In our initial review of DJI’s Mavic 3, not all of the promised features were available. Thanks to recent firmware updates, it now has everything DJI promised at launch. We’ll showcase several of those new features in this review. At the same time, a lot of people were disconcerted by the much-higher price tag ($2,195 base) than previous Mavic models. So, we decided to see if there was a less-expensive alternative that had many of the same capabilities. For that, we’ve been reviewing Autel’s EVO Lite+ drone ($1,295 base). Flying them side-by-side has helped us compare their relative strengths and weaknesses.
Autel EVO Lite+ By the Numbers
Since we already provided specs for the Mavic 3 in our original review, we’ll jump right to the Lite+. First, like the Mavic 3, it has an excellent sensor for a drone its size. A 1-inch format 20MP model that can capture video up to 5.7K. It even has 6GB of built-in storage for those annoying times when you take off without a card loaded.
It is very similar to the Mavic 3 in size and weight at 820 grams, although its slightly larger bulk allows it to carry a larger battery that gives it a theoretical 40-minute maximum flight time. Like the Mavic 3, it has a massive claimed range, but I have yet to find a location where I can keep radio contact anywhere near as far as the stated range of drones I’ve been able to fly in places where there isn’t a distance regulation (and of course for the most part non-UAV-pilot-licensed US fliers are required to keep their drones a lot closer to home).
Obstacle avoidance on the Lite+ is good, but only in three directions (front, back, and down). While I’ve flown my original Mavics for years with very-limited obstacle detection, I’ve been really spoiled when reviewing the Mavic 2 and especially the Mavic 3 — which has intelligent avoidance in every direction.
If you’re flying by hand, then avoidance mostly prevents you from making stupid mistakes. But the minute you ask the drone to perform pre-programmed moves or track a subject, obstacle avoidance becomes critically important.
Autel Lite+ Night and Super-Night Modes Deliver
Autel is extremely enthusiastic about the low-light capabilities of the Lite+ drone’s Night and Super-Night modes. I found the Night mode interesting for photography, but as in this sample image it made the scene at dusk look a little unreal. By contrast, I was able to shoot video in Super-Night mode in near-pitch-black with impressive results.
This panning video of the Bay Area at night has impressively low noise:
Autel is Missing Some Polish
The Lite+ is great to use and fly once all systems are go, but some of the time I found that either the drone wouldn’t take off because of some pre-flight check issue, or it did take off and the gimbal was canted at around 30 degrees. Neither of these is a show-stopper, as you can reboot and relaunch, but they don’t seem worthy of a $1K+ drone in 2022. Overall, it contributes to my belief that Autel just doesn’t have as mature an ecosystem as DJI. In fairness, most of my flying with the drone was done before the latest firmware update, and Autel promises more app and firmware updates are coming in March.
DJI’s Active Track vs. Autel’s Dynamic Track
While anyone who has ever flown a Skydio 2 isn’t going to get very excited about the tracking on the Mavic 3, it is pretty reliable, fairly smart about avoiding obstacles, and in some cases re-acquiring subjects — and it is finally available. In contrast, the Dynamic Tracking feature of the Lite+ isn’t scheduled until March, so we’ll need to wait and see. The lack of up and side obstacle detection will also make the Lite+ more limited. In one test, the Mavic 3 was pretty impressive tracking a moving vehicle even when it went behind a sand dune. You can see in this video that it was also very capable of tracking through trees, but wasn’t able to deal with a subject walking back towards it:
Mavic 3 POI Tracking Evaluation
I had mixed results tracking a POI. Here I asked the Mavic 3 to do an orbit around a person on a beach. It got most of the way around, but then lost track. Somewhat surprisingly, it then did lock back on. That’s technically impressive, but would mean that the resulting footage couldn’t be used in its entirety.
Mavic 3 Gets Smart Return to Home
After the Mavic 3 lost track of the person it was following in the previous video, I told it to return home. The resulting flight path was pretty cool. It didn’t retrace its original route, and it also didn’t simply fly high and over everything. Instead it took about the same route back through the trees that a human operator might have chosen. For anyone who has lost a drone when RTH didn’t deliver, this is a big advancement.
Mavic 3 GPS: Temporary Bug or Deal Killer?
The Mavic 3 often takes a ridiculously long time to lock on to GPS. I’ve had it take multiple minutes, even after specifically looking for wide-open locations like parking lots and a beach. At first I thought it was just after the drone had been moved a long distance, but I even had it happen on my second flight from the same place. Unfortunately, it’s not just me. The internet is full of the same complaint. I really hope this is fixable, as it is unlike any other drone I’ve flown and reminds me of a 1990’s GPS.
You can, of course, launch the drone and let it sort itself out in the air. But I’ve been warned by people who should know that that can be a good way to lose a drone in a fly-away.
Comparing Video Options
One area where the Mavic 3 has a real advantage is pro video. It can record in 10-bits, which provides a little more granularity for post processing (contrary to what you might read, more bits of precision doesn’t automatically mean more dynamic range). In addition, the Mavic 3 offers recording in a “Log-style” profile. Basically, log profiles provide something closer to a “raw” rendering. In turn that allows for more flexibility in color grading and color correction compared to typically more-heavily-processed color options.
Autel views the Lite+ as a “consumer” drone, so it is not planning to unleash a combination of 10-bit and a log profile for it. They are looking to steer budding videographers to their higher-end offerings — which are priced more closely to the Mavic 3. Personally, coming from a tech industry background where we worked hard to provide our customers with as many capabilities as we could at the lowest possible cost, it irks me that many vendors (including both Autel and DJI) find it expedient to artificially withhold features to get customers to upgrade to a more expensive drone.
Choosing Between the Mavic 3 and the EVO Lite+
There is no question that the Mavic 3 is a more versatile offering than the Lite+, featuring superior obstacle avoidance and a more extensive ecosystem around it. You also get more “pro” video settings and the option of using it with DJI’s expensive but powerful Pro RC (remote control). However, that comes at a bump in cost of around $1,000. If you don’t need pro video, and either don’t need tracking or are willing to wait and see what Autel delivers, the Lite+ is a good value.