The best camera is the one you have with you
It doesn’t matter how good your drone is if you don’t have it with you. A top performing DSLR camera is enough of a burden when you add lenses and batteries and chargers. A drone is even worse, because they’re heavy, inherently fragile, attract unwanted attention at airport security, and you use it a lot less often than your camera.
It’s fine to carry that camera and all the bits and pieces because you know you’re going to be using it all the time. With a drone, you’re on the lookout for places to fly, and you find them much less often. You need space, you need an interesting scene, and you need to be away from people.
Flick the power switch on your camera and take a snap. Easy. With a drone, you have to unpack everything, connect everything up, double check batteries and props, find a clean and flat place to land and take off, plan your shots, get a good GPS signal, and then start flying.
All of this means that if the drone is too much of a burden, you’re travelling light, you’re going to a place where there might be few opportunities to fly, or where airport security might be a concern, you leave it behind.
I took the wonderful but enormous 3DR Solo all the way to South Africa and carried it around for 5 weeks through Namibia and Botswana. I had great fun with it, and got some great shots, but it took up half my suitcase and it was only because I was travelling by car that I managed to take it everywhere with me.
My Mavic pro is so much smaller and lighter, but on many other trips where luggage space was at a premium I’ve chosen to leave it at home.
The Mavic Mini is so small you can realistically take it anywhere, just on the off chance that you might come across a good spot to fly. At 250 grams and the size of a couple of smartphones stacked on top of each other, it can go anywhere.
The advantage of being discreet
At Etosha National park in Namibia, a security guard at the gate spotted the drone in the back of my safari camper and confiscated it. I’d had no intention of flying it but having it taken away caused me no end of trouble. In fact, it led to an armed police escort and this photograph, but that’s another story…
At many airport X-Ray checks I’ve had to undergo a secondary screening when the batteries come to the attention of security. Read our tips for travelling with a drone.) The batteries in the Mavic Mini are physically so much smaller that they will not attract the same kind of attention. They will most likely slip through the scan as easily as a camera battery. They’re also way below the limits for battery capacity. You do still need a fire-proof Li-Po bag though. See our top recommendations for drone accessories.
On the subject of accessories, there’s another reason why the mini wins. The charger is built into the drone. Not only do you not need to pack a separate charger, there’s also no risk of accidentally leaving it at home like I did on a trip to South-East Asia leading me on an unnecessary shopping trip to the DJI store in Hong Kong to purchase a replacement. By the way, the Hong Kong DJI store is an amazing place to bring out your inner child.
10 reasons why the Mavic Mini is the best travel drone
- It really is small enough to take anywhere
- No need to carry a charger
- Light enough for even the stingiest hand-luggage weight limits
- Relatively cheap price means much less at stake if it were damaged or stolen
- Quiet and unobtrusive flight means no unwanted attention
- Small batteries get through airport security with ease
- Photo and video quality ideal for all but pro film makers
- Ease of use in flight thanks to intuitive controls and smart flight modes
- Fast and simple video editing tools built into the DJI flight app
- Unbeatable 30 minute flight time
The sticking point
There is a problem with the Mavic Mini, and that is the limited range. To comply with EU radio transmission regulations the model sold in the EU has a lower transmission power and a controller range of 500m. I don’t think that this is a problem for casual travel photography, and the benefit of being able to carry the thing in a pocket wherever you go means that you will get so much more use out of it. There’s also the price. You have to spend a great deal more to get something more capable. If you’re wanting to make your travel photo and video more interesting without breaking the bank and without having to lug around a bigger, heavier drone, then the Mini is simply the best option currently available. If your goal is producing commercial quality videos then this isn’t for you. If you want to fly the drone out to see, disregarding laws about maintaining line of sight, so that you can photograph an offshore wind farm or oil rig then you’ll be disappointed. If you’re standing on a scenic coastal headland at sunset and want to capture the moment from the air, then this will do just fine.
It is the best travel drone on the market today.