DJI Mavic 3 Review: The Hype is Justified

Drones can be fun. No matter how we fly them or look at drone videos and photos, there is still a sense of wonder and amazement as earthbound people. This excitement can be seen on any drone, but especially in this case, a high-end model that promises so much. DJI’s drone announcements are always a source of hype, and the Mavic 3 may have been no exception.

Quality Construction and Design

The Mavic 3 was unboxed and I immediately thought “that’s big!” Although it can be stored in a typical backpack, it is not able to stand upright between the pack’s compartments.

The same hard plastic material is used on this drone as any other DJI drone. The material is quite resilient and can withstand a lot of abuse if it falls from a tree. It is stronger than it appears.

DJI has increased the maximum flight time of the Mavic 3 to 46 minutes using the updated 5,000 mAh battery. This is 15 minutes more than the Mavic 2 Pro. Flight times will vary depending on the conditions and speed of flight. There is no set time for what you can expect to see in the air. In any drone I have flown, having more than one battery was mandatory. However, I think the Mavic 3 will be a great choice for pilots who only need one battery.

If you’re not using Sport mode, your Mavic 3 will be protected in the air by several safety features. To create a 3D map showing the location of obstacles, there are sensors at the front, back, top, and bottom. APAS 5.0 enabled the Mavic 3 to effortlessly move around objects and without any manual control. This is my first drone that I haven’t crashed under any circumstances.

The standard Mavic 3 controller comes with the 2S and 2. This controller is a fantastic design and does not need any redesign. It is very comfortable to hold and has the same material as drone exterior. The clever way it stores the thumbsticks, and the smartphone cable makes it compact. Although I would have preferred more buttons in order to reduce menu diving in DJI Fly, it is not worth the effort.

Image Quality

The Mavic 3’s most distinctive feature is its camera system. The Mavic Pro’s first Mavic Pro had a 1/2.3-inch sensor. The Mavic 2 Pro had a 1-inch sensor. Now, the Mavic 3 has a 4/3 inch sensor with 20 megapixels. The Mavic 3’s main camera uses this sensor. It is behind a 24-mm f/2.8 lens. However, there is also an “Explore” secondary camera with a 1/2 inch sensor and 162mm F/4.4 lens.

Shot with the Mavic 3’s 4/3-inch camera.
100% crop of the above photo.

Because it is severely limited in quality and capability, “Explore”, in this instance, means “waste of resources”. The camera can only shoot JPEG when the telephoto lens is active in Explore mode. It also doesn’t support 4K 30p or RAW. There’s no D-log option. All other photo and video modes or functions are inactive. It’s a huge disappointment.

Shot at ISO 100. Full image.
ISO 800 through 6,400. 100% crops of the above framing.

The 4/3-inch main camera sensor on the Mavic 3 makes a huge leap in noise performance. Images hold up really well in the ISO range 100 to 6,400. Finer details are preserved even at the highest ISO of 6,400. However, there is some color shift and color loss. This image is noisy, to be sure. However, I normally expect the highest ISO to be inaccessible. Here, I am not sure I would.

Before shadow and highlight recovery.
After shadow and highlight recovery.

DJI claims the Mavic 3’s dynamic range is 12.8 stops. This is a comparison to the Mavic Air 2S’s 12.6 and the Mavic 2 Pro’s alleged 14 stops. It was still able, despite the numbers, to extract a lot from these areas.

Video Quality

It is a joy to use the Mavic 3’s main 4/3 inch camera for video. The camera can record up 5K at 50 frames per seconds. The camera can record up to 120 frames per minute in 4K or 4K DCI Slow Motion mode, and 60 frames per sec standard. This flat color profile, which uses D-log, offers 10-bit 4 to2:2 at bitrates up to 200 Mbps (H.264) and 140 Mbps (H.265).

Below is a video clip recorded in 5K at 24-p. Click the gear icon to select 5K for the best quality. It is amazing how finely detailed and deep the image looks. This was also recorded in real time on a moderately windy day. The drone was making vertical wave patterns to deal with wind, but it didn’t show up in the video.

Here are some more clips that were shot in 5K 50p or 4K 60p. The clips were then edited in 4K 24p, with the lower resolution clips downsampled. I found the higher frame rates to be just as captivating and enjoyed being able shoot slow-motion 5K footage that I could later downsample into a 4K project.

The last video is an example of Slow Motion mode being used to record 4K DCI 120p footage. Slow Motion mode automatically converts 120p frames to 30p files, unlike 4K 60p, which outputs a file with a 60p framerate. This mode has a lower image quality than regular shooting but I don’t find it to be a problem. Slow Motion with my Mavic 3 seems to be similar to regular video quality on my Mavic Air 2.

The Sky is a Spectacle

Overall, I was impressed by the DJI Mavic 3’s image quality and video quality. It is unlike any fixed-lens consumer drone. The DJI Mavic 3’s leap into a 4-inch sensor for the main camera was a huge success. Those who can afford it should be very happy with the results. Although the telephoto lens is a disappointing and insignificant addition, it is still a worthy part of the drone’s hype and is fully supported by the main camera.

What are the Alternatives?

The DJI Air 2S was the most popular drone before the Mavic 3’s release. This was because it offered a balance between image quality and price. PetaPixel’s review for the Air 2S mentioned that the 1-inch sensor captured great detail in photos, provided the ISO was not pushed. It also had excellent 5K video and D-log recording of 10-bits.

The Mavic 3 costs more than twice as much as the Air 2S. However, it is worth it due to its superior ISO performance and image quality thanks to the 4/3 inch sensor. It also has better battery life and safety features. While the Air 2S blurred the line between whether or not the Mavic 2 Pro was worthwhile, the Mavic 3 clearly shows it is worth the extra money.

Should You Buy It

Yes. DJI’s Mavic 3 shows that the company is not slowing down, despite being the leading brand in drones.