The DJI Mavic 2 is the Best Consumer Drone Yet

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Simply put, the DJI Mavic 2 is the best drone in its class. From top to tail, it excels in nearly every category of performance and design. In fact, the closest the Mavic comes to a true rivalry is between its two subclasses, the Pro and the Zoom. This unprecedented level of peerlessness presented us with a unique challenge: How do we put the market's most epic drone to a proper test? Easy. By going to the most epic place on the planet.

Welcome to Iceland

Pro or Zoom?

The Mavic 2 comes in two variations, the Pro and the Zoom. Everything that separates them stems from the camera. We'll go deep into the technical differences later, but to start, here's a quick overview of what sets them apart.

  Mavic 2 Pro Mavic 2 Zoom
Sensor 20MP 1" CMOS 12MP 1/2.3" CMOS
Lens 28mm f/2.8-11 24-48mm
Profiles Dlog-M & HLG HDR D-Cinelike
Color Depth 10-bit 8-bit
Dynamic Range 14 EV 13 EV
Unique Features Hasselblad L1D-20c Camera System Dolly Zoom & Super Resolution

Right away, you can see one of the most significant differences between the Pro and the Zoom is the image sensor. The Pro sports a 20MP 1"-type CMOS sensor, which is about four times as large as the 12MP 1/2.3" CMOS found in the Zoom and original Mavic Pro. That difference is noteworthy, because it means you will get sharper, cleaner, and more detailed footage with the Pro. That's not to suggest you won't get great shots with the Zoom—you absolutely will. Instead, think of it more as a good versus great situation.

Now, what the Zoom lacks in comparative sensor size, it makes up for with its unique optical zoom feature (hence, the name). The Zoom's 24-48mm equivalent lens enables a host of functions not found in the Pro, including the mesmerizing Dolly Zoom effect and the ultra-detailed Super Resolution mode. Being able to change your perspective, including maximizing the "compression" used in high-end productions, while staying in the sky, makes the Zoom a much more efficient drone. It is also safer, since you can get closer to your subject without, you know, getting closer.

Circling back to the Pro's camera: DJI went with a Hasselblad L1D-20c. In terms of quality, it's a design not unlike what you find in the Sony RX100 series and Canon PowerShot G7 X line. The lens is a 28mm equivalent with an adjustable aperture of f/2.8-11. This gives shooters greater control over exposure and makes it easier to work in bright light, while maintaining a 180-degree shutter, and to capture cleaner images in low-light conditions. Also, embedded into the Pro's camera is the Hasselblad Natural Color Solution, so your images should simply look better straight out of the camera than from previous DJI drones.

The Pro also offers 10-bit video recording. This is a huge deal because it ensures a higher dynamic range, better colors (1.07 billion compared to 8-bit's 16.7 million), and vastly improved HDR recording. When using the Dlog-M color profile, you will have maximum quality and flexibility in post. For those working quickly, you can choose to go with the HLG HDR profile for ready-to-view videos. The Zoom isn't completely out of the loop here—though it lacks 10-bit support, it does still offer the flat D-Cinelike profile for extending dynamic range and post-production possibilities.

Both camera setups performed very well when we were working with good light. However, once we started taking the drones out early in the morning, or when the sun was setting, that was when we could identify the benefit of the Pro's larger sensor very quickly. Even in decent light, the Zoom tended to exhibit noise much sooner than the Pro, when pushing the shadows in post. This shouldn't be a deterrent to picking up the Zoom. Just know that it is better suited to fair-weather use.

One positive for the Zoom comes with its focal-length options, especially because it goes a bit wider than the Pro. In some locations, we were limited in how far we could fly the drone in certain directions, and a slightly wider perspective would have benefited the shoot greatly—especially since the Pro has a "High Quality" video mode that crops in quite significantly.

To sum up: If you are a working professional who needs the best image quality you can get, the Pro is for you. More casual shooters looking for unique effects, or those enamored by the zoom lens, will be just fine with the Zoom. The Zoom costs less, too.

The Basics

After detailing the differences, now we can get into the much simpler task of explaining the basic specifications. Since quadcopters aren't exactly new, I think a simple list will suffice for the basics.

  • Top Speed: 44 mph
  • Flight Time: 31 minutes
  • Omnidirectional Obstacle Sensing
  • OcuSync 2.0 with 5-Mile Transmission Range
  • ActiveTrack 2.0 System
  • Efficient, Low-Noise Propellers
  • Compact, Folding Design

It's a very good drone.

