Once again, DJI has moved the goalposts, improving drone photography radically—and at the price of an affordable DSLR. Partnering with Hasselblad, they created the new Mavic 2 Pro, which includes an optical adjustable aperture from f/2.8 to f/11 and a huge, one-inch sensor. This solves one of the biggest pain-points in consumer-approachable drone photography—prior to now, the photo and video quality was barely useable beyond display on the small screen of your smartphone, and less usable aperture meant the cameras simply wouldn’t adjust from high- to low-light quickly enough for solid videography.
Naturally, DJI didn’t only improve the lens. They made sure that like the Mavic Air, the 2 Pro is still foldable and portable. It’s bigger and weighs twice as much, but it’s still just two pounds, and folds to about the size of a DSLR camera body. Add in a remote with joysticks that you can unscrew and an information screen to the controller (to quickly see data like battery life) and this is a set-up you can throw in a bag and still have room for your “real” camera. The 2 Pro also has an improved 31 minutes of flight time (vs 21 minutes for the Air) and there’s better object-avoidance and predictive path-planning. The 2 Pro can also shoot in the dark–but that feature is preceded by the excellence of its more basic features.
The 2 Pro’s RAW images are roughly four times the size of the Mavic Pro, and it can shoot 1080 HD video at up to 120fps—which is impressive to put it plainly. Our sample video was shot at 1080 x 30fps, but it’s still decent—in part because of its new H.265 video CODEC, which let us pull out more color (and darker blacks) when we were shooting in filtered mid-day light. Note that we did this entire edit on DJI’s G O4 App, which is still one of the best features DJI offers, because if you just want to quickly assemble and edit a few clips as we did, there’s almost no production friction whatsoever. You can even change video speed and reverse motion direction—just for fun. (We also used their slightly cheesy music collection, but you can use your own soundtrack if you’re not worried about royalties.)
One other important thing to notice about the video is that DJI’s follow modes, while not perfect, are a little less buggy than before. There were times when it said it locked on subjects and then failed to follow them, but in general this is a lot less of a struggle. Part of the reason is that the Mavic 2 Pro terrain-maps the surroundings and predicts the path of where your subject is headed. So if a tree’s in the way it can plot a course around the maple and continue to chase. Again, this isn’t flawless, but while past DJI (and many other drones we’ve tested) just stall in the air, the Pro 2 does a much better job of keeping up the chase.
Also, with the 2 Pro, DJI has added a pretty nifty time-lapse function. Once you have a phone or iPad paired to the controller and you’ve got the drone in the air, simply tap on any fixed object in space and the drone will follow a few canned flight paths while snapping a series of shots at your pre-set interval. When it’s done shooting, it stitches the whole sequence into a video—very much like the way this works on iOS and Android devices. Here, however, you add in the motion of the drone, which is much more impressive. Imagine, for instance, parking the 2 Pro over surfers at a break, or revelers at an outdoor concert and you have a good idea of why this might be more compelling footage than straight video.
The Mavic 2 Pro has proved itself to be a stable drone. Even in stiff breezes, it captures ultra-clear images and video. This is critical for shooting HDRs, several of which we’ve included here.
Speaking of which, again there’s greater color-saturation in several of these shots than we’ve seen from previous DJI products. A few of the downward-angled images were actually pulled from a spherical panorama, in which the drone shoots an entire “sphere” of its surroundings, ideal for sharing on sites like YouTube 360 or for viewing on Google Cardboard goggles, but you also get a separate file folder of all the stills whenever you create a circular or spherical or vertical pano, not just the stitched file. This is particularly handy if you’re scouting a site for shoots and want the gamut of terrain photographically preserved. Invariably the 2 Pro will “see” a location you may have overlooked and in many cases takes a killer photograph as well.
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the incredible new HyperLight feature. This is a low-light, relatively high-ISO HDR, and when you use this mode you should be dead-sure you’ve tapped on your phone screen in the viewfinder to lock focus (otherwise the camera may not lock, especially in very dim light), and be game to experiment a lot. Our samples came out great, but even so ISO ranged between 2500 and 3200. You don’t get to choose that ISO setting, either, because the camera is weighing how much light it’s capturing and like all HDRs, sandwiching frames at various exposures and ISOs. Unlike shooting in RAW, which didn’t come out as beautifully, HyperLight is simultaneously reducing noise and accounting for most of the motion blur created by any flutter of the drone. At full crop, there’s still some noise in our samples, but we’re still pretty stunned at the clarity. And, if you’re worried about noise, there are plenty of software fixes in post.
There’s not much missing from the Mavic 2 Pro. DJI even makes neutral density filters for it, clearly knowing this is finally the flying camera their users have been desiring. If we sound pumped, we are. This device might make you want to fly and photograph every single day.