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Mavic 3 Pro: Hands-on with the best drone for content creators

With its triple-lens camera array, the Mavic 3 successor is a massive leap forward for drone photographers and videographers.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
DJI Mavic 3 Pro drone

DJI Mavic 3 Pro

Katherine Betteridge/ZDNET

In late April, DJI introduced its newest flagship prosumer drone – the Mavic 3 Pro. Building upon the reliable Mavic 3 airframe, this drone elevates the game by incorporating a third camera into the already impressive front-facing camera platform.

Undoubtedly, the now discontinued Mavic 3 reigned as the top drone of 2022. Despite being released initially with a slew of unfinished or absent features, subsequent firmware updates rectified these issues. Considering the Mavic 3's excellence, I was eager to evaluate its successor's performance.

Also: The best drones: Which flying camera is right for you?

Could the Mavic 3 Pro be the best drone of 2023? 

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To find out, I tested it at some of my favorite locations in Anglesey, North Wales, U.K. Assisting me both in front of the drone and behind the controller was Katherine Betteridge, a gifted local artist and creatrix known for her remarkable work on land, water, and in the air.

So, how did the Mavic 3 Pro fare? Frankly, its capabilities left me astounded. Let's begin with its aerial performance.

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Given my many hours flying the Mavic 3, I found the Mavic 3 Pro's familiar feel allowed for a quick and easy adjustment between the drones. Despite occasional odd flight characteristics and a slightly unresponsive app interface, the Mavic 3 Pro felt like a polished product, ready for serious tasks. I anticipate future firmware updates to address these minor issues as DJI receives real-world flight data.

Mavic 3 Pro in high winds

Katherine Betteridge/ZDNET

Everything just worked.

The Mavic 3 Pro demonstrated remarkable stability in various conditions, from windswept copper mines to sheltered forests. This stability instills the confidence needed to push the drone to its limits and capture desired photographs. 

While the Mini 3 Pro buzzes around like a bumble bee during flight, the Mavic 3 Pro's rock-solid performance and advanced obstacle avoidance system -- which works just as well, if not better, on the Mavic 3 Pro as it did on the Mavic 3 -- lets me fly it closer to trees and rocks without hesitation to get in really close to the subject.

Mavic 3 Pro drone in the woods

Trees are a real test of the Mavic 3 Pro's obstacle avoidance system.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

And if I needed to get closer, I'd take my chances, disable the all-round sensor array, and pilot the drone to within inches of rocks and trees.

You can only do this with a drone that's stable both in flight and when hovering, and the Mavic 3 Pro is as good as it gets.

Battery life was also impressive, with about 30 minutes per charge, outperforming competitors like the Mini 3 Pro and Air 2S.

As for the cameras, I'm going to let the output speak for itself.

Note that the opening shot of the drone in the cave was done as a handheld shot -- flying a drone in a cave is not recommended. But yes, you can handhold a drone (just not with the propellers whirring). All the shots are from the Mavic 3 Pro using the wide-angle and medium tele lens, and manual flight (no automated flight controls).

With the original two-camera Mavic 3, most of my shooting is done using the 24mm equivalent wide-angle 4/3 CMOS Hasselblad camera, because the output from the 'explorer mode' 166mm equivalent tele camera is nowhere near as good. Getting usable results from the latter takes planning, forethought, and editing 

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The Mavic 3 Pro retains the same tele camera as its predecessor, and that brings with it the same issues -- the footage it captures is somewhat usable, but requires a fair bit of post-processing to achieve decent results. Again, DJI calls this camera an 'explorer mode' camera, the idea being that you use it to scout for locations when flying.

But if you give content creators a camera, they'll try to create content with it!

New to the Mavic 3 Pro is the 70mm equivalent medium tele camera, and the output from this is excellent, enabling you to do a 3x punch-in compared to the main wide-angle. You can get close in without having to take the drone closer, which opens up new creative possibilities for content creators.

During my tests, the absence of neutral density (ND) filters on the provided media unit proved to be a minor hindrance. ND filters function like sunglasses for the camera, enabling better control of lighting. This is crucial for capturing video in bright conditions, as ND filters allow for more precise shot adjustments. While the wide-angle camera features built-in aperture control -- similar to an eye's iris adjusting to light -- the other cameras lack this functionality. 

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As a result, I found myself slightly limited when using the medium telephoto camera, and the resulting shots required more post-processing to match the wide-angle camera's quality.

Improvise, adapt, overcome.

However, if you're buying the Mavic 3 Pro, I'd highly recommend getting the Fly More Combo kit that comes with ND filters, or buying quality third-party filters that are likely to hit the market soon from manufacturers such as Polar Pro, Freewell, or PGYTech.

The lack of ND filters aside, the Mavic 3 Pro is an exceptional drone. It boasts power, stability, minimal noise, an outstanding camera array, and a battery life that significantly outshines its competitors.

In conclusion, the Mavic 3 Pro confidently -- no doubt, no reservations -- claims the title of the best drone for 2023. 

See also: The best cameras for photographers: Entry-level to pro

DJI is leagues ahead of its competitors, and this drone is a substantial improvement over the Mavic 3. For those looking for a prosumer drone, look no further. If you're a current Mavic 3 owner and need to get in closer to your subjects, then the medium telephoto camera will deliver exactly that in a platform that's otherwise familiar to you, which could make this the perfect upgrade.

However, a prosumer drone comes with a prosumer price tag, and if you're starting out, I recommend you build your flying skills with something a little less pricey, such as the excellent DJI Mini 3 or Mini 3 Pro. I use my Mini 3 Pro a lot, and I'm always blown away by how amazing this sub-250g drone is. 

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