The DJI Mavic Pro Platinum ($1,1149) is the best small drone you can buy. Its folding form factor stows easily in a camera or messenger bag, and it has a dedicated remote that’s also quite compact. Its flight performance is top-notch, with 4K video to match, and built-in safety features automated return-to-home and forward obstacle avoidance. It’s a fantastic choice for most aerial videographers and YouTubers, as well as our Editors’ Choice, although DJI has some options to cater to the higher end, including the Phantom 4 Pro and Inspire 2.Editors’ Note: The price of the DJI Mavic Pro Platinum increased from $1,099 to $1,149 on September 4, 2019. DJI states that the increase in price is related to tariffs levied by the United States.
The Mavic Pro Platinum ($999.00 at Amazon) is the second iteration of the Mavic drone. DJI didn’t make any changes to the basic design—aside from a lighter, silver finish, you can’t tell it apart from the Mavic Pro (which is a darker gray) by sight. When folded the drone measures 3.3 by 3.3 by 7.8 inches; it weighs about 1.6 pounds. It fits into the same pocket of my camera bag where I normally stow a small telezoom lens, like the Sony FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS.
That’s a big difference from the Phantom 4 Pro, which really requires its own backpack, like the Think Tank Airport Helipak, to transport. A drone shot can add some serious production value to your vlog or independent film project. Having one that you can throw in a backpack, get up in the air in minutes, and fly in tight spaces—thanks to its size and forward obstacle avoidance—is a big deal. And the Mavic is just so much easier to travel with than a Phantom.
It’s also easier to set up. The Mavic’s propellers fold (two sets are included), so you don’t need to remove them for storage. The Phantom uses fixed props that are easy to install—they click and lock rather than screw into place—but even so, add a few minutes to the flight prep process.
The Pro Platinum promises two upgrades over its predecessor—longer flight times and quieter operation. Both are the results of refinements in motor and propeller design. It is definitely quieter—you can hear the difference in the clip above. Both drones were recorded from the same position with a Nikon D850 with manually set audio levels and a Rode VideoMic.
And it does fly longer. In our battery tests it averaged about 28 minutes of flight time on a fully charged battery. That’s a little shy of DJI’s 30-minute estimate, but a big improvement over the 23 minutes we got on average with the original Mavic Pro. A few extra minutes in the air can help ease pressure when trying to get that one last shot. It’s still a good idea to carry a spare battery (or two). Extra batteries are $89, and DJI sells the Mavic Pro Platinum Fly More bundle for $1,399. It adds two extra batteries (for a total of three), as well as a carrying case, an additional spare propeller pair, a car charger, and a charging hub. The hub can handle four batteries at once. It doesn’t charge them simultaneously, rather in sequence, topping off the least depleted batteries first.
The drone gathers information data from both GPS and GLONASS satellites. It picks up the location very quickly, and can hover in place thanks to the precision that satellite positioning provides. The Mavic can also fly indoors, without the aid of satellites. It has downward-facing sensors that read the patterns of the ground below to keep it steady during indoor flight. You should avoid flying over mirrored surfaces and give yourself plenty of room.
The Mavic cruised along at a steady 20mph in test flights with obstacle avoidance enabled. It has a Sport mode available that disables the obstacle sensors but pushes the top speed to 40mph. The Phantom 4 Pro gives you a bit more speed in the air, 31mph in its standard mode and 45mph in Sport. The extra speed can add some oomph to your aerial videos, but remember that you can always speed up video using Premiere Pro.
DJI Go App and Remote Control
The Mavic Pro Platinum ships with the same compact remote control as its predecessor. The remote is about the size of a game controller when folded. It has a monochrome LCD display (which shows connection status, battery life, and the like), and two analog sticks for flight control. Buttons include Power, Return-to-Home, and Pause. Control wheels adjust camera exposure and gimbal tilt, and there’s a small joypad on the face with custom functions assignable via the DJI Go 4 app. The remote also has video record and still photo buttons, located on the top left and right, respectively.
The remote has a bottom clip that unfolds to hold a smartphone. It can fit a big one, like the iPhone 8 Plus, with no problem. A USB cable runs from the side and through the clip to connect your phone to the remote. DJI includes Lightning, micro USB, and USB-C cables, so all modern smartphones are covered. Getting the cable threaded through and locked into position can be a bit tricky, but once it’s in place you won’t have to worry about it. A sliding rail adjusts its position, a necessity to accommodate different phones.
You can fly the Mavic without a smartphone, but you won’t get a first person view from the camera and you won’t have access to adjust a lot of its video and photo features. I recommend you use your phone with the remote; the safety benefits of seeing through the drone’s camera are reason enough.
You’ll need a phone that can run the DJI Go 4 app. I used an iPhone 8 Plus in testing, but any modern Android or iOS handset will do the trick. Android devices need to be running version 4.4 or newer, while iOS needs version 9.0 or newer.
In addition to a live feed from the Mavic’s lens (at 720p quality), the app enables use of automated flight modes, lets you configure the obstacle avoidance system, and set video and image capture settings. Automated flight patterns include Point of Interest, which flies around a point in a perfect circle, Waypoints, which can fly a preset pattern repeatedly, and Follow Me, which follows the position of the remote control.
You also get TapFly, which flies the drone by tapping on the screen of your phone rather than using the flight sticks, and Course Lock and Home Lock, which change the way the way the drone responds to stick commands based on its orientation or position in relation to your current location.
See How We Test Drones
Automated subject tracking is another option. ActiveTrack lets you draw a box around a subject. The drone will track it as it moves, and use its obstacle avoidance system to prevent crashes. Remember to take care when using this one, as the Mavic only has forward sensors to detect obstacles in its path. The remote’s Pause button will stop it in its tracks, just in case it’s going backwards and about to run into a tree.
