Small drones are the next big thing. New models like the Yuneec Breeze and GoPro Karma emphasize size above all; they fold and fit easily into a small backpack so you can take them anywhere with ease. Now, dominant drone maker DJI is joining the party with the svelte Mavic Pro quadcopter.
The Mavic Pro features a black finish, a stark contrast to the smooth, white lines of the Phantom 4. Its design is more angular, and sits low to the ground thanks to short landing gear and a gimbal-stabilized 4K camera that’s stabilized on three axes and can record 4K video at up to 30fps and 1080p footage at up to 96fps—perfect for smooth slow-motion capture. Its field of view is narrower than the Phantom 4—78.8 degrees versus 94 degrees—about the same as a 25mm lens in full-frame terms.
The camera also captures stills at 12MP resolution in Raw DNG or JPG format. In a first for a drone, it can rotate to shoot in a portrait orientation as well as landscape. Its focus is fixed from 19 inches (0.5 meter) to infinity. The camera module is protected by a clear plastic bubble.
The nimble Mavic is designed to fly low and high. It has downward-facing sensors to maintain position when close to the ground and forward sensors to avoid obstacles. There’s even a new Terrain Follow mode that can follow a subject while maintaining a constant distance from the ground, which can be set from 1 foot (0.3 meter) to 33 feet (10 meters).
Forward-obstacle avoidance is sensitive to 49 feet (15 meters) and works at speeds of up to 22mph (36kph). Like the larger Phantom 4, it also has a Sport mode, which disables obstacle avoidance but ups the top speed to 40mph (64.8kph). And, if you’re more interested in getting a photograph, you can enable Tripod mode, which drops the top speed to 2.2mph (3.6kph) and changes the control sensitivity for more precise adjustments to position.
There’s also a new Gesture mode, which allows you to simply wave your arms in the air and have the drone target and follow you using its subject-recognition tools. In addition to humans, it recognizes dogs and horses for tracking. There’s a Selfie setting to take a still image from the air, with a self-timer so you can set the controller down before capturing your image. And the intelligent flight modes from the Phantom series carry over, including Active Track (which follows you), Spotlight (which keeps the camera locked onto your position), Circle (an orbit mode), and Parallel (which follows you at your side). TapFly, which lets you control the drone by tapping on your smartphone screen, also carries over from the Phantom 4.
The included remote control is smaller than a Phantom remote, matching the sized-down proportions of the drone itself. It has a clip to mount your smartphone, so you can view a real-time feed from the Mavic as you fly. You can also opt to view that feed in a pair of VR goggles, which use what DJI is calling OcuSync to feed footage with a short 120ms lag time right to your eyes.
When using the remote, the operating range of the drone is formidable. Its Lightbridge 2 transmission system works at 720p resolution at up to 3.1 miles (5km). The OcuSync goggles actually go further—4.3 miles (7km) at 1080p. You also have the option of flying using the phone only, without the remote, but the operating range is shorter (0.6 miles, 1km) and the top speed is limited to 9mph (14.5kph).
As you’d expect from a DJI product, safety features are substantial. Dual GPS systems keep the drone locked in place when hovering and ensure that it returns to home on its own if communication is disrupted or if the battery level drops down too far. Its downward cameras record a short burst of video at takeoff, allowing it to land within an inch of the launch position automatically.
The Mavic Pro is small—about the size of a water bottle when folded. Its propellers remain attached at all times and fold in half for storage. DJI estimates battery life as 27 minutes per flight, but real-world conditions can cut that figure down. Despite its svelte figure, the Mavic is rated to fly in winds as high as 24mph (38.5kph).
If you’re concerned about adhering to regulations, you can trust DJI’s automated geofencing tools to prevent you from inadvertently flying in a restricted area. Of course, the system has an override for those times when you have permission to operate near an airport or in another area that’s normally off-limits per the FAA. At 1.7 pounds (750g), the drone does require FAA registration.
The Mavic Pro goes on sale in mid-October for $999, with additional batteries selling for $89. A premium bundle, the Mavic Pro Fly More Combo, includes two spare batteries (for a total of three), an extra set of propellers, a charging hub, a car charger, and a carrying case for $1,299.
If you’re concerned about crashes, DJI offers a protection plan, called DJI Care Refresh, for the aircraft. It covers repairs of accidental damage for 12 months at the lower tier, with an upper tier that covers two complete drone replacements in the event of total loss of the aircraft. Pricing for the protection plan is not announced at this time.