Ok guys this is exciting!
The worlds biggest drone maker, DJI, has just released the third version of their smallest drone.
And I reckon it's a game changer!
It's the DJI Mini 3 Pro
Based on the specs alone I think the Mini 3 Pro will prove to be the best drone to buy if you're planning to travel around Australia and film and photograph your adventure.
Because it packs PRO level camera features into a tiny 249gm ultralight body.
PLUS it goes a step further with new features like an awesome new controller with a built in screen and a camera gimbal that rotates 90 degrees so you can capture full resolution vertical video and photos.
Early reports from people who have been road testing the new Mini 3 Pro are that it definitely DOES live up to the hype.
Meanwhile, let's look at the features of the DJI Mini 3 Pro and the rules that apply to flying drones in Australia so you can see why I think this is the best drone for travel around Australia.
Why is the weight of 249gm important?
You may be thinking 'who cares if it is ultra light'.
Why does it matter if it is so light?
Well it does actually matter, and not to just give you longer flight time.
In most countries, Australia included, drones under 250gm have less restrictions on them than those that are 250gm or more.
All drones have rules that must be followed (see below for the details) but drones under 250gm have LESS restrictions.
So DJI has worked hard to engineer their Mini drone down to under 250gm to make it easier for their customers to go out and fly their drone.
To have them 'under the radar' . . . excuse the pun!
The first two generations of DJI Mini drones achieved the sub-250gm goal but they had less battery life and smaller camera sensors which resulted in lower image quality.
With the new third generation DJI Mini 3 Pro they've managed to achieve the light weight AND better battery life AND a great camera.
What are the rules for flying a recreational drone in Australia?
All aircraft in Australia, including drones, come under the jurisdiction of CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
To ensure the safety of other people and aircraft, there are rules that apply to recreational drones.
- You must not fly your drone higher than 120 metres (400 feet) above ground level.
- You must keep your drone at least 30 metres away from other people.
- You must only fly one drone at a time
- You must keep your drone within visual line-of-sight. This means always being able to see the drone with your own eyes (rather than through a device, screen or goggles).
- You must not fly over or above people or in a populous area. This could include beaches, parks, events, or sport ovals where there is a game in progress.
- Respect personal privacy. Don’t record or photograph people without their consent.
- If your drone weighs more than 250 grams, you must fly at least 5.5 kilometres away from a controlled airport, which generally have a control tower at them. Use a drone safety app to find out where you can and can’t fly.
- You must not operate your drone in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, person or property.
- You must only fly during the day and you must not fly through cloud or fog.
- You must not fly your drone over or near an area affecting public safety or where emergency operations are underway. This could include situations such as a car crash, police operations, a fire or firefighting efforts, or search and rescue.
- If you're near a helicopter landing site or smaller aerodrome without a control tower, you can fly your drone within 5.5 kilometres. If you become aware of manned aircraft nearby, you must manoeuvre away and land your drone as quickly and safely as possible.
- If you intend to fly your drone for or at work (commercially), there are extra rules you must follow. You will also need to register your drone and get a licence or accreditation.
Source: CASA Drone Rules
It looks like a lot of rules and restrictions but realistically they are basic common sense and not too onerous.
On your road trip around Australia you'll be spending most of your time in more remote places anyway so 'flying over people' is not likely to be an issue.
Do I need a license to fly a drone in Australia?
According to CASA, you don't need a remote pilot license (RePL) to fly a drone in Australia if you are flying for fun and not a commercial application.
The stipulation is that you need to follow the rules for flying a recreational drone in Australia as detailed above.
Does my drone need to be registered in Australia?
Your drone does not need to be registered in Australia as long is you are using it for fun or recreational use and not commercial use.
If you intend to fly a drone for business or your job then you do need to have a remote pilot license (RePL) and register your drone.
According to CASA, in mid 2023 registration and fees will be required for all drones that weigh over 250 grams.
