Ok, ok. You’re probably wondering: why the heck is a Sony camera review site posting a review about the DJI Mini 2? Well, after shooting photos from the ground for a decade, I decided to dabble in aerial photography.
I won’t bore you with the backstory (that’s for later in the article!) but about 8 months ago I decided to pick up a refurbished DJI Mini 2 just to dip my feet into shooting pictures from the sky.
Why You Can Trust Me
Chance (that’s me) has been practicing photography for 10 years and has been a paid professional for most of it. I started casually experimenting with drones a couple years ago (cheap/toy ones). I’ve had the Mini 2 for about 8 months and have recently received my FAA Part 107 commercial drone license. (read how I review/test gear).
Anyway, in this review, I’ll be covering my long-term impressions on the Mini 2 from the perspective of a beginner turned 107-certified “pro”. Let’s jump in!
- Tiny and portable
- Easy to use/learn
- Flies quickly/good wind resistance
- Budget friendly
- Only downward sensors
- Low light is a bit iffy
- No support for ND filters
Verdict: For those on a budget, the Mini 2 offers great photos and solid video performance at a low and approachable cost. I would recommend buying refurbished to save money.
Size, Weight & Portability
First off, any long-time readers will know that I am absolutely obsessed with having a small camera kit. When I got the itch to purchase a drone, I went at it with the same angle.
You see, I never really paid close attention to the aerial photography industry before, and I had assumed all drones were still bulky and annoying to carry around like they had been many years prior. Apparently, I was wrong.
When I first took the Mini 2 out of the shipping box, I almost giggled. The box was so tiny! I thought to myself, “is this thing ACTUALLY this small?”. Sure enough, I opened it up and there it was, metaphorically staring back at me, neatly folded atop its own controller and user manual.
When folded up (which is very quick and easy to do, by the way), the drone measures only 5.4×3.2×2.3in (138x81x58cm). That’s like, smaller than my typical a7iii setup, and this one can fly!
In addition to being comically small, the drone also weighs less than 250g. As I’m sure many of my US readers know, the cut-off for FAA registration is 250g or .55lbs. With that being said, registration is fairly cheap to do and if you ever intend to use the drone commercially, you’ll need to register it anyways (plus get the Part 107 commercial cert.).
But uhh, did I mention how light this thing is?
Alright, so the drone can literally fit in your pocket, but how is the image quality?
In the camera world, small size can oftentimes mean sacrifices (whether that be image quality, autofocus, stabilization, etc.). Luckily, the Mini 2, while it is a bit more “limited” than its more expensive and larger counterparts, is still a beast.
First off, it can shoot 12MP RAW. That right there is a huge advantage over some of the… less expensive off-brand options (compared to throwaway UAVs from brands like Holy Stone or various unbranded Amazon drones).
Personally, despite not offering as much image data as RAWs from my real full-frame camera, I’ve found that images from the Mini 2 are actually pretty solid. Oftentimes, I’m able to push up shadows and bit or bring down highlights to a more reasonable level. Dynamic range isn’t nuts, but it’s certainly not as bad as say, a mid-budget phone camera.
I think low light is where the Mini 2 starts to run into some roadblocks. DJI’s newer drones (such as the incredible Mini 3 Pro) offer a larger sensor, but this old boy is still stuck with a 1/2.3″ sensor. I’ve found that noise starts to get noticeably bad around 1600 ISO.
You can start to see it pop up at ISO800, but you’re able to generally save images with the proper amount of noise reduction in post-processing. The drone can handle about 2s of long exposure, but not much beyond that.
So yeah, you’re not going to be capturing beautiful, crisp shots at dusk, but grabbing a nice photo of the sunset or sunrise is entirely possible, especially with proper use of bracketing…
Speaking of bracketing, the drone does offer an “AEB” mode which is just like the bracketed exposure modes you might be used to on a normal camera. What it does is it simply takes three different photos in quick succession, all at various settings (exposures).
