When it launched last year, the DJI Mavic 3 made headlines with features like a large Four Thirds sensor and a second 7X telephoto camera. But it also received some criticism for going on sale with key features like ActiveTrack and QuickShots still not available. That meant that I and others couldn’t rate those features in our early 3 reviews† And that’s why potential buyers couldn’t get a full picture of the drone before paying up to $5,000 for it.
After three major firmware updates in December, January and May, all the promised features and more are finally here. Now I’m going to test them with the same exact drone to see how well they work. At the same time, I will discuss this trend of selling products before the main features are available – is this good or bad?
ActiveTrack, Quickshots and other AI features
Last year I tested the mainstream Mavic 3 (not the Cine model) in the Fly More combo pack with my drone pilot friend, Samuel Dejours. At the time, we rated it highly for things like video quality, obstacle avoidance, long battery life, and more. However, the coolest AI features were nowhere to be seen.
This time, we have three firmware updates, the most recent of which is from the end of May. Most of the AI features like QuickShots, ActiveTrack 5, MasterShots and others will arrive in January. We’re also going to take a look at the “Nifty” update that arrived in May, which will allow the Mavic 3 to fly closer to obstacles with a smoother trajectory.
Prior to Nifty we tested the Mavic 3’s ActiveTrack and APAS 5.0 obstacle avoidance and found that these are the smaller and cheaper DJI Mini 3 Pro† Part of that is due to the size and agility of the Mini 3 Pro, but the Mavic 3 also seemed conservative when approaching obstacles.
In normal mode, we found that ActiveTrack worked well as long as it didn’t have too many obstacles. It flew mostly at the set angle and distance, which gave us stable and predictable shots. So it was already a decent tool for solo creators – but it didn’t do the things DJI showed in its Mavic 3 launch video like running through trees while filming a guy on a mountain bike.
However, with the handy mode, it loses that embarrassment. In combination with ActiveTrack, it is prepared to approach obstacles very closely while following your subject. That makes it possible to film in more difficult situations and to get much more dramatic shots when going behind, under and over obstacles.
It certainly makes things more unpredictable. You never know which route it will take to avoid obstacles and sometimes it literally gets lost in the woods. It will also deviate from your pre-selected path, as you would expect, but then stay there at a new height or camera angle. Yet this often produces interesting and unexpected shots.
The extra AI derring-do can put the Mavic 3 at risk, though, as it warns you when you turn on Nifty mode – not ideal with a $2,000-$5,000 drone. Maybe it’s a good idea to buy DJIs $239 Care Renew accident insurance if you use it often. An earlier release of DJI’s app warned that “you will be liable for any adverse consequences” when using the feature, but that is no longer stated in the latest version.
Where Nifty is most useful is with manual steering, we found. Enabling it allowed Samuel to fly in tighter spaces without the drone failing, while still getting basic protection from obstacles. That allowed him to focus on the subject as the drone flew around and passed close by obstacles, resulting in some pretty exciting images.
The January update also introduced QuickShots, which let you do pre-programmed camera moves like Dronie, Helix, Rocket, Circle, Boomerang, and Asteroid. In addition, the May update allows you to shoot Log or HLG while using QuickShots, except in Asteroid mode.
These features are great for social media selfies, and actually not bad for snapping some quick shots. For example, if you want a perfect looking job, you don’t need perfect piloting skills – let the drone and obstacle detection do the work. Make sure you are in a relatively clear area.
MasterShots is a similar function, allowing you to capture a series of pre-programmed movements. It then merges those shots together to create a small video set to music. It was updated in January with 4K 60 fps shooting, manual exposure adjustment, and more.
Panorama offers wide-angle, 180-degree and Sphere modes, a neat but somewhat cheap feature for occasional use. Finally, the latest version of Hyperlapse does a flying time-lapse with some cropping to reduce vibration and jitter. It can produce some dramatic shots, especially for cloudy cityscapes and other dynamic situations. The latest version optimizes stability, which makes for smoother shots, but they’re not perfectly smooth when there’s a lot of wind.