Are you new to drones and want to know what is the best travel drone to capture some amazing footage from your holiday or travels? Or do you just want to read personal experience and well written comparison of DJI best travel drones? Then continue reading. We flew them, filmed with them and traveled with them.
Mavic series – the best travel drone?
We can say without exaggerating that Mavic series from famous DJI drone manufacturer is the game changer for every backpacker and traveler who wants the take the drone on their travels, but carefully consider every extra gram and space taken in their backpacks. If you ever carried Mavic’s bigger brother Phantom around, you will definitely appreciate small size of Mavic. This hits the bullseye in the best travel drone topic.
There are currently 5 models in DJI Mavic drone series:
All of them are quite similar – very portable and foldable drones, but with some differences. We will explain these, so you can decide which drone suits you the most.
Any Mavic is easy and quick to set up and you don’t attract too much attention while flying. That’s because the Mavic is small and surprisingly quiet while flying (the quietest is platinum version) and also because the remote control is really small (in good way), so you look more like playing some video game than flying a drone.
Mavic Pro was the first Mavic released by drone giant DJI in October 2016.
The weight of the Mavic Pro is 734g, but what matters for traveler is the whole bag, so the total weight of original travel bag with Mavic Pro, 2 extra batteries, remote control and filters is only 2kg and measures 22x18x13cm.
Same time it maintains good camera performance. The sensor has size of 1/2.3” which is same size as Phantom 3 and Phantom 4. You can shoot 12 megapixel RAW pictures and video in 4k at 30fps and 60Mbit bitrate. Quality of output is comparable with Phantom 4 (NOT Pro version!).
The remote control has also in-built display (as opposed to Mavic Air) which we honestly barely use, but it can be useful when you lose video feed from your phone / tablet, because you can see the distance of the drone on in-built display. When the distance is decreasing it means you are bringing the drone back to you. Of course there is RTH (return to home) function on any Mavic, so having in-built display is not such advantage.
Mavic Pro (and Mavic Pro Platinum) is using Ocusync transmission technology (signal between remote control and the drone), which is far superior to wifi technology used on Mavic Air. It is actually the main benefit of Mavic Pro against Mavic Air. It means with Mavic Pro you will have more stable signal and you will be able to fly further (7km in FCC mode and 4km in CE) than with Mavic Air (4km in FCC mode and 2km in CE). You will see the difference mostly in city areas, where there is a lot of wi-fi interference and Mavic Air can start losing the signal already at few hundreds meters of distance.
Still in our opinion it is not such a significant problem as we mostly fly in nature and maximum 500m away, but it is something to consider if you know you will be mainly flying in the cities.
But the small size of any Mavic also comes at price and it is the lower ability to fly against the wind. If you want to overcome some distance during the windy day, you have to switch to sport mode and still you can see Mavic struggles much more than Phantom in such a conditions. Generally small body of Mavic is more vulnerable to wind gusts (Mavic Air even more as it is smaller and lighter) and it is more difficult to make fluent continuous video shot during the windy day.
The battery has 3830mAh, which results in 27 minutes of flight in perfect conditions. It will be more likely 18-20 minutes of flight in real conditions if you land at 25% remaining battery capacity (which we recommend to prolong battery life and have some reserve for emergencies).
Mavic Pro has very good obstacle avoidance system which is realized by forward and downward optical and ultrasonic sensors. It means Mavic Pro can sense the obstacles in these 2 directions and avoid collision with them. Just be careful with trees, branches without leaves might be too small for Mavic to notice them.
The issue to note with Mavic Pro (or Mavic Pro Platinum) is how gimbal works when rolling (means moving sideways) to one side. Because of the small construction of gimbal, it has a problem to keep horizon straight. It is quite unpleasant, but you can almost entirely eliminate this problem by practice and slow work with sticks.
We hiked with Mavic Pro and backpack for 3 days in Carpathian mountains. Watch the video and check if the quality is good enough for you:
Price: 999 USD in US or 999 EUR in Europe at official DJI store
Mavic Pro Platinum
Mavic Pro Platinum has totally same body, camera and system as Mavic Pro. It is basically just upgraded version of Mavic Pro.
There are only 2 differences – longer flight time and less noise during the flight.
This is all done by upgraded ESC (circuit which regulates and control the speed of motors) and better aerodynamic of new propellers.
In result it means you will be able to fly 3 minutes longer with Mavic Pro Platinum and have 4dB less buzzing noise coming out of the drone during the flight.
Note that propellers of Mavic Pro Platinum can be bought separately and used on Mavic Pro. It will lower the noise, but you will not reach the same noise level as on Mavic Pro Platinum this way, because ESC also plays its role here. Still it is a very nice upgrade for little money.
It depends on your personal needs if it is the reason to pay 300 euros more in final price for Mavic Pro Platinum over Mavic Pro. If you are professional taking video at weddings or trying to fly low profile without getting too much attention, it might make a sense for you.
