The DJI Mavic Pro may be the first prosumer camera drone with true mass appeal.
While there have been several kinder, gentler quadcopters this year -- from the largeto the compact -- the Mavic Pro is really the only one to combine high performance in an ultracompact body. Add in DJI's full assortment of safety and ease-of-use features and you've got a drone that anyone can take anywhere.
Despite the small size, you'll get nearly the same or better performance as from the company's top-of-the-line. The new OcuSync encrypted transmission system, for example, gives you control up to 4.3 miles (7 km) away with 1080p live streaming to Facebook Live, Periscope and YouTube through the DJI Go app. The Phantom 4 has a max range of 3.1 miles (5 km) and streams at 720p.
Like the drone itself, the controller is very small, but still has a monochrome screen to give you important flight data. Want to see what you're shooting? You can connect a phone and mount it just below the control sticks. Also, DJI added a switch to change from RC to a Wi-Fi mode, so you can quickly launch and control the Mavic with only your phone at distances up to 80 meters (262 feet) with a top speed of 4 meters per second (13 feet per second).
For the camera, DJI stripped away what it could of the body and the lens is smaller -- a field of view of 78.8 degrees compared with the Phantom 4's 94 degrees -- but it has the same 1/2.3-inch size sensor. It can record 4K-resolution video at 30 frames per second or 1080p at up to 96fps and 12-megapixel photos in JPEG or Adobe raw. And it's stabilized with the smallest three-axis gimbal DJI's ever made.
You'll be able to control the camera with buttons on the controller or with the mobile app. DJI plans to have full HD first-person-view goggles, too, that will give you a 85-degree view from the camera. You'll be able to control camera tilt by looking up and down and turn your head to rotate the drone.
DJI managed to not only retain the Phantom 4's obstacle avoidance and intelligent flight capabilities, but updated them for the Mavic Pro. It can sense objects in front of it up to 49 feet (15 m) away while traveling at up to 22 mph (36 kph), while optical sensors on its belly help it fly indoors and keep it from hitting the ground even on a slope. In fact, a new Terrain Follow mode will keep it at the same height even if you head up a steep slope.
ActiveTrack, DJI's name for its subject-tracking mode, can be used for people, animals and vehicles and will now allow the drone to follow from behind, in front or along side a subject as well as circle one. Selfie fans will appreciate the new Gesture mode, which lets you use hand motions to get the camera to focus on you and snap a photo.
The drone has a top regular speed of 24 mph (38.5 kph), but has a Sport mode which will let you take it up to 40 mph (64.8 kph). There's a Tripod mode, too, that takes your top speed down to 2.2 mph (3.6 kph) so it's easier to get the drone into just the right position for photos and video.
If all of that's not enough, the Mavic Pro has a new Precision Landing system that uses the video and GPS information captured at takeoff to guide it back to land within an inch of where you launched from. So when you've reached the end of its 27-minute flight time, it will return right to you.
The DJI Mavic Pro will start shipping October 15 priced at $999 (about AU$1,300 and £750) with the controller or $749 by itself. You can pick it up in Apple Stores in early November. You'll be able to tack on DJI Care Refresh for $99, which gives you accidental damage insurance for aircraft, gimbal or camera during normal use for up to 12 months, and for an additional charge will get you up to two full replacements if you total it.
When it comes to consumer drones, in my experience, smaller is better. Take a big quad like the Yuneec Typhoon H out to a public park and you'll get more looks and questions than you do with a Parrot Bebop. The Mavic Pro seems to be the perfect solution: a quad that's as portable and easy to fly as a Bebop, but with the performance and image quality of a larger model.