A lot of awesome gear arrived on the scene in 2019 including plenty of ground-breaking and impressive cameras, lenses and accessories. But of all the releases, there was only one piece of gear I purchased for myself to enjoy outside of work: The DJI Mavic Mini.

Back in 2016 I picked the original DJI Mavic Pro as my gear of the year because I felt it represented a turning point in the drone market. It was the first mid-level unit that seemed to offer everything I wanted: a folding design, good stills/video, a user-friendly interface and a reasonably affordable price. It was a product I threw down my own money for and one that opened my eyes to a new way of creating stills and video.

There was only one piece of gear I purchased for myself this year: The DJI Mavic Mini

But three years on and my Mavic Pro is starting to seem, well, old. While the folding design was unique at launch, the drone itself now feels hefty in comparison to many newer models. This has made me less likely to take it along on trips or adventures, unless I'm certain I'll be using it. And though the image quality from its 1/2.3" sensor is still largely good enough for my needs, I find the JPEG profiles unappealing and the Raw files lack malleability. It also doesn't help that several 'oh crap' moments have now led the camera's lens to become de-centered. Oops.

Image quality from the Mavic Mini won't knock your socks off, but it's more than good enough for social sharing and Web viewing, especially if you take a little time to tweak the JPEGs.
Processed to taste in Adobe Lightroom.
ISO 100 | 1/40 sec | F2.8

Even before the Mavic Mini was launched this Fall, I'd put together a wish list in my mind for my next drone: It would have to be small enough and light enough for me to bring it with me wherever, without a second thought. It would have to offer similar or better image quality to my Mavic Pro (either with better out-of-camera JPEGs or more workable Raw files), it would hopefully be quieter/less intrusive to others, all while offering similar battery life and a just as easy-to-fly interface.

There's no Raw capture on the Mini, so I pull the JPEG files into Lightroom and tweak them slightly, with good results

The Mavic Mini checks off all the boxes (which is why I purchased one shortly after its launch, sight unseen). It's nearly a quarter of the weight of the Mavic Pro and about half the size. It uses the same-sized, 1/2.3" sensor (essentially, a smartphone-sized sensor) but the JPEG output, including color and tone, looks significantly more natural and pleasing (to me at least). There's no Raw capture on the Mini, but that doesn't really bother me: I pull the JPEG files into Lightroom and tweak them slightly, with good results.

The Mini also sounds less like an angry swarm of bees compared to my Pro, which will hopefully make it easier to avoid disturbing others when flying. And at $400 for the unit, controller and battery, the Mavic Mini is significantly less investment than the current Mavic Pro offerings (The Pro Platinum is $1150 at the time of writing). The lower price also leads to less anxiety about potentially losing it (though that'd still majorly suck).

Processed to taste in Adobe Lightroom.
ISO 100 | 1/40 sec |F2.8

I've only been flying the Mavic Mini for several weeks now, but after a few adventures - including one in Oregon wine country - I'm hooked. The impossibly small size is hands-down its greatest feature. Getting it into my 16L Lowepro bag without displacing other necessities is no problem at all. Which means this little sky camera can come with me everywhere I go.

The impossibly small size is hands-down its greatest feature - this little sky camera can come with me everywhere I go

It's also oh-so-easy to operate. DJI further simplified the flying experience for the Mini: It uses the new DJI Fly app, which is a pared-down and more user-friendly version of the standard DJI Go app (used by most of the brand's other consumer drones). This is a change I welcome given the intended user is likely someone who is a beginner or intermediate drone flyer. Cleaning up the settings and options means there are less things to distract you while flying, but the experience is in no way dumbed-down. And perhaps most importantly, users still have full manual control over the camera's settings.

Processed to taste in Adobe Lightroom.
ISO 100 | 1/60 sec |F2.8

I did have to give up some features by stepping down from the Mid-level Mavic Pro-series to the more beginner-oriented Mini, above and beyond Raw capture. One such feature is video quality: the max video resolution is 2.7K/30p compared to 4K/30p on my Mavic Pro (not a deal-breaker for my needs as a primarily stills shooter). The maximum flight range is also less than that of the original Mavic, a limitation I've yet to encounter, but I'll report back if I do.

There is, however, one feature I wish the Mini had: Rear and front accident avoidance cameras. My Mavic Pro has a front avoidance camera and who would've guessed, all my crashes with it have been while going in reverse. But hopefully their absence will lead me to become a safer, more competent flyer (knocks on wood).

Access to a go-everywhere flying smartphone camera has put a big smile on my face

Ultimately, if you're a photographer who's been curious about drone capture and trying to decide when to pull the trigger and on which model, the time is now and the model is the Mavic Mini. At $400, it's cheaper than a lot of other cameras accessories you can purchase. But it's one that'll likely change your perspective more than anything else you could put that money toward. Moreover, access to what is essentially a go-everywhere flying smartphone camera has put a big smile on my face, which is why the DJI Mavic Mini is my gear of the year.