Price: 1099 USD in US or 1299 EUR in Europe at official DJI store
And finally there is the newest member of Mavic family – Mavic Air. It stands between Mavic Pro and entry level DJI Spark. It brings very interesting version of Mavic and stirs a lot of emotions between the pilots.
There are 2 main improvements against older Mavic Pro:
- Upgraded new camera which has same sensor size 1/2.3”, but can make 4K video at 100mbps bitrate (Mavic Pro has only 60mbps). It means you will be able to record much more details in your video.
- The size and weight of Mavic Air are significantly lower. Mavic Air weights only 430 grams and has dimensions of folded drone – 168×83×49mm. That is big improvement comparing to 198x83x83mm and 734 grams of Mavic Pro. They managed to cut almost half the weight! This is big attraction for travelers, you can put your Mavic Air literally in your pocket now.
Mavic Air is also 150 euros cheaper than Mavic Pro. Now you are probably thinking that if Mavic Air is better and cheaper than Mavic Pro, what is the catch? Let’s talk about the biggest cons of Mavic Air.
- The biggest downside of Mavic Air is the transmission technology. Mavic Air is using wi-fi transmission whereas Mavic Pro is using Ocusync. It can be real problem in the cities, but in the nature while flying in visual line of sight, it is not really an issue. Read more about it in the previous chapter about Mavic Pro.
- Due to smaller battery capacity, the flight time is limited to 20 minutes (in comparison with 27 minutes of Mavic Pro and 30 minutes of Mavic Pro Platinum). In reality it will be few minutes less with all models.
- Lack of exposure wheel! This might seem a small issue, but for photographer and videographer, it is actually a huge fail. On the right side of the Mavic Pro remote control is wheel, which is used to manually change shutter speed and ISO. The wheel is removed on Mavic Air, so if you want to change exposure parameters, you need to do it in application via your phone/tablet display. Like that you lose a time and concentration on the shots.
Beside these main pros and cons there are also some details of Mavic Air which may help you decide which is the best travel drone for you:
- Obstacle avoidance system at Mavic Air works in 3 directions (front, back and down) whereas Mavic Pro has only 2 directions system (front and down)
- APAS (Advanced Pilot Assistance System) system can automatically fly around the obstacles – not too important for photography, but nice feature for beginners
- 360 degree panorama can be created automatically in the drone as opposed to Mavic Pro, which creates it in your phone. It means Mavic Air will process panorama quicker and in higher resolution.
- 360 degree panorama from Mavic Air has 32MP (4096×8192) whereas Mavic Pro will make panorama around 4 times smaller (2048×4096)
- Boomerang and Asteroid are new video functions of Mavic Air which will create some cool shots without having any skills
- Mavic Air cannot fly that quick as Mavic Pro without having propellers in the shot
- No in-built display on the remote control. Not a big deal really. Read more in Mavic Pro section
- Removable sticks on remote control. That is actually very nice feature, which makes a remote control more portable
- Gimbal and camera are better positioned on Mavic Air, totally removing the horizon problem of Mavic Pro when rolling, also making the camera less vulnerable to damage
- Internal storage of 8GB makes Mavic Air more friendly to those who sometimes forget to take SD card with them
- Much better solved battery compartment, so the battery cannot be lost during the flight like on DJI Spark
- Gimbal lock for transport is much more convenient and easy to take on and off
- Improved hand gestures allows you to achieve more without using remote control. In reality we barely tried these. The best video and photo results will be always reached with remote control
- Extra foldable front legs containing antennas makes Mavic Air sit bit higher, protecting camera even more from contact with ground
- Mavic Air does not have ultrasonic sensors anymore, which are known to have problems with uniform grounds, plants and trees. It is using only optical sensors
- Non-foldable propellers of Mavic Air seems to be step back, but in the end you can fold the drone with props on, so not a big deal
- High pitched sound of Mavic Air might be less pleasant then lower frequency sound of Mavic Pro
- Micro SD card slot is bit difficult to access, which makes the whole process of removing the card from the drone more painful.
Price: 799 USD in US or 849 EUR in Europe at official DJI store
Mavic 2 is the newest series of Mavic, released in July 2018. It comes in two versions – Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom. The body is totally identical on both models, only difference between these 2 is the camera – and the difference is huge. We will get into it soon.
If you want to read about Mavic 2 series more in details, we wrote article about it and if it’s worth to pay extra money. You can read about all the new features of Mavic 2 series.
Mavic 2 has now bigger battery which means longer flight time. It can stay in the air 31 minutes in ideal situation which is more even than Mavic Pro Platinum. In real conditions it will be few minutes less.
But bigger battery, more features, better processing power means also that Mavic 2 is bigger and heavier than old Mavic Pro. Mavic 2 Pro has 907 grams (Mavic 2 Zoom is 2 grams lighter). For comparison Mavic Pro has 734 grams and Mavic Air even 430 grams! Quite a difference if the weight is what you care about.