In Photoshop or Lightroom, all you have to do is merge them as an “HDR” photo, and you can generally get a bit more of an even spread of lighting (no dark landscapes or blown out skies).
In addition to these bracket modes, the drone also offers a couple of panorama modes. The first is a typical horizontal panorama which is… pretty much exactly what you’d expect. The drone slowly turns, capturing a handful of photos in a straight line.
It’ll stitch them automatically in JPEG, but for RAW you still have to do it in post. Luckily, each panorama has a specific folder on the SD card, so they’re fairly easy to find and keep organized in post.
The second panorama type is “sphere”. You’ve most likely seen these elsewhere online, where the image is squished into a spherical shape to look almost like a tiny planet. This is a cute mode to play around with, but it’s not useful for anything “serious”.
The final wide-angle panorama mode is actually one I find myself using quite often. It’ll take sort of a “square” of photos and then stitch them together. I was able to create some really awesome and dramatic wide landscapes with this. Really big fan of this mode.
So yeah, I’ve been pretty happy with the image quality of the Mini 2, but how’s the video? Better than you’d expect, but not without some caveats.
First off: let’s talk specs. The Mini 2 can shoot 4k at 24, 25, or 30fps and 2.7k/1080p anywhere from 24-60fps. 4k video is shot at a clean 100Mbps bitrate which, while perhaps not “the best”, is still absolutely more than adequate for the vast amount of users.
During good lighting, video quality is absolutely spectacular. No complaints from me, besides the fact that the drone can’t support ND filters. For this reason, you’ll get a bit of choppy video if you’re unable to sync your shutter speed with your framerate (aka any well-lit, mid-day scene).
So, not great for Hollywood producers, sure, but pretty much good enough for most people. I’m extremely happy with the video results I’ve gotten out of mine, although I do see myself upgraded to a drone that is compatible with ND filters in the future.
As with photo performance, however, low light conditions are the Achilles heel of the Mini 2’s video performance. Shooting at dusk and sunset is certainly possible, but don’t expect to record anything after night falls.
Ease of Use
Moving on, let’s talk about ease of use. This drone is, when it comes down to it, marketed primarily toward beginners and hobbyists. I’ve now got a good bit of “experience” under my belt, but when I first got the drone months ago I found it to be a pretty seamless learning process.
First up, the required app was pretty easy. Make an account, sign your life away to their terms of service (what could go wrong?), and start the pairing process. It took me about ten minutes to get my Mini 2 paired with the app, but that’s only because I’m an idiot who doesn’t read directions (and yet I write reviews and guides professionally for a living…).
As for the controller, it’s honestly awesome! I feel like I probably would have liked their Smart Controller more, but it was also SUBSTANTIALLY more expensive, so I’m really pleased with the standard phone-mount controller.
All you do is pull out the clamp, slot your phone inside, plug it in and the app will open automatically and pair (after the initial setup of course).
First off, I love the flight controls. I’m a huge gamer, so it felt completely natural to me (similar to flying a heli in Battlefield). I typically prefer to fly without the thumbsticks attached as it feels more like an Xbox controller (to my fellow PC enthusiasts, I play on computer, not console, don’t worry).
Most controls are easy to reach and logical. Power button and RTH (return-to-home, more on that soon) are easy to reach, and there’s a handy button for flipping the gimbal up and down (for quicker and safer landing). There’s also a button to switch between photo/video.
On the rear of the controller is another handy button that starts recording or captures a picture. Then, on the left is a nice dial to slowly adjust the gimbal up and down.
Finally, there’s the flight mode switch. Cinematic mode slows the drone down, normal is balanced, and sport makes it go much faster (like, VERY fast) but weakens the gimbal.
What good is an awesome drone if you can only fly for a few minutes? Let’s talk battery life! The Mini 2 actually punches slightly above its weight, with DJI claiming about 31 minutes flight time.
In my personal experience, I’ve found that it’s typically slightly lower, though it depends on conditions. That being said, I do live in the Great Lakes region, so we get some absolutely brutal lake winds sometimes. It should go without saying that the drone will die a bit quicker if it’s constantly fighting sustained winds.
