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DJI Mavic 3 review: Great image quality and battery life help justify $2,199 price tag

It's more expensive than the last one, but the new Mavic 3 Pro packs some great features and excellent flight times.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Mavic 3 packs a whole suite of upgrades over its predecessor allowing it to shoot better video, take better pictures and stay in the air for longer. Every piece has been updated and it feels like a real step forward over the previous Mavic 2 Pro.

Its starting price of $2,199 (£1,879) for the base model, (or $2,999, £2,549 for the Fly More Combo which includes three batteries, a set of ND filters and a carrying case) is a big step up in price over the Mavic 2 Pro's $1,449 launch price, but the Mavic 3 total upgrade of specs makes it a potentially solid option to consider for pros or enthusiastic amateurs. 

So let's start with the camera because, let's be honest, that's the thing we all really care about from a camera drone. It's actually packing two lenses and two sensors inside this unit. The main camera has a 24mm fixed lens with a 4/3rd size image sensor which is the largest sensor seen in the Mavic range a big step up from the 1-inch sensor in the Mavic 2. 

A bigger sensor means it can capture more light and offer better dynamic range meaning your videos of sunsets won't have totally washed out highlights. I've been impressed with the footage I've taken with it so far. The exposure is excellent, as is the detail when shooting up to 5.1k resolution. It also has a manually adjustable aperture from f/2.8 through to f/11 to allow you control the light coming in while maintaining the same shutter speed. 

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It'll take stills in raw DNG format at 20-megapixels in resolution and again I've found exposure to be great overall with plenty of scope to apply more creative edits to the raw files in apps like Adobe Lightroom. 

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DNG raw image, unprocessed

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
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The same DNG image, edited in Adobe Lightroom.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
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DNG image, edited in Adobe Lightroom.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
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The second camera provides a telephoto lens with an equivalent focal length of 162mm. I was really excited about this when I heard, but in use it's only okay. You can't shoot DNG raw images with this lens, and video quality tops out at 4k 30fps. The image quality takes a noticeable dive zooming, particularly when you use the hybrid digital zoom as well. It's useful to scout locations from the air, but it's not really good enough for you to want to use the resulting footage in anything other than a casual Instagram Reel.

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At 2x zoom the image looks reasonably crisp...

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
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...but at the maximum 28x hybrid zoom the image is extremely fuzzy.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

DJI is also offering the Mavic 3 Cine version, which uses the same camera hardware but is able to record in Apple ProRes format, which gives much more scope for post processing. It also features a built-in 1TB SSD for storing the huge files it'll generate and comes with a much higher price. 

The drone itself is aesthetically similar to others in the range, with a folding design that makes it easy to slot into a large lens compartment in a photography backpack and extremely quick to unfold and get flying when you're on location. Which of course makes it nice and convenient to take out hiking. 

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

With various efficiency improvements and more dense batteries, DJI now reckons you can get a whopping 46 minutes of flight time from a single battery. In reality, I found that's closer to 35-40 minutes in mixed conditions, but that's still a decent step up from its predecessor. If you buy the Fly More Combo with the two extra batteries, you can comfortably get well over an hour of footage when you head into the hills. 

It's just as easy to fly as others in the range, with the same basic controller that hooks up to your iPhone or Android phone. Anyone familiar with DJI's drones already will be able to fly with no trouble while even beginners won't struggle to get up and running. I love the automated flight paths and object tracking on DJI's other drones but unfortunately that's coming as a software update early next year so I've not been able to test that yet. It's a shame it's not already available, particularly considering the price, so if being able to have the drone follow you as you walk over the hills is important for your filming then it's worth waiting until it gets the update before investing. 

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It's got improved sensors on all sides giving full object avoidance abilities in any direction. It meant that I had no worries at all about flying close to trees like this as the drone is able to detect exactly how close it was and whether it would make it through without crashing. It also makes it much safer when using the automated return to home feature as the drone can easily navigate its way past any obstacles to get back to wherever it took off from. Hopefully, making it less likely you'll lose it in the middle of a forest. 

Should you buy the DJI Mavic 3 Pro?

If your priority is something small and nippy then you should look towards the DJI Mini 2 with its 4K sensor and its absolutely tiny folded-down size. Similarly, if you want a generally compact drone that takes great footage but won't fully empty your bank then you should consider the excellent DJI Air 2S.

But if you want the best image quality around and those longer flight times but you don't want to stretch to the high prices -- and much bigger physical size -- of DJI's top Inspire 2 drone then the Mavic 3 Pro could be a great compromise for pro shooters or enthusiastic amateurs alike.

DJI Mavic 3 key specs

  • Weight: 895g
  • Folded size: 212x96.3x90.3mm
  • Unfolded size: 347.5×283x107.7mm
  • Top flight speed: 21 meters per second
  • Maximum flight time (with no wind): 46 minutes 
  • 8GB internal storage
  • 20-megapixel main camera resolution
  • 12-megapixel telephoto camera resolution
  • 5,120×2,700-pixel maximum video resolution
  • microSD card expandable storage up to 2TB in size
  • 6 hours maximum controller battery life