After viewing the abundance of stunning aerial photos in awe these past few years, I've now bought myself a drone. A DJI Mavic Pro, to be exact.
After some initial research, I narrowed down my options to either the Phantom 4 Pro and the Mavic Pro. And while the Phantom 4 Pro offered better image quality (20MP, 1" sensor), the extreme portability of the Mavic Pro - for me at least - made up for any shortcomings it may have had on the picture quality side of things.
As they say, the best camera is the one you have on you. And the Mavic Pro easily folds into my existing camera bag, allowing me to bring it along on my photo expeditions without a second thought.
As primarily a landscape photographer entering the vast new world of drones, I wanted to offer my unbiased opinions and thoughts on the DJI Mavic Pro for landscape photographers.
What I Like
- It's convenient. Like crazy convenient. The body (in a protective case, too) is no larger than a telephoto lens. While the controller about the size of a 24-70mm lens, yet narrower. This allows me to slot the drone, controller and a spare battery into my existing camera bag, which also contains my camera body and 3 lenses.
- It's easy to control. And it's safe. Chefs often proclaim, the sharper a knife, the safer it is. What they mean is, they can rely on a sharp knife to go exactly where they want it. The same is true of the Mavic Pro. After some initial hesitation (on my behalf) I quickly built my confidence controlling the aircraft through the sky. As long as common sense safety precautions are followed (i.e. taking off in clear surroundings, and flying in low wind, safe-to-fly zones), I'm confident the device will be a safe and sound part of my kit for many years to come.
- Image quality is surprisingly good. After coming off my full-frame 42 MP Sony A7RII, I was a little hesitant making the transition to the smaller 1/2.3" 12MP camera on the Mavic Pro. But I needn't have feared. The overall image quality is nothing to scoff at, with decent dynamic range and colour reproduction. Crispness at 100% is still pleasant, and the advanced gimbal stabilisation allows for crisp shots, even at slower shutter speeds. There were, however, some quality issues which I cover below.
- Flying is fun. Until you've tried it for yourself, you won't be able to appreciate just how much of a kick you get out of soaring through the skies. It's highly addictive and will encourage you to get out and shoot as much as possible. Speaking of which ...
- It extends my window of photography golden time. Previously, I would avoid shooting in the middle of the day, or even shortly after sunrise. After a big bold sunrise dances across the sky, I would often pack up my tripod and kit, and head home. Now, I'll still reserve the best light for my full-frame body, but I'm then eager to explore my surrounds from the sky throughout the remainder of the day.
What I Don't Like
- Battery life is mediocre at best. Flight time is less than 30 minutes, and the back-up batteries are hardly pocket size, each taking up the size of a small prime lens. And they're not particularly cheap, either. DJI's custom design on the battery allows for (at this stage) a monopoly on the market, charging $150+ per additional battery.
- While better than I initially expected, image quality at times still leaves things to be desired. The 12MP sensor is more than fine for digital reproductions and small to mid-sized prints, however I'd be cautious blowing up prints beyond 12"x18". Setting the ISO above 400 results in noticeable noise, however this can be largely mitigated (to a degree) in post-production, and gimbal stabilisation helps to retain sharpness, even at lower shutter speeds.
- Moire patterns occur in some instances (see the example on the right with the alternating orange and blue lines on the bridge) and while this issue isn't exclusive to the Mavic Pro, it's one I thought worth highlighting. I've found the image corners to also have a green tint, most noticeable on plain backgrounds. Thankfully though, the Mavic Pro can shoot in RAW, and this can easily be remedied using a radial filter in post-production.
- While local authorities are beginning to ease restrictions around drone use, pilots still need to be weary of local laws and regulations. This can often limit flight opportunities in built-up areas (helipads are everywhere in the city), yet many pilots seem to think themselves outside the law, and continue to fly in no-fly zones. They openly flaunt pictures of their illegal flights on social media, and put the rest of us at risk to further limiting regulations.
While the cons I discuss above may seem to equal the pros, I would have no hesitation recommending the Mavic Pro to another landscape photographer.
Just like there's no one perfect all-use camera lens, so to there is no one perfect all-use drone. While a Phantom 4 Pro would have alleviated many of the image quality concerns above, for my needs it's simply too bulky. Having a drone that can fold up into the palm of my hand is top of the priority list for me, and will mean I'll be able to take the Mavic Pro with to locations I wouldn't otherwise.
They say the best camera is the one you have on you. Now, I have two.