DJI Mavic 2 Review: Two fantastic drones, one tough choice

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The Mavic 2 also has 8GB of onboard storage, but it fills up quickly — so you’ll want to invest in a larger micro-SD card to store your photos and videos. Be sure to check DJI’s list of supported SD cards, as I encountered glitchy video when recording on an older card.

As for the Mavic 2’s controller, it fuses the ones that came with the Mavic Pro and Mavic Air. It has the removable thumb-sticks that stow away inside the arms like the Mavic Air controller, but also has the built-in LED readout like the Mavic Pro’s. My only gripe is that I wish DJI would add more physical controls to the RC for manual exposure settings like you’d find on a DSLR. Having separate hardware dials for ISO, shutter speed and aperture would really speed things up when adjusting exposure in flight. There are assignable controls, but they don’t suit everything.

Connectivity

The Mavic 2 controller works great with an iPad mini, but you'll need a longer microUSB-to-lightning cable to connect them, the one that comes with the Mavic won't reach.

Another welcome upgrade is DJI’s new video transmission system. Occusync 2.0 gives the Mavic 2 a whopping 5-mile range with a 1080p live feed to your mobile device. This means the Mavic 2 can fly farther and show you what you’re shooting more clearly than ever. I was surprised at how drastic an improvement this really is, especially when flying in urban areas where the older Mavics and Phantoms can struggle to maintain a connection (due to radio interference).

The bad news is that the Mavic 2 does not have Wi-Fi, so you won’t be able to control it using only your mobile device (as you can with the original). This may not matter to most but could be a deal-breaker for some. I’m thinking of action sports enthusiasts who don’t want to carry a controller while snowboarding or (or whatever). If you need a drone that you can launch and control with just your phone, then, the Mavic 2 isn’t for you.

For the rest of us, there’s one more bit of good news. The Mavic 2 connects to GPS faster and more reliably than any DJI drone I’ve tried, even when surrounded by tall buildings or trees. This is not a feature that DJI is touting, but it is a welcome improvement.

Software

There are some notable upgrades in the latest version of DJI’s Go 4 app as well as the brains of the Mavic 2 itself. However, certain flight modes that have been around since the Mavic Pro are conspicuously absent (more on this later).

APAS

Active Pilot Assistance System (APAS) was introduced on the Mavic Air, and I’m happy to see that it’s made its way to the Mavic 2 as well. Activating APAS (easily accessible with one tap in the DJI Go 4 app) allows the Mavic 2 to fly around obstacles when moving forward or backward automatically. I tested this in a redwood forest with mixed results. Usually, the Mavic 2 would find its way around the trees, but it would occasionally get stuck and stop moving. It would be nice if APAS was a little smarter about picking a path, but on the bright side, I couldn’t get the Mavic 2 to fly into a tree with APAS activated either.

Intelligent flight modes

The Mavic 2 has a few new tricks beyond improved APAS, but it’s also worth noting some important features that are missing. At the time of this review, the Mavic 2 does not support CourseLock, HomeLock or Terrain Follow. All these flight modes are available on the 2-year-old Mavic Pro, so it’s strange to find them missing on the Mavic 2. DJI may add some or all of these flight modes in a future update, but they aren’t available now.

Fortunately, ActiveTrack (select a person or object for the drone to follow and keep in frame automatically) remains, and has improved — but it’s still far from perfect. I tested the feature at Oakland’s Lake Merritt, where I attempted to track a variety of moving subjects. ActiveTrack works great on large subjects moving at a steady pace, but it was unable to track smaller subjects or anything that changes direction suddenly. I managed some nice shots with the Mavic 2 tracking boats and cyclists, but when I tried to select a bird floating in the lake it stubbornly refused to lock on, and it even lost track of a jogger at one point.

Point of Interest

Another new touch is that you can select a Point of Interest by drawing a box around it on the screen of your mobile device. Once select, the Mavic 2 uses its forward vision system and GPS to calculate the distance to the subject and begins to orbit it automatically. I was initially skeptical about this feature, but it worked perfectly every time. This saves a lot of time over the old way (flying directly over the thing you want to circle and setting the object’s location manually). You can still select a POI the old way if you prefer.

Hyperlapse

While some flight modes are missing, the Mavic 2 has a brand-new one called hyperlapse, which creates a time-lapse video from a sequence of still images automatically. When you launch hyperlapse mode, you choose between four different ways to move the drone as it shoots: Free, Circle, CourseLock and Waypoint. It’s weird that CourseLock and Waypoint are available in hyperlapse mode, but not in normal flight.

If you’re in Free mode, you can just set the photo interval time and hit “go.” Then simply fly the drone while it takes photos at regular intervals. In the other modes, you’ll need to select a POI, set a course for the drone to follow, or create waypoints (max. five) for the Mavic 2 to follow as it shoots the hyperlapse. After that, you can literally put the controller down and let the Mavic 2 do its thing.

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