Fast enough for most action (except tracking a car at highway speeds, perhaps) and with a bump in flight time to a solid 31 minutes, the Mavic 2 is a workhorse. What makes it special are the added features. The most important change in the Mavic 2 is the introduction of an omnidirectional obstacle-sensing system. Sensors are located on the front, back, bottom, top, and both sides of the drone, essentially covering every possible angle.

Obstacle sensing warned us when we were flying a bit too low over this river.

Be warned, there are moments where this system isn't 100% operational, so it isn't a flawless and perfectly crash-proof drone. We noticed most of the issues when operating in high wind—we would occasionally get a warning message stating that a certain direction was unavailable due to the way the drone was being pushed. For the most part, however, the system worked well. It would gently nudge the drone away from obstacles if we dared fly too close.

DJI has made enough drones by this point to know what works for controllers. The one bundled with the Mavic 2 is superb, and has removable joysticks for easier storage—just be careful not to lose them. This time they are getting another boost with OcuSync 2.0. Using an auto-switching 2.4/5.8 GHz radio system, the Mavic 2 can send a Full HD 1080p video feed from up to five miles away. Images are displayed on a connected smartphone, which is held securely just below the controller. A cache is available in the controller too, so you can save and edit some Full HD footage quickly.

We didn't have any complaints about the controller—it gets the job done—it just isn't anything super special. The DJI GO 4 app has been slightly updated, but it still seems a little busy and clunky when it comes to accessing certain settings. Also, occasionally, we had some connection issues and, for some reason, near the end of the trip we had to recalibrate something every time we booted the drones up. Not exactly sure why this happened. The controls are nice and precise, though. And, a huge benefit was that full-res images can be saved to your phone immediately, meaning you can share right away, or simply have a backup in case the worst happens.

A fun and impressive feature is ActiveTrack 2.0. We honestly didn't spend too much time fiddling with this (there isn't much to track when shooting landscapes), but did one solid test with a car. At one point in our field trip, Brett hopped in the car and drove over a bridge, leaving me to track the car. Popping into ActiveTrack mode the app asks you to select an object either by drawing a box to selecting a predefined subject such as, conveniently, a car or person.

ActiveTrack 2.0 in action

I was amazed at how quickly it locked on and started moving. Almost instantly after tapping the car as it was nearing the edge of the frame, the drone took off toward its subject, keeping it nearly perfectly framed with ease. I'd love to find more uses for this feature, especially since it has obstacle sensing and trajectory prediction to make sure you don't crash or lose the subject.

One thing to note is how well the drone handles in less than ideal weather conditions. Many will lament how much larger the Mavic 2 is compared to the Air. I found the bigger build to be an asset as we wandered around Iceland. If you decide to make a trip in the future, be warned that the weather can change in an instant. Sunny mornings can quickly transform into rainy afternoons. When you are working with a time limit, sometimes you just have to get the shot, ignoring the wind and rain causing you difficulties. It was during these instances that we appreciated the bulkier and more durable design.

Reynisfjara Beach, near Vík

Fair warning. The DJI Mavic 2 does not claim to be weatherproof. So, taking the drone out in the rain is not advised, even though we did, to see how it would handle. It performed amazingly well. Taking it out on Reynisfjara Beach, the Pro battled rain and strong winds with ease. The gimbal even made it seem like just another day at the beach. Wind was a constant threat during the trip, and the Mavic 2 just kept pushing. One note specific to the Pro—if you dare take it out in the rain—is that the flat lens cover will collect droplets quite easily. These won't always affect your images, but could be enough to convince someone not to risk a wet flight.

On the other side of the coin, when we were working in quieter locales in calm weather, the redesigned low-noise props turned out to be exceptionally quiet, making the Mavic 2 one of the quietest drones we have had the pleasure of using.

Storage is handled by a microSD card slot, supporting media up to 128GB. An internal 8GB is available, though I would say to save that for emergencies, stills, or very short flights, because it won't hold more than about 15-20 minutes of UHD 4K video. I did notice some speed issues with the card slot; it only supports up to UHS-I U3 (not quite sure why we can't get UHS-II yet), and even with some appropriately rated cards from Lexar and SanDisk, I still experienced occasional dropped frames. This ruined some great takes and I had to do them over again. These are cards I've never had an issue with on cameras that record the same UHD 4K at 100 Mb/s, so I have no idea why DJI found them to be too slow. To avoid problems, stick to DJI's recommended list of V30-rated cards.

