And lo, the brown box gods decided to shine favorably upon me… last Friday my Mavic Pro “Fly More Combo” was delivered early. It wasn’t scheduled to get here until Monday (Halloween) but for some bizarre reason the FedEx guy showed up around lunchtime on the 28th. Giddy doesn’t begin to sum it up. 

I had ordered the Mavic on release day directly from DJI [order time: 2016-09-27 17:43:31 (UTC)] which was an exercise in extreme patience in and of itself. DJI’s servers were down for at least an hour and a half right after the announcement and I must’ve refreshed that page hundreds of times trying to get that damn thing added to the cart. Finally got it ordered – and then the waiting began. A long month of forum reading and lots of rumors. Lots of uncertainty about when it would show up.

Anyway… it made it. Thank you DJI and thank you FedEx. Right out of the box the Mavic is impressive. Solid, amazingly small and well made. Bonus points for nice packaging too. The thing looks like it’s from the future (or some terminator movie) and is as badass as you can imagine. But I’m not going to bore you with any bullshit details about specifications, capabilities or features. You can find all of that in a million other places on the web. I wanted to fly it, use it and take it with me for a week and then share my thoughts about it. So if you’re looking for someone’s opinion who has owned and operated a multitude of DJI drones, keep reading.

Is the Mavic Pro your favorite drone/greatest device ever?

No. And it’s tough saying that because I really do like the thing. 

Why? My current collection of drones includes the Phantom 4, the Inspire 1 Pro and now the Mavic Pro. Each tool has its place, each has its strong and weak points. If someone were to say to me “You can only pick one” I’d sadly point to the Inspire 1 and watch the P4 and Mavic drift off into the sunset.

Why? Photo quality. The Inspire 1 is just a beast. Still my #1. Photo and video quality when paired with the X5 is fantastic (plus the interchangeable lenses) and that’s really what matters to me right now. If I could somehow miniaturize the Inspire 1 and take it with me everywhere, I would. If the Mavic were to magically gain a larger sensor camera… well, that “you can pick only one” decision would be much tougher. As it stands, the real question for me is “Pick one: the P4 or the Mavic” – that’s a tough one and I’m most definitely leaning towards the Mavic at this point.

So is it worth getting one?

In my opinion, absolutely – yes. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. Regardless of what you want it for, it’s a blast to fly. Plus the take-it-anywhere and “have it with you when you need it” factor goes a very long way in my book. Just knowing I can take it with me on a hike or have it everyday at work is huge. If this is your first drone, you’ll be in love. If this is your tenth drone, you’ll still be in love. If you like to pick nits, well, you may still be slightly in love.

So you’ve already got the P4 and the Inspire. Why did you want the Mavic?

Portability & Size. End of story.

When the Mavic was announced, I said to myself “Ok, so they’ve made a Phantom 4 that folds up and looks cool as shit. As long as the image quality is equal to the P4, I have to get one of those.” Now, don’t get me wrong… the Phantom 4 isn’t that big, but compared to the Mavic, it’s massive. Here’s an image of the backpack I carry my P4 around in vs the satchel I’ve been using with the Mavic (and batteries and controller). You be the judge:

Yeah. But.. ah, the compromises… the compromises will always get you. My original plan was to sell my P4 after getting the Mavic, but after using it for the past week I’m not 100% sure I want to give up ye olde Phantom 4. Part of it is this “lens misalignment” thing I just discovered with my Mavic, and part of it is the buttery smooth power and performance of the P4.

I’ve always loved my Phantom 4 – it’s quick, sharp and super reliable. If you’ve ever driven a higher end car, that’s what the Phantom 4 feels like – an exceptionally responsive machine with plenty of power when you hit the gas (especially in sport mode). So far, it seems like I have to run the Mavic in sport mode all the time just to match the regular GPS/P mode on the P4. I feel like I’m maxing out the sticks all the time – constantly pushing it at full power – It’s just not as punchy. There’s even been a few times when I’ve been in sport mode, full right stick but the maximum speed tops out around 25mph. Idk. Maybe it’s a firmware thing, maybe not. Meh.

