The wait is over. DJI recently announced the sequel to the immensely popular Mavic Pro, and it looks like the new version has almost everything a Mavic fan could want. The new Mavic 2 comes in two variants, the "Pro" -- which features a Hasselblad camera with a 1-inch CMOS sensor -- and a "Zoom" version, which (as you may have guessed) comes with an optical zoom lens mounted in front of a 1/2.3-inch sensor.
The Pro and Zoom are identical apart from the cameras and gimbals, and both versions of the Mavic 2 improve on the original Mavic's specs in just about every aspect, from image quality to obstacle avoidance. But all this tech doesn't come cheap. At $1,249 for the Zoom or $1,449 for the Pro model, the Mavic 2 may be too expensive to match the explosive popularity of the original Mavic (which cost just $999 at launch).
- Great image quality and low-light performance
- Variable f/2.8-f/11 aperture
- 5-mile range and better live video feed
- Increased speed and battery life
- Quiet (for a drone)
- No WiFi connectivity
- High price
Let's start with what the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom have in common, which is basically everything except the camera and gimbal.
The first thing you'll notice about the Mavic 2 is that looks a lot like the Mavic Pro. It has the same angular aesthetic, and it's roughly the same shade of battleship gray, though the Mavic 2 is a just a smidge bigger than the original. A quick look at the Mavic 2 cameras tells you all you need to know, though. The Mavic 2 Pro's shooter has the Hasselblad logo emblazoned on the front of its chunky silver housing, while the Mavic 2 Zoom's looks more like a beefed-up version of the camera found on the Mavic Air.
For my primary job as a photographer, I use the Phantom 4 Pro V2. While the P4 is a great drone that produces gorgeous images, I'm having so much more fun with the Mavic 2. Not only is the Mavic more portable than the Phantom, it's less conspicuous. The loud, bulky -- some might even say "smurfy" -- design of the Phantom series invites a lot of unwanted attention when flying in public. With the Mavic, once it's in the air, I just look like I'm engrossed in a video game on my mobile device.
The Mavic 2 isn't just stealthy; it's also a joy to fly. Flight-time and performance see modest improvements over the Mavic Pro; the Mavic 2 has a top speed of 44 miles per hour (in sport mode) and maximum flight time of 31 minutes (with no wind). It's not a huge upgrade from the Mavic Pro's 40 MPH top speed and 27-minute battery life, but it does feel a bit nimbler in the air, and four more minutes of flight-time can sometimes make the difference between getting a great shot and missing it.
Obstacle avoidance gets a massive upgrade, too. The Mavic Pro could only detect obstacles below or in front of the drone. The Mavic 2 has sensors on the front, back, top, bottom, left and right. I won't say the drone is uncrashable, because I'm sure somebody will find a way to do it, but it's close. I try not to rely on the obstacle avoidance system too much when I'm flying, but watching the Mavic 2 stop itself dead in its tracks just as it was about run into a tree (more times than I'd like to admit) gave me the confidence to fly closer to obstacles than I would have dared with the Mavic Pro.
However, it should be noted that the left and right sensors currently only work in ActiveTrack and Tripod modes. So, if you're in any of the other flight modes, you can still stray into an obstacle to the left or right of the drone. As before, obstacle avoidance is disabled in sport mode.
Gallery: DJI Mavic 2 review | 17 Photos
Gallery: DJI Mavic 2 review | 17 Photos
The Mavic 2 also has 8GB of onboard storage, but it fills up quickly -- so you'll want to invest in a larger micro-SD card to store your photos and videos. Be sure to check DJI's list of supported SD cards, as I encountered glitchy video when recording on an older card.
As for the Mavic 2's controller, it fuses the ones that came with the Mavic Pro and Mavic Air. It has the removable thumb-sticks that stow away inside the arms like the Mavic Air controller, but also has the built-in LED readout like the Mavic Pro's. My only gripe is that I wish DJI would add more physical controls to the RC for manual exposure settings like you'd find on a DSLR. Having separate hardware dials for ISO, shutter speed and aperture would really speed things up when adjusting exposure in flight. There are assignable controls, but they don't suit everything.
