Show Notes Honest, Non-Fanboy Review of the Mavic Mini

This episode delivers an extensive, unbiased review of the DJI Mavic Mini.

The Video:

Jeff Sibelius Youtube Channel

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The Mavic Mini has a very low ground clearance, which means you need a flat surface to launch and land with. Grass and ground clutter can interfere with your gimbal when it's on the ground, so a launch pad is a smart idea. I use the Hoodman Drone 5' Launch Pad and have for years. Below is a link to the 3' version of the launch pad, which is cheaper and more appropriately sized to the Mavic series drones. Well worth it so you can launch and land wherever you want:

Alternatively, you can use landing gear extensions to make the Mavic Mini easier to launch and land in grass. Here's a good option from PGYTech, a reputable drone supplies company:


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Youtube Video Show Notes - The Script

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Thank you for watching videos by Jeff Sibelius and Land and Air

It’s December, 2019. If you’re watching this video, you are probably thinking of buying a Mavic Mini for yourself or as a gift for someone else. Do you want this drone under your Christmas tree? Watch this review to find out.

I'm sure you heard about the MAVIC MINI, a new drone from DJI that weighs less than the magical 250g threshold that triggers government regulation and oversight all around the world. If you spend any time on Youtube I’m sure you’ve seen the crazy hype about this drone.

If you watch my channel you know I’m not a fanboy for any drone company – so now it’s time for some rational, objective feedback about the Mavic Mini.

First, the most obvious thing about the mini is now amazingly small it is. To give you some sense of perspective, here's the Mavic Mini next to a Phantom 4 Pro.

Don't see it?

That’s because it's actually hiding beneath my cell phone case.

Now That's a small drone.

The MAVIC MINI is just as light as it is small. For you non-metric people it weighs just 8.78 ounces.

Of course, DJI's whole idea was to deliver a drone that weighs under the magic number of 250 grams. In the US that means the drone does not need to be registered. No big deal. In other countries, however, someone who flies a drone under 250 grams is not required to jump through the same regulatory hoops that they would for larger drones - that could be a big deal.

If that's your situation and your priority, you can stop watching this video now, scroll down to the description and click the purchase link to order the MAVIC MINI. There isn't another drone in the world under 250g that does anything close to what this one can do. And you'll dodge all those regulations - until those countries drop the threshold for weight standards in response to this drone, anyway.

So who else is DJI targeting with the MAVIC MINI?

It's inexpensive and simple to fly with its stripped down control app, so it targets the entry level flyer, and at this time of year I imagine a lot of Santas will be putting this drone under a lot of trees.

And its size allows you to fit it in your camera bag, so it's a great travel drone.

That’s all great, but the light weight and small size means DJI had to make compromises with the MAVIC MINI.

First off, The Mini doesn't have an obstacle avoidance system. This is a big omission for a drone that clearly is targeted to beginners.

The MAVIC MINI also has screw-down props. These aren't as convenient as self-locking props but I'm sure they help to bring the weight and cost down. You get a tool with the MAVIC MINI to change props, but this is just something else to carry around in your case. Not convenient.

The build quality is not what you expect from DJI drones - it's made out of thin, flexible plastic. Some have suggested the MAVIC MINI will be fragile, but I think the flexible plastic coupled with the light weight will allow the MAVIC MINI to handle crashes pretty well. It's just as likely to bounce as it is to break.

The controller also has a thin plastic feel with no telemetry screen built in - again, compromises. The sticks are plastic, but I actually prefer how they feel on the Mini compared to the sticks on the Mavic Air.

I got the Fly More combo, which includes two extra batteries, a charging hub and a case. It's worth every bit of the extra $100 it costs over the base price. Charging the batteries one at a time with a USB cable will be a lot slower than using the hub - you'll be glad you upgraded every time you charge. And the case is actually big enough to hold everything you need to fly, other than the smart device.

So, build quality is one of the compromises you make with the Mini – it’s about what you’d expect from a $400 drone under 250g.

Let’s talk for a bit about how the MAVIC MINI flies.

Again, this drone is insanely small - it almost looks silly in the middle of that big launch pad, doesn't it?

The MAVIC MINI is not just small, it's low to the ground. Notice on this shot - even though I was on a launch pad, the grass underneath still pushed up enough to affect the gimbal prior to takeoff. You will have to pick your launch and land spots carefully to avoid damaging the gimbal.

Not surprisingly, the MAVIC MINI is very quiet. I was unable to hear it after it flew 400 feet away. By contrast, in the same shooting environment I could hear the Phantom 4 Pro at 1,000 feet away.

Obviously, wind direction and ambient noises will impact how close it can get before you hear it, but it does give you a sense of how quiet the MAVIC MINI is.

