How to Destroy a DJI Mavic Pro
Updated: May 4, 2020
There are many write-ups, reviews and videos showing the capabilities of the Mavic Pro. The Mavic Pro was the first drone I owned and in the two and a half years that I owned it, we had a funny kind of relationship. The same as with some human relationships I would sometimes push it a little to far and it would leave me, sometimes by just flying out of reach of the video signal and then returning to home where on the return journey it would pick-up the signal again. And twice by running too low on battery and automatically trying to return to home and refusing to take no for an answer, this was totally user error and proved to be almost fatal on one of the occasions. Again, as with some human relationships the Mavic Pro always came back, but eventually I managed to destroy it, almost.
This review will not be a technical review of what I consider to be a fantastic piece of video equipment, although specs may be mentioned, The review will focus on my personal feelings and experiences surrounding my two and a half years of flying what could well be the most important drone yet created.
DJI are without doubt the number one manufacturer of what I am going to call recreational drones (either personally or commercially used for video/photography) and seem to have been around forever, but amazingly their first significantly user friendly drone, the original DJI Phantom was only released in 2013. The Phantom was a great success but due to its sheer size it was hardly a great travel companion, this probably more than any other single factor made the Mavic Pro, which was released in late 2016 the most popular consumer drone in the world, since then various reincarnations of the Mavic have carried on the trend.
I can still remember placing my £1,100-00 order for The Mavic Pro Fly More Kit in early 2017 and being told that they were out of stock and that it would likely be February before stock arrived, the UK snows had long melted before mine arrived sometime in April. As I unboxed it I was very pleasantly surprised by the build quality, everything just felt very solid and well put together, I followed the instructions and charged the three batteries and charger and then updated the firmware, the updates were that regular they became a laborious process that would bring me hours of tedium, batteries have to also be updated to the latest firmware. I had already seen many YouTube videos of people testing out these new mini flying machines, with two of my favorite YouTuber's for this being Ed Ricker and Ikopta, particularly for his UK knowledge.
So armed with all this knowledge I set off to my local park to have my first flights in an area with no traffic, few people, and plenty of flat soft areas in case of crash landings. I have to admit that I was a little nervous when I pulled the sticks back for the first time, but the Mavic started up perfect and with the push of one stick was hovering in place as solid as DJI had promised. All looked well and I raised it to around 20m and had a fly around a cricket field, it was so easy to fly and responded to any input I gave in a very smooth reassuring way. I was flying with the drone in full view and even though I was not recording the image on my monitor was as clear as could be, I now attempted my first landing and again it was as easy and smooth as it could be. Next I decided to test out the return to home feature of the Mavic, I set the drone down on the astro-turf cricket wicket, in the middle of a batting crease facing the where the stumps would be and I took off and waited a brief moment before the lady who lives in the remote controller told me that the 'home-point has been updated' I then climbed to 30m before flying some 400m away and then pressed the return to home button. The lady told me it was returning to home and I just watched as it flew directly above above my head and started to come down, at first quite quickly and then as it neared the ground it briefly stopped before landing within two inches of its take-off position. The Mavic Pro was amazing on its return to starting point accuracy, something my Mavic 2 Zoom can nowhere near match.
My First day flying at Pleasington Playing Fields, Blackburn
Fueled with this new (false) confidence I took a longer flight where I turned on the camera and headed out of the park boundary and towards a priory, I was well out of line of sight by this point but continued to cross a country road and head out over some farm land. I knew the area very well and knew almost exactly where the drone was even though I couldn't see it, I was also only around 2km from home and well within the claimed range of control. What I hadn't taken into consideration is that I was now behind a hill and had no direct line of signal, within a few seconds the monitor froze and then the lost signal warning was given. At this point I closed my eyes and wondered would it return, seconds later the lady told me it was returning to the home-point and within a couple of minutes the signal returned and I just let it return on autopilot, which again it did perfectly. Although I still had two batteries left I thought this might be a good point to leave it for the first day, I would go home and think about what I had learnt (or not).
