those white ones. They were a little clunky then, but the image quality was terrific and that was also something of a breakthrough. People trying them out at the NYC launch event were blown away.
But more than that, it was the beginning of a new way of thinking around form and function. The Mavic Pro was immensely more portable than the Phantom line, folding down to a really compact size. It also had better flight time, and a much smaller and innovative controller. And while that controller may look slightly dated now against the current crop (Mavic AIR 2, AIR 2S controllers), it was really compact, and got the job done.
The success of the Mavic line led to other machines; a bunch of other machines; split semi-roughly along consumer and more prosumer lines. On the consumer front, we saw the Mavic AIR, the Mavic Mini, the Mavic AIR 2, the Mini 2, and the AIR 2S. (Those last two seem to mark a departure for DJI in the naming department. Despite the clear form factor heritage, the company has dropped the “Mavic” name.)
Before we get to the Pro models (and what we know about the Mavic Pro 3), a quick shot-out to the Mini 2, AIR 2 and AIR 2S drones.
The Mini 2 has proven a huge hit. And why not? Sub-250 grams, which means no registration in the US (unless you’re using it for commercial purposes under Part 107), quiet, and unobtrusive. I’m still stunned at the tech that’s packed into this tiny package, including its 4K video, 10-kilometer range (obviously well beyond Visual Line of Sight, but indicative of a highly robust connection) and extended flight time.
It’s stable, does better than the Mavic Mini in the wind resistance and imaging departments, and is a bargain at $449 US ($419 US from Canada) for the base drone. Seriously, there’s nothing on the market in this price range that compares. Sure, you’ll find no-name drones on some online marketplaces that might claim similar specs, but nothing that compares to this for the money.
The AIR 2
We already had a fair bit of stick time with our own original Mavic Pro when we got to try out the Mavic AIR 2 last year. We were really impressed with the flight time, handling, and size. I mean, 34 minutes of flight time with 10 km video transmission? Plus, 4K, 60fps? When you can pack all of that into something that’s $799, you’re doing something right.
We did have some quibbles with the 48MP stills claim, because it uses a Quad Bayer filter and a technique called “pixel binning” to achieve those file sizes. The quality of those files, while quite good, does not match the 20MP images from the AIR 2S.
Launched in spring 2021, the AIR 2S picks up where the AIR 2 left off. Superior imaging, 5.4K video resolution (allowing limited cropping while still maintaining a 4K output), and a 1-inch, 20MP sensor that does better with details than the AIR 2.
It also has additional obstacle avoidance compared with the AIR 2, though there have been mixed results with its tracking capabilities. We’ve seen some videos where it has done quite well… and others where it has not. Regardless, it’s a superb product that we expect (or at least hope) will be First-Person-View compatible with DJI’s Goggles V2 and Motion Controller. (Unfortunately, we don’t have anything to add here other than to keep your fingers crossed and watch for firmware updates.)
For many pilots, perhaps most of them, this is more than enough. (Here’s our launch review and video if you’re curious.)
But it also has a drawback, at least for professional cinematographers: It has a fixed aperture, which doesn’t give you as much manual control over exposure (and will have you reaching for ND filters, provided in the combo, on any sort of sunny day).
And while the AIR 2S does a really good job, professional cinematographers want more.
The Pro versions
We’ll skip the Enterprise models and quickly recap the other two biggies: The Mavic 2 Pro and the Mavic 2 Zoom. Both were released in August 2018, meaning they’re due for a refresher. The Mavic 2 Pro features a Hasselblad camera and quickly became a favorite of pro aerial cinematographers who needed something compact with excellent imaging and that variable aperture. A lot of people really like that camera. Here’s how DJI describes it:
Co-engineered in partnership with Hasselblad after two years of tireless research, the Mavic 2 Pro comes equipped with the all-new Hasselblad L1D-20c camera. The L1D-20c possesses Hasselblad’s unique Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution (HNCS) technology, helping users to capture gorgeous 20-megapixel aerial shots in stunning color detail.
The Mavic 2 Zoom features a 2X optical zoom but did not feature a variable aperture.
Both of these models, for many prosumers, became kind of the go-to drones (though, obviously, there are pilots who fly Autel, Skydio and other brands). But the focus here today is the Mavic line.
And that leads us to speculation about the Mavic 3 Pro.
When will the Mavic 3 Pro be released?
