DJI Dogfight

UPAA Blog 2023-24 #2 - 9/21/23 - Text and photos by Matt Cashore 


This is the first in a series of articles on drones. 


The era of consumer drones arguably began in 2013 with the the first DJI Phantom. In only 10 years drone tech and regulations have evolved and continue to evolve at a remarkable pace. These articles will take a look at some of the new tech and new opportunities available to drone pilots today.  In the photo above, from left to right: The DJI Mavic 3 Pro, DJI Mavic 2 and Diji Mini 3 Pro. -Ed



In the Spring of 2023 I was briefly the owner of three DJI drones - a Mavic 3 Pro, a Mavic 2 and a Mini 3 Pro. I love side-by-side comparisons, so of course I was going to do one while I had all three drones. Here's an unscientific, utterly subjective opinion on three of the options that most UPAA members would likely have if you're purchasing or upgrading drones.


But before that, a quick aside on the legalities of drone flying. 


I've been a general aviation pilot for 25 years. Multiple written tests, multiple checkrides, and LOT of saying "Niner" and "Roger." I'm more familiar with FAA language, rules, airspace, etc. than most and even I feel like I can't keep up when it comes to drone rules. In less than a decade, Part 107 licensing was implemented, LAANC was quickly introduced and implemented, remote ID was quickly introduced...and then delayed. There have been changes to the rules about flying over people and flying at night. Even then, different rules might apply if you're flying for yourself or flying for your job...and add to all of that the various policies and protocols your institutions may have. (Whether or not they exceed actual laws doesn't really matter, we all want to work well with our campus safety and security operations.) So that's the wordy version of saying: It's confusing and ever-changing. Do the best you can and use your common sense.


Take a selfie while flying an airplane upside-down? No prob! Understand Remote ID? No way!


Back on topic... I was very happy with my Mavic 2. Outstanding tool. The image quality was surprisingly good. Occasionally I'd see a poster or large print of a Mavic 2 image and it always exceeded my expecations for small-sensor image quality. The ability to hover and look straight-down was a fun new creative option.


A trio of MIC-winning drone photos made with the Mavic 2.


Drone tech changes even faster than drone rules, and a brief experience with the DJI Mini 3 Pro made me realize the benefits of the newer DJI remote controller and software. The Mavic 3 Pro used the same controller. That, plus it's three lenses and a slightly larger sensor was enough to get me to make the switch. (I got mine from Roberts.) But how was the image quality compared to the Mavic 2? Only one way to find out:


The Contestants


Left, the Mavic 2 with a 1" sensor and a 28-mm equivalent lens. The Mavic 2 has been discontinued but the sensor and camera have been fitted to the Mavic Air 2S; Middle, the Mavic 3 Pro with a Micro 4/3 sensor and three lenses-24mm, 70mm and 166mm equivalents; Right, the Mini 3 Pro with a 1/1.3 sensor (that means "tiny") and a 24mm lens equivalent on a camera that can rotate between horizontal and vertical orientations.


Mavic 2


The Mavic 2's view of Notre Dame's campus from a smidge under 400 feet.


Mavic 3 Pro


The Mavic 3 Pro's main camera is a Micro 4/3 sensor, which adds a little more vertical room to the image. 


But wait!!! There's more! This is the Mavic 3 Pro's medium telephoto camera, a 77mm eqivalent.


It's not done, though! Here is the telephoto lens view, a 166mm equivalent. Three different looks from the exact same spot. 



Mini 3 Pro:


The Mini 3 Pro's view is more or less the same as the Mavic 2. But! The Mini 3 Pro also has a trick up it's sleeve--with a simple tap on the controller screen it's camera can rotate vertically for Instagram-friendly framing.


Now it's time to get pixel-peepy! Here are zoomed-in details from the center of the main camera of each drone. The results may surprise you, they certainly did me!


Mavic 2


It's nice and detailed. More than adequate for a large print.



Mavic 3 Pro


Uhhhhhh...hey, isn't this supposed to be the newer, better sensor? This Mavic 3 wide camera images isn't quite as sharp and detailed as the Mavic 2. Would you really notice it in a print? Probably not, but nevertheless the Mavic 2 is better, IMO.


Mini 3 Pro


The Mini has a comparatively tiny sensor and should be the worst of the trio by a large margin. Surprisingly, though, it holds up quite well.


The verdict? From the main camera image quality test I did here, I still like the Mavic 2 the best, and the Mini 3 is astonishingly good for how small and cheap it is. Do I regret selling my Mavic 2 for the Mavic 3? No. The image quality is close enough, and the Mavic 3 brings enough new features to the table--more battery life, USB-C charging, a better remote and 3 focal length options--that it's a worthwhile upgrade.


The Mavic 3 Pro and the Mini 3 Pro can use the same remote. Tell it which one you're using on startup and you're good to go. The remote and the drones can be charged wtih USB-C. No more need for special chargers with unique plugs. 


New toys are fun, but the bosses and accountants want to know how it's going to help us do our jobs better. Sure, here you go...


The Golden Dome eye-level with Touchdown Jesus--a photo that's impossible to make with anything other than a drone. However, the wide angle-only option of the Mavic 2 means the Dome is tiny in the frame and I'm forced to be a little closer to the library mural than I'd like. 


Enter the Mavic 3 Pro. With the telephoto lens option I can zoom in and get the mural and Dome equally prominent in the frame--and from a safer distance, too. Better images, safer operation...these are good things!


The bottom line here is that you really can't make a bad choice on a DJI consumer drone. For around $2500, get the most flexibilty with the Mavic 3 Pro. For just over $1000, get the current Mavic 2 equivalent in the Mavic Air2S. (Or find a nice used Mavic 2.) And for under $1000 the Mini 3 Pro does a surprisingly good job in the most portable form factor.


Next up in the drone series is an article on navigating the world of stadium TFRs. 


"The bank rejected my application for a loan to start a drone pizza delivery business. Said the idea was too pie-in-the-sky." Thanks for reading the UPAA Blog. Submissions and suggestions are welcomed and encouraged. Contact editor Matt Cashore, And if you don't already, be sure to follow UPAA on Instagram!