DJI Mavic Mini review
Written by Adam Juniper
The DJI Mavic Mini is a compact and lightweight drone weighing just 249g, with a half-hour maximum flight time and a 12 Megapixel camera with 2.7k video on a three-axis stabilised gimbal. Announced in October 2019, it brings aerial photography and video to the most portable form factor to date from DJI. It’s no coincidence it scrapes just under 250g either. DJI has been such a leading force in the drone market that they’ve been able to set its direction – until the regulators stepped in. They didn’t break the company up to encourage competition, but public safety concerns led to an indirect challenge: registration. Most leading jurisdictions – USA, UK, China, Canada – insist on paid registration of aircraft over 250g, which includes all the photographer-friendly aircraft released thus-far, even the Parrot Anafi.
The DJI Mavic Mini, however, squeaks in below that with a take-off weight (including battery) of 249g, small and light enough that it will not worry most civil aviation authorities (until, that is, you start loading it up with accessories, but we’ll come to that later). Physically it’s about the size of a bigger iPhone, but noticeably thicker, when folded.
Despite that, the Mavic Mini has specifications not too far out of line with some of its weightier siblings; it has a theoretical 30 minutes of flight time, putting it up there with the Mavic 2 series or the Parrot Anafi (and comfortably beating the Mavic Air or DJI Spark). It also has a (claimed) 4000m range, though in my tests I found that video feedback could drop out even before the end of the 500m legal limit in the UK. In other places, where you can fly as far as you can physically see the aircraft, don’t plan on going much past 750m unless you’re miles from civilization. The control system is basically boosted Wi-Fi, so it’s unsurprising that populated areas pose interference issues. To be honest, it’s also very hard to pick out at that kind of distance anyway.
Really interesting is the term “FlyCam” in DJI’s marketing videos; they seem to want to coin a term – to define the market, even. It’s not the only clue that they see this a bit differently; the fact they sell stickers to help you cleanly personalise the Mavic Mini, and adapters to hold things on the back (like hovering romantic messages) says a lot about who DJI see buying this.
That seems reasonable; they clearly want to expand the market they’ve done a lot to create, hence the “Worry less, fly more” phrase you’ll also see in the marketing. My only worry is that the adapters would technically push the drone over that 250g limit, so better hope you’ve done the paperwork if you’re using them!
As a photographer or videographer, the upshot is that you have even less excuse not to give drones a try, and even experienced/professional users will be torn between this adequate video from a very compact device and the sheer effort of lugging a heavier craft for more flexibility.
There are sacrifices though; the extra weight of DJI’s bigger birds allows them to distribute enough heat from their processors to produce 4K video, while Mavic Mini users will have to be content with 2.7k at 25 / 30fps or 1080p up to 60fps. It’s worth remembering, though, that these are more than adequate for most YouTube creators or Instagrammers.
PS – Adam, the reviewer of the Mavic Mini here, has published the best-selling Drone Pilot’s Handbook – an excellent companion for any new or growing pilot!
The compact size makes the drone more susceptible to gusts, but to combat this the camera is mounted on a 3-axis motorised gimbal – an impressive achievement which is boosted with the new CineSmooth flight mode to assist capturing smooth but stunning shots. On one test flight, on a day with a light breeze and occasional gusts, I landed 22 minutes after take-off with a reported 6% battery remaining. This was well after the point the aircraft had ‘suggested’ I land.
Usability and branding seems to have been high on DJI’s mind throughout (even more so than usual), which leads to some other changes. Instead of DJI’s traditional App, the phone view is now provided by ‘DJI Fly’ which sports a cleaner, less technical-looking interface and even more quick edits for instant uploading from the field.
Most shooting is in automatic modes though – don’t expect to change the white balance! That said, all the cool QuickShots (short automatic flights) are still in there for assorted social-pleasing “dronies”.
The DJI Mavic Mini is exactly the aircraft you should expect given the restrictions upon it, chiefly the 250g weight-limit. That’s not to say it’s without disappointments; far from it. It’s difficult to understand why the design features elements on the front which look like collision sensors when none are fitted save for a landing sensor. Although there are some processing restrictions, so the lack of 4K is understandable, it’s not easy to understand why no HDR processing for still images is on offer.
The bit-rate – the amount of data used to make each frame of video – is significantly lower than other DJI drones (40mbps v 100mbps). Another fact which will wrankle with filmmaking aficionado’s is the lack of 24fps shooting. There is no obvious excuse for leaving this out save to push customers up the chain since 25 and 30fps are available at 2.7k and 50 / 60fps for 1080p.
Given the price, there are no grounds for complaint on the camera’s offerings. Manual control is available for stills (100-3,200 ISO, electronic shutter 4 to 1/8,000s) and while there’s no manual selection of shutter speed for video nor the option to fit ND filters, the brightness when filming can be easily controlled using an auto-exposure lock. For the users this device is aimed at, anything else would be overkill and if you’re feeling cheated reading this, you should probably be looking at the Mavic 2 series or (if your budget is more limited) the Parrot Anafi.
The Mavic Mini doesn’t offer as many pre-defined “Quickshots” as pricier equivalents, but the four it has work well (though look very, very closely during an orbit or helix and you might see some evidence of the lower bit-rate in the fast-moving background. This is not something which will bother your Instagram followers though. The key aspect – keeping you or your subject centre-frame while the drone moves – are pulled off with aplomb despite the relatively lower processing power available.
It seems likely that this aircraft will eventually get a sibling in which the placeholder vents in the current design are replaced with collision sensors, so I wouldn’t suggest rushing out to get this as an addition to your drone collection if you’ve already started it (after all, it still costs more than registering another, and you’ve got to start a new battery collection), but as a first drone it really might be all you ever want. It’s also well worth remembering that collision sensors are as frustrating as they are helpful – the real trick is to fly a little more circumspectly at first.
For photography fans and video makers looking for a new angle or something a bit more fun on a trip, this is a great device. DJI, however, seem to have even more extensive ambitions, as indicated by their #flycam campaign, not to mention the accessories (there is the option to buy skins and pens so you can draw your own design on the drone’s hull, as if stickers hadn’t managed this for a generation of drone racing pilots already). They want the Mavic Mini to be as common as beach balls. Personally I’d avoid all that, and the charging jar, but the battery isn’t fast to charge so if you can invest in the Fly More kit that is good value.