DJI’s latest drone, the DJI Mini 3, lands just over six months after the excellent DJI Mini 3 Pro. Again this small drone packs in a list of intelligent flight features in the form of QuickShots as well as image and video quality that would have seemed impossible for a drone of this size and weight only a year ago.
The big USP of the DJI Mini drones is that they fall under 250g, which means that in many territories, they’re outside many of the usual drone restrictions and regulations you usually need to fly. However, the basic course is still recommended, especially in the UK.
The new DJI Mini 3 is an impressive little drone with the same flight characteristics as DJI’s larger drones and much the same form factor, size and weight as the DJI Mini Pro. There are a few missing features, such as the higher framerates at 4K and the object avoidance sensors, but for the most part, this is still a solid choice and incredible value coming in at £200/$200 less than the Pro version.
After a good few days testing this lightweight offering and using it alongside the DJI Mini 3 Pro, I have to say there’s little to tell between the two aside from slightly smoother 4K footage on the Pro version and the downward, forward and backward sensors making it easier to navigate in tricky flight locations.
For the huge saving that the Mini 3 model offers you over the Mini 3 Pro model and the fact that it’s still a very capable drone in its own right, most photographers and videographers will find that they’re perfectly happy with the entry-level version of the Mini 3. However, if you need the best image and video quality, fly in places where objects can be an issue or fly closer to the ground where those framerates are all important, I’d spend the extra and go for the Pro.
Amazing image quality
Extended flight times
Fully featured app
Still expensive for the size
What is DJI Mini 3?
The DJI Mini 3 follows the DJI Mini 3 Pro and, like the recent release of the Mavic 3 Classic, offers a more affordable option of a flagship model.
Again, like the Mini 3 Pro, the Mini comes in at under 250g, so there’s no need for the usual drone certification and licenses, although this varies depending on the country you’re in. Here in the UK, you can fly in most places without the need to pass the drone test.
Many features set the DJI Mini out as interesting; tipping the scales at less than 250g is, of course, the main event, but with that comes the small size and huge flight times. It’s also incredibly nippy in the air, and even for experienced drone pilots, the Mini takes you back to having fun with these aerial-based machines.
The most obvious advantage of a small and lightweight drone is that it neatly fits into a backpack side pocket without adding too much weight. Even with the Fly More Combo, I have for the review, the DJI Smart Controller and two spare batteries, the entire ensemble is still relatively compact once removed from the dedicated carry case it all arrives in.
Ultimately this means that you can take the drone with you anywhere, which is very handy.
Takeoff Weight : 248.9 g
Dimensions Folded: 148x90x62mm, Unfolded (with propellers): 251×362×72 mm
Max Ascent Speed : 5 m/s
Max Descent Speed: 3.5 m/s
Max Speed (near sea level, no wind) : 16 m/s
Maximum Takeoff Altitude : 4000 m
Max Flight Time : 38 to get minutes (measured while flying at 14 kph in windless conditions)
Max Wind Speed Resistance : 10.7 m/s (Scale 5)
Build and Handling
At first, the new Mini 3 looks identical to the Mini 3 Pro, but on closer inspection, you start to see the differences. The two optical sensors at the front of the Pro have been replaced by what looks like vents, and then underneath again, optical sensors have been replaced by a singular downwards sensor.
The body shape is very similar but again with contour changes that have been made due to the removal of the rear-facing sensors the body is slightly different. Overall, however, the drone feels very similar, and while there are some small dimension changes, the physical handling remains the same.
At the back, the battery slots and clicks into place, using the usual double-press sequence to boot life into the small object. Also at the back are the SD card slot and USB type-C port.
Then there’s the size and height, which are very slightly different, and the front arms now have a small leg that helps balance the drone a little better when stationary on the ground.
The small cameras on each drone look for all intense and purpose identical, with the same aperture and focal length; however, the max framerate at 4K changes to 30fps from 60fps, stills reduce from 48MP to 12MP and video bitrate drops from 150MB/s to 100MB/s. This bids the question, are they the same and limited to the standard version to further differentiate the two?
First and foremost is the weight of the new drone, coming in under the all-important 250g at 248.5g take-off weight. This is 1.5g below the weight that requires you to have registered for a licence, as it is classed as a toy.
For full detail on the drone law, check out our feature here https://camerajabber.com/what-are-the-drone-laws-in-the-uk-europe-and-usa/.
Unlike the DJI Mini 3 Pro, that was packed with upgraded features from the DJI Mini 2, the DJI Mini 3 is still an upgrade but lighter on some of the big features. However, there’s still the similar 1/1.3-inch CMOS, although this is 12MP rather than 48MP that features in the Pro, which is fronted by an f/1.7 24mm equivalent lens. This camera compares with the Mini 2, which featured a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor fronted by an f/2.8 24mm equivalent lens.
Video wise, you have resolutions of 4K at 24/25/30fps, 2.7K at 24/25/30/48/50/60fps, 1080p at 24/25/30/48/50/60fps and slow-motion 1080p at 120fps. Video is captured at 100Mbps, which is a drop of 50MB/s, further signalling that the new drone has a slightly lesser sensor than the Pro version, so any hope that a future firmware update would boost resolution framerates now seems to be fading.
The ISO range for video and photo is between 100-3200 ISO with a shutter choice in Pro (Manual) mode of between 2-1/8000s.
Photos can be taken at 12mp with the choice of JPEG and RAW.
The small camera is supported on a small 3-axis gimbal with a tilt range of -135 to 80º, Roll -135 to 45º and -30 to 30º, essentially identical to the Mavic 3 Pro.
