If the number of people asking me daily about buying a drone is an indication, these are a hot ticket right now.
Whether a drone is “new” iPhone or iPad (“I simply must have one”) or there is a greater need than I can ascertain a reason for, I am not certain, but one thing is for sure, when it comes to drones right now, whether it be for beginner, hobby or professional use, DJI is really the only game in town.
Over the last few months, the company has catered for two ends of the spectrum; the DJI FPV we took on a preliminary test flight last week is aimed at two markets simultaneously – the drone racer and the person wanting the best cinematic filming you can get for a reasonable price.
The other, the Mini 2, builds on the Mavic Mini, and DJI has taken on board all of the drawbacks of this, still spectacular model for the price, and made it even better. Far better.
The most notable feature, which whilst not hitting any legalistic targets in Australia as it does elsewhere, is the weight. At under 250 grams, the DJI Mini 2 solves a problem overseas in of just who can fly the drone and what qualifications are needed. Due to the weight – or lack thereof – the Mini 2 is not classified as an “aircraft”, so in theory, anyone can fly it.
In Oz, our rules are a lot stricter, with the flying of drones governed by CASA, the body that controls all things aircraft-y. Before doing any flying, especially for the first time, I would urge anyone to check and be familiar with the rules and regs that are currently in place, and available here.
One thing the DJI Mini 2 does that aids in flying safety is utilising a database that interfaces between the controller, the app (DJI Fly for Android or iOS) and the GPS system of the drone. When attempting to fly, this will check the location of the drone in its database, and if you are in a “no-fly” location, it will simply refuse to take off.
For instance, in our local area, I used to be able to fly at our fenced in dog park which is around 10Kms away, using say my GoPro Karma drone. However, the Mini 2 just blinks at me, and the app tells me that I am within 8Km of the local airport, so … computer says no ….
Conversely, just down the road on the foreshore where the DJI FPV footage was shot is not an issue. Nor is the beach I shot this footage on the Mini 2.
One of my gripes with the original Mavic Mini was the controller. Simply, it was finicky to setup and just didn’t feel right, with the phone, used for viewing, suspended underneath.
The Mini 2 controller has been entirely revamped, and mimics the unit as used with its bigger sibling, the Mavic Air 2. The phone now sits on top; the connecting USB cable is much easier to click into place and it is far easier to hold.
The controls are easier to get at too, with the Return to Home button prominent, and an Fn button that lights up an ancillary landing light being a nice addition.
To switch between modes – Cine, Normal and Sport – a simple 3-way switch between the joysticks is utilised, and at top right is a toggle button between video and still imaging, and the shutter button.
Finally, at top left, a gimbal wheel is used for gimbal tilt.
The physical camera on the Mini 2 is pretty much unchanged from the original on the Mavic Mini. That is, it is has a 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor with a 24mm (equiv in 35mm language) fixed-aperture F2.8 lens with an 83º FOV, and an ISO range of 100-3200.
A major update though is that you can now shoot in JPG AND RAW format.
The 3-axis gimbal makes sure that all footage is nice and smooth, and you can now record in 4K/30p, 2.7K/30p and 1080p/60p at 100 Mbps. This is up from the original Mavic Mini that had only 2.7K/30p and 40 Mbps.
In both 4K and 2.7K, you now also have access to 2x zooming.
The original Mavic Mini offered 4 “Quickshots” modes and this has been upped to 5 with the Mini 2; “Dronie”, which flies up to approx. 40m above its target, “Helix” which spirals at a distance, also to around 40m “Rocket”, and “Circle”. Added to the Mini 2 is, “Boomerang” where the drone flies away from and back to the subject in an oval path.
Sadly there aren’t any Intelligent Flight modes, such as ActiveTrack or Point of Interest, but we live in hope of a firmware upgrade sometime down the path.
In still photo mode, you also have three different options for creating panoramas – “Sphere”, resembles the plugin “Tiny Planet” and captures twenty-six images. “180º” captures seven images for a landscape perspective and “Wide” captures a 3×3 tile consisting of nine images.
The Mini 2 has gone away from using standard Wi-fi to communicate with the controller. Instead, DJI has incorporated its OcuSync 2.0 technology which uses a dual frequency system the company says automatically alternates between channels to prevent signal interference between the remote and drone and allows a transmission distance of up to 10Km.
Of course this is a bit of a moot point as Australian Regulations state you must keep your drone in visual sight at all times. It’s impressive though!
I do not pretend to be an expert flier; like many, I am still learning and had my fair share of crashes (with a scar on my arm to prove it) and even a lost drone with a GoPro Karma at the bottom of Hervey Bay due to a battery warning failure (so technically not my fault!)
I have flown a variety of drones over the last few years though, and have to say the Mini 2 is probably the easiest to come to grips with straight out of the box. Additionally, over the Mavic Mini, the Mini 2 has updated motors which are quieter and have more acceleration.
Due to the fantastic gimbal stabilisation, footage obtained is smooth and crisp, and the DJI Fly app makes changing settings in flight nice and easy. You do have to have a play and get to know the app having said that, but it is quite intuitive and thankfully, is also used across the board for many of DJI’s drones so is a learn once experience.
OK, back to the beginning. Many people ask if they should buy a cheapie drone to start with, and I am in two minds over this. If you spend say a $100 on a knock off and crash it (and you will), then it is no major loss. And you will gain some experience in the process. However, the cheapies do not in general have some of the niceties helping you avoid that major prang such as stabilisation, ability to hover, return to home etc.
The Mini 2 does not have the obstacle detection smarts of its bigger brothers such as the DJI FPV (although the FPV turns this off in Sport and Manual mode), but you can get propeller protectors that will take some sting out of a minor bingle.
The DJI Fly app is also vastly superior to any other app for drones I have seen (and used) letting you explore the limits of the drone with greater safety. And generally, if you do have a major stack, then a) parts are available and b) DJI offers a form of insurance called DJI Care Refresh which supports up to 3 replacement units over a 2 year period (and lets face it, if you are still crashing at this level after two years, I’d be taking up something else as a hobby!).
With a Mini 2, for a paltry AUD$79, DJI will supply 2 replacements for one year so is well worth the investment in my opinion. (By comparison, for the DJI FPV it is AUD$349 p.a.)
This means, to my mind, that as a first drone, getting a DJI Mini 2 is a no brainer and avoid the cheapies. Incidentally, I also have a regular parade of people after new batteries from knock-offs which generally are simply just unavailable in Australia, and spare parts are almost non-existent in their availability.
Mind you, I’d also get the “Fly More” pack with 2 extra batteries and a charger, and a stack of decent, high speed SD cards, a high capacity Power Bank for recharging in the field, and possibly some ND filters.
My suggestion as to a complete starter kit then is:
- DJI Mini 2 Fly More Combo $949.00
- DJI Care Refresh $79.00
- 32GB Class 10 microSDHC cards $36.95
- 20,000mAh Power Bank $59.95
- Freewell 4 pack Day Series Filter Set $88.00
… and you’ll be off and flying!
For complete details and all the specifications of the DJI Mini 2, see https://www.dji.com/au/mini-2