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Best photo and video settings for the DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Skyview Rim, Factory Butte, Utah

Skyview Rim, Factory Butte, Utah

For the past year, I’ve been using the DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone for aerial photography and b-roll for travel videos shared through my YouTube channel. Over time, I’ve experimented with the drone’s settings to figure out how to get the highest quality photo and video content, and have arrived at a list of recommended settings which I believe perform best.

Casual or Pro?

Before I get into settings, there’s an important distinction to make regarding the type of user flying the drone. I’m breaking this up into two groups: “Casual” and “Pro”. A “Casual” user is someone who wants usable photos and videos straight-out-of-camera without any additional work required. A “Pro” user is someone who wants full customization and control over their photos and videos and is comfortable using software (eg, Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere) to post-process their content. I’ll go into more detail with both groups once we get into the settings.

Optimal settings for photography

Alright, without further ado, here are the optimal settings I use for aerial photography with the Mavic 2 Pro.

Exposure: Manual
Aperture: f/2.8-f/5.6
Shutter: At or above 1/60 second
ISO: 100
Photo: Single Shot
Image Ratio: 3:2
White Balance: Auto
Image Format: DNG (“Pro” users) or JPG (“Casual” users)
Intelligent Flight Mode: Tripod

Let’s walk through this list in greater detail.

Exposure: There are four exposure options on the Mavic 2 Pro: Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual. By default, the camera is set to Auto, which means that the drone controls aperture, shutter speed and ISO. In my experience, Auto exposure is anything but optimal, for not all exposure settings on the Mavic 2 Pro are created equal and you simply can’t trust the camera to make good decisions. For that reason, I recommend always shooting in Manual to maintain control.

Aperture: It’s great that the Mavic 2 Pro provides aperture control (unlike older drones and the Mavic 2 Zoom), but its effective aperture range is really only f/2.8 to f/5.6. After f/5.6, image quality drops significantly; resulting in a loss of sharpness and clarity. In summary, start with your Aperture set to f/4, then stop up or down to f/2.8 or f/5.6 if necessary.

Shutter: There’s a general rule of thumb in photography that says your shutter speed should never be slower (when shooting handheld) than the focal length of your lens multiplied by two. With the Mavic 2 Pro’s lens focal length of 28mm, that means you should always set your shutter speed to 1/60 or higher.

ISO: ISO is similar to Aperture, for it also has a limited quality range. When set too high, the camera introduces heavy noise and additional loss of sharpness and clarity. Always start with ISO set to 100 unless you need to let in more light (tips for doing that in a minute).

Photo: For simplicity, I prefer shooting Single photos. There is a bracketing option (where the camera automatically captures brighter and darker photos for the purposes of blending in post), but when doing so the Mavic 2 Pro raises/lowers exposure by less than one stop (0.7 to be exact), which makes barely any difference. As a result, I stopped using it in favor of “Single” for everything. If I need additional exposures for blending, I can raise/lower the exposure and take more images.

Image Ratio: I prefer 3:2 because it mimics the shape of 35mm film and matches my non-drone photos.

White Balance: Fine to leave this set to “Auto”. For “Pro” users shooting DNG (RAW), this setting doesn’t matter because white balance is fully editable in post.

Image Format: This one is important! If you are a “Pro” user (as described at the beginning of this post), always use DNG (RAW). Shooting in RAW provides better image quality and far more customization and control without compression. You’re getting digital data straight from the sensor. Editing RAW requires software like Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, or other apps, plus some experience editing photography in order to get good results. If you are a “Casual” user who has no interest in editing their photos, always use JPG. Shooting “DNG” files without the requisite software or experience will give you washed-out, ugly images.

Intelligent flight mode: This isn’t a camera setting, but rather a flight mode which provides support for photography. On the right side of the Mavic 2 Pro controller, drop the flight mode switch down to “T” for “Tripod” mode. The drone will then prioritize stability over speed, which will result in sharper photos. Typically what I do is use Sport mode (“S”) to fly the drone to its target, then downshift to “T” before clicking the shutter. In summary, always shoot in Tripod (“T”) flight mode.

