Is this the ultimate travel photography companion? We've spent some time with DJI's latest drone to see how it stacks up as a travel drone.
Drones have evolved very quickly over the last few years and progressed from being bulky and complex to fly, into slick units that virtually fly themselves. The Mavic 2 Pro is one of the most advanced drones we've flown and offers a huge array of features for the budding ariel photographer.
Let's start off with flight.
To say the Mavic 2 Pro is easy to fly is an understatement. It's so simple to fly a child can take off, fly around and land safely without any real tuition. The stability and ease of control is a testament to DJI's ongoing development in sensors and flight control. I've flown a fair few drones over the years (admittedly most have been DJI drones) and the evolution since the original Phantom drone is really very impressive.
The Mavic 2 Pro comes with a simple control pad which hooks up to your phone to create a fairly compact and feature rich control system for flight, settings and filming. The app is perhaps my only criticism of the DJI platform as I found it a bit clunky in places. I certainly found the app difficult to use on modern smartphones with edge to edge screens. The phone clips into the Mavic's controller and parts of the screen around the edges become harder to click and control as they are tucked away under clips or grooves to hold the device in place. It's not the worst app in the world, but personally it's the part of the control system that could be significantly improved and made much better for in-flight control.
I'm sure frequent flyers would become much more at home with the app and controls in general, but it's not very often that you need to pull out a manual to operate tech nowadays and there are just too many elements which remain unintuitive. App gripes aside, the flying experience for general use is simply staggering in its ease and predictability of flight. The drone has sensors all over it, including top, bottom and side sensors. I found the obstacle detection very effective in most places, but as I discovered when I managed to put the drone 20ft up in a tree, it's not without some margin for error. Quite how it didn't spot the only 100ft tree in the middle of a field is beyond me (The same could be said of it's pilot...) Thankfully the Mavic 2 Pro is solidly made as it remained unharmed by its branch altercation. A visual quick check over and it was back up and running with no significant signs of impact.
Not only is the Mavic 2 Pro easy to fly, it also includes it's own automated flight modes. I was pretty cautious at first having been slightly perturbed by it's recent tree incident, but I have to say the automated flight modes are nothing short of magic! The most significant mode was its astonishing "follow" mode. Simply select the person/object you want it to follow on the screen in a similar way your phone camera would select a focus point and once locked on, the drone will happily follow you or another target whilst impersonating Yoda or another Jedi empowered force feeler by detecting and avoiding the world around it. I thought I would drag the drone through the forest whilst tracking a cyclist down some fairly tight single track trails, and the drone tucked down under and swerved around branches as it followed the cyclist down the trail. Even from high up in the air it tracked the moving subject through the trees and never lost sight of its target. This witchcraft really did impress me and restored my faith in the drones sensor array. The ability to remove flight from the controller's list of things to do, really does open up the in-flight filming potential of a single user. Many pro drone operators would never dream of heading out with a single operator and choose to have a camera operator and flight operator to ensure the best possible footage. The Mavic 2 Pro lets you spend less time on flight and more on getting the best shot even when you are flying single-handed.
Flight time is improved over previous DJI drones, but I would strongly suggest having multiple batteries to hand if you want to capture more than a few quick snaps or videos as time fly's past quickly (pun intended). The drone is compact compared to the original Phantom, but expect it to bulk up your backpack as it's not light, and despite it's fold-up design, it still takes up a fair bit of backpack space. If portability and weight are factors in your decision making, then it might be worth sacrificing some features and opting for the very capable Mavic Air.
The Mavic 2 comes in two builds the "Pro" and "Zoom". Both have exactly the same flight capabilities, with the camera being the defining difference between the two designs. The pro has a fixed range lens which has the famous Hasselblad name stamped on it. This is a very capable camera, but don't expect it to compare to the medium format cameras normally associated with the Hasselblad name. It's got a good dynamic range and generates clean sharp 4k footage, but it's not really comparable to pro gear. The zoom doesn't have the same camera sensor, but it does offer a 2x optical zoom, so has some benefits when trying to shoot close range without risking collisions and also opens up some filming creativity not possible with the Pro. I found the footage to be very good quality, but did find the gimbal to be far from totally smooth when in-flight, so much of the footage needed stabilisation in post production to give it the type smoothness you may have enviously seen on pro vloggers YouTube feeds.
To summarise, this is by far the most capable consumer drone that exists in the world today. It's so good, that many professional users will find its results are totally fit for their high demands and their client's high expectation. It's not a cheap investment at around £1300 for the standard package, but if you really want to step up your game and capture your own arial footage of your travel trips, then look no further.
Amazon seem to be offering the most competitive price on these at the moment at £1200 a fair bit cheaper than DJI direct or any of the drone specialists.
Top tips for Drone Users -
Learn how to fly it properly before taking it anywhere other than a very quiet field. I can’t stress this enough. I’ve seen incidents with travellers taking drones to busy places before they really have full control and either crashing them or loosing them completely.
Make sure you’re covered! If you are monetising your content in anyway whatsoever then you would be classified as a business/pro user. As such you really need to have some sort of commercial insurance for public liability. Insurance is a good idea anyway even if you don’t fall into the category of a commercial flyer. Flock (https://flockcover.com/) is by far the easiest and most cost effective way to cover any liabilities and also cover damage to the drone for any incidents in flight.
Make sure you know the rules of flight. There are many destinations where drones are illegal to fly, such as proximity to any airport, government sites, military bases etc. There are also many countries where drones are not always welcome. Algeria, Barbados, Cuba and Morocco to name a few, are all anti drone use, so be very careful if you intend to bring a drone into a country where they are banned. I’ve heard horror stories of drones being confiscated, so make sure you take care.