Once again, DJI sent me the smart control to use in this test; it’s one of those devices that seems like a good idea and is. So again, if you can stretch to the additional cost, then do.
The video transmission system is DJI O2, which transmits footage at 720p 30fps, a slight drop from the DJI 03 system used on the Pro.
When it comes to the aircraft itself, its take-off weight is 248.5g and folded, it measures 148x90x62mm, a full 3mm more than the Pro. However, that addition to length is completely unnoticeable in real terms, and it still slips neatly into a backpack.
The Mini 3 supports three flight modes, N (Normal) for everyday use and S (Sports) and C (CINE), which is ideal for filmmaking or if you’re a nervous first-time flyer as the flight speeds are incredibly slow, which is what you need when filming.
In sports mode, the maximum speed is 16m/s, roughly 35mph, while in CINE mode, that maximum drops to 6m/s, which equates to 13mph, and the Normal is 10m/s.
Flight times take another jump up to 38 minutes, and if you buy the Combo with three batteries, then that’s a very decent amount of flight time.
As well as the standard battery 2453mAh (80.5g) which is the same as the one in the Pro, you can also purchase the Intelligent Flight Battery Plus 3850mAh (121g). This extends the flight time to 51 minutes but will exceed the weight limit in many territories, meaning a licence is required to fly.
Starting with the usual flight checks, I prime the Mini in the usual way; props etc, are all screwed in place, so aside from popping in the battery and memory card, there’s nothing other than switching the thing on to do.
A quiet whirr and beep signify the Mini is flight ready and the Satellites have already been spotted and connected. The ambient temperatures are around 5ºC, so this might not be the longest flight in the world as it feels colder, and as the drone rises, that temperature will drop.
The Mini 3, however, will operate in temperatures down to -10ºC, which the current weather happily displays most mornings.
A quick take off, land, and all seems fine, then take off, left, right, rotate left, right and once again, DJI has made a drone that feels solid in the air. Sure enough, a quick lap of the field and the drone flew with the same control and characteristics as the Mini 3 Pro.
DJI drones at this level all feel much the same to fly, just a little bit smaller or bigger, but essentially they fly in a very similar way. This makes it easy to swap from one DJI drone to another, as you know exactly what you’ll get. The only time that changes is with the FPV drones, and even then, in the standard flight modes, they act in a very civilised way.
Having the smart controlled again proves its worth, and the large display and all-in-one design are so much neater than attaching a mobile phone. It also updates in the same way as a mobile phone but means that you’re not worried about the phone’s battery life as you fly.
As I tested, I ran through a few of the features, including the fun QuickShot modes that offer Dronie, Helix, Rocket, Circle, and Boomerang, so plenty of fun when you’re just starting. Alongside these auto flight modes, you also have the all-important RTH, as this doesn’t utilise the flight avoidance sensors of the Mini 3 Pro, you do have to be a little more careful when you hit the button, but essentially it does the job as long as there’s nothing in the way as it returns home. Essentially there shouldn’t be anything in the way as you should always have a clear line of sight to the drone.
Image and video quality
At first, I hoped that the same sensor backed the small camera in the DJI Mini 3 as in the Mini 3 Pro. The quality of the footage from that camera was outstanding, and the small gimbal did the job of perfectly smoothing out the bumps that a drone can suffer.
Again the footage from the Mini 3 is excellent, and initially, you won’t see or notice any difference between the two drones. The major instant hit is that you can only film in 4k up to 30fps, but the effect on the footage at altitude when using the slower framerate isn’t noticeable.
Colour and detail are also rich for both stills and video; the only issue is the difference in the size of the final image that you get between a 48MP still compared to a 12Mp; the 12MP is so small in comparison. Again you can shoot in JPG or RAW in the DNG format, and the quality of the images will impress. One thing to note is that when the Mini 3 Pro arrived, this too, was locked at 12MP and only after a firmware update did the images expand to the full 48MP.
Outstanding video quality from the DJI Mini 3
Alongside the drop in framerates, you also have a drop in bitrate with the Pro filming at 150MB/s and the Mini at 100MB/s. You also can’t film in the Cine mode, so the difference in dynamic range between the two drones will be noticeable. That said, the video quality is again decidedly DJI with a clean, crisp image that doesn’t fail to impress.
The conditions testing the DJI Mini 3 are quite different from those of six months ago when testing the DJI Mini 3 Pro, but looking at the footage from the two, they look closely matched.
I was impressed with the DJI Mini 2, and when the DJI Mini 3 Pro arrived, it raised the bar to a new level. However, the price, which I have, for the most part, chosen to ignore, is expensive for a drone that is so small. What surprises me is that when the original Mavic Pro came out, I thought it was good but was a little dubious about the video quality especially in lower light conditions. Now the Mini, a machine that costs far less than half of what the Mavic originally cost, far exceeds that video quality. It does put the abilities and pricing of the Mavic Mini 3 in perspective.
The Mini 3 is a drone that falls out of the drone classes so that you can fly without a licence or registration. While this is great for responsible people, it also increases the confusion about drone use.
I love this drone and the price; once you consider what it enables you to do, the quality of the images and video all make sense. But the drive to push this under the weight limit for the moment does seem to conflict with getting people to adhere to the strict drone codes and registration.
That debate aside, the DJI Mini 3 is outstanding, and for most people, the £200 price drop, lack of sensors, reduction in stills resolution and bitrate won’t be as much of an issue as saving a bit of cash.
This is one of those, if you can stretch to the DJI Mini 3 Pro and image quality is essential, then pay the extra £200; if not, you’ll still be extremely happy with the DJI Mini 3.