We Tested the New Mavic 2 Pro. A Great Drone But…

Updated November 26th, 2018

The long awaited update to DJI’s popular Mavic series drones have finally arrived. On August 23rd, DJI announced two new version of the Mavic: the Mavic 2 Pro and the Mavic 2 Zoom. DJI managed to make large improvements with the camera, battery life, and obstacle sensing capabilities. Within days, our clients were calling and emailing us asking if we were going to support the new drones. We got our hands on the Mavic 2 Pro and put it through our extensive tests. Before you read on, we believe the Mavic 2 Pro is a great drone but has one big deal breaker that prevents us from supporting the drone for the time being. Continue on to find out more about…

Mavic 2 Unboxing

The Specs – What is Different?

Owners of the Mavic Pro and Platinum will be greeted by a familiar drone. The appearance between the Mavic Pro and Mavic 2 Pro has not changed much. The new Hasselblad camera is noticeably larger and the color of grey is slightly different. However, under the hood, almost every aspect of the drone has been improved.

Let’s start with the biggest change to the Mavic, the Hasselblad 20 Megapixel 10-Bit camera with a 1″ CMOS sensor. The increased resolution from 12 to 20 megapixels is a huge improvement for mapping piles with low texture such as frac sand and petcoke. The larger 1″ CMOS sensor increases the amount of light the camera records by a factor of four as compared to the old Mavic Pro. This translates into better imagery on dark, cloudy days and flights close to dawn or sunset. The 10-bit color profile greatly increases the variation in color that is captured which leads to colorful site-wide maps.

The battery capacity has been slightly increased as compared to the Mavic Platinum adding an extra minute of flight time for a total of 31 minutes. However, owners of the Mavic Pro have a 27-minute flight time and the extra 4 minutes may mean the difference between mapping a complete site using one battery or having to swap out an extra batter mid mission. We would have liked to have seen a longer flight time, but considering the small form factor, 31 minutes is still a great number.

Mavic 2 Pro Folded Up

A majority of mapping occurs well above any obstacles on site. However, our clients tend to use their drones for more than mapping. A large risk our users face is flying a drone with anti-collision sensors only facing forward and downward. One of the main reasons we recommend the Phantom 4 Pro is the addition to side and rearward anti-collision sensors. DJI took the Mavic 2 series a step further and added top facing sensors giving the drone an omni directional sense and avoid system. This is a big deal to our DOT clients who may want to fly underneath bridges for inspection or a cement producer who wants to capture indoor footage without any hesitations of hitting a ceiling.

DJI managed to pack numerous other improvements into the new Mavic 2 Pro which can be discovered on the DJI website. As compared to the Phantom 4 Pro, on paper the two drones are similar. The price also reflects this fact. The addition we would have liked to see is a global shutter which removes rolling shutter distortion from the imagery when the drone is capturing photos. Thankfully, we are able to correct for this factor with our robust image processing algorithms.

The Field Test

We were eager to test out the new camera that DJI and Hasselblad had collaborated on. On paper, the Mavic 2 Pro looks like a direct competitor to the Phantom 4 Pro. We tested the Mavic 2 Pro at a local quarry in the Seattle area and decided to evaluate the drone on specific criteria:

  • Ease of Setup
  • Manual Flight
  • Automated Mapping
  • Image Quality

Here is what we discovered…

Ease of Setup

At Stockpile Reports, we train all of our clients to use the Phantom 4 series. We have chosen this drone series based on quality of imagery, ease of use, and price. We decided to compare the setup experience of the Mavic 2 Pro against the Phantom 4 Pro since this is the drone that a majority of our clients are using.

We want to start off with the issue of portability. While many clients have asked us about the Mavic series drones in the past because of increased portability, we did not find that the reduction in size made much impact on the ease of transporting the drone. Yes, the drone does fit in a backpack, but a majority of our clients using our service keep the drone in their office or truck. The ability to fit the drone in a small bag has never been an issue. We are also disappointed the Mavic 2 Pro does not come with a carrying case. At $1,449 we would have expected a foam carrying case similar to the one provided with the Phantom 4 line.

