With its Hasselblad camera, Micro Four Thirds size sensor and adjustable aperture, the Mavic 3 is almost like a flying DSLR or mirrorless camera. How good is it for aerial 360 photos? Here is an unsponsored and unbiased review from the perspective of a professional 360 photographer and licensed drone pilot, plus full resolution sample 360 panoramas.
The DJI Mavic 3 is DJI’s flagship drone for consumers with a 20mp Micro Four Thirds size sensor camera co-designed by Hasselblad that can capture 10-bit 5k video at up to 50fps. It also has a secondary telephoto lens with an equivalent focal length of 162mm. Starting at $2199, it is the most expensive Mavic model to date. Is it really worth it or is it just hype? I’ve been shooting 360 photos with it the past few weeks. Here’s my perspective as a 360 virtual tour photographer and licensed drone pilot (I fly both photography drones and FPV drones).
Specifications and Key Features
|Sensor size (wide lens)||4/3 inch|
|Photo resolution (wide lens)||5280 x 3956 (20mp)|
|Video resolution||5120 x 2700 at up to 50fps|
|Focal length (wide)||24mm|
|Aperture (wide)||f/2.8 to f/11|
|Sensor size (tele lens)||1/2 inch|
|Photo resolution (tele lens)||4000 x 3000 (12mp)|
|Video resolution (tele lens)||3840 x 1920 30fps|
|Focal length (tele lens)||162mm|
|ISO range||100 to 6400|
|Shutter speed||1/8000 to 8 secs (wide) or 2 secs (tele)|
|File format||Video: mp4 or mov in H264 or H265; or Apple prores422 HQ (cine version only)|
Photo: DNG or JPG
|Memory storage||Built-in (8GB for standard or 1TB for Cine)|
Micro SD (up to 2TB)
|Speed||47mph (sport mode)|
17.9mph ascent rate
13.4mph descent rate
|Operating range||9.3 Miles / 15 km|
|Flight time||46 mins (flying)|
40 mins (hovering)
|Maximum payload||Approx. 560 grams|
|Battery||5000 mAh 4S LiPo (15.4v)|
|Weight (with battery)||11.8 oz / 335.5 g|
|Dimensions||3.8 x 3.6 x 8.7" / 96.3 x 90.3 x 221.0 mm (Folded)|
11.1 x 4.2 x 13.7" / 283.0 x 107.7 x 347.5 mm (Unfolded)
|Price||$2199 and up|
Micro Four Thirds size sensor: Slapping the Hasselblad brand on the Mavic 3’s camera isn’t very meaningful to me because at the end of the day, it’s not a medium format camera. But what is impressive to me is that this is the first consumer drone to have Micro Four Thirds size sensor, which previously had been available only for professional drones costing at least $5,000. All other factors being equal, a larger sensor has higher dynamic range, higher bit depth and better signal to noise ratio. The Mavic 3’s sensor is almost twice the size of the 1-inch sensor in the Air 2S, and about 8x larger than a 1/2.3-inch sensor found in compact cameras and entry-level consumer drones.
5K video: Mavic 3 can capture video at 5k resolution, up to 50 fps, in 10-bit log mode with a 200mbps bitrate.
Adjustable aperture: Mavic 3 is one of the first consumer drones to offer adjustable aperture, from f/2.8 to f/11.
46-Minute Flight time: DJI claims that the Mavic 3 has a flight time of 40 minutes hovering or 46 minutes flight time.
360-degree obstacle avoidance: Mavic 3 has sensors on all sides and can detect obstacles in all directions.
Ease of use; how to take a 360 panorama with the Mavic 3
With the most recent firmware update, the Mavic 3 can take 360 photos automatically.
- Choose photo mode.
Tap on the photo mode icon to reveal the different photo modes. Swipe up and choose Pano. Please note that the Mavic 3 has to be in the air when you do this. The app will not let you choose Pano before taking off.
3. Tap on Sphere. (Other panorama modes are also available, such as a 180-degree photo).
4. Adjust the exposure if you wish then tap the shutter to begin shooting.
Mavic 3 will automatically take 25 photos (8 shots in 3 rows, plus 1 nadir shot) by shooting each column then rotating to the next position.
When shooting in Auto exposure, the Mavic 3 will set the exposure individually for every shot. However, you can adjust exposure compensation +/- 3EV in 1/3 stop increments. You can also choose aperture priority, shutter priority, ISO priority, by specifying the aperture, shutter speed and/or ISO, and leaving the other parameters to auto, or you can choose a fully manual exposure.
The Mavic 3 can take photos in either JPG or DNG Raw, however, the stitched photo will be in JPG. DNG Raw photos will be unstitched and the 25 photos for each pano will be put in a separate folder for each panorama. Each folder of 25 DNG photos takes up about 1 GB. You can then edit and stitch the photos using third party software.
After shooting, the Mavic 3 will immediately begin stitching the photos. The 360 photo can be viewed in the app, which will show you a low resolution tiny planet preview, with the option to download the stitched 360 photo in full resolution.