FAA regulations require you to keep the drone in your line of sight during when flying. The Mavic is capable of going much farther, in the event you’re working with a spotter or flying in a locale with less strict rules. DJI rates its transmission range in terms of miles, so you won’t have to worry about losing the video feed when flying. In the unlikely event that communication is disrupted, the Mavic Pro will automatically return to its take-off point and land itself.
Firmware and No-Fly Enforcement
There’s been a lot of noise over DJI’s firmware updates and No-Fly Zone enforcement since we last evaluated one of its products. Let’s talk firmware first.
DJI pushes out firmware updates with regularity. And because you use an internet-connected phone to run the DJI Go 4 app, it knows if there’s new firmware available. Typically you can bypass the update in the field and go flying, but some past updates have prevented flight.
But keeping up to date with firmware is a good thing. Bug fixes are implemented, new features are added—typical firmware stuff. Frequent fliers will be able to stay on top of updates in a timely fashion, but what if you only use the drone a few times a year?
If you fall into that group, you’re probably going to have to update before most flights. Schedule an hour to do so the night before flights. It’s better than getting into the field to find the Mavic Pro isn’t ready to fly. For example, I updated firmware before my test flights in late December. In the few weeks that passed before I had time to write this review, another firmware update rolled out the second week of January.
No-fly zones are another bone of contention. DJI has taken a more hands-on approach to limiting flight in order to force its customers to comply with FAA regulations. The drone won’t take off in some areas at all—DJI refers to these as Restricted Zones. These include all of Washington, DC and the immediate area around major and minor airports. If you do have authorization to use the drone in these normally verboten airspaces, you’ll need to contact DJI via email to arrange a flight.
Then there are Authorization Zones. You can unlock these via the app, assuming that you have verified your DJI account. Some of these change based on events—I’m seeing one in Manhattan for VIP Movement at press time—but others are static. DJI gives a model aircraft flying club as an example of a typical Authorization Zone; these are often situated near small airfields.
Finally there are Enhanced Warning Zones, which you can unlock without a verified account, and Warning Zones, which blanket the United States, but don’t prevent you from taking off. The DJI Go app warns me that there are unpaved airstrips near my parents rural Pennsylvania farm, my preferred testing area for first flights, which is news to me.
DJI has an interactive map that breaks down all of these areas. It’s worth a look before you buy the Mavic Pro Platinum. You don’t want to jump into drone ownership only to find that your home area is riddled with flight restrictions.
Preventing drone owners from flying where they shouldn’t is a divisive issue. Those who fall on the more libertarian side of things philosophically will see it as an overstepping of government bounds—DJI is a private entity, but the flight restrictions are based on data from the FAA.
The other side of the argument is that the app can keep you from getting into some serious trouble. Ignorance is not a defense if you’re caught flying in an area where you shouldn’t be, whether it be over a wildfire or a military base. An aerial video or photo is not worth jail time.
Video and Image Quality
The imaging capabilities of the Mavic Pro Platinum haven’t been upgraded. It uses the same nose-mounted camera, stabilized using a 3-axis gimbal. It covers a field of view about the same as a 25mm lens on a full-frame camera—a wide angle, but not an ultra-wide one—and can record 60Mbps 4K video as well as JPG and Raw (DNG) still images.
Video quality is excellent, with crisp details and a number of looks, including a flat color profile, available. The gimbal does a fine job keeping footage smooth and steady. Image quality is on par with a point-and-shoot camera (the image sensor is a 12MP 1/2.3-inch CMOS design).
It’s very good, and quite printable, in bright light. If you’re concerned about shooting at a high ISO, the 1-inch sensor used by the Phantom 4 Pro and Advanced will do a better job, and give you more resolution at 20MP.
In addition to shooting in landscape orientation, the Mavic Pro Platinum can rotate its lens and shoot in portrait mode. This is more useful for stills than for video. It’s not a feature I used that often—I tend to prefer wide landscape shots in the wider landscape orientation, and when shooting straight down it’s not required. But it’s nice to have.
Video options include UHD 4K at 24 or 30fps, DCI (the wider cinema 4K format) at 24fps, 1080p at standard frame rates up to 60fps and at 96fps for slow-motion playback, and 720p at up to 180fps. The Mavic doesn’t record sound, so we added some music to our test reel.
The Mavic camera supports focus adjustments, which isn’t the case with every drone camera—many are fixed focus, so you never have to worry about setting a focus point. If your footage isn’t looking clear, tap on a distant subject on the screen to reacquire focus.
The DJI Mavic Pro Platinum is the best small drone on the market. Its folding design makes it a go-anywhere option, easily when stowed into a gear bag. It’s a bit quieter and flies longer than the original Mavic Pro, but also costs more. Don’t rule out the first version, especially if you’re on a budget and don’t mind a few minutes less flight time.
Video and image quality are solid, as good as other DJI models with similar image sensor designs—this includes the Phantom 3 line and the first version of the Phantom 4. If you need something beyond that, the Phantom 4 Pro and Advanced models offer a 1-inch image sensor camera, like you find in high-end compact cameras, and you can configure the pro-grade Inspire 2 with an SLR-sized APS-C camera, the Zenmuse X7.
If you’re after a compact quadcopter for vlogging, video production, and photography, the Mavic Pro Platinum is what you want, but it’s expensive. DJI does sell another small model, the Spark, which is now available for less than its $500 MSRP. The Spark is OK for casual use, but its flight time is very short and video is just 1080p. It packs a lot of tech into a small frame, but it’s more of a toy than a real creative tool. So while the Mavic Pro Platinum is pricey, it’s the best of the bunch, and our Editors’ Choice.
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