Photo Credit: Michael Weldon Photography

The fact that the Mavic 2 Pro is designed to be as compact as possible has made the pre-flight set up a bit more lengthy. DJI matched the portability of the Mavic Air remote by adding removable control sticks to the remote. Screwing in the control sticks each flight seems unnecessary and time consuming. We recommend finding a carrying case that can hold the remote with the control sticks pre-installed. We were surprised that an iPad Mini 4 fits perfectly snug into the remote, however, having the iPad below our hand level seemed cumbersome and out of place. Using an iPhone is a better experience with the small remote. An iPhone also has the benefit of fitting the out of the box connector wire that is threaded through the phone/tablet mount. An iPad still requires using a standard length lightning connector.

A benefit of using the Mavic 2 Pro is that the propellers can easily be stored on the pre-attached to drone when not in use. In this respect the Mavic wins on the ease of setup. We did however find that the lack of landing skids meant we needed a landing pad or a very flat patch of ground. The Phantom can be taken off with more uneven terrain under the drone.

Overall, the ease of setup does not greatly differ from our experience with the Phantom 4 Pro. We suggest finding a carrying case where the propellers can be stored directly on the drone and the control sticks do not have to be removed from the remote control.

Manual Flight

A majority of flight using Stockpile Reports is performed using automated flight modes. However, drones are useful tools for taking photos and videos of locations that a human cannot safely access. Many of our clients use their drones for other purposes than inventory measuring. We decided to test how the Mavic 2 Pro flew manually around the test site for our clients who are using their drones beyond mapping.

The flight characteristics of the new Mavic 2 Pro closely resemble the old Mavic Pro and Platinum series. The top speed has been increased from 40 mph to 45 mph. Although this is faster, we didn’t notice a large difference at top speed. Perhaps this is because we spend very little time cruising at 45 mph. However, we are big fans of the Tri-Pod mode switch on the side of the remote which slows down the movements of the drone and allows for smoother cinematic shots. This is convenient for users who want to get cinematic shots of a quarry or inch a drone close up to machinery for inspection.

Photo Credit: Michael Weldon Photography

We were also excited to test the new omni-directional obstacle avoidance system. DJI does not disappoint with the new system and we were unable to fly the drone into a tree from any direction. This is a big plus when attempting to fly the drone indoors or under tree canopy. The Mavic also did a great job of following a truck around on site using the improved Active Track mode which allows the drone to fly at greater speeds while simultaneously tracking an object.

Overall, the enhancements to the collision avoidance and the easily accessible trip-pod mode switch makes for a better flight experience as scompared to the Mavic Pro. However, most of our users will not notice much difference with the manual flight experience.

Automated Mapping

We watched DJI’s live Mavic 2 series unveiling event with hopes that we would be introduced to the next generation of mapping drones. One of DJI’s best features how well their drones interact with 3rd party mapping applications. Our hopes of using the Mavic 2 Pro for mapping were evaporated when we dicovered that no mapping software packages supported the Mavic 2 Pro. This was a deal breaker at the time.

Photo Credit: Michael Weldon Photography

Fast forward 2 weeks later and Map Pilot for DJI officially announced support for the Mavic 2 Series. Fortunately, this is one of our supported mapping software packages. We quickly discovered that the Mavic 2 Pro’s camera is 28 mm vs the Phantom 4 Pro’s 24 mm camera. This means the field of view on the Mavic is about 7 degrees narrower than the phantom. What does this mean in mapping terms? More photos! For example, a 50 acre site can be mapped with approximately 170 photos using the Phantom 4 Pro and the same site will take 205 images with the Mavic 2 Pro. This equals more data and longer flight times. This can be a deal breaker for our clients with larger sites.

The actual mapping experience worked as expected. The drone took off on its own, took photos at the predifined overlaps settings, and landed back at the launch point. Not much else here to report other than we would like to see support for additional mapping software packages such as DJI Ground Station Pro. Over time we do expect wider support of the Mavic 2 series, however, at the time of posting you will need to use Map Pilot for DJI.

Image Quality

DJI’s biggest selling point for the new Mavic 2 Pro is their new 20 mp Hasselblad camera. The sensor has been expanded from 1/2.3″ to a 1″ sensor which greatly increases the amount of light the camera captures. This is crucial for getting sufficient imagery on dark cloudy days and mapping materials that are dark in nature such as coal. For the first time, the Mavic series is competing on the same level as the Phantom 4. We tested out several different capture modes and did find that the expanded color range and larger sensor gave us some exceptional results with landscape and mapping shots. We shared a panoramic of Mt. Rainier and a small image stitch of one of our test sites to below.