To compare the sounds:

Here’s the Mavic Mini hovering.

Here's the Typhoon H hovering.

Here’s the Autel Evo hovering.

Here’s the Phantom 4 Pro hovering.

The MAVIC MINI is very easy to fly. You expect it to be jerky like most toy-size drones, but it flies very smoothly, even in Sport mode. The flight would be nicer if it had options for adjusting the stick responsiveness, but again, that's a compromise to keep costs down. It's not something most beginners would use in the first place - but travel photographers would. I hope they add this feature with a firmware update.

I mentioned before that it doesn’t have obstacle avoidance. It does have downward sensors though, and as you can see here, they work pretty darned well. These sensors test the ground to see if you’re landing on a level surface and they help you maintain position while flying indoors.

The gimbal tilts extremely well. Again, you expect a $400 drone to act like a toy, but I was able to make slow, smooth tilts even without the option to adjust gimbal tilt speed in the app.

My biggest surprise for the MAVIC MINI was the quality of the wifi connection. I don't do range tests, but I did take the MAVIC MINI out over 1000 feet and the video sync was very solid the entire way. I did experience occasional glitches in the video sync as you see here, but they were very minor and there was never a problem with maintaining control of the aircraft. I'm amazed at how good the connection was on this $400 drone.

Not so surprising was how the MAVIC MINI handled wind, which was the first thing I thought of when I heard about the Mini in the first place.

My concern about the Mavic Mini were twofold. First, I was concerned about being able to control the aircraft in wind. The second was what kind of jitters and shakes would you find in the video you shot in windy conditions.

I tested the Mavic Mini in winds of 10-13 miles per hour.

I never lost control of the mini in these conditions, but as you can see here, it did jumped around some. I was pleasantly surprised that the gimbal did a good job and the video it was shooting wasn’t too bad.

Still, I wouldn’t plan to fly this in winds any higher than 10-12 miles per hour, especially when you remember that wind speeds will increase as you go higher.

The bigger drones will just handle wind better. Watch the Phantom 4 Pro.

Here’s the Typhoon H plus at 200 feet altitude, when the wind was blowing up to 13 miles per hour at ground level. This is the kind of stability you can’t get from a small drone like the mini.

I’m not faulting the mini because it can’t do what a drone 10 times its size can do – just pointing out that this is a limitation of the Mini, and there will be times when you can’t fly the mini and get good shots when you could with other drones. That could be a big deal when you’ve only got one chance to shoot while on vacation, for example.

In mild conditions I was flying between 16 and 18 miles per hour with or against the wind in Position – or P - mode. That said, these motors are not powerful. You will need to get used to switching to Sport mode when bringing the MAVIC MINI back against a significant wind, or else it may not have the power to get back to you.

I tested the top speeds for Position, Sport and Cinesmooth modes. Sport mode reached 28 miles per hour. Position topped out at 18 miles per hour and Cinesmooth barely got up to 9.

I like these speed ranges on the MAVIC MINI. You can use P or S modes to get to where you want to be, and drop it down to C mode for better shots. Look at this 360 degree spin at full speed in C mode – Cinesmooth works very well for slow, controlled shooting.

Along with wind performance, my other concern about the MAVIC MINI was that its size would make it difficult to see in the sky, especially since it's a light gray color that blends in with the clouds. This concern was confirmed. On a sunny day I kept my eyes on the Mavic Mini as I flew it straight out, letting go of the stick when I couldn't see it anymore. I lost sight of it at about 690 feet. On a cloudy day I was able to see the MAVIC MINI out to 900 feet, which was surprising given its light gray color.

I'm completely at a loss to explain why DJI produced this drone in a light gray plastic rather than something dark, that would contrast against the sky. For a company that pretends to care about safety, this was a really, really stupid decision.

As you can see, the footage from the MAVIC MINI is remarkably good for a $400 drone. I've seen a lot of sample videos from MAVIC MINIs and they seem to consistently meter a little bright, so I dropped the EV compensation down to -.5, and got a nice exposure.

Looking at this test of the gimbal, you can see that the rectilinear lens does a terrific job of keeping the horizon straight and avoiding the typical wide angle barrel distortion.

There are no white balance or picture settings in video; I think DJI tried to find a good middle of the road level of saturation and contrast with the MAVIC MINI's video so people could post it to facebook without color grading, and I think they did a very good job at this.

Not having control of white balance can cause problems, though. Look at these shots I took in a single flight at dawn. You can see the white balance changing back and forth throughout the flight, and I had no control of it. These kinds of fluctuations can ruin some of your shots.

The DJI Fly app does have an Exposure lock that is easy to use. I tested the lock and it worked great at freezing the exposure so you don’t get fluctuations in your exposure in your shot.

