Founded in 2006 in Shenzhen, China as a technology company, DJI has since become become one of the most prominent drone manufacturers in the world.
DJI now boasts some extremely impressive drone products such as the Mavic, Phantom, and Inspire series, as well as the Osmo handheld camera and gimbal systems. If you’re a serious drone pilot, you can also take advantage of DJI’s professional training and certification programs.
DJI recently asked me if I wanted to test out their new DJI Mini 3 drone. It was with a sizeable amount of trepidation that I said yes… I have had a chequered history with drones. The few I have spent time with have either been essentially toys that I managed to destroy or pro-level camera-carrying monsters, that were extremely difficult to handle for an amateur like me.
How did it pan out? Did the DJI Mini 3 survive my furious flying? You’re going to have to keep reading to find out.
Aimed squarely at the entry-level flyer, the DJI Mini 3 is the latest addition to DJI’s lineup of compact and lightweight drones, offering a host of features and improvements over its predecessors.
I was sent the Fly More Combo pack to trial which contained the drone itself, a USB charger with which you can charge 3 drone batteries sequentially, and the DJI RC Smart controller. The controller has a 5.5-inch touchscreen and is effectively an Android-powered smartphone with added physical controls for flying the drone. If you prefer or budgets are tight, there’s a less sophisticated controller available that you can attach your Android or iOS phone to. You’ll also find a set of spare rotor blades (which is a good thing in my book) and a tiny screwdriver to attach them with.
On opening the pack I was greeted with a smart carry case that looked like a camera bag which makes perfect sense for the target audience. The DJI mini 3 is surprisingly svelt, weighing a measly 249 grams and folds down into an unfathomably small 148mm x 90mm x 62mm package. When you unfold the spring-loaded arms, you’ll instantly have a small, perfectly formed drone in your hand. And at 251m x 362mm x 72mm it’s not exactly big even when unfolded!
At one end is the large single battery bay where you simply slot in one of the 3 supplied power packs. DJI state this will give you 38 mins of flight time. We flew the review model on a reasonably warm day and tried the acceleration and automated systems for around half an hour so I’d say 38 mins is more or less accurate. Also at the battery end, you’ll find a USB-C port for charging and data transfer, and a micro SD slot to save all the video and images you’ll be blasting through while flying.
However, I initially made a mistake by not having a good enough SD card to begin with. You will need a fairly high-spec V30 Micro SDXC card and DJI provides a list of approved suppliers. Though I just bought mine randomly online and it seemed to work fine.
At the other end of the mini beast is the 4k camera which can shoot 4k video at 30fps 2.7k at 60fps or FHD at 60fps. The camera is obviously key to this device and really doesn’t disappoint. The camera unit is on a gimbal and can be rotated in flight between landscape and portrait modes and rocks a 12MP 1/1.3 inch sensor. Now, this isn’t the highest spec I’ve seen on a drone but frankly, as an entry-level device, the results are excellent. Images are superb, looking colourful and vibrant with little noise apparent. You also get a number of pre-set shooting functions including; HDR, wide-angle, single-shot, and panorama amongst others.
I’m not a photographer or have much knowledge in the working of cameras so I’ll just regurgitate the spec; so you get an ISO range of 100-3200 and an f/1.7 aperture plus DJI’s own HDR tech which improves images taken in low/poor light. Look, all I know is that the pictures look great and given that they are taken with a tiny device at high altitude it’s super-impressive!
Talking of altitude, this is why I was getting nervous. I’m not a nervous flyer – I’m happy to sit in a plane and go anywhere but I am a nervous pilot (& not particularly well coordinated) So the Mini 3 would have to do a lot of the heavy lifting, so to speak. Thankfully the Mini 3 had me covered. I’d heard about DJI drones’ ease of use, but I was really impressed at how simple it was to get in the air.
Once the device is activated you’ll immediately see the live feed from the drone’s camera – it’s amazingly clear and stable seemingly in every situation, even when the Mini 3 is speeding through the air. Of note is the micro SDXC slot in the controller itself which can be used to save the video streamed from the device which is a useful backup feature in case your footage saved in the drone never makes it back.
Of course, seasoned drone pilots will pull their control sticks down and towards the middle and be off like a shot but DJI kindly has provided an auto take-off and land function which is nothing more complex than holding your finger on an onscreen button. The device has vertical avoidance cameras which keep a lookout below. The mini 3 takes off and then hovers at a metre or so above the ground waiting for you to take over. Landing is achieved in the same way and this alone takes a lot of stress out of the process.
Controls are super reactive and as unlikely as it sounds, flying the Mini 3 came very naturally without any loutish behaviour from either of us. There was a slight breeze when we were out and it seemed to cope effortlessly, in fact, DJI says the Mini can be flown in winds up to 38 kph (10.7 m/s) but my advice is you probably shouldn’t.
If you want the Mini 3 to really take over the videography grunt-work, then DJI has come up with a very neat function that they call ‘Quickshots’ which could be right up your street. Quickshots are preset automated flight modes that can produce some interesting, professional looking shots. Just select them on the controller, pick targets by drawing a box around the subjects you want to film, and let the Mini 3 do its thing. 5 modes are available; Dronie, Rocket, Circle, Helix and Boomerang.
For manual filming and flying you have 3 flight modes; Cine, Normal and Sport. We stayed in Normal for most of our testing but Cine mode is much slower with much gentler reactions to allow you to capture silky smooth footage whereas Sport mode is all about performance with an apparent top speed of 35.8mph.
Talking of location. (seamless link there…) While I’ve briefly talked about the auto-land and take off functions. The Mini 3 also has several rather excellent satellite based helpers built in. This is all centred around RTH or Return to Home. Simply put, by using GPS, the Mini 3 will always return to the starting take-off point. Of course, the function also encompasses Smart RTH, Low Battery RTH, and Failsafe RTH so if you’re power levels drop or there’s a loss of signal, your drone won’t disappear off into the distance all by itself.
Alongside GPS the DJI mini 3 also supports GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) and combines the system with the previously mentioned downward-facing cameras to allow the device to hover stably to allow smoother video captures than you probably could get by flying manually.
I just wanted to mention another interesting GPS-based function that I discovered. We live not too far from one of the busiest airports in the world so there are quite stringent airspace restrictions. The super-clever DJI software restricts your altitude and areas you can fly in, not only to prevent the dangers of drone strikes but, more importantly, it prevents you from getting arrested or fined for dangerous flying.
On the basis that I was scared of smashing it into tiny pieces, what did I think of the DJI Mini 3? I was really pleasantly surprised. I expected it to be super complicated but the DJI software/hardware combination took all the stress points away from a total noob like me. I loved the small size and lightweight but let’s be real, you can’t take your eyes off the screen with those amazing high-altitude views. The mini 3 is perfect for beginners but it has enough depth and manual controls for someone who wants to really feel like they’re flying for real.
Hopefully, this review has given you a taste for the open skies. If it has, check out the Mini 3 on DJI’s store.
Or check out DJI’s range of drones on Amazon
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