When it does die, however, the cool thing is that it actually offers USB-C charging. One of my goals with my tech is to get to the point where all of my stuff is USB-C only, and I’m glad the Mini 2 doesn’t require some silly proprietary cable or anything outdated like Micro-USB.
To be honest, though, I’d highly recommend buying some extra batteries. When I first bought it (I got drone/controller/1 battery only), there were many times when I thought to myself, “damn, I wish I had another battery so I could stay out here longer,”. If you get the Fly More combo, I believe it typically comes with three total plus a really handy triple charger.
Range & Reliability
One of DJI’s biggest improvements for the Mini 2 was adding something called “Ocusync”, which is more or less just a new system for transmission. I’m not an aerial engineer, but my understanding is it just means the Mini 2 is significantly more reliable than its predecessors.
In a perfect world with flawless line of sight and no competing signals, DJI claims the drone maxes out at a 6.2 mile (10km) range. For most people, you’ll probably fall more into their “medium interference” measurement, which shows a max range of 3.7 miles (or 6km).
I’ve primarily flown in a mix of rural/suburban areas, and I’ve found this to be my typical range. I have flown about a mile off into Lake Michigan (clear LOS), but I admittedly wasn’t brave enough to push it and see how far I could go before losing connection.
On that subject, does the DJI fly app crash a lot? Honestly, not really. When I was shopping around, I saw a lot of people claiming that it was unreliable, but I haven’t really had any issues.
I do have a pretty decent mid-budget phone (Pixel 5a) so perhaps the app is just less reliable on older devices. Regardless, even if the app does crash, the drone is actually smart enough to get back on its own.
Speaking of which, the return to home feature is awesome. Provided you wait a bit (to detect satellites) before taking off, the Mini 2 (and all other DJI drones of course) is able to remember where it took off. In the event of loss-of-signal (or if you just hit the RTH button), the drone will fly back to its starting point.
It’s worth remembering that, thanks to the fact that the drone lacks obstacle avoidance, it won’t always get back safely. If there are large buildings or other obstructions in the way, it may just run into them and die.
However, you’re able to set a maximum height in the app (I capped mine out at 120m) where the drone will actually fly up to that height before starting its journey home. This has saved me on one occasion.
Wind Resistance & Stability
Speaking of safety, let’s talk about wind resistance and stability. DJI claims the maximum sustained wind speed resistance is 24mph (10.5m/s).
Like I mentioned, I live in an area where wind can sometimes be unpredictable. There’s been a few occasions where my drone has gotten hit with gusts that are way faster and it has stayed faithfully in the air. Even in fairly high sustained winds, the drone (or more accurately, the gimbal) has never had issues capturing 2-second exposures. It’s quite impressive.
That all being said, I would highly suggest downloading a drone-related weather app. I personally just typed in “drone weather app” to the app store and chose whatever the first one that came up was. On my Android, I’ve been rocking “UAV Forecast for Drone Pilots” (not sponsored, I just use their free version).
Flight Speed/Flight Modes
Anywho, now that we’ve covered wind speeds, let’s talk about… drone speeds! The Mini 2 has three different modes: cine, normal, and sport.
Cinematic mode slows the drone to a crawl (13mph or 6m/s) and stabilizes the gimbal a bit more. This allows you to take those awesome slow cinematic flyovers that you’ve probably seen in EVERY YouTube video.
Normal mode is what it sounds like, the drone caps out around 22mph (10m/s) and the gimbal operates “normally”. This is the one I typically use.
Sport mode speeds it up to a breezy 35mph (16m/s)! As you’d expect, the gimbal is definitely NOT stable at this speed, as the drone will pitch forward a lot more to get maximum horizontal thrust. I typically only use this mode if I need to cross a large distance quickly.
Speaking of high speeds, noise levels actually aren’t that bad when the drone is going “normal speeds”. When taking off, it’s certainly obnoxious and I’ve gotten a lot of stares from passersby, but the Mini 2 isn’t nearly as loud as the original Mini or the older Mavic Pros (a friend had one).
