The cost of everything from gas to groceries is endlessly rising, but DJI seems to be the only company tackling inflation head-on, by releasing more affordable versions of its most popular drones. First it was the DJI Mavic 3 Classic: a cheaper version lacking the original Mavic 3's telephoto lens, and now it’s the DJI Mini 3, which sacrifices the Pro version’s best feature: automatic obstacle avoidance.
When the DJI Mini 3 Pro arrived back in May, earlier this year, it was a testament to the years the company has spent honing its drone building skills. Even with a folding design that made the drone small enough to stash in a coat pocket when collapsed, it still included a camera with a 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor capable of capturing 4K video at 60fps in portrait or landscape orientations, a wireless video transmission range of 12 kilometers, improved flight times, and “Tri-Directional Obstacle Sensing.” That least feature uses forward, backward, and down-pointing sensors to help the drone detect and actively avoid obstacles in its flight path. It also did all that while weighing just 249 grams, allowing it to be used by amateur pilots for non-commercial recreational purposes without having to register the DJI Mini 3 Pro with the FAA.
The one big downside to the DJI Mini 3 Pro was its $669 price tag, which didn’t include its required controller. Despite being an ideal drone for amateur enthusiasts not wanting to have to go through the FAA registration process, the Mini 3 Pro was far from cheap, but that’s where the new DJI Mini 3 enters the picture, shedding the ‘Pro’ designation and about $260 off the price tag for the drone by itself.
Although the cosmetic differences between the DJI Mavic 3 and DJI Mavic 3 Classic drones were nearly imperceptible, there are a few noticeable differences between the new DJI Mini 3 and the original Pro version, including the obvious lack of optical sensors right above the gyro-stablized camera and an added pair of support legs under the two front propellers.
It still includes the same camera and sensor as the Pro version, plus the ability to capture 4K/60fps video with the camera in landscape mode or rotated 90 degrees, but the removal of the “Tri-Directional Obstacle Sensing” is a fairly substantial loss, as it was almost like having a bit of extra insurance that your drone would return safely, even for those who were far from skilled pilots. The Mini 3 also sees wireless video transmission ranges drop from 12 kilometers to 10 kilometers, a step back to the range offered by the Mavic Mini 2.
If there’s a silver lining to the loss of obstacle avoidance, in addition to a cheaper price point, the DJI Mini 3 does manage to eek out slightly longer flight times from its standard battery: up to 38 minutes compared to 34 minutes on the Pro. Users can also swap in the optional larger Intelligent Flight Battery Plus to boost max flight times up to 51 minutes, up from 47 minutes with the Pro, at the cost of pushing the drone’s weight past the 250 grams mark, making it illegal to fly without FAA registration.
The new DJI Mini 3 will start at $409 when available early next year, but unless you’re already a DJI drone pilot with existing gear, that price is a moot point. Beginners will instead need to pony up $499 for the Mini 3 bundled with the older DJI RC-N1 remote (requiring a smartphone to preview streaming video from the drone) or $639 for a bundle with the newer DJI RC controller, which has its own built-in touchscreen.
If you trust yourself at the controls, the cheaper entry point for the DJI Mini 3 is definitely tempting, but if you’ve never flown a drone before, you should seriously consider splurging on the DJI Mini 3 Pro, as its obstacle avoidance could one day save you from a very costly crash.