Not content with hogging five spots in our best drone guide, DJI’s just upped the ante and produced not just one new drone but two: the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom. Before we delve into their unique selling points, first let’s put a few things into perspective.
To give you some idea of just how far DJI has progressed in the sphere of camera-carrying drones, just three years ago this writer and a mate spent a ridiculous £5,000 on a DJI S-900, a monster drone designed for carrying DSLR-style cameras. This drone had no mobile app integration and was fitted with a huge and very delicate gimbal, more wires than a BT street box and a massive strap-on battery. It also came with a crap monitor that produced a very glitchy low-res video stream from the not-very-good Sony NEX-7 camera. The whole package had to be transported in a box big enough for a lawnmower and it took about an hour to set it all up. Flying it was a terrifying experience. Granted, the visuals it produced were better than the DJI Phantom model of that period, but they still lacked decent sharpness and detail. Fast forward just three years and even the company’s pocket-sized Mavic Air produces video and stills a hundred times better than that hulking pile of Meccano, and for a fraction of the price. That’s progress for you.
Which brings us to the current state of play. Both Mavic 2s look identical to their predecessor, though they are 16mm longer, 8mm wider and 173 grams heavier. You can certainly feel the extra weight when you hold them in the hand. In fact, they feel almost too heavy to fly. Put another way, you wouldn’t want one to fall out of the sky because you suspect it would punch a gapping hole in the ground and disintegrate into a zillion pieces.
Just as well, then, that these two drones are almost impossible to crash given that they have 10 obstacle sensors facing in every direction. To put these omnidirectional sensors to the test, I chose the Pro version, selected the autonomous ‘Active Track’ follow-me mode on the forever impressive DJI Go 4 app, drew a rectangle around my body on the Samsung S8’s screen (it also works with iOS), hit Go and went for a slow walk between a grove of small trees. The results were frankly unbelievable, scary even – like something out of the ‘Terminator’. The drone automatically ducked and dived as it negotiated a pathway between the branches, never coming to grief despite a few leaf-trimming moments. Even more astonishing was the fact that the footage it shot showed no signs of jerkiness – it was as if I’d been tracked by someone holding a stabilised camera. So, that’s your first reason to buy one. But which one?
Both the Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom are equipped with identical chassis and exactly the same flight tech. In fact the only difference between the two are the cameras and gimbals they’re fitted with.
The Mavic 2 Pro boasts a new three-axis gimbal-mounted Hasselblad camera, which comes fitted with a one-inch CMOS sensor – like that in the Sony RX100 and RX10 series – and an adjustable aperture that goes from f/2.8 to f/11. This is an exquisite piece of kit capable of shooting in several video resolutions, including 4K at up to 30 frames per second, 2.7K at up to 60fps and 1080p at up to 120fps. It also takes strikingly sharp 20 megapixel RAW/Jpeg stills. The Mavic 2 Pro’s camera system supports the 10-bit Dlog-M colour profile for pro-style post-production colour grading and 10-bit HDR video for striking hyper-real footage.
The Mavic 2 Zoom’s camera, by contrast, comes with a much smaller 1/2.3" CMOS sensor capable of producing reduced 12 megapixel stills in both RAW and Jpeg. This is the same size sensor as fitted to most compact point-and-shoot cameras. Despite a lower maximum ISO (3200 as opposed to the Pro’s 6400), its video capabilities are otherwise identical to the Mavic 2 Pro. However, you can’t change the aperture on the Zoom and that’s a minus point when it comes to shooting stills.
The biggest difference with the Mavic 2 Zoom’s camera is that it also features a 2x (24-48mm) optical zoom that really comes into its own when shooting distant objects you’d rather not fly too near to. Wildlife is the most obvious example, though there may be times you’d like to shoot a monument or geographical feature from up close without straying into private airspace. Of course, some pilots may abuse the system and indulge in a bit of snooping, but that would not only be illegal but downright selfish to other law-abiding flyers. There’s very little difference between the two cameras when shooting video but you may notice a difference with stills, especially if shooting in low-light conditions.
One especially unique feature of the Zoom’s camera is its ability to re-create Hitchcock’s famous dolly-zoom effect automatically within the DJI Go 4 app. Simply select the shot in the app and fly backwards from the main subject. The camera will zoom in as the drone flies backwards, creating a bizarre effect where the main subject remains the same size as the background zooms in behind it. Parrot’s ANAFI drone has the same function but the Mavic 2 Zoom’s camera does it even more strikingly.
Flight wise, both birds are as rock solid and confidence inspiring as we’ve come to expect; at no point will you fear they'll just fly off into the sunset on their own, never to be seen again. With new, larger motors fitted to their four arms, both models are now capable of hitting 44mph in Sports mode and – with the aid of a larger battery – able to remain aloft for up to 31 minutes at a time. They’re also much quieter than any previous DJI drone – so hushed you can hardly hear the whir of the blades from just 30 metres away. Occusync 2.0 transmission, meanwhile, offers crisp 1080p live streaming from up to five miles away. Like the early Mavic, both models come with 8GB of onboard storage along with the obligatory Micro SD card slot. The hand controller is pretty much the same as the outgoing Mavic’s, though it does have an additional three-way speed switch (normal, sports or tripod) for extra convenience.
Heading over to the DJI Go 4 app, both variants come with a similar range of intelligent flight modes, plus the addition of a new Hyperlapse function that captures stop-frame visuals over a wide area before stitching it all together within the app. In fact, the only intelligent flight mode missing here is the gimmicky ‘gesture’ hand control.
This writer is still inclined to hold the smaller and cheaper DJI Mavic Air at number one, simply because it’s such a conveniently sized and capable little movie maker. But if you’re considering taking your aerial cinematography and/or photography to a whole new professional level, then these two beauties are unquestionably the best models to consider.
As to the burning question of which one is best, that depends on individual needs. This writer would probably opt for the more expensive Pro model which comes with a better facility for taking sensational stills and the wherewithal to change the aperture for better composition. But if you just want a drone to shoot video then save yourself £250 and go for the Zoom instead.
As the slightly annoying but hugely popular YouTube vlogger Casey Neistat puts it, ‘it’s no longer a case of which drone to buy, but which DJI to buy’. And these two beauties are undeniably the company’s most complete portable cinematic packages to date.