This is definitely a bit of an “annoying buzz” but it’s not an, “omg a jet engine is right by my ear” loud.
Next up, let’s talk about the smart/automated/AI features (or whatever buzzword you want to use).
A real downside of the Mini 2 is the complete lack of obstacle avoidance sensors. Obviously, there’s the downward sensor for landing, but beyond that keeping the drone safe is entirely in the operator’s hands. I’m oftentimes extremely careful, making sure I give myself a wide berth between trees, buildings, cars, etc. (which you should do anyway).
Thanks to the lack of obstacle sensors, the drone doesn’t feature any sort of active tracking features that newer drones have. The closest thing would be some of the “quick shot” functions.
Speaking of which, you’ve probably seen these modes. The drone will rotate around a subject (static), fly up really quickly, or turn the world into a sphere after some dramatic moves. The Mini 2 offers all of these, but I never really used them much. I guess I just don’t really care about the “gimmicky” stuff, but they are neat.
Before we round out this review, I want to do some brief comparisons with other similar drones. Remember, I’ve only owned the Mini 2. However, I did do a ridiculously high amount of research (seriously, probably a few dozen hours of YouTube and Googling) on other drone options before buying this one.
So, it goes without saying that the Mini 2 is the successor to the Mini, but what did it actually improve?
- 4k/30fps vs 2.7k/30fps
- RAW/JPEG vs just JPEG
- OcuSync (higher range) vs Wi-Fi Transmission
- Higher Flight Speed & Wind Resistance
- Pano Modes & Quick Shots
So yeah, the original Mini isn’t even on the same wavelength as the Mini 2. If you’re on the fence between the two, the Mini 2 offers so much more for not much more money.
Now, hold up, you might be thinking, I’ve also heard of the SE, what’s the difference? Yeah, that threw me off too when I was shopping.
The ONLY difference is that the SE version lacks 4k. It can only shoot at 2.7k/30fps while the standard Mini 2 shoots 4k/30fps. If you are NEVER going to touch video, the SE is a solid choice, but I’d still recommend getting the Mini 2 instead to have that extra flexibility.
Alright, so now that you’ve read this gigantic wall of text, I want to talk about WHY I choose the Mini 2 in the first place and why I still think it’s the best starter drone even in 2024.
The biggest reason was just that I was on a budget. I write about cameras for a living, so while I’m not necessarily living on the streets, I’m certainly not living large either. Buying a shiny Mavic 3 for 5x the price didn’t make sense, especially because I wasn’t even sure if I was going to enjoy aerial photography. Why buy an uber-expensive option when I can dip my feet in with the cheaper one?
The second reason, to be honest, is size. Like I mentioned earlier, any long-time readers of this site will know that I am obsessed with small camera setups. With a small camera, I feel like I’m more likely to go out and shoot because it’s not a pain-in-the-butt (or wrist, rather lol) to lug around.
I put forth that same logic when it came to drone shopping. Taking this thing outside and getting it into the air is effortless.
In light of both those reasons, I really do think the Mini 2 is pretty much the cheapest drone you can buy without falling into the “toy” category. This thing isn’t going to take 8k video or shoot 25mp stills, but it’s perfectly capable of putting out amazing results in the right hands (I know people who started shooting professionally with it).
I really wanted to dabble in drones without spending a lot of money or buying a glorified children’s toy, so that lead me to the Mini 2.
So yeah, hundreds of paragraphs later, I think you can tell I love my drone and, if you’ve made it this far, I’d wager that you’re thinking about buying one yourself. I purchased mine refurbished, and I’d encourage you to do the same as well. I’ve personally never had any issues buying my tech as refurbs, and my drone was no exception.
Save your money and buy a refurbished copy (or “renewed” as it’s called on Amazon). Spend the extra money on more batteries or a nice carrying case, trust me. Purchase links are below, thanks for reading!
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