It’s no secret that the DJI Mavic 3 drone arrived in a pretty undercooked state when it landed last November. Fortunately, a series of firmware updates have turned it into a much tastier proposition since then – and a new update, which makes it compatible with the DJI RC controller, has made it a drone I’m now finally considering buying.
Until now, the DJI Mavic 3 only offered two official control options. The disappointing DJI RC-N1, which uses your smartphone’s screen and isn’t really suited for such a high-end drone, and the painfully expensive DJI RC Pro ($1,199 / £879 / AU$1,529), which you can also buy as part of the Mavic 3 Cine Premium Combo.
None of them are ideal and there was a hole between them for a professional controller that doesn’t cost the same as an iPhone 13 Pro. DJI previously had the Smart Controller, which was not compatible with the Mavic 3 when it launched. But now that much-needed sweet spot has been released – the new DJI RC controller, which arrived alongside the DJI Mini 3 Pro in May.
It was a painful two-month wait, but the DJI RC controller – which comes with a built-in display – is now finally compatible with the DJI Mavic 3, thanks to the controller’s new firmware v01.01.0000. And I think it’s now a much better buy, particularly for interested hobbyists.
Unfortunately, DJI does not yet offer a package that combines the DJI Mavic 3 and the DJI RC Controller. When I asked DJI if this was possible, she said “we currently have no plans to offer a Mavic 3 + DJI RC package”.
Instead, you’ll need to get the standard package with the DJI RC-N1 controller ($2,049 / £1,729 / AU$2,899) and add the DJI RC ($309 / £255 / AU$399). But that’s still a huge improvement to the controller situation, and along with all the other firmware improvements we’ve seen, it makes the Mavic 3 a fantastic high-end option for anyone who needs a flying mirrorless camera.
DJI RC vs RC Pro
Considering the huge price difference between the DJI RC and the RC Pro (the latter costs three times as much), there’s not much to separate them. The main benefits the RC Pro brings are that its 5.5-inch touchscreen is brighter (1,000 nits compared to the RC’s 700 nits), has an HDMI output port, and it also has 32GB of storage. internal, in addition to its microSD card slot (the RC only has the latter).
But on the other hand, both controllers offer the same transmission range (8km) and the DJI RC Pro is almost twice as heavy as its cheaper counterpart. The standard DJI RC also promises slightly longer battery life than the RC Pro (four hours, versus three hours) thanks to that slightly darker screen.
Not that the DJI RC is a complete no-brainer compared to using your smartphone with the RC-N1. The RC doesn’t have a built-in internet connection, so you’ll need to create a Wi-Fi hotspot with your phone to download things like maps. And unlike your smartphone, it’s currently not possible to install third-party apps like Litchi on the controller for use with the Mavic 3.
But the benefits still easily outweigh those limitations for me. Setting up the DJI RC with a drone is much faster and less complicated than using your smartphone, as you only need to screw in your thumbs to get started. There’s no stuttering from other apps either, and the 700-nit display, while not as good as the DJI RC Pro, should be good enough for most situations.
Sure, some smartphones have an even higher maximum brightness, but that tends to be negated when you consider the auto-dimming that comes with shooting on a bright, sunny day.
Up in the air
The value and benefits that the DJI RC brings to the Mavic 3 make it a much better buy than before. Particularly as this new compatibility also follows a series of major firmware updates for the drone.
We retested the drone in February after two of these updates and were pleased to see improvements in obstacle avoidance alongside the late arrival of ActiveTrack 5.0 and QuickShots, which are a useful set of automated flight patterns.
Since then, a major update in May has also brought a number of improvements. This includes support for ProRes formats, raw photo support for the telephoto lens, a 200fps slow motion mode and an ActiveTrack ‘Nifty’ mode that allows the drone to negotiate obstacles like tree branches with smoother movement and altitude changes.
So the DJI Mavic 3 is finally fulfilling its core potential, and the new DJI RC controller compatibility is the icing on the cake that makes it a really attractive option. Plus one thing – for most of us, it’s still very expensive.
This is where the DJI Mini 3 Pro comes into play to tempt amateur racers who cannot, in the current financial climate, justify the $2,358 / £1,984 / AU$3,298 total cost of a Mavic 3 with a DJI RC controller, same as Prime Daily Deals give us a welcome discount.
But the real sweet spot would undoubtedly be a DJI Air 2S, which currently tops our guide to the best drones you can buy, paired with the DJI RC controller. The two are currently not compatible, but as the Air 2S has been updated with DJI RC Pro compatibility, I think that will happen later this year. Until then, the Mavic 3 will severely test my financial self-control.