DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone - First Impressions

In my photography, I have always been intrigued by different perspectives. As an old-school guy with fixed focal length lenses, I had no other choice but my feet to get them. And I liked it as it was the part of the process and it will stay like this - horizontally.

But. There is also a vertical direction to get the unusual sights. For years, I was ignoring it as drones were simply too large, too heavy and not portable enough. It was not an option until some time last year when I spotted the first Mavic Pro in one of the shops and its compact size when folded striked me immediately. The size of one middle range lens (198 x 83 x 83mm). Meaning that I could now carry my main kit and only replace one lens with the drone and put the controller in my pocket. I had it with me in Baikal this Spring and I wrote some bits here and here. I wanted to do a more comprehensive review, which eventually has not happened.

And now with Mavic 2 in my hands it makes little sense to do it.

Why is that? Simply because if you think of the drone as I do, as an additional camera and as a photography tool, these two Mavic versions can’t be compared. I would be writing about fantastic technology and handling and 4k crisp videos and new (endless) options in perspectives that the first Mavic gave me, but I would also be talking about the disappointing quality of images; a major flaw for me. As a person that is used to working with high detail files from the Phase One digital back or Nikon D800, the outcome of the Mavic was just poor, even if I say that I could have expected it (and I did) from the 1/2.3’’ 12 MP chip hanging from a mini aircraft.

Hyperlapse shot with Mavic 2 Pro

So I did not intend to use it as a camera for my landscape work but instead, I was thinking about expanding into some video footage. And, as an anecdote, use it to scout locations on places like Lake Baikal, which was tremendously helpful in finding interesting ice formations and structures. And then all you need to do is to give GPS data to the driver to take you there. Imagine this! :-)

Now, with the Mavic 2 Pro, my wishes came true. They mounted a 1-inch sensor to this small flying beast. Hasselblad! Hasselblad in a compact box, Hasselblad in the air. How does this sound to all of us having used a legendary 500c or H1 with Fuji Velvia just a few years back. The most important is that the Hasselblad delivers. We now have a portable, foldable, powerful machine that takes a relatively large chip to the air and returns with great quality files.

Mavic Pro vs Mavic 2 Pro - Sensor size comparison

Mavic Pro vs Mavic 2 Pro - Sensor size comparison

Just for the record, I also looked at Mavic 2 Zoom but it was a no go for me. The main reason being the resolution of the Pro (20 Mpix vs 12 Mpix - is this the same chip as in the first Mavic? I honestly do not know...) and you still can ‘zoom’ by flying closer. :-) And the larger chip means better dynamic range (important for low light shots) and usually less noise. The only reason why I would be thinking about running two drones is a wider angle (24mm vs 28mm), but that is not enough. The better and the larger sensor up in the air is worth any extra dollar (yes, the Zoom is somewhat cheaper), especially if you are seeking serious photography that can be presented in print one day when it becomes fancy to have exhibitions again.

I would say this drone redefines what has been possible in aerial photography. I’m not going to praise the technology of the Mavic 2 too much here, but I’m impressed with the things it can do at the price and at the size. Most importantly, it works flawlessly when it comes to controls and the reactions of sensors. I flew it in the forest (carefully though) and the way the aircraft avoided the obstacles was just impressive. I will not be scared to have it flown by my 12-year-old son, whose only interest is the speed and height.

I took it for a test drive to Slovakia last week. Although I captured a few videos, the main purpose was to see if the quality of pictures is good enough. And it really is.

4k video shot with Mavic 2 Pro

My main observation is that when I tried the first Mavic in Baikal earlier this year, it did an excellent job shooting movies and scouting locations, but I was largely disappointed by the low quality of the images. With Mavic 2, after examining raw files, I knew I would use it for photography almost exclusively to complement my ground work. Apart from remarkable improvements of the aircraft itself (flight life grew approximately 5 min, speed, number of obstacle avoiding sensors, landing lights for night flights to name the few), the most noticeable upgrade vs the Mavic is simply the quality of still images output. The files are extremely rich in detail in an ‘average,’ lunch time light, the camera now gives you the option to adjust aperture or a fully manual set up. Very helpful in low light conditions. To process the raw files (DNG), I used photoshop raw converter, which does a decent job in expanding dynamic range and enhancing colours. Not much further processing has been performed on the sample pictures below. I have not tried Hasselblad native Phocus software - I’m downloading it as we speak.

To conclude, with Mavic 2 Pro you get the excellent camera, performing well in low light, attached to the compact size helicopter that you can easily carry in your backpack alongside your traditional photography gear. It is the perfect drone for photographing from the air, which is exactly why I got the first Mavic but it had failed my expectations a bit. The difference between the two becomes very clear when I compare the images from both drones side by side. I will continue playing with this magic toy and report back.