Late in 2021, around the time DJI was hoping to keep the limelight on their Mavic 3 (opens in new tab) launch, oft-overlooked competitor Autel announced their Nano series, an ultra-light drone with collision sensors. DJI’s then top-tier ultra-light, the Mini 2 (opens in new tab), had no such technology – just a couple of painted vents which served to highlight the relative feature weakness.
That said, while the Autel Evo Nano Plus (opens in new tab) impressed on a technical level, it also raised the stakes budget-wise too; it was the most expensive drone in the weight category by some distance. It wasn’t long before DJI spied the opportunity and arrived with their own offering for the new category we can think of as professional ultra-light: the DJI Mini 3 Pro (opens in new tab). Until it came out, some DJI loyalists were expecting a Mini 3 at a similar price but with more features – for now, at least, that isn’t the case (though the ‘Pro’ tag implies the Mini 3 airframe may yet arrive with a more modest camera).
• See also: DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Mini 2 (opens in new tab)
Now, though, if you are looking to invest in a professional ultra-light – to get the most features with the minimum in legal restriction – you must choose between these aircraft, and it’s not an easy decision.
DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Autel EVO Nano+: Design
|DJI Mini 3 Pro||Autel EVO Nano Plus|
|Size||171 x 245 x 62mm||170 x 215 x 55mm|
|Folded size||145 x 90 x 62mm||142 x 94 x 55mm|
|Collision sensors||Front / Back / Down||Front / Back / Down|
Autel has long gone with a striking orange for their aircraft, offering a workman-like impression in much the same way high-vis jackets do. The Nano, however, is also offered in three other tones; a rather more chic grey+yellow fuselage, a lighter grey with graphite trim, or a pure red. Our favorite is the grey and yellow (but the test model we tried out and photographed was orange!).
DJI’s Mini 3 Pro looks like an aggressively compressed version of its Air 2S (opens in new tab), and it sits on the ground using only nub-like legs in its fuselage, while the EVO Nano is similar to the Mini 2 in that, when opened, the front arms have legs to level the ‘copter until take off. Both are much happier taking off from a drone landing mat (opens in new tab). That also means it’s essential to open the legs on the Autel in order, while the Mini 3 Pro is a little more forgiving.
DJI’s design places the front and back vision sensors in protrusions at the top which look a little like frog’s eyes, while the Nano’s design seems to make more sense when flat, with rear sensors at the back and front ones in the front. In practice rear-facing sensors are needed as the drone reverses. The faster it goes backward, the closer to horizontal its rearwards sensors will see. Autel manage to tuck them into hinges for the rear arms, so they appear to have a good view at any speed.
While both drones do look quite different, the essentials are the same – charging connector and battery accessed at the rear, camera gimbal at the front (we’ll cover this in detail below). Style preference is not for us to judge and, given the weight category, both feel light but solid where it counts – specifically the hinges and arms.
One little extra score for the Autel is that the company includes a strap to protect the propellors by holding them close to the fuselage as well as a gimbal cover, while DJI only include a (pretty flddly) gimbal cover.
Another plus for Autel is that the batteries themselves include the 4-LED test circuit, so you can check them even when they’re not in the drone. DJI’s Mini series batteries can only share this info when plugged into the aircraft, which will slow you down if you’re checking which battery to use next on location.
DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Autel EVO Nano+: Speed and maneuverability
|DJI Mini 3 Pro||Autel EVO Nano Plus|
By perhaps the most practical measure – the level of wind force they may be flown in – this category is (on paper) a tie. DJI and Autel advertise their aircraft as being able to operate in up to Force 5 on the Beaufort scale, which is also known as a “Fresh Breeze.” In practice, the Mini 3 looked happier in the air as the wind reached this kind of speed – the Autel seems to dance a little more, which doesn’t inspire confidence.
In our tests the Mini 3 Pro was pretty agile, and can ascend and decend at 5 m/s, which speaks highly to stability. The machine didn’t seem to actually manage this when moving forward too, but perhaps a tweak to the control settings may be in order.
Both drones offer three different speed modes; DJI call them Cine, Normal and Sport while Autel brand them Smooth, Standard and Ludicrous, but in practice it is similar. Soon after your first flight, the lower setting is still useful for controlling speed when capturing video, while at the highest the collision sensors aren’t guaranteed (or are simply turned off on the Mini 3). A plus for DJI is a slider switch between speed modes on the remote (though the Autel remote has a user definable key).
Where collision sensing is enabled, both drones have the ability to circumnavigate obstacles and it has to be said that – clever though this is – both also do so rather more slowly than a human might, throttling back while the AI does its thing.
DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Autel EVO Nano+: Battery life
|DJI Mini 3 Pro||Mini 3 Pro Flight Battery Plus||Autel EVO Nano+|
|Battery Life Theoretical Max||34mins||47 mins||28mins|
|Battery Life at Hover||30 mins||40 mins||28min|
Because drones are at their most efficient when travelling forward, the theoretical maximum flight time is rarely a measure of the actual time you’ll get in the air. You’ll need to take a few minutes off for hover, approximately 20% off for the return-to-home time (both drones will be pretty clear about this via their apps or displays). Tricky conditions or aggressive piloting will also draw more current.
We like that – in some places at least – it’ll be possible to get the Intelligent Battery Plus – for the Mini 3, offering the extended times above but pushing the take-off weight over 249g. Because of the wording of the law in the UK and Europe, DJI won’t sell the extended battery in those markets as even the potential to carry more weight would move every Mini 3 into the more regulated C1 category. Irritating, but it means Europeans shouldn’t let the potential extra battery influence their decision.
So, if you’re working with the standard battery, you can expect about 24 minutes (in decent weather – less in the cold) of useful flight time with both aircraft; perhaps two minutes more with the Mini 3. On the flip side, the Autel batteries do have the convenience of built-in testers, which we found useful.
DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Autel Evo Nano+: Gimbal & camera
|DJI Mini 3 Pro||Autel Evo Nano Plus|
|Axis||3 (pitch, roll, yaw)||3 (pitch, roll, yaw)|
|Tilt||-135˚ to 80˚||-125˚ to 35˚|
|Roll||-135˚ to 45˚||-33˚ to 34˚|
|Pan||-30˚ to 30˚||-25˚ to 25˚|
While both drones mount their camera on a 3-axis gimbal, the Mini 3 Pro does have a crucial additional trick on the Roll axis: the power to rotate the camera 90˚ to portrait mode. That’s a significant boon for social-focused creatives, and not something the Nano + can do, meaning images need to be cropped and lose definition – there is, however, a ‘Portrait’ mode in the menu so you can capture stills or video in this format for quick sharing, but at the expense of pixel resolution.
Atop that, the extra room around the DJI gimbal means it has a good deal more ability to compensate for roll pitch and roll. The EVO Nano’s gimbal is mounted on rubber dampers and shielded from above (a bit like the DJI Mini 2), and the result is that aggressive flying will push it to the edge more easily than on the Mini 3 Pro. Admittedly we’re not convinced by the practical benefits of the Mini 3 Pro’s ability to ‘look up’ (higher positive tilt range), but better to have it than not.
In practice, then, the Mini 3 Pro is a clear winner in this category, but most of the time – unless you’re looking for portrait shots – there isn’t as much in it as you might think.
DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Autel EVO Nano+: Controller & range
|DJI Mini 3 Pro||Autel EVO Nano Plus|
|Technology||DJI O3||Autel Skylink|
|Range – FCC (USA)||12km||10km|
|Range – CE (UK, EU)||6km||6km|
|Live View Quality||1080p/30fps||2.7k/30fps|
When it comes to communication tech there is little practical difference between these drones; 12km and 10km range are both well over the legal limit (0.5km in the UK) you’ll typically be allowed to operate at.
The Autel does have the edge when it comes to the live view video though, which streams at 2.7K where the signal quality permits, even better than the DJI’s 1080P – though many operators of older drones will remember when 720P transmission sufficed (e.g. the DJI Mini 2) and may think this isn’t a feature to place excessive weight on.
The controller itself is a more interesting battle. The Nano Plus has Autel’s newer very comfortable to hold game-pad shaped controller, while DJI offer both their standard RC-N1 – chunkier, heavier, but effective – or a new controller with built-in 700-nit display. The later, of course, adds to the price, but not as excessively as previous DJI remotes with screens. It’s also very convenient, though the display isn’t as bright as an iPhone.
If you’re mounting a phone, the Autel controller might look less sophisticated than the DJI, but it is also a tad lighter (and given the weight of a high-end modern phone that is a factor). On the flip side, DJI include a handy holder for your leads and unscrewed control sticks in their RC-N1 whereas Autel trust you not to lose the essential and tiny components yourself.
The DJI also has a longer battery life, even when it’s connected to your phone and sharing its power. This is only really a factor if you’ve got more than 6 batteries with your drone, however, given their flight time. In short, DJI win here by offering more choice – the new DJI RC – but if you’re content to user your phone there isn’t a lot in it.
DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Autel EVO Nano +: Still Photos
|DJI Mini 3 Pro||Autel EVO Nano Plus|
|Resolution||48 MP||50 MP|
|Sensor size||1 / 1.3 (0.769) inch||1/1.28 (0.781) inch|
|Field of view (FOV)||82.1˚||85˚|
|Formats||JPEG / DNG (RAW)||JPEG / DNG (RAW)|
With little to distinguish the sensor size or megapixel count, both drones have impressive cameras, though the Mini 3 has the edge when it comes to aperture. Looking at the images we see sharper stills but generally more noise in the DJI shots when shooting at 48 or 50 Megapixels. Both brands seem to nudge users toward 12-megapixel shooting though; on the DJI the High Res is a separate mode with some features unavailable, while on the Nano+ you can only capture JPEG at the full 9192x6144 pixels.