From everything we’ve heard, it’s coming this year. A source in China close to DJI has current plans are for a Q3 release – meaning sometime between July and the end of September. But he cautioned it could just as easily be pushed to Q4.
Obviously, after some three years since the release of the Mavic 2 Pro drones, the company will be putting some significant upgrades into this product.
What features will the Mavic 3 Pro have?
That’s what everyone is wondering. We have some information from our source, and some speculation based on competition and industry knowledge. First, let’s go with what we’ve discussed with our source.
We’re told the Mavic 3 Pro (or, perhaps, the Pro 3/3 Pro), will feature 8K video resolution. To us, this makes perfect sense, given that the original Mavic Pro, released in late September 2016, had 4K resolution and the AIR 2S has 5.4K resolution.
One of the big competitors in this space is Autel’s EVO II Pro, featuring 6K resolution and a variable aperture at $1,795 for the base package. From a competitive standpoint, it wouldn’t make sense to simply match that. Knowing DJI, it would want to exceed it.
Our source didn’t have any info here, but it would seem likely DJI would continue with a Hasselblad camera on the new drone. It’s a premium offering, and this will be a premium prosumer drone.
We also anticipate (or at least hope for) improved tracking and obstacle avoidance capabilities. In fact – and this is sheer speculation – we would not be totally surprised to see DJI take a page out of Skydio’s book and enable true 360-degree obstacle avoidance with some enhanced AI. Certainly, we’d also assume that some of the handy creator features found with the AIR 2S, such as Master Shots, might be included in the package. (Though the kind of pilot looking for the new Pro version might well prefer to be editing their own content.)
With its low latency, higher resolution and greater range compared with OcuSync 2.0, we’d expect a minimum of OcuSync 3.0 – if not, possibly, the next generation. We also theorize (and we could be wrong here) that any drone equipped with OcuSync 3.0 should be compatible with the Goggles V2. It’s really just a question of whether DJI would want to enable that.
Regardless, we would hope that the Mavic 3 Pro would be First-Person-View capable and able to work with the DJI Goggles V2. There are a lot of those goggles already out in the wild, and if it’s an opportunity for additional goggle sales (and value-added for the drone), why not?
But this could just be wishful thinking. Our source in China doesn’t think this is in the cards, so tough to say:
Now, we’d argue there are some cinematographers who actually prefer to shoot with the Goggles rather than staring at a tablet. So this one’s up in the air.
There’s no question that DJI is the global market leader for consumer and Enterprise drones, selling the commanding majority of products sold on the planet (somewhere between 70 and 80%). But DJI is also very watchful of competition, wanting to always stay ahead of the game.
Skydio has made great strides with its AI on products like the Skydio 2, known for its eerily accurate tracking as well as its forthcoming integration with a powerful software suite called 3D Scan. Consistent tracking through obstacle-laden areas (tree branches etc.) has never been a particularly outstanding DJI feature, though with the additional obstacle avoidance on the AIR 2S, it’s pushing in that direction.
We’ve even seen an image – we don’t know how legit – that shows a Mavic-like product that includes an array of visual sensors in very similar configuration to the Skydio 2:
We predict some sort of improvement in tracking and AI, though to what extent we can’t say. What we can tell you is that DJI has at least 14,000 employees, with thousands of those staffers being engineers. If it wants to solve this problem – and some consumers see it as such – it has the resources at its fingertips.
Improved flight time?
We noted, when a prototype shell recently emerged online, that it did not have the traditional cutout for a top-mounted battery. We theorized, based on that, it would be a rear-mounted battery. It also features what appears to be a cooling scoop, indicating of more processing power (and heat) on board:
Our source in China says the Mavic 3 Pro will “definitely” have a rear-mounted battery.
Mavic 3 Pro features recap
So let’s recap. The drone will hopefully be released by late September. We anticipate it will include:
- 8K video resolution
- Enhanced obstacle avoidance
- Improved AI
- Improved flight time
- Hasselblad camera
- Variable aperture
The Mavic line has been a powerhouse for DJI. Every release has been popular, and every release brings with it substantial improvements. We would expect nothing less for the Mavic Pro 3.
There are still some unanswered questions, of course, and we can’t guarantee that everything on our list will come to fruition. But we’re pretty confident about nearly all of these features. There’s also no question these are features that would be embraced by the drone community.
So now it comes down to: Price and date. When we know more, so will you.