Recently, DJI made Waypoints available for their premium Mavic 3 series of drones. The Standard, Cine and Classic models now include this feature thanks to the latest v01.00.1000 firmware update. This development is significant because the Waypoints feature hasn't been readily available for any DJI consumer drone since the Mavic 2 Pro – which was released more than four years ago in August 2018.

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Waypoints allows you to capture video on pre-planned missions that you can save and repeat, with control over the drone’s flight's path, altitude, speed and gimbal pitch as it automatically flies between each Waypoint.

Technically, Waypoints has been available on a few existing DJI drones, but only while in Hyperlapse mode. To use it without Hyperlapse you'd need to use either a DJI Phantom 4 Pro or Mavic 2 Pro and the corresponding DJI GO 4 app.

Now this powerful feature can be executed with a series of straightforward steps on any Mavic 3 model with the updated DJI Fly app.

Why Waypoints?

Even the most skilled remote pilot can't execute a flawless set of maneuvers consistently. This is where automated flight comes in handy. If you want to create more complex shots, setting up a sequence of two or more Waypoints will allow you to customize a flight that, if you so desire, can be repeated in the future. The software gives you a variety of ways to customize your flights.

The Waypoints function is especially useful if you want to track the progress of a site's construction, for example, or showcase how a particular area looks during different seasons. Overall you will end up with a clip that looks more polished and consistent than if you'd attempted to fly the repeat courses yourself.

How to set up Waypoints

Once the latest firmware update is installed on your Mavic 3, an Waypoints icon will appear on the center-left-hand side of the home screen in your DJI Fly app. When you click on it, a menu will appear at the bottom of the screen. This is where you begin setting Waypoints in flight.

The Waypoints icon can be found on the left-center side, highlighted in yellow. Once activated, you can select each waypoint by either pressing the '+' icon on the screen or the 'C1' button on the back of your remote controller.

When you add a waypoint, by pressing either the '+' icon or the C1 button, the drone automatically remembers those coordinates as well as the altitude and gimbal pitch. You can then fly to the location of your next one. Furthermore, you can tinker with the speed between waypoints and even opt to zoom in up to 3X manually or automatically.

There's an alternative way to plot your missions. You can open the map, tap the screen on the point where you want to start your mission, then use your finger to draw a line to each waypoint. There is a small thumbnail on the bottom-left-hand side that will give you a first-person view from the drone's camera.

My personal preference is to manually fly through my course setting waypoints and see, on the full screen, how it's going to look at every interval. But for those who may want something more precise, such as a flight path along a highway or in sync with a river, the map view can let you lay out a more exact route. It's also quicker to set up a mission this way.

You can open up the map view and draw, with your finger, your planned flight path. From there, you can edit each waypoint. A preview screen at the bottom left shows you what the drone will be filming. The DJI Fly app is currently using Google Maps to populate this information. You can view the map in 'Standard' mode, as seen above, 'Satellite,' which showcases the terrain, or a mixture of both.

Right next to the Waypoint option is the 'POI' or Point of Interest button. This allows you to position the drone's head (front) and camera to point continually in a specific direction, or at a specific target, such as a building, while flying between two waypoints.

Once you’ve set waypoints, you can click on each one for further customization, either as you go or later when the path is finalized. Options include setting the drone to take a photo at that specific waypoint, start recording there, or stop recording. You can also delete a waypoint using the trash can icon on the far left side of the submenu.

Clicking on any of the above menu items can help you further customize a waypoint. If you like how something is set, you can hit 'Apply to All' (on the right-hand side) as a short cut.

If you're not satisfied with how everything looks, you can adjust each waypoint in terms of the altitude, the speed, the heading (the direction the front of the drone faces) and the gimbal's pitch, plus zoom in on a subject up to 3X. Clicking on each menu item pulls down a list of customization options. Hitting 'Apply to All' on the right-hand side of the menu will assign these exact same settings to every single waypoint.

When you hit the large, grey 'Next' button on the right-hand side of the menu, you'll be able to check waypoint flight settings one final time. This is where you can adjust 'Global Speed' for the mission, and set instructions for what you want the drone to do if it happens to lose its signal.

In the case of the Mavic 3 losing signal, which is possible in a congested urban environment, you can opt to have the drone return to home (RTH), land, hover in place or continue recording the mission even when the signal is nonexistent. Once the mission ends, a set of options including RTH and hover are available. You can also choose to start the flight at any waypoint; it doesn't need to be the first one.

You can set a POI and apply it to however many waypoints you'd like. The camera and head of the drone will point continuously toward the POI.

After these parameters are set, you simply hit 'GO' and the drone will automatically fly to the starting waypoint and proceed with the mission. Once it's finished, you can opt to exit and save the mission for future use or exit without saving.

Don't forget to hit the red 'record' button on the center-right-hand side to begin recording your video! I once made the mistake of assuming footage was automatically being captured, as the mission progress bar gives the user the impression it is. Only after the fact did I find my memory card was empty.

Final thoughts

Some of the 'changing of the seasons' videos we've covered on DPReview utilized the Waypoints feature on an older drone such as the Mavic 2 Pro, or the third-party app Litchi. The same type of effects are now possible on the Mavic 3 series. Will every repeated mission be exactly and precisely the same? That's not guaranteed, but it's definitely a more accurate option than executing such missions manually.

Another thing to keep in mind is that these missions won't always turn out looking smooth and cinematic. When you use Waypoints in Hyperlapse mode, you will get a camera angle warning if a movement is too extreme. This means that the angle from one waypoint to the next is too wide, and the resulting footage, once all the photos are stitched together, will be jerky or uneven.

To leave Waypoint mode, you simply click on the yellow icon on the center-left-hand side. You can either exit without saving your mission or save it for future use.

The new Waypoints mode won't give you any such notification about angles being 'good' or 'too large.' As a result, you may find yourself with footage that isn't as polished as you'd like – especially if you set the speed too fast, or there is too short a distance between waypoints.

When testing this feature out I occasionally created some jerky, awkward-looking segments and had to go back and adjust my course. The good news is, problems can be quickly rectified by removing a waypoint here and there, or adding more where it makes sense.

In the absence of a Software Development Kit (SDK) for the Mavic 3 series, this latest addition is another step toward making the drone that much more professional. Is this something I'd use every time I want to film new video footage? Probably not. I enjoy having control over the drone's movements and combining different clips in post-processing. However, in the right circumstances there are unique creative possibilities to using Waypoints that you just might find useful.