The new DJI Mavic Mini drone is launching on November 11, but the drone game ain’t what it used to be. Drone laws have been tightened in response to London’s Gatwick airport having been brought to its knees by some rogue ones. Meanwhile, the competition is fiercer than ever, thanks to the imperfect, but great value of Parrot’s Anafi, delivering 4K capture at under $800 / £630, and DJI still nailing the premium space with its Mavic-series.
That said, the Anafi weighs over 300g, and drones weighing in at over 250g need to be registered aviation authorities, like the FAA in the US and Civil Aviation Authority in the UK. What’s a drone manufacturer to do? Launch a 249g drone of course; meet the new featherweight favorite, the DJI Mavic Mini.
Unlike the pricier Anafi, the Mavic Mini features three-axis mechanical stabilization (the Anafi’s third axis is EIS) and includes handy features like a hot-swappable microSD card slot. It also promises better battery life, with a quoted flight time of 30 minutes, which is class-leading. We're still testing that out for ourselves.
All its specs don’t read quite so dreamily though; the Mavic Mini’s video caps out at 2.7K resolution with a frame rate of 30fps, which will leave some videographers – in need of 4K footage – cold. It also lacks the incredibly handy object avoidance its larger siblings feature - so there are some clear, albeit unsurprising compromises here. After a few days testing it out, however, we can’t help but be, for the most part, smitten with this compact, capable quadcopter.
DJI Mavic Mini release date and price
The official DJI Mavic Mini release date is November 11, but you can pre-order it right now in two versions: either the base package (drone, battery, controller), or with the Fly More Combo, which also includes a two-way charging hub that can double up as a power bank, a 360-degree propellor guard, and two extra batteries.
The base drone costs $399 / £369 / AU$599 while the Fly More Combo is $499/ £459 / AU$799. If you ask us, the Fly More Combo is worth the extra cost for the additional batteries alone, offering you around 90 minutes of flight time. For new drone fliers or indoor pilots, the safety guards are also priceless.
Like most of today’s best drones, the Mavic Mini is collapsable, with arms that unfurl to transform it from a ladybug into a crane fly in a couple of maneuvers. The drone’s front houses that stabilized camera shielded by a camera guard, while on the back is an exposed hot-swappable microSD card slot and micro USB port for charging. Above these is the battery flap, and at the base is a button.
The big thing here is its weight: the Mavic Mini is just 249g. As mentioned, the drone is purposely under the 250g, so it doesn’t have to be registered with government aviation agencies, at least not in the US, UK, Australia (check your local laws).
What's interesting is that the battery is about 100g, so it takes up a good portion of the weight – ejecting it from the body of the drone makes it feel as if it lost half its weight. That’s how lightweight things have gotten.
While there aren’t any obstacle avoidance sensors on the Mavic Mini’s sides, front or back, there are a couple at the base, along with a battery meter and light so you can keep tabs on your drone in the air.
The Mini’s Fly More kit also features safety guards, and as we mentioned, we’d absolutely recommend you use these when possible. The arms are relatively slender, and a 1.8-meter drop left one fractured but still fully functional – something that would have been prevented had the guards been affixed.
As for the aesthetic, it’s got DJI's ethos written all over it; the color scheme is grey and dark grey, there’s an insectile flair to its design and its front is loaded up with a set of ‘eyes’, nuzzled under a flat, beveled, angry-looking top-side.
Like the DJI Mini itself, its controller unfurls, creating a phone-holding, joystick-toting, antenna wielding hunk of plastic. There’s a micro USB on the left for charging and connecting to your phone, with Lightning, micro USB, and USB-C phone connectors in the Mini’s box.
The controller’s jog-dial at the top pivots the camera through 90 degrees, so it can look forward through to down. Unlike the Anafi, it can’t look up. The Mini’s L trigger starts video recording and the R trigger takes a photo. It’s a bit fiddly hooking your phone up to it - you have to feed in cables, attach the joysticks and fire up the app which takes about a minute, but from a portability point of view, collapsed, it’s about as compact as we could hope for it to be, while still feeling robust.
The app we’ve been using with the Mini, DJI Go Lite is in Chinese Beta, so we’re holding off being too critical of it for now. At this stage, it covers the basics, but also seems to have some limitations when compared to pricier drones’ companion apps.
Once you’re logged in and it’s paired with the Mavic Mini by way of the controller, you get a tutorial for easy set-up, a prompt to download the latest flight safety information, (FlySafe Database) and it locks down your home location, so it always knows where to go back to should the controller disconnect.
We couldn’t find an object tracking option in our time with the app, though there are Quickshots, as found on the Mavic Air. These pre-programmed flight paths can engage dynamic pans at the press of a button, revolving around an object.
Control over images and video capture is relatively minimal, with no option to tweak contrast or saturation. You can still overlay handy tools like a histogram and gridline to help with framing, but we would have preferred image control.
Additionally, the gimbal supports two modes: follow mode, which keeps the horizon line level, and FPV mode, which takes the perspective of the drone itself, while still keeping everything incredibly stable.
The Mavic Mini captures 2.7K resolution video at 30fps or 1080p video at 60fps. Its 1/2.3” sensor can also capture 12MP images across a range of modes, including Position mode for basic operation, Sports mode for more advanced pilots and CineSmooth mode, which lengthens breaking time for smoother shots and more cinematic footage.
Once you get it on your computer, drone footage seems much quicker than it did on the field, so we found ourselves sticking to CineSmooth mode to get us the lingering shots we were after. The fact that there isn’t a 60fps 2.7K option also compounds the need to slow things down in the sky as, unless you want to drop down to 1080p, which does hit 60fps, dropping the speed of your footage won’t be doable in the editing phase.
You can take control over photos with manual mode, opening you up to shutter speeds as long as four seconds, and up to 3200 ISO. Low light video, however, isn’t something you’ll want to do with any drone, especially not one with a 1/2.3” sensor.
Connections and battery
The Mini connects via WiFi, transmitting the live video feed to the controller which plugs into the phone and engages with the app interface.
When plugged in, the controller charges your phone, with its 2,600mAh battery delivering ample juice for a couple of hours of flight time. As for the Mini itself, its batteries are 2,400mAh, with a quoted flight time of 30 minutes, environment and usage-pending.
We would have loved to have seen USB-C charging on here, but that’s definitely our biggest gripe with the Mini’s connectivity at this stage.
The DJI Mavic Mini is in a league of its own, pairing a compact, light body with a robust flying experience and decent quality video capture based on our first impressions.
Of course, there are a few things we wish were on the Mavic Mini: 4K or 2.6K 60fps recording, more granular control over video captured – contrast, saturation or a cine profile, for example – and a follow/object tracking feature, which could, potentially, come in an app update. DJI has been known to add features later on to almost all of its recent products.
It’s a balancing act that airs on the side of keeping things light in all ways. This is DJI’s most affordable and lightest drone to date, with a feature-set that has a few obvious compromises. Yes, $399 or £369 for a drone isn’t throwaway money, but with a weight of 249g – under the federal weight for federal registration – this is shaping up to be the recommended way for casual users and drone newbies to capture high-impact aerial footage in 2019.