Before I forget, I guess we should talk about how the Mavic 2 folds up conveniently for storage and travel. When folded, it measures 3.6 x 3.3 x 8.4" and weighs ~2 lb, making it small enough to squeeze into my Peak Design 20L Everyday Backpack alongside my Sony a7R III, various accessories, some clothing, and a 15.4" MacBook Pro. This kit will even squeeze under an airline seat, and its level of portability makes it a near-perfect weekender drone.

All About the Images

As fun as drones are to fly, we all know it's about capturing stunning aerial images to show off to our friends. DJI has had plenty of time to master this aspect of its drones, and the Mavic 2 seems to be an outstanding evolutionary step in the line. UHD 4K 30p video recording at 100 Mb/s using H.265/HEVC compression guarantees outstanding detail in your shots. Meanwhile, stills benefit from the ability to capture DNG raw images for versatility in post.

Háifoss and Granni, in Southern Iceland

I'm going to focus on the Pro for this section because, well, it's a better machine. The Hasselblad L1D-20c is truly impressive with its sharp, vivid output. Noise is very well controlled, also, even in dimmer lighting, no doubt seeing some advantages from the f/2.8 maximum aperture. Shooting in DNG raw, you have plenty of latitude to work with in Photoshop, making the Mavic 2 Pro a worthwhile option for stills shooters.

Where the Mavic 2 Pro shines is in its video capabilities. Mentioned earlier, the Pro supports 10-bit capture using the Dlog-M profile, for maximum quality, designed for professional editing suites. The 20MP sensor offers users a choice between a so-called "High Quality" mode and "Full FOV." I'm assuming, based on the HQ mode's hefty ~1.5x crop, that this is using 1:1-pixel sampling to limit any potential aliasing or moiré from becoming problematic. The crop can be quite problematic, because it turns the 28mm equivalent lens into a tighter ~40mm. In real-world use, it's very hard to tell the difference between the two modes, so I wouldn't hesitate to use either. It makes it possible to do some of your own "zooming" with just a few taps in the app.

Kirkjufell near Grundarfjörður, on the Snœfellsnes Peninsula

Video is crisp and clean, with plenty of dynamic range. The footage is also super smooth, thanks to the latest 3-axis gimbal tech. Considering some of the weather conditions in which we were flying at some points, the stability of some of those shots is unbelievable. It's hard to tell during some of the takes that, on the ground, Brett and I were being battered by bitingly cold gusts, while up 100' in the air, winds were even stronger and more consistent. The Pro and Zoom benefit from this advanced stabilization.

Reviewing images from the Zoom is a very familiar process. Overall quality is like that of the Mavic Air and original Mavic Pro, though some extra processing gives it a leg up on both. A higher bit rate over the original helps greatly when it comes to detail in your video, and makes the D- Cinelike profile much more viable. Noise does seem to creep up on you, and when I tried pushing and pulling the files in DaVinci Resolve, it could become quite noticeable.

During bright times, the Zoom was just as good as the Pro, with the added benefit of having a zoom lens. Since the sensor resolution is only 12MP, it does mean you are losing some crispness compared to the Pro, but it is plenty if you intend to share them online. One neat function provided by the zoom lens is the Super Resolution Photo option. Framing up a shot at 24mm, the drone will then zoom in to 48mm and capture nine frames. It will then take all these images and stitch them together to create a final highly detailed photo.

There is a small amount of distortion in the raw images, which is corrected in the JPEGs—nothing I would consider a problem—and it is quite standard for this type of optical system. The Zoom does boast faster autofocus, because it benefits from the addition of phase-detect points in addition to the contrast-based system. This is significant when you are zooming in and out on a subject and need to keep it tack sharp.

DJI's Special Sauce

What makes a DJI drone special is the array of features packed into it—features like ActiveTrack, QuickShots, and advanced obstacle tracking. So now, we are going to talk about all the special functions available to you in the Mavic 2. However, there are frankly too many to mention and many have been available on previous models, so we are going to focus heavily on the latest additions and upgrades.

