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Image credit: Engadget / James Trew

DJI Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom: Everything you need to know

Optical zoom or Hasselblad camera? No one said choosing a drone was easy.
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Engadget / James Trew

If you are a fan of DJI's Mavic Pro, today is a good day. Or a bad day, depending on your perspective. Why? Because, as rumored, the drone behemoth didn't just reveal the Mavic 2 Pro, it also introduced a second option in the line: the Mavic 2 Zoom (note: no "Pro"). As the name suggests, the latter comes with a 2X optical zoom (24-48mm and 2X digital to 96mm), meaning there's no "greedy boy" option here, each has its own unique selling points -- so you'll need to think long and hard about which one you really want

Before we get to the differences, let's talk about what the two models share. Bar the camera, the two new Mavics are the same. The key upgrades include up to 31 minutes of flight time (up from the original Mavic Pro's 27) and there are now more sensors on the drone (10 total) so that Mavic now has obstacle avoidance in all directions (including above/below). Note, this isn't quite the same level as you'll find on Skydio's R1 (a DJI spokesperson said it's mostly for when in Active Trak mode), but it's a step in the right direction and should save a few drones from an arboreal grave.

Other new hardware goodies include 8GB of onboard storage (as we saw in the Mavic Air), a downward-facing light (to help with precision landings in low light), and a boost in top speed to 44mph (up from 40 in the original). Video transmission gets a boost via OcuSync 2, which uses both 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz (with the option to configure how those bands work) to avoid interference. OcuSync 2 offers a solid 5-mile range with a 1080p live feed (meaning you can share directly from the drone/app at FHD too). The last of the main upgrades is an "improved" Advanced Pilot Assistance System (APAS), which promises to be smarter about how the Mavic 2 avoids obstacles on its own -- so we'll be interested to see how that works.

Mavic 2 Pro

At $1,449, the "Pro" costs $200 more than the Zoom. It's fair to say, then, that this is the flagship model. Most of those extra dollars are buying you the onboard camera -- co-engineered by Hasselblad (a company which DJI has invested in). What that means for you, is a new camera with a 1-inch sensor that can grab 20-megapixel stills (up from the Mavic Pro's 12).

More importantly, if you do a lot of post-production, the Hasselblad shooter claims to offer four times the amount levels of color per channel and an adjustable aperture between f/2.8 and f/11. If you're the sort that wants to delve into the specifics, there's also support for 4K/10-bit HDR. Basically, DJI is giving you enough headroom to really work with the photos and videos you get out of this thing, and we can't wait to see what they look like (though we did get a sneak preview).

Mavic 2 Zoom

If you prefer to get up close and personal with your subjects, the Mavic 2 Zoom might be more your jam. At $1,249, it's a little easier on the pocket, too. As mentioned, the 2X optical zoom offers more flexibility in framing your subject while in the air (rather than editing it later). Combined with the 2X digital zoom, DJI says you can snag FHD video at an equivalent 96mm without losing any quality (that's one in the eye for Parrott's Anafi).

For photo-lovers, the Zoom "only" offers 12-megapixel stills, but a new Super Resolution mode will stitch together nine still images for one huge 48-megapixel composite, if you're feeling like a dozen MPs isn't enough. I was able to test this out but only ended up with the nine individual images and not the composite. So, again, it'll be interesting to see how these images look in the real world.

As for the quality of the photos while zoomed in, I can see this being a real game changer. During my preview, we took some photos from the East Bay, looking to San Francisco, and the city is hard to capture (it's far, and the air is hazy). Despite that, the 2X zoom really does bring the skyline forward, and with no loss of detail -- something you really can't do easily with most drones. On a closer subject, we took a photo of the rocks on the coast and fully-zoomed in, you can see a lot more detail -- if this was used to reframe a human subject, you can see how you will save time being able to get the shot right there, rather than hacking the image later in Photoshop.

The addition of the zoom lens also allows for different camera presets, in particular, "dolly zoom." With this mode (and only on the Mavic 2 Zoom) you can keep a target (like the wind-swept me, below) in the center of the frame, and leverage the zoom while the Mavic slowly flies towards/away from you to create an unusual effect that warps the scene around them. It looks pretty neat, but I'm not yet sold on how many times you'll want to use it. That said, it's easily the most cinematic of DJI's "QuickShot" presets -- the company says the feature was inspired by Hitchcock films, and even now it's clear these dolly zooms can add a needed dose of drama to your aerial footage.

I much preferred the new Hyperlapse mode, which fortunately is found on both the Pro and the Zoom. If you're familiar with Hyperlapse on Instagram, then you'll know what to expect here. In short, you can specify a path for the drone to follow (or a subject to circle) and how long you want your clip to be. It'll then follow that path, taking photos at set intervals. Once it's complete, it stitches them all together right there, creating a speedy time-lapse video you can instantly share. Now, this is something I can see being used for many an establishing shot or as a way to spice up your vanilla flyovers. And if you take your drone photography very seriously, you can save the flight plans you've created for use in capturing future shots.

Having briefly flown the drone, a lot of the experience is really familiar. The controller is more or less the same as the original Mavic (just with the removable thumb-sticks found on the Mavic Air). It handles very similarly, comes with the low-noise propellors and is still a delight to throw around in the air (or leave it hovering, deadly still). I'm not so much a fan of the "prototype" gray color (it's not actually called that, but that's what came to mind). But at least it's an easy way for your buddies stuck on the older Mavic to know you've got the new one.

There's definitely a lot for us to test during our full review, but in the short time we spent with it, and by looking at the spec sheet, this is a very photographer-friendly update. A lot of people prefer the Mavic over the Phantom 4 due to its size, so it's good to see some of the higher end photo-centric features in the Pro model this time around. Now, all you have to do is figure out which one you want (both are going on sale today).

Chris Velazco contributed to this report.

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