Is the DJI Mavic Mini the Best Starter Drone?

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There are many ways you could sell DJI’s Mavic Mini to someone. It’s an incredibly small drone. It’s a respectable drone for film and photography. It’s easy to learn and fun to fly. It’s relatively inexpensive for the features you get. As someone who does video and photography on a regular basis for work, I saw this as a perfect starter drone.

I’ve been a fan of the Mavic series since the beginning, and I was completely sold on the Mavic 2 Pro when it was released. I even declared it the best consumer drone on the market after our review. It still holds that title, though the Autel EVO II Series has me excited. The Mavic Mini looked, in both specs and form, to be exactly what its name implies: it’s a smaller version of the Mavic.

Miniaturized

Just by looking at the Mavic Mini, you can tell DJI was aiming to make it look like the Mavic 2. I love that about it. This was a great move because people do truly love the Mavic 2 series. The controller and handling is quite similar too—though I wouldn’t recommend flying it in trying weather conditions. This is most definitely a fair-weather drone for many reasons.

Key to the Mavic Mini’s success is going to rely on its weight. At 249 g (without the propeller guards), it falls just underneath FAA regulations for registration. Anything bigger needs to be registered for a small fee, so if an accident or law-breaking behavior were to occur, the owner of the drone could be located. Since this doesn’t require that extra bit of legwork to keep your flights legal, it is a much more accessible drone for everyday individuals.

I want everyone to listen up now. Just because it skirts this very specific part of the FAA’s rules on drones does not mean you can be ignorant of all UAS laws. Places where drones are not allowed are still off limits to the Mavic Mini, with one great example being National Parks. You also can’t fly at night without proper illumination and permission. And you most definitely can’t fly it above heights of 400' or within 5 miles of an airport. Please learn all the Federal and local regulations on drones before you take to the skies. It is for the safety of all.

Getting back to the point of not needing to be registered… this is also what makes it a perfect beginner drone for filmmakers. If you just want to start experimenting with drone flight before committing to a more serious and more expensive setup, the $399 Mavic Mini (at time of writing) is a much safer place to start.

Ironically, another thing that makes the Mavic Mini a good choice for first-time flyers is the omission of the same safety sensors found in DJI’s upmarket drones. Since the drone doesn’t have these settings, it’ll require the pilot to pay close attention to the drone as they fly. That is just good practice that should be maintained regardless of how much safety tech is crammed into your drone. It also lacks the range of OcuSync 2.0, relying on the much shorter distances enabled by a Wi-Fi connection. So, no dangerous flying at distances too far from takeoff.

All this together makes the Mavic Mini an ideal drone for those looking to get into the hobby or who want to start adding aerial imagery to their portfolios.

All the Technical Details

While there are tons of reasons that the Mavic Mini is ideal for starter drone pilots, the technical details help solidify its place. It has a 3-axis gimbal with 2.7K camera, 30 minutes of flight time, a Vision Sensor and GPS Precise Hover, and it fits in the palm of your hand. It’s a solid spec list for something so small.

The remote controller is effectively the same as the one that comes with the Mavic 2. It feels good, has the removable joysticks for storage, and can connect to most current smartphones with ease. The Mavic Mini uses the new DJI Fly app instead of the DJI GO app. This appears to offer practically the same interface during flight and has Creator Templates to help capture cinematic shots with programmed movements. Handling is good and it has great control, especially when you pop it into CineSmooth mode for getting more stable movements.

Now, to talk about video and image quality—also known as the part that I was the most interested when it came out. So this isn’t a Mavic 2 Pro with a 1" sensor and log recording, that’s obvious, but I was wondering if the average YouTuber could pick one up and cut in a few upscaled 2.7K drone shots on their 4K timelines. Seems reasonable. People use 1080p slow-motion shots all the time for B roll. This is where things are a little disappointing for someone who was hoping the Mavic Mini was going to punch significantly above its weight.

A still image capture with the Mavic Mini and with a small bit of editing. This was taken at ISO 100 and 1/320 second and in decent lighting conditions.

First, let’s talk about the good. This is a great-quality drone for everyday use—easy for outdoor adventurers to pack in their bag, families to bring on vacation, or simply for someone who likes to fly things around. The 2.7K is better than if DJI gave us a simple HD feed. And the 12MP photos are quite decent. Take some nice shots of your trip to share on social media with ease. I don’t think it holds up under closer inspection if you hope to use this with more serious equipment.

The main issue anyone looking to shoot semi-professionally will have is the lack of controls. There aren’t any manual options in video mode, meaning you are relying on the drone to decide how to best capture the scene. Most of the time, this isn’t a problem at all. The camera will judge exposure and give a balanced reading. One option can save a shot, though: the use of an AE Lock. This will prevent the camera from making unnecessary or simply bad-looking adjustments in the middle of your take and makes the whole system very usable for people very particular about their exposures.

A lot of detail seems to be missing in this screen grab from a raw video file.

One thing I did notice is that the images are very contrasty and look to have a bit of sharpening added. I ran into the biggest problem when I took the drone out around sunset. The camera couldn’t handle that much dynamic range, either blowing out the sky or completely losing the shadows. It is something to consider when you take the drone out for a small shoot. Since there are no picture controls or a log gamma, you are going to be limited by the range. However, if you are a beginner and just want to shoot around, the default picture setting will give you a nice, punchy image without any editing required.

Stills do look quite good, on the other hand. You are limited to JPEG, but the files are not over-processed. You can add sharpening later and do your basic contrast and color adjustments to bring out the best of each shot. I do think the shots are a little soft, but not to an unusable degree. And, 12MP is plenty for sharing online.

Final Thoughts

I don’t want to scare people away from this drone—I do like it a great deal. I just want to temper the expectations of people who may be in my place of wanting a good enough drone to work into their videos. For drone novices, this would be the best place to start, and I wish when I started flying I had one of these with which to practice. Also, all the limitations should help make all users better drone pilots. You should be more careful with your exposure, be practicing your movements since you don’t have as many guidance features, and can’t bring it out in less-than-ideal weather. I still might pick one up to keep my flight skills sharp while waiting to try out the next big drone that makes it into the B&H offices. If you want one, I would recommend the Fly More Combo.

Anyone out there have a chance to fly a Mavic Mini and want to share their opinions? I would love to hear them, so please leave a comment, below!

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