DJI's Mini 3 drone is cheaper, but more limited than the Pro model it's based on

Video maxes out at 4K 30p and there are no forward or rear obstacle sensors.

Steve Dent

You'd think that after launching a ton of products in 2022, DJI would be finished for the year. However, that isn't quite the case, as it just announced the DJI Mini 3 drone aimed at the consumer market. It's a stripped down version of the Mini 3 Pro, with no forward or rear obstacle detection, no ActiveTrack and video that's limited to 4K 30p. Those compromises are reflected in the price, meaning you'll pay $469 for just the drone compared to $669 for the Mini 3 Pro.

The company believes the Mini 3 Pro is ideal for first time users, in scenarios like "suburban outings, holiday travel, and urban shooting/exploration with family and friends." In that sense, it's more a spiritual successor to the DJI Mini 2 than a Mini 3 Pro-lite. That said, it's nearly identical to the Mini 3 Pro, apart from the front sensors being removed and replaced with grills and smooth plastic where the rear sensors would be located on the Pro.

The Mini 3 weighs less than 249 grams so it doesn't require a special permit to fly in many countries. It has the same Type 1/1.3 (9.6 x 7.2 mm) f/1.7 sensor as the Mini 3 Pro, so you can film in 4K HDR and take 12-megapixel photos. However, video is limited to 4K 30p, rather than 4K 60p on the more expensive model. It also offers "true vertical" video and photo shooting, with the camera flips 90 degrees to allow for high quality social media content.

DJI has ensured 2.7K and full HD captures max out at 60fps, so there's no 120fps as found on the Mini 3 Pro. You can shoot HDR at up to 30fps, and it has dual native ISO for decent low-light performance in a relatively small sensor.

The Intelligent Flight Batteries provide long flight times, delivering up to 38 minutes with the standard and 51 minutes with the extended batteries (the latter are available in North America but not in Europe and other regions). Those times are under ideal conditions; you'll more likely see around 30-32 minutes. Still, that's excellent for this category and provides a cushion for beginners who may let the drone fly a bit too far away. Despite the small size it has "robust power," DJI says, which helps it handle reasonably stiff winds as well.

As with the Mini 3 Pro, you can get the Mini 3 with DJI's RC controller for an extra $230. That option is well worth it, because it's far more convenient than using a smartphone with the regular RC-N1 controller. It has a similar layout to DJI's other controllers, with the addition of photo and video triggers that automatically switch between those respective modes. The RC controller joysticks can be stowed underneath the controller chassis for travel and while the screen struggles a bit in bright sunlight, it is otherwise sharp and clear.

DJI's Mini 3 drone is cheaper, but more limited than the Pro model it's based on
Steve Dent/Engadget

The Mini 3 has a key feature for social media users, namely DJI's QuickShots. That lets you take short and cute videos without the need to pilot, as the drone does all the work. Some of those include "Dronie" (starting tight on the subject and flying up and away to reveal the background) and "Circle," where the camera moves around the subject.

However, it lacks many of the AI features found on the Mini 3 Pro like ActiveTrack (following a subject), Timelapse and Mastershots. The fact that it can track a subject with QuickShots suggests that its capable of ActiveTrack, but that the functionality may simply be disabled.

It has other intelligent functions to help beginners. Those include Auto Takeoff, Return to Home (RTH) including Smart RTH, Low Battery RTH and Failsafe RTH, instructing the aircraft to return to its starting point if the battery is low or signal drops.

DJI's Mini 3 drone is cheaper, but more limited than the Pro model it's based on

That brings us to one big issue with this drone. It does feature a downward vision system and infrared sensing for stable hovering, which is a big help for novice users. However, it lacks forward and rear obstacle detection sensors. That means a user can fly it directly into a tree or building more easily, and as it doesn't have DJI Avata-like propeller protection, you could end up with a broken drone. Even if you're careful, using the RTH function could be risky as the drone could automatically fly itself into an object when trying to navigate home. You'll also want to make sure the area is clear when doing a Dronie or other Quickshots maneuver.

I received the Mini 3 from DJI, but it was a bit too late to do a video (we'll release a full review soon). However, my drone pilot friend and I had a day to test it, and we found it just as stable and easy to fly as the Mini 3 Pro. The footage quality looks sharp and clear with accurate colors, and I didn't really miss the 4K 60p, as I don't often use that mode anyway.

We were acutely aware of the lack of obstacle sensors, though. We didn't dare wander too far away from base, as a loss of signal could be disastrous — particularly in Europe where laws restrict the transmission distance significantly compared to the US. The lack of sensors also limit what you can shoot, as it would be foolhardy to get it too close to obstacles or fly in tight spaces.

DJI Mini 3 drone galler
Steve Dent/Engadget

Lastly, I'm wondering about the Mini 3's pricing. If you don't already have a DJI drone, you'll need to pay $559 with the RC-N1 controller, compared to $759 for the Mini 3 Pro. The Fly More Combo (two extra batteries, RC-N1 controller, three-battery charger) costs $718, compared to $948 for the Mini 3 Pro. The Fly More Combo with the RC controller is $858, while the same kit for the Pro model is $1,098.

If you're just having fun or starting out and only need a battery, drone and controller, $559 might be a bit steep for many folks. For just a minor stepdown in capability, the Mini 2 is just $449 in the same configuration, for instance. And, if you want a more serious kit with more batteries and possibly the RC controller, it would make sense to cough up $240 more to get the Pro.

That said, the Mini 3 Pro is perpetually out of stock, so this one will probably sell like hotcakes regardless of my misgivings. So far it looks like an easy-to-fly drone that takes better video than anything else in this price range — just keep it it well away from obstacles.

This article contains affiliate links; if you click such a link and make a purchase, we may earn a commission.