So at this stage it would appear that there are no plans for registration to be required for drones under 250gm like the DJI Mini 3 Pro.
One more good reason to buy a sub 250gsm drone.
What makes the DJI Mini 3 Pro the best drone for travel around Australia?
Seeing Australia from ground level on a big lap road trip is an epic experience.
But being able to see the landscape and film and photograph it from the air adds a whole new dimension to your trip.
High end drones with cinema quality cameras on board have been available since drones became a thing, but they came with a price tag to match.
This has kept them mainly in the hands of professional film makers and serious enthusiasts.
Successive generations of drones have been getting smaller, lighter and more capable to the point where we've finally reached the 'sweet spot' for recreational drones with the DJI Mini 3 Pro.
The DJI Mini 3 Pro is a tiny, lightweight, easy to fly and affordable drone that has excellent image quality and loads of great features.
It's small enough to fit in your day pack or even your jacket pocket.
Being ultralight with excellent image quality and battery life, the DJI Mini 3 Pro can easily be carried with you everywhere on your road trip around Australia and quickly sent up to get some great photos or videos.
So let's look at it's features in more detail:
A big sensor camera that shoots 4K HDR video and 48 megapixel photos
The most important feature of any camera drone is obviously, the camera.
The new camera in the DJI Mini 3 Pro is an upgrade from the previous Mini's 1 and 2.
The camera has a 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor with dual native ISO, 2.4μm pixels and an aperture ratio of f/1.7
In plain English this means that the camera has a large sensor with big pixels which enable it to perform better in low light and capture more detail in highlights & shadows.
The end result is better quality images in a wider range of conditions.
In video mode the camera can shoot native 4K resolution and up to 60FPS (frames per second) or 50FPS if shooting in PAL format.
If you drop the resolution down to 1080P (Full HD) you can shoot up to 120FPS.
Shooting in higher frame rates enables you to slow the video down without losing any quality giving you super smooth slow motion.
In photo mode you can capture up to 48 megapixel RAW still images.
I'm very keen to put the camera through its paces and see how these specs translate into real world images but on specs alone they sound pretty awesome.
The DJI Mini 3 Pro camera can rotate 90 degrees and shoot in 'vertical' mode for social videos and photos
So many of the videos and photos we see online these days are made to be viewed on phones and they are in vertical format.
Shooting vertical photos and videos on your phone is straight forward and of course you can just rotate your conventional camera to shoot in vertical format.
Until now though drone's only shot in horizontal or 'landscape' format and you would need to crop down the image to create a vertical format.
The problem with this besides the time it it takes to do it, is that you lose resolution and quality.
The camera on the DJI Mini 3 Pro is mounted in a new type of gimbal that can rotate 90 degrees and shoot photos and videos natively in portrait mode.
So you can frame your images perfectly while you're shooting and retain the full resolution of the camera for the best quality, rather than having to crop a landscape image format down.
New Lightweight Controller with built in video screen
The days of having to use your phone for the display screen in the drone controller are over.
The new DJI Mini 3 Pro is available with two different controller options, one with a built in video screen (RC) and one without a screen that still uses your phone (RC-N1).
The RC model with the display is only AUD$180 more than the RC-N1 so well worth it if you ask me.
With my current drone, a DJI Mavic Air, I use my old iPhone 8 as the video display, but having a dedicated built in screen is a much better idea.
Often when I'm out with my drone I want to get it up in the air quickly to get a shot and messing about with setting up the phone in the controller can take an extra minute or two.
This can be the difference between getting the shot and missing it.
Having the controller being fully self contained should make it much faster to get the drone in the air and filming.
According to DJI, the new RC controller has 4 hours battery life, 2 customisable function buttons and an SD card slot so you can record a video clip of the controller screen while you're flying your drone.
Two battery options - Choose lightweight or longer flight time
The standard battery supplied with the DJI Mini 3 Pro keeps the weight of the drone under 250gm and provides for up to 34 minutes of flight time.