It turns out I didn't learn one of the lessons that I should have done! Flying beyond the line of sight is never recommended but I know that and it is blindingly obvious that this is law in most if not all countries, yet DJI still try to improve the range of these drones with the latest claim that the Mavic Air 2 has a 10km transmission range, the question has to be asked as to why? The lesson I should have taken from this was that I was fortunate to have lost signal/control in an area where there were no obstacles to crash into, this was the case but it was by pure luck that while the drone was out of my control it had not crashed into something above or to the side of it. I never adapted this lesson to other scenarios, ones where I may be flying in a restricted space with trees above me for example, ones where I should have set different parameters for the return to home function, I never learnt this lesson for the next two years and we shall come to that fateful moment later.
After several more flights in the same area I became a little more confident in letting £1000 of equipment fly into oblivion in the hope of catching some good video footage, but even now there are usually some butterflies whenever I fly, it is rarely just a pleasurable experience. After around ten flights with no obstacles involved I had worked out that by flying high I could gain a better signal so could in theory fly further, however, this may be OK for some landscape shots but being 120m in the air was not what I really wanted on the majority of my flights so I sought a happy medium, my usual range at 40m height was around 2km before the video signal started to break up, shortly after this it would freeze and the drone would return home the video would often stay frozen until I removed and re-plugged the USB cable between the controller and monitor. Around flight twelve I tried flying through a wooded area which the obstacle avoidance sensors did not like, so I disabled them, there were only forward and downward sensors on this model with no APS. Everything was going great and in Tripod mode I was was starting to get some really close up shots at around head height, it was so smooth it looked as though a person was walking through the woods and you were seeing exactly what they could see. You even saw them get poked in the eye by a small branch and instantly fall to the ground, or you would have done had the recording survived my first ever crash, which it did not because the battery came loose. Obviously I had caused the crash and no blame can go towards the drone, but there was no lasting damage and not even a propeller was lost. With the newer drones that have APS this crash may have been avoided, however I doubt the smoothness required would have been achieved in such a confusing space for the sensors.
After a few weeks of flying, things steadily improved as I found just what the drone and I were capable of, the Mavic Pro gives a great video image when focused correctly and there lies what I consider to be the single biggest weak point of the drone, tap to focus. The Mavic Pro uses a variable focus lens that requires constant re-focusing if flying near to objects, to refocus you tap on the monitor for the area you require the focal point to reset to, alternatively you can configure a button on the remote to do the same job. Unless I am flying in ideal conditions and with a very expensive large bright monitor it is virtually impossible for me to know that video which looks perfect on a small sunlit monitor, will look the same in 4k splendour on a large TV. Having to constantly focus is a pain when there are so many other things that you may be concentrating on at the same time, I had many great flights and video captures ruined due to poor focus. Again this is down to operator error but an error that many moaned about, one that is now thankfully a thing of the past on the newer Mavic versions.
Living in the UK it was far easier to fly the drone than it is today, at the time there was no registration needed and basically no laws covering flying a drone. Even rules about flying near to airports were vague, or were laws that derived from statute already in place for remote controlled aircraft or similar. The only countries I ever took the drone to were Thailand and Vietnam and this was also before the rules regarding bringing a drone from abroad became so stringent, now entering these or many other countries with a drone is either totally illegal (I believe Vietnam) or has very strict requirements (Thailand), often these requirements make it all but impossible to fly any drone brought from abroad. Flying a drone in the UK also provokes different reactions from different people, most people are interested if they see you flying in public areas, however, the same people may react differently if a drone is being flown near to their property. Whenever I have flown in Thailand the only reaction is one of interest in how far or how high it can fly, however it only takes one negative reaction from an official and you will most likely wish you had left the drone in your own country.
I now live in Thailand so registration is far easier than it is from abroad, but there are still more limitations than there used to be. My only time flying in Vietnam was when I was on a cruise boat in Halong Bay, where I got some great footage and also had my second crash with the Mavic, this was due to the boat leaving anchor mid-flight and me not understanding that the drone would refuse to land on a deck that was moving. The downward facing sensors notice the movement and see this as unsafe landing spot, this in turn forced the drone to hover and the forward moving rear cabin hit the drone causing crash number two, this time there was a little damage but nothing that seemed too serious, a couple of props and I was back up flying within the hour.