Hyperlapse was one of my favorite features to use. I've done a bit of time-lapse work using a standard photo kit, so I was super curious about how an aerial version would work. After tapping through it in the app, I loved how simple it was to set up. You choose a course using either Free, Circle, CourseLock, or WayPoint, choose a final duration and shooting interval in seconds, check your settings and let it go. Oddly, the estimated time never seemed to be accurate, meaning it may be dependent on how quickly the drone can get positioned for the next shot. So, keep in mind that an eight-minute capture could take 12 or more. One brilliant feature is that you can save a flight path to the Task Library. This makes it easy to shoot those day-to-night time lapses, because you can repeat your shot later on with just a few clicks.

The town of Stykkishólmur, on the Snœfellsnes Peninsula

Admittedly, the final output created by the drone wasn't the quality I expected. The stabilization isn't quite perfect—some bounces make their way in, and it appears to be limited to Full HD only. You can set the drone to capture all the original images, including raw, so that you can compile them later. This is the process I would recommend. Working with the Pro, you have a lot more room in which to work if you save the raw files and can save some dynamic range and color data. In these cases, the footage looks incredible, though it will require more work in post, and a computer that can handle it.

QuickShots turned out to be a nifty set of tools, making it a breeze to capture more difficult shots. For example, even with precise controls, when it's windy and cold, it can be quite difficult to perform a perfect Boomerang. One issue I had is that I did not find any way to change the color profile to any of the advanced options, meaning I was stuck with the standard setting. Because these modes target inexperienced drone operators, it makes some sense, but they are really good and it would be nice to have access to advanced color profiles so that they can be cut into our videos more easily.

Unique to the Zoom is the Dolly Zoom. Even if you have no idea what this means, I can almost guarantee you are familiar with the effect. By moving the drone backward while simultaneously zooming in to counteract the movement, you can create a weirdly warping perspective. In films with which you are likely familiar, this movement during unsettling scenes or during the reveal of the twist, as the look, is quite odd. When using it, one thing to keep in mind is that the drone will use the full 4x zoom range, including digital, and output a Full HD file. It's worth playing around with.

Two things we would like to have tested further are the Enhanced HDR and HyperLight modes. Enhanced HDR is nothing new; the Mavic 2 will capture a series of images with varying exposures and blend them to expand the final photo's dynamic range. The boost with these models is that the Pro can now realize a range of 14 EV and the Zoom can hit 13 EV. HyperLight is for low-light shooting and it can reduce the degree of noise in your shots dramatically.

Highly recommended is the Fly More Kit. It comes with two batteries, a car charger, USB battery adapter, a travel bag, and a few spare propellers. You are going to need a second battery anyway and, if you are serious, you will want a spare and, likely, the extra charging solution. This kit will save you some cash compared to purchasing everything separately.

Overall, the DJI Mavic 2 is the best consumer drone on the market today. The Pro takes things up to another level with its Hasselblad camera, delivering unmatched image quality in such a small package. The Zoom's lens is useful, and unlocks quite a few fun new modes for enthusiasts. You can't go wrong with either, and both are our picks for a travel-worthy drone.

TL;DR The DJI Mavic 2 is the best consumer drone you can buy today. Pick up the Pro if image quality is the most important thing to you. The Zoom is best suited to the casual shooter, those looking to save some cash, or those totally enamored by the idea of a zoom lens on a drone. Check out the video below to see the key features, notes on overall performance, and plenty of footage from our trip to Iceland!

6 Comments

OK, thank you for the comprehensive review. My only criticism is this: for once and for all, photographers, please stop going to Iceland and Cuba. Can't you think of anywhere more interesting to go where everybody and his brother haven't already been? Iceland and Cuba are a broken record at this point.

disagree completely. going to iceland totally makes sense for a drone since it puts different aspects of mavics ability to the test. plus the idea that people shouldn’t do something or go somewhere just cause its popular is ridiculous. you sound like a hater. 

your explain is very good~ thank you~

Thanks!

Really nice thorough article. And that footage is very stunning. Do you think you could get that kind of quality from the original mavic? Trying to decide on gift and not sure paying double is worth it to get the Mavic 2 over the Mavic 1.

Thanks Emily! And great question. In our opinion, the Mavic 2 Pro is most definitely worth the extra expense. The huge improvement to image quality and addition of 10-bit H.265 recording makes it the best in its class. However, you have to ask whether this is the right drone for you. Professionals or those who absolutely need the best should definitely go for the 2 Pro, if you are casually shooting and only plan on flying on nice, sunny days on vacation, the cheaper Mavic Pro, or even the Mavic Air, are a great value with very good quality.

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