But if the drone weight isn't a concern then they have an optional larger capacity battery that will deliver up to 47 minutes flight time.
Even if that 47 minutes ends up closer to 35 minutes in the real world, that is still plenty of time to have the drone in the air capturing shots.
Just keep in mind that after mid 2023 drones over 250gm will need to be registered and also drones over 250gm cannot fly within 5.5km of any airport.
Up to 12km transmission range between drone and controller
DJI claims the new OcuSync 3.0 data transmission system between the drone and controller has an effective range of up to 12km.
And it can transmit 1080P 30FPS video back to the controller at that range with only 120ms latency.
Keep in mind that legally you need to keep your drone in sight so flying it 12km away would be breaking the law but it's nice to know that you should have strong reception everywhere in its effective working range.
My Mavic Air drone uses a WIFI transmission signal between controller and drone and it is probably the biggest weakness of the drone.
I often find that once it gets more than about 500 metres away the signal gets patchy and it can be a little nerve wracking when you feel like you're losing control of the drone.
A working range of up to 12km sounds pretty good to me!
Tri-Directional Obstacle Sensing
The DJI Mini 3 Pro has sensors facing to the front, rear and below to enable it to avoid obstacles during flight.
It also includes APAS 4.0 (Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems) which helps the drone navigate around obstacles and continue on course rather than just coming to a stop.
This will be very useful and reassuring when flying close to and through trees, especially when using one of the automatic tracking features where the drone is effectively flying itself (see below).
Active tracking to follow the subject - car, bike, person
The DJI Mini 3 Pro includes several tracking functions that enable it to follow a subject in different ways.
This will be a great feature on road trips for capturing your vehicle crossing a river, boat across the water, bikes on a track and other similar situations.
You just need to select the object you want to track on the controller screen and then when the object starts moving, the drone will follow.
The Mastershots feature leaves the drone to do the cinematography as it flies a set course and captures a range of shots and delivers a short 'ready to upload' video.
The hyperlapse feature is like a stabilised timelapse where the drone flies a set path and uses software to compensate for the movement of the drone so you end up with a smooth finished video.
With its 4K larger sensor, the DJI Mini 3 Pro can digitally zoom in up to 2x in 4K mode and 4x in 1080P mode helping you get closer to the subject and also create some interesting effects.
I'm looking forward to testing this feature to see if there is a noticeable loss of image quality as is sometimes the case with digital zooms, but it sounds promising.
New gimbal design
The new gimbal design in the DJI Mini 3 Pro is what enables the camera to rotate 90 degrees for vertical shots.
It also enables the camera to look up to approximately 60 degrees from the horizon.
Most drones can only look straight ahead or down so this feature will open the door to some more interesting shots.
Panorama Wide Angle Photos
Similar to the Pano feature on your phone, the DJI Mini 3 Pro can capture wide angle images up to 180 degrees - perfect for those epic Australian landscapes you'll be visiting on your Big Lap.
The Mini 3 Pro has built in WIFI so you can transfer photos and video clips via WIFI directly to your phone or other device without needing to remove the Micro SD card.
This will help to get the shots off the drone and uploaded to social media faster.
DJI Mini 3 Pro Accessories
Along with the drone and controller, DJI has a Fly More Kit available which includes either 2 of the lightweight batteries or 2 of the longer flight time batteries plus a 3 battery charging hub, shoulder bag, spare propellers and some other bits and pieces.
You can also purchase ND Filter kits and DJI Care Refresh which is insurance for your drone in case it gets lost or damaged.
How to order your Mini 3 Pro
At the time of publishing this article demand for the new DJI Mini 3 Pro is high and on their website DJI are currently quoting 20 days for delivery for the RC model.
I'm excited to get my hands on the new Mini 3 Pro and give it a thorough field test to confirm that it really is the best drone for travel around Australia.
Stay tuned for a new video from me when that happens.