Another welcome upgrade is DJI's new video transmission system. Occusync 2.0 gives the Mavic 2 a whopping 5-mile range with a 1080p live feed to your mobile device. This means the Mavic 2 can fly farther and show you what you're shooting more clearly than ever. I was surprised at how drastic an improvement this really is, especially when flying in urban areas where the older Mavics and Phantoms can struggle to maintain a connection (due to radio interference).
The bad news is that the Mavic 2 does not have Wi-Fi, so you won't be able to control it using only your mobile device (as you can with the original). This may not matter to most but could be a deal-breaker for some. I'm thinking of action sports enthusiasts who don't want to carry a controller while snowboarding or (or whatever). If you need a drone that you can launch and control with just your phone, then, the Mavic 2 isn't for you.
For the rest of us, there's one more bit of good news. The Mavic 2 connects to GPS faster and more reliably than any DJI drone I've tried, even when surrounded by tall buildings or trees. This is not a feature that DJI is touting, but it is a welcome improvement.
There are some notable upgrades in the latest version of DJI's Go 4 app as well as the brains of the Mavic 2 itself. However, certain flight modes that have been around since the Mavic Pro are conspicuously absent (more on this later).
Active Pilot Assistance System (APAS) was introduced on the Mavic Air, and I'm happy to see that it's made its way to the Mavic 2 as well. Activating APAS (easily accessible with one tap in the DJI Go 4 app) allows the Mavic 2 to fly around obstacles when moving forward or backward automatically. I tested this in a redwood forest with mixed results. Usually, the Mavic 2 would find its way around the trees, but it would occasionally get stuck and stop moving. It would be nice if APAS was a little smarter about picking a path, but on the bright side, I couldn't get the Mavic 2 to fly into a tree with APAS activated either.
Intelligent flight modes
The Mavic 2 has a few new tricks beyond improved APAS, but it's also worth noting some important features that are missing. At the time of this review, the Mavic 2 does not support CourseLock, HomeLock or Terrain Follow. All these flight modes are available on the 2-year-old Mavic Pro, so it's strange to find them missing on the Mavic 2. DJI may add some or all of these flight modes in a future update, but they aren't available now.
Fortunately, ActiveTrack (select a person or object for the drone to follow and keep in frame automatically) remains, and has improved -- but it's still far from perfect. I tested the feature at Oakland's Lake Merritt, where I attempted to track a variety of moving subjects. ActiveTrack works great on large subjects moving at a steady pace, but it was unable to track smaller subjects or anything that changes direction suddenly. I managed some nice shots with the Mavic 2 tracking boats and cyclists, but when I tried to select a bird floating in the lake it stubbornly refused to lock on, and it even lost track of a jogger at one point.
Point of Interest
Another new touch is that you can select a Point of Interest by drawing a box around it on the screen of your mobile device. Once select, the Mavic 2 uses its forward vision system and GPS to calculate the distance to the subject and begins to orbit it automatically. I was initially skeptical about this feature, but it worked perfectly every time. This saves a lot of time over the old way (flying directly over the thing you want to circle and setting the object's location manually). You can still select a POI the old way if you prefer.
While some flight modes are missing, the Mavic 2 has a brand-new one called hyperlapse, which creates a time-lapse video from a sequence of still images automatically. When you launch hyperlapse mode, you choose between four different ways to move the drone as it shoots: Free, Circle, CourseLock and Waypoint. It's weird that CourseLock and Waypoint are available in hyperlapse mode, but not in normal flight.
If you're in Free mode, you can just set the photo interval time and hit "go." Then simply fly the drone while it takes photos at regular intervals. In the other modes, you'll need to select a POI, set a course for the drone to follow, or create waypoints (max. five) for the Mavic 2 to follow as it shoots the hyperlapse. After that, you can literally put the controller down and let the Mavic 2 do its thing.