Halong Bay Video (Crash site number two)
After this happened I flew the drone quite a few times within Thailand and collected some great footage, most of which I filmed very early in the morning so as to avoid flying close to people. Thailand is also where my Mavic Pro and the lesson I didn't learn about the flying environment come together, again I maybe should also have learnt more from the Vietnam crash. At approximately 6-30am, except for the staff members who were fogging for mozzies the area, I was the only person in Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi. I intended to fly through at eye level in Tripod Mode from one end to the other (maybe 150m) I had the permission needed and after a short delay due to the fogging I got ready to go. After crashing on the boat I noticed that the drone had a tendency to drift, which at normal flying speed was unnoticeable but in Tripod Mode and in a narrow pass was a slight problem. Because of this it took longer for me to film than I had imagined it would and the lady told me my battery was low and I should return to home, I was only five feet from the ground and could almost touch the drone so I carried on. After another five minutes or so the battery level warning sounded and the drone auto returned to home, with no glasses on I panicked and pressed the wrong button, the drone started to rise to 30m to fly home but only got to around 25 metres before hitting the overhanging trees and then crashing to the ground. This time it was broken and it looked like the end.
Hell Fire Pass (Crash Site number three)
On returning to my Hotel I opened up the drone and looked at the damage in more detail, it was not as bad as first feared and might be able to be fixed. What seemed to be a broken leg was really just a dislocation and apart from four new props that would be needed and a gimbal that had broken off, a camera with a chipped lens, a broken forward facing sensor unit, camera ribbon that had snapped and a cracked case it looked in good condition. I also discovered that the wires connecting one of the compasses were loose, this most likely happened on the boat in Vietnam and was probably the reason for the drifting. So I priced up all the parts on Lazada and decided to try and fix it, I bought all the parts except for the camera lens which I planned to buy if everything worked and the total cost was around £25-00, the compass would also need soldering but could be done later if everything worked. Apart from quite a lot of messing around with the gimbal ribbon the repairs were easy and took less than two hours for me to do. Lo and behold they worked and the chip in the camera lens could not be seen, the drift however seemed worse than before. Rather than paying to get it professionally repaired I decided to stick with what I had until I wanted an upgrade.
Around that time the Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom had already been proven and I was edging towards buying the Zoom. One day while I was out filming and still in Kanchanaburi, I flew out over a freshwater lagoon and out of sight, to return I decided to fly directly backwards towards me, the last thing I saw was a shaky picture but I knew the Mavic had drifted sideways into a tree and then gone in the water. A fisherman was watching the drone and he fished the drone out of the shallow water and gave it to me, again in a beat up condition, gimbal off again, leg off etc. After saying thank you and paying him something for his troubles I took the drone back to the hotel and washed it in clean water for a while then did the bag of rice trick. I replaced the battery and then fired it up, everything turned on, all motors, lights, even the camera was showing a good image. Rather than trying to repair it I had the crazy idea of putting it on eBay as for 'spares or not working' and described the swim/crashes and all. The interest I had was amazing and I got over £300-00 for it, which I put towards my now well protected, hardly ever flies out of sight Mavic 2 Zoom.
So all things considered this drone was worth every penny I spent on it, and it is now available for a much lower price. I would totally recommend the Mavic Pro with Fly More Kit to anyone interested in buying their first drone. For the price they are now asking it is an absolute steal, it also has limitations when compared to the Mavic Pro or Mavic Zoom, but these two also have limitations when compared to each other. When it comes to value for money I think it may represent the best value at maybe the Mavic Pro Platinum level. But personally I would buy the Pro version any day of the week before looking at the Mavic Air, others swear by the Mavic Air so this is just personal opinion.
I should be doing a Mavic 2 Zoom review soon, although this will be more of a review rather than a commentary, so any questions or things you would like included in that please message me. Not technical specs though please, they are freely available online.
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