Panoramic Photo of Mt Rainier Captured by the Mavic 2 Pro

We were disappointed to find that the camera has a linear rolling shutter which means each photo has a small amount of image blur while capturing photos during a mapping flight. The Phantom 4 series clearly wins the mapping imagery quality showdown due to the global shutter which eliminates the rolling shutter effect and takes a clearer image as the camera is moving and capturing photos.

Multiple image site wide stitched photo from The Mavic 2 Pro

The Deal Breaker

Closer inspection of the photos’ EXIF data from The Mavic 2 Pro shows that there is a major issue recording elevation data. We tested the Mavic 2 Pro at 200 feet AGL but the recorded elevation data was 4,114 feet on average. We confirmed with issues with several other flights. The elevation varied between a couple miles above ground to several hundred miles above ground. We found several other user reporting the same issue and DJI has acknowledged that there is a bug causing the incorrect altitude data.

Conclusion

The new Mavic 2 Pro is undeniably a huge step up from the Mavic Pro and Platinum line. We were excited to see the large leap in camera specs and a slightly longer flight time all in the same small form factor as the original Mavic series. We did not find the decrease in size to be much of a factor as compared to the Phantom 4 Pro though since we rarely have the need to fit the drone is a small bag such a backpack.

Drone pilots looking to upgrade their Mavic Pro or Platinum for non-mapping use, we highly suggest the Mavic 2 Pro. If you already own a Phantom 4 Pro, we suggest holding off until a new update to the Phantom series is released. The differences between the Mavic 2 Pro and Phantom 4 Pro are minimal.

Officially Stockpile Reports cannot support the Mavic 2 Pro until the altitude issue is fixed. DJI has reported they plan to fix the issue in an upcoming Firmware update. However, there has not been any updates since our field tests. Also, we plan to hold off supporting the Mavic 2 Pro until additional 3rd party mapping software becomes compatible. Stay tuned for future updates!

Update – November 26th, 2018: DJI has updated their firmware to fix the GPS issues. DJI and Maps Made Easy also updated their automated mapping software packages to support the Mavic 2 Series. We have thoroughly tested the Mavic 2 Pro on the updated software.  We are excited to announce that we officically support the Mavic 2 Pro.

A Big Year for Drones

This has been a big year for UAVs. At the start of 2015, only about a dozen companies droneflighthad been granted special exemptions by the FAA to fly drones, and most of those were for filming on a closed set.

Now there are well over 1000 commercial exemptions to fly drones, for varying businesses such as agriculture, construction, security services, mining, oil and gas, utilities, emergency and disaster responses, and more.

In fact, in early August of 2015 Forbes reported that the FAA was approving applications at a rate of 50 per week.

Here is an excellent series of maps illustrating the geographic spread of the industry. As you can see, drone usage and interest from businesses is widespread throughout the US.

Commercial-Exemptions
Commercial Drone Exemptions Map, from the Center of the Study of the Drone

As a further illustration of industry interest, Stockpile Reports has begun meeting with new Drone/UAV Managers. They work in several companies that use our iPhone as a stockpile inventory management tool. Our top aggregate, mining and construction customers are very excited by drone surveying technology. They are interested in how data from drones can be integrated into a safe and automated workflow for stockpile measurements.

These companies ask us a lot of questions.

The UAV is not a new a surveying tool for our team. We’ve worked with various drone models throughout the world, in many environments and business applications since 2013. Our clients have measured stockpiles of varying material ranging from coal to gravel via UAV. These sites around the world continue to have a range of challenges that include wind, water, are extremely busy, are highly regulated, encompass large areas, have visibility issues, etc.

In addition to our senior support team, we also have a Senior Engineer who used to work for Boeing Aerospace R&D on staff. He is also a pilot, and continues to test and research UAVs and works with aerial data and imagery.

Stockpile Reports is best known for our patented platform utilizing iPhone imagery for stockpile measurements. The platform is also available for imagery collected from drones for subscribers. This truly gives your business the best of ground and air for stockpile measurements.

We believe accurate monthly inventory measurements are derived from a combination of tools. Using a drone alone doesn’t work for every business need or measurement scenario, nor does the iPhone, nor aerial flight measurements. Do you have a drone strategy and want site measurements, or are curious about utilizing a UAV? Contact Us.