Folded dimensions are 214×91×84 mm. It is just little bit bigger than Mavic Pro, but if you put it side by side with Mavic Air (168×83×49mm), the difference is quite huge and you will notice it in your bag.
Let’s talk about the biggest change in Mavic 2 series – the camera.
Mavic 2 Pro
Mavic 2 Pro has 20MP 1” CMOS Sensor Hasselblad camera and it is the first compact drone having such a great camera. You can find similar camera on Phantom 4 Pro, but Phantom body and remote are not travel friendly. Maybe it doesn’t seems like much change, but it is real difference, especially in low light conditions. The image is sharp and beautiful with big dynamic range.
Price: 1499 USD in US or 1499 EUR in Europe at official DJI store
Mavic 2 Zoom
Mavic 2 Zoom does not have this amazing Hasselblad camera and neither 1″ sensor. It has only 12MP 1/2,3″ sensor which is same size as on Mavic Pro, but Mavic 2 Zoom has 24-48 mm optical zoom. It means you can make more detailed shots without flying too close to the object and also it offers you fresh perspective at 48mm.
Price: 1247 USD in US or 1249 EUR in Europe at official DJI store
Mavic 2 series is the top travel drone you can buy now. If you really care about the quality of the shots and same time don’t care about the price tag and little bit bigger body, then Mavic 2 Pro is in our opinion the way to go. Mavic 2 Zoom has also its use, but we prefer Pro version for its amazing camera.
Spark is so far the smallest drone made by DJI manufacture. But because it doesn’t have foldable construction, Mavic Air is actually smaller when folded. Spark is considered to be entry level drone which is offered for very pleasant price.
It weights only 300 grams and has dimension of 143×143×55mm. That’s another 30% weight reduction in comparison with Mavic Air and 60% reduction in comparison with Mavic Pro. But when it comes to photo and video performance it stands far behind Mavic series.
Spark cannot make RAW pictures, which means you will have to manage with JPEG and much fewer options in post-processing. JPEG just doesn’t carry that much information and you will notice it especially in low-light conditions. Still Spark has same size of sensor (1/2.3″) as Mavic series and for Facebook sharing, the quality is totally enough. Add to it possibility of auto bracketing and you can make very impressive images.
Also the video is quite limited – maximum resolution is fullHD (1920×1080) at 30fps and 24Mbps. The gimbal stabilize the camera only in 2 axis (all Mavics have 3 axis stabilization), but Spark is using software stabilization to compensate for that. It has actually 4k sensor as well, but because of the software stabilization, the final video can be maximum fullHD resolution. Once again, this is not enough for professional use, but it will definitely impress your friends once you upload the video on youtube.
One of the best features of Spark is the possibility to charge it from powerbank, which makes it amazing for traveling. Note that not all powerbanks will be able to charge the Spark, you will need powerbank with high current output. This one is reviewed and working well.
Huge downside is the transmission technology. Spark is using wi-fi technology as Mavic Air, but even with more narrow bandwith, which results in very short operational distance, especially in CE mode (in Europe). DJI states on their website that Spark maximum transmission distance is 2km in FCC mode and 500m in CE mode. For comparison DJI states for Mavic Air 4km in FCC / 2km in CE distance.
If you live in location where your Spark runs in CE mode, there is possibility to manually change the mode to FCC. Of course this is not official information as the mode reflects the radio frequency emission regulation of the country where the drone is situated. You can follow this youtube tutorial where there is the procedure to change the mode well explained. Note that without this tweak, Spark (or any other DJI drone) will recognize the location based on GPS coordinates and choose FCC or CE mode automatically every time you start.
If you want to save some money, you can fly Spark without remote control, just with hand gestures. Then the operational distance is limited just to 100m distance and 50m height. But if you intend to do more than just selfies, we recommend to buy remote control as well.
Spark has also obstacle avoidance, but only frontward and up to 5m distance and downward.
Spark is entry-level drone for beginners and those who don’t want to spend too much time with post-processing, but still want to enjoy the perspective which drone can offer.
Price: 399 USD in US or 499 EUR in Europe at official DJI store
Final comparison – the best travel drone
To absorb all that information, we put it into the table, so it is well visible which one is the best travel drone for you.
All of the models mentioned in this article excel at something else and every traveler needs to think what are his priorities.
Mavic Air is for traveling videographers, Mavic Pro for those who wants stable signal and long flight time, Mavic Pro Platinum for those who are willing to pay extra money for the extra flight time and less noise. Spark excels at the price tag and is great drone for beginners.
If you don’t want to compromise about the quality of your shots and money is not the concern then Mavic 2 Pro is the way to go.
In our opinion is the best travel drone Mavic Air. It is full of new technologies in incredibly small body and at very acceptable price.
If this article helped you, consider buying the drone at official DJI store over this link. The price will not change for you, but we will receive few credits on DJI account, so we can continue to create free reviews. DJI sends the drone almost all over the world and for free.