The stitched resolution of the Mavic 3’s 360 photos depends on how you process them. If you use the built-in 360 photo straight out of the camera, stitched by the Mavic 3’s software, then the resolution is 14,400 x 7,200 (104 megapixels).
If you shoot in Raw DNG, each unstitched DNG photo is 5280 x 3956. If you then stitch the Raw DNG photos in PTGui, the stitched resolution is approximately 22500 x 11250 (250+ megapixels).
Field of view and coverage
The Mavic 3 can only tilt its camera upward 35 degrees, so it cannot take fully spherical 360 photos. The actual coverage is approximately 270 degrees (i.e., a 90-degree hole in the zenith). When the Mavic 3 stitches the 360 photo, it fills the hole in the zenith automatically by blurring it.
“Built-in ND filter”
The Mavic 3 does not have a built-in ND filter but its aperture can be adjusted down to f/11, 4 stops narrower than the f/2.8 wide open aperture. This enables me to underexpose shots even in bright sunlight and even without an ND filter.
One of the strengths of the Mavic 3 for aerial 360 photos is the speed with which it can take an aerial pano. The Mavic 3 can shoot a 360 photo in about 1 minute 8 seconds. Of that, about 30 seconds are for processing the 360 photo, so the shooting is as fast as under 40 seconds.
One thing I appreciated with the Mavic 3 is that it is able to maintain a strong radio signal even with a lot of radio interference nearby. With my consumer drones such as the Parrot Anafi or Mavic Air, I get low signal warnings as low as 150 ft in the air in the same area.
Power and stability
The Mavic 3 has very large 9.5-inch propellers, which enables it to maintain its position even against 20mph winds (DJI claims that it can fly in winds as strong as 26.5mph). This stability is very helpful for smooth stitching of 360 aerial photos.
Image quality; Mavic 3 sample 360 photos
Here are a couple of sample 360 photos from the Mavic 3, straight out of the camera, stitched by the built-in software of the Mavic 3 (click on the thumbnail to select the photo).
For the sunset shot, the exposure was spot on. The Mavic 3 chose an exposure that avoided any blown highlights and captured the sunset in all its colors. However, in the daylight shot, the exposure is a little more aggressive than I expected. The backlit cirrus clouds are obviously going to be extremely bright no matter what, but I nonetheless expected it to choose a more conservative exposure with fewer blown highlights.
That leads me to a related criticism, which is that I wish it had bracketing for 360 photos, which could have greatly increased the dynamic range. I also wish there had been an option to take 360 photos automatically with the telephoto lens for greater detail.
In terms of stitching, the Mavic’s built-in stitching is very convenient but isn’t perfect. You can sometimes see stitching errors, such as these:
However, please note that I took this shot at a very low altitude, close to the amphitheater, which has many lines, so this is pretty much the worst-case scenario for stitching with the Mavic 3. For aerial 360 photos, at more typical altitudes, the stitching will generally look seamless, as in the sunset shot above.
In any case, here is the edited version of another contemporaneous daylight shot, stitched from DNG:
This version stitched from DNG photos shows far better detail and dynamic range and really shows the true potential of the Mavic 3. The sky also has a much more realistic hue. Note: I uploaded this to Street View, which has a maximum resolution of 100 megapixels therefore I had to downscale the photo. The full resolution is 250+ mp (see full resolution version here), which is similar to the resolution I get when I use a high resolution mirrorless camera for a 360 pano.
When I posted this shot on Facebook, many drone pilots asked me how I patched the hole in the zenith. A popular technique for doing that is to use Photoshop’s content aware fill or similar cloning techniques. However, to get the best and most professional results, I prefer to use the actual sky, particularly when it is as stunning as this one was on that day. I’m working on a tutorial and will post it when it becomes available. If you want to be notified, just comment below and turn on notifications, or subscribe to my YouTube channel.
Here is another sample, after I got a better idea of how the Mavic 3 chooses its exposure. Note: the sunstar is real (so is the rainbow) and it’s one of the things I like about the Mavic 3:
Yes, the Mavic 3 is significantly more expensive than other Mavic models. Nonetheless, it takes excellent quality 360 photos with dynamic range and bit depth that are somewhat comparable to a DSLR or mirrorless camera when shot in DNG. Considering that the photo quality is comparable to a mirrorless camera, and that it can take photos automatically like a motorized panoramic head, the Mavic 3’s price is quite reasonable in my opinion. If you want to add high quality aerial 360 photos to your virtual tours, the Mavic 3 is an excellent option. However, if the Mavic 3 is outside of your budget, you can also check out the Mavic Air 2S ($999 at Amazon or B&H Photo), which offers similar level of detail (but not dynamic range), compared here.
How to get a discount
The Mavic 3 is available starting at $2199 on Amazon. But you can get a discount when you buy the Mavic 3 from B&H Photo, because they immediately refund your sales tax when you purchase with their Payboo card. It’s not a mail-in rebate. Rather, the sales tax is immediately credited back to your account so you won’t have to pay a sales tax, which can be a significant savings, depending on where you are. Thank you for using these affiliate links at no cost to you so I can do more tests and reviews.