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DJI Mini 3 Pro for Photogrammetry – Tool or Toy?

DJI Mini 3 Pro – the latest compact DJI drone equipped with a capable camera. We purchased the drone with our money to evaluate using it for photogrammetry, just like we did with the Mavic 3. This article will not be a review, but an overview, emphasizing photogrammetry. So how good is the Mini 3 Pro for photogrammetry?

Features

Let’s look at the hardware and software features of the DJI Mini 3 Pro.

Mini 3 Pro Hardware

DJI does not disappoint with the hardware. The drone weighs 249 grams, placing it under regulations requiring a pilot’s license in many countries. Despite the weight and the size, the tiny drone is solid. While compromises are made to make the drone as light as possible, the overall build quality is more than adequate. Everything is thin, good-quality plastic, with metal and glass parts only in screws, motors, and cameras.

There are quite a few cameras. The drone features forward, backward, and downward obstacle sensing, the minimum required for safe flying for beginner pilots. The primary camera contains a 1.3-inch class-sized sensor with a bright f1.7 aperture. These are good specifications for such a small camera, and we expect good image quality from this package. Portrait mode shooting also makes a comeback from the original Mavic Pro days. 

Hardware pros and cons:

Pros:
Light and small
Good quality camera
Front, rear, and down obstacle sensing
Good flight time (25 minutes in real-world testing)
Good speed and stability
Arms fold out in any sequence
Ability to shoot in portrait mode
Ability to tilt the camera upwards

Cons:
Overheats when not in flight
Propellers are removable with a screwdriver only
No LEDs on the back arms
No adjustable aperture in the camera
No LEDs on the battery

DJI RC vs. RC N1

The first batch of drones came in the new DJI RC remote controllers. The controller is straightforward, but it is much cheaper than the RC PRO released with the Mavic 3 and contains its own screen. Is it worth getting the controller if you have the choice?

Yes, if:
You do not own a higher-end smartphone
You do not want to install DJI apps on your device
You are not interested in third-party app support in the future
You need the convenience of having a separate device

No, if:
You already have a high-end smartphone or a tablet
You want to save some money
You might be interested in flight planners in the future
You prefer the RC N1 remote controller

RC N1 has a couple of advantages that you might prefer. This remote seemed to have better transmission stability and range overall than the included DJI RC. Having the screen above the control sticks makes more sense ergonomically. The RC N1 has a better battery life, especially if phone charging is disabled. On its own, it takes a little less space and feels a bit more solid. However, the DJI RC is lighter and has mounting holes with simple metric threads. Finally, you will be able to get the drone without any controller if you have any of these lying around in the future.

RC-N1 vs DJI RC controller

DJI Fly Application

The drone uses the DJI Fly app, becoming the default app for all of its drones after Mavic 3. The Mavic 3 already received some updates that shaped and expanded the Fly app. However, the app inside the included DJI RC is incomplete and missing a few key features. For example, you can not take RAW images only at the time of writing. We expect such omissions and other limitations to be fixed with an update soon. Overall the app state is much better than it was at the launch of the Mavic 3, and it does not feel like we are beta testing for DJI anymore.

First Impressions on the Mini 3 Pro

So how good is the drone overall? For what it does – it is excellent. You get good quality photos and video, some obstacle avoidance, decent flight time, good stability, and signal stability in a 250-gram package. The drone is not cheap, but for some, it might be the only capable solution at this weight and size. The Mini 3 Pro was surprised with its wind resistance and stability during testing. Still, ascent speed and flight speed are a little low outdoors. Indoors the drone feels small and stable, thus feeling safe to fly even in small rooms. There were virtually no issues with the drone in our experience except for the drone overheating while just sitting on the ground. There were no overheating issues when flying, so we can safely assume that the Mini 3 Pro cools off with the air passing through when in flight.

Photogrammetry Requirements

When it comes to photogrammetry – a good camera package is the main requirement. The Mini 3 Pro has a good camera, especially for photos. A bright aperture means that the lens transmits a good amount of light to the sensor resulting in lower noise. True 12-megapixel resolution is enough, while the 48-megapixel mode can be a bonus in some cases. The camera is mounted on a gimbal and therefore is stable, like all other DJI drones. The drone has GPS, and location data is embedded in the photo metadata. The Mini 3 Pro meets all essential requirements for photogrammetry.

No Flight Planners Yet or Ever?

We are confident that there will be no way to install third-party apps to the new DJI RC controller. It contains a barebones, android-like operating system designed for essential drone operation only. As for using your own device with the RC-N1 – it all depends on DJI. The software development kit (SDK) for the Mavic 3 is not yet available, and the hope is fading that it will ever be. No SDK release from DJI – no 3rd party apps and no flight planners for photogrammetry. We have no reason to think that situation will be different regarding the Mini 3. Maybe the days of freely available SDKs for consumer drones are over, and DJI pushes flight planning to exclusively enterprise drones.

Manual Photogrammetry Technique

No third-party app support does not mean you can not use the Mini 3 Pro for photogrammetry. Manually scanning is on the table as with all things that can take photos. Additionally, The Mini 3 Pro has similar tracking capabilities as the Mavic 3, which includes POI tracking and Hyperlapse, which can be helpful in photogrammetry.

Check out how to scan nadir sets manually
How we used tracking for roof scanning

With the Mini 3 Pro being able to tilt the camera upwards of 65 degrees, we have some additional benefits, usable for photogrammetry. For vertical objects and even overhanging objects such as bridges, this allows to scan and inspect objects from below. With the portrait mode enabled and the camera tilted upwards, the blind spot above the drone becomes really small – it can almost see directly above. A valuable feature for manual photogrammetry.

Pro Tool or a Pro Toy?

Despite the name, DJI Mini 3 Pro is not a professional tool. Although it can produce professional results in the right hands. This is what makes this drone eligible for everyone. The drone provides a good flying experience and some safety features for beginners. It offers good image quality for enthusiasts without needing an advanced pilot’s license. This can be a backup drone that takes up almost no space in the kit and a recreational toy for vacations for professionals.

Mini 3 Pro for photogrammetry? Certainly usable and with some unique advantages. Low weight for legal flights in contentious areas, small size for portability, low noise for discreteness. And most importantly, the upward tilting camera for versatility. We do not expect flight planning with this drone for a while, if ever, which is a shame.

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