Here’s how it looks without exposure lock.

Here’s how it looks with exposure lock.

That said, I hope they at least give us some color profiles and white balance options with a firmware upgrade. I get that they want to keep a difference between the Mini and the Mavic Air, but the inability to control white balance diminishes the value of this drone to the travel photographer.

The MAVIC MINI is currently limited to 2.7k resolution at 30 frames per second. Years ago, the Phantom 3 Advanced was limited to 1080p and DJI bumped that up to 2.7K with a firmware update. I'd love to see them do the same with the Mini to get it up to 4K.

The Mini will never match the quality of a Mavic Pro or Phantom, but it's still remarkably good for a $400 drone and I'm thrilled it has a 3-axis mechanical gimbal that does a great job.

I timed my first flight and it lasted just over 21 minutes. I timed a later flight and it self-landed at 24 minutes 12 seconds. To get that kind of flight time from a $400 drone, especially when the more expensive Mavic Air only does 16 minutes or so, is incredible.

So what were my first impressions?

You've heard me say "for a $400 drone" a lot in this video. You just have to factor in the insanely low price when evaluating the MAVIC MINI. To compare it to a Mavic Pro or Typhoon H would be unrealistic.

A better comparison would be with something like the toy drones that are about the same size and weight - and there is no comparison there. The MAVIC MINI is amazing for what it can do - for a $400 drone.

Of course, the Fimi x8 costs somewhere around the same price. It handles wind better and shoots 4K video. But it’s bigger and weighs more than 250g. Further - you can only get the Fimi from mail-order companies like banggood, and I really question how you would get it serviced if something broke on it. This is the same concern I have with the Parrot Anafi – where do you get it fixed? This is no problem with the MAVIC MINI - You can get DJI drones fixed anywhere.

So, all things considered, the MAVIC MINI is in a class all its own. DJI has managed to position this drone in a lane that no other drone occupies.

So, who is the MAVIC MINI right for?

Obviously, if you live in Canada or some other country with onerous regulations, the MAVIC MINI is a great choice to escape the governmental nonsense. Just expect the governments to change the rules soon.

What about the other people who are considering the MAVIC MINI? I think I’d sum it up as an excellent solution for new pilots and travelers, with some key limitations you need to keep in mind.

Well, The MAVIC MINI is easy to fly and inexpensive, so I can see lots of newbie pilots using it to get started. From an operational standpoint I think it's great for beginners. Great wifi connection you can rely on, smooth flying for a small drone, shoots respectable images, easy to carry around. And at that price, I can see a lot of parents getting these for their kids who want to start flying.

And that's where I get a little nervous about the MAVIC MINI. This isn't a toy drone like a Syma or even a Tello, even though it looks like one. This drone can go farther than two miles away, it struggles with wind, it's impossible to see in the sky and it doesn't have obstacle avoidance. It's like that line from the Disney movie "Aladdin" - Phenomenal Cosmic Powers! Itty Bitty Living Space!

Parents, if you're considering a MAVIC MINI for your teenager, you should really consider whether junior is honestly responsible enough to handle something with this much range. Honestly, if you can afford it I would recommend the Mavic Air over the Mini for a young flyer. It’s easier to see in the sky, bigger and has obstacle avoidance.

What about people who want a travel drone? This is why I got the Mini. I want something small enough to shoot decent video when I travel. The Mini really fits that bill. I can definitely fit the Mini in my camera bag, where every inch counts, and the video it shoots is seriously impressive for a $400 drone - there, I said it again.

That said, I really want more photographic control with the MAVIC MINI, including 4K, and I need to test it more to see how much wind it can really handle. That will determine whether the MAVIC MINI goes to Italy with me next year, or if I take my normal travel drone, the Autel Evo.

One other use for the MAVIC MINI - I can see some value in the Mini for an operator who shoots real estate interiors or weddings and events. It's small, unobtrusive and quiet, and from what I've seen it handles indoor flying very well. The Mini could be like that special lens you keep in the bag - you don't use it often, but it's nice to have when you need it.

So those are my first thoughts on the MAVIC MINI. Overall it’s a great little drone with remarkable capabilities for its size and price. Can you fly within its limitations? Can you live with its point and shoot camera at 2.7k resolution? If so, the MAVIC MINI truly is in a class all its own for categories of drone owners who haven’t see something new since DJI released the Spark.

If you want to get the MAVIC MINI, click the link in the description below and buy direct from DJI!

I plan to publish some tutorials on how to use it. How to set it up, how to fly your first flight with the MAVIC MINI, and more. Be sure to subscribe to the channel and hit the little bell icon so you’ll be notified when I publish again.

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