By Judd Slivka, Director — Aerial Journalism; Judd Slivka is RJI’s first director of aerial journalism. He is also an assistant professor of convergence journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism
DJI leads the market in consumer and prosumer drone sales, so when they release a product, it makes a splash. The company released two new versions of the Mavic Pro this afternoon, and there’s been a lot of buzz about both of them. But is it worth it for a news outlet to invest in?
The models have very different capabilities: The Mavic Pro 2 has gotten the most buzz, with a significantly larger one-inch CMOS sensor and a camera built by legendary camera company Hasselblad. It also has adjustable aperture, which the current Mavic Pro lacks, can shoot 10-bit HDR video and 10-bit Dlog-M footage. It’s a portable cinematic drone that has the same sensor as the Phantom 4 Pro, which is the workhorse of the drone journalism industry. That means it will have cleaner low-light shooting than the previous Mavic.
The other drone introduced today, the Mavic Zoom, has a true optical zoom capability, allowing the focal length to change from 24 mm to 48 mm. It also has a built-in dolly zoom capability to use the adjustable focal length to create a smooth cinematic shot. It carries the same sensor as the current Mavic Pro, a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor, so the low-light and evening shooting performance will still require a pretty significant ISO push, resulting in a lot of grain.
So if you’re a TV station or a newspaper, are either of these right for you?
The Mavic’s form factor will remain basically the same: small in size, with collapsible wings and an efficient battery that will give you about 20 minutes of solid flight time. Either new drone will be the right size for a camera bag and will be able to deploy more quickly than a Phantom or an Inspire. The downside of that form factor is that it will still be susceptible to winds. And since it’s still in DJI’s consumer drone line, it still has GPS positioning mode only, meaning that it will be more susceptible to interference than a Phantom or Inspire that can fly in Attitude mode. Both Mavics still have a rolling shutter, meaning that you’ll likely have to use filters to control light into the lens, rather than the mechanical shutter found on the company’s higher-end drones.
The Mavic Pro 2 is a portable cinema drone, essentially the DJI Inspire’s baby cousin, but with less stability and speed. It can only shoot 4K video up to 30 frames per second, so no ultra-HD slow motion that requires 4K/60 fps, unlike the higher end DJI drones.
But the Mavic Zoom seems to be a different story. The biggest complaint I’ve heard from news outlets that have the budget for one drone is that the 24 mm lens on the Mavic — and the Phantom and the base model of the Inspire — can only shoot wide, sweeping shots. Being able to double the focal length and get closer to a shot seems much more in line with the daily journalism use case.
The Mavic Pro 2 is selling for $1,449. The Mavic Zoom is selling for $1,249. It’s a marginal price difference, but I can’t see why you’d spend the extra $200 if you’re doing daily journalism.