In terms of visual difference, Autel and DJI have strikingly different algorithmic approaches; the DJI seems to let more unprocessed information though, resulting in softer edges and more noise. Greens definitely seem to get a boost, and perhaps blue skies. Autel, on the other hand seem to soften out much of the digital noise while at the same time applying a stronger sharpening effect to edges, and less picture-postcard saturation. As a result the Autel images look crisper when viewed at a sensible size, but a very close crop can look unnatural, almost illustrated; blowing up the DJI image just exaggerates grain. It’s a matter of taste. Both, inevitably, have slight evidence of perspective correction but handle it well.
Both drones allow manual modes, though Autel’s terminology – a shutter priority option – feels a little more welcoming to photographers. Bracketing and interval shooting are on both too, while the Nano+ also has an ‘HDR Imaging’ function (but working only at 3840x2160 it seems more like a ‘frame from video mode’). Both drones also have essentially the same panoramas available.
DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Autel EVO Nano+: Video
|DJI Mini 3 Pro||Autel EVO Nano+|
|Digital zoom at 4K||2x||2x|
|Digital zoom at 1080P||4x||16x|
Here the spec sheet would seem to favor the Mini 3 Pro, but shooting at 4K60fps surrenders the HDR effect of the drone’s dual-native ISO, so in practice you’ll likely prefer to shoot in the 4K/30fps mode on both drones.
DJI offers a flat color profile, D-Cinelike, while the Autel Nano Plus has Log, so those who prefer to grade their own video will be happy wither way. Neither drone, sadly, can provide an unflattened preview image to shoot with.
Just like the stills, when you look at the video taken from each drone, you’ll see they have slightly different approaches to their processing; the Nano+’s video looks sharper owing to more aggressive software processing, which looks good when viewed normally but doesn’t stand up to close inspection (you wouldn’t want to crop on it too far in editing). Autel does offer up to 16x digital zoom compared to DJI’s 4x, but arguably that’s just self-restraint.
You can see sample videos in our full reviews:
DJI Mini 3 Pro Review (opens in new tab)
Autel Nano Plus Review (opens in new tab)
DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Autel EVO Nano +: Software features
More exciting for many is AI subject tracking, in which the drone plots its own path to keep the subject in camera, while avoiding obstacles. Both drones are capable of this, and both can avoid obstacles, to an extent. The Nano’s Dynamic Track software is, however, still in beta and we’ve seen that it prefers following a subject from behind, while DJI’s tracking tools are already in place and can also orbit a moving subject or and track from the side. Admittedly the last two will highlight the lack of collision sensors on the side in an environment with obstacles (like trees), but in an open space they’re great features to have.
In both cases the aircraft will slow down as it plots a course avoiding obstacles, and there is the risk of losing the subject, so it’s not a technology to rely upon, but it is exciting and DJI so seem to have the edge.
Both drone offer Hyperlapse functionality, and both also feature pre-programmed ‘QuickShots’ (automatic flight paths to capture a shareable video). The Nano has four, while DJI offer six, though orbit and rocket are there for both brands (probably the most useful). This might sound like a win for DJI, but Autel’s Quickshots can be captured at 4K, while the DJI drone drops back to 1080p.
The Nano+ has an interesting extra feature; the ability to record from your phone’s microphone to the video you’re capturing – effectively to narrate (or keep audio notes). For some, it could be very useful. It also has an infuriating voice alert, which is much less handy!
DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Autel EVO Nano +: Verdict
Ask people who have flown many drones which is better and you’ll often find their answer leans toward the brand they’re most familiar with. More people are familiar with DJI, and that definitely affects even some “impartial” assessments, not least when it comes to one brand or another’s default color and sharpening, but also default control “feel.”
We actually found the Autel’s photographic approach often seemed more engaging; the approach to sharpening looks great and viewed at normal resolution looked ‘right.’ Most photographers will probably want to process their images, however, and DJI offers more possibilities here with the high res .dng option.
Again, in terms of video, not only does the DJI slightly edge things thanks to having the option of 60fps at 4K, but it does also feel a little more comfortable in the breeze. Equally the wider gimbal movement meant we didn’t hit the limits in the same way the Nano+ can, and we felt there was just a bit more power to draw on, whether flying in the high speed mode or standard.
Despite this being a very close battle, the extra battery time, slightly more reliable airframe (especially in windy conditions) and the variety of controller choice all add up to make this a victory for the DJI Mini 3 Pro, at least while the pricing also slightly favors the Mini 3.
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