The lens/sensor misalignment thing is another story. The first couple images I took with my Mavic looked “OK” – not quite as detailed as my P4. As the week went on I got better at remembering to re-focus and things were looking decent, but I started noticing that the left side of every image had this strange blurriness. From what I’ve read online there may be some issue with lens and sensor mis-alignment that results in strange soft zones on some Mavic Pros. Update: After reading even more about this issue, the Mavic has “Tap to focus with center weighting” which I don’t quite get. Do they mean “Tap the screen in the area you’d like to focus on and it will apply focus and center weighted metering/exposure?” or do they mean “Tap the screen in the area you’d like to focus on and somehow the focal plane will shift to the tapped spot?” (similar to a tilt-shift lens). IDK. I just tried a quick test in the garage on some items about four feet away with promising results and will have to test this more tomorrow in some daylight. Update: nope. Still experiencing out of focus areas

Ah, so while we’re on the topic – sharpness. I’d be remiss to not mention the Casey Niestat video that made the rounds right after the Mavic was announced. It was a blurry mess because he didn’t RTFM and didn’t know that you have to tap-focus the lens on the Mavic just like the X5. I can tell you that my Mavic can shoot sharp enough images, but even as a veteran operator the Mavics’ focus system has tripped me up twice so far in the past week. About two seconds after takeoff, the Mavic automatically focuses on whatever the hell is in front of it, be it a house, a car, a tree, etc. If you don’t tap on something else to re-focus after you get to your operating altitude, things may end up soft. After tapping to focus however, the photos I’ve been taking are decently sharp – on par with the P4 – no complaints here, except for the weird left side softness.

So what do you like about it, other than the size?

I really enjoy the portability… that really is the biggest feature. But in all seriousness if I had to pick a few other things that I’d really miss if it were gone, they’d be:

Stability: it’s mind-blowing. I still can’t believe how ridiculously rock solid this thing is when it hovers – it’s almost creepy in a mechanical way. By far, it is the most stable drone I’ve ever flown. You remember those old chevy commercials “aaohh… like a rock!” (ugh). It’s stable alright. Tripod mode is another really useful trick that I sooo wish they’d enable for the Inspire… just slow, smooth footage from that mode, oh so nice. 

Batteries: They’re cheaper and last longer than any other DJI drone i’ve flown. Charge faster too… can’t wait for the “advanced charging hub”. 

Noticeably Quieter: It’s no stealth drone, but there is a difference. I had read about the props making it a tad quieter and I thought “meh, it’ll sound just like the P4.” But it really doesn’t make as much noise when hovering or taking off. That being said… blasting around at full throttle in sport mode has a distinctive “braaaaaannnnn” droning sound that is reminiscent of a sportbike exhaust.

DJI Refresh: Yeah, I know, I know… no water coverage at all – but I still opted for this. I figured for an extra $99 bucks, it’s worth the peace of mind. On such a small machine that’s going to be carried around in places that drones usually aren’t, it was a wise move. If I drop it or the gimbal goes south, if something goes sideways… I’m covered.

Anything else? Closing thoughts?

Be aware of visibility. This thing disappears like a fart in the wind. We’re working on skins for it at DecalGirl, and I may actually put a blaze orange skin on the thing. It’s really hard to see even when it’s not that far away. I do have a Flytron Strobon on the rear, which helps a bit at dusk or cloudy days.

I’m not completely sold on the new controller – it’s different, and that’s probably why. Just going to take some getting used to. Couple of nits to pick: There’s no longer an inward press on the top right dial (which on the Inspire and P4 is the way to switch between ISO/Shutter/Aperture) and that same dial for adjusting camera settings seems to be setup in reverse – in other words, if you want to raise the shutter speed it’s clockwise on the Inspire/P4, but counterclockwise on the Mavic. Maddening. Maybe they’ll be able to add a software switch for wheel direction in the Go App. I’m also not totally happy about having to take my phone out of its case every time I want to use the controller. The Inspire/P4 ones hold just about anything. Meh. Old dog. New tricks. Change is tough.

Overall, it’s a fantastic little machine. And aside from a bit less throttle, I have a feeling that the Mavic Pro will end up being a worthy replacement for the Phantom 4 (as long as I can get my lens situation fixed).