Optimal settings for video

Most of the aforementioned settings for photography carry over to video, but there are a few notable additions and edits. Here we go.

Exposure: Manual
Aperture: f/2.8-f/5.6
Shutter: 1/60 second (or twice your selected FPS)
ISO: 100
Camera Video Coding: H.265
Video Size: 4K HQ / 30 FPS
White Balance: Anything but Auto
Style: Sharpness (Triangle icon) 0, Contrast (Circle icon) -1, Saturation (Square icon) 0
Color: DLog-M (“Pro” users) or Normal (“Casual” users)

Exposure: Always shoot in Manual. This is especially important for video.

Aperture: For optimum sharpness and clarity, set Aperture to f/4, then stop up or down to suit.

Shutter: 1/60 second when filming in 30 FPS. I’ll talk more about FPS in a minute, but for now, know that — with video — your shutter speed should be set to FPS multiplied by two (and then rounded up). For example, 24 FPS = 1/50 second. 60 FPS = 1/120 second. This is the classic “180-degree shutter rule” for natural motion blur in your footage.

ISO: Start with ISO 100, then raise if necessary to let in more light. Try to keep it under 800 for noise control.

Camera Video Encoding: The latest and greatest video codec is H.265, so you may as well use it. No need to select H.264 unless you absolutely need it.

Video Size: Okay, this is where things get…interesting! The Mavic 2 Pro offers a wide range of resolutions and frame rates for video. Here they are.

  • 4K HQ (3840x2160) — 24/25/30 FPS

  • 4K Full FOV (3840x2160) — 24/25/30 FPS

  • 2.7K (2688x1512) — 24/25/30/48/50/60 FPS

  • 1080P (1920x1080) — 24/25/30/48/50/60/120 FPS

For the highest quality video footage, I recommend 4K HQ at 30 FPS. Why? First, 1080P video looks unusually bad. Don’t use it. As for 2.7K, it’s better than 1080P, but not as good as 4K, so unless you’re trying to save disk space there’s no point in using it.

That leaves us with 4K HQ and 4K Full FOV. “HQ” stands for (you guessed it) “High Quality” for superior sharpness with a slight crop. “Full FOV” stands for “Full Field of View” and is used when shooting 4K video using the full wide-angle field of view of the 28mm lens. “Full FOV” will give you a wider, more distant image, but sharpness is a bit softer than “HQ”.

As for the choice of 30 FPS, this may come as a surprise to filmmakers accustomed to shooting in 24 FPS, but for the Mavic 2 Pro, I recommend 30 FPS. Why? Because drones are susceptible to bumps and jitters thanks to wind and sudden movement, which can cause 24 FPS footage to sometimes look a bit choppy. 30 FPS is just a touch smoother and looks just as natural/cinematic as 24 FPS. With my footage, I interpolate 30 FPS drone footage to 24 FPS timelines and the footage always looks great.

White Balance: Never use Auto when shooting video! This will cause sudden and very noticeable white balance shifts throughout your footage. I typically set my white balance to something consistent (eg, “Cloudy” or “Custom”) and forget about it so all my footage uses the same setting.

Style: Personally, I find the Mavic 2 Pro to be too sharp, saturated and contrasty by default. With that, I set Sharpness to 0, Contrast to -1 and Saturation to 0. Adjust these to taste if you want something different.

Color: In addition to “Video Size”, this setting has a profound impact on video and should be edited with caution. For the “Pro” crowd, select “DLog-M”. This is DJI’s “log” profile for video. Footage will look unusually flat and low-contrast, but that’s intentional for maximum control in post when color-grading. It’s also worth pointing out that DLog-M uses 10-bit color instead of the standard 8-bit. This gets kind of technical, but all you need to know is that 10-bit packs far more shades of color; resulting in higher-quality, more accurate footage. For “Casual” users of the Mavic 2 Pro, select “Normal”. This will give you…well, normal looking video that avoids the complications imposed by “DLog-M”.

Controlling your Exposure

Pfew, that was a lot of technical information! If you’ve made it this far, by now you should have a good baseline of settings for shooting photos and/or videos.

The next step is understanding what to do in situations when you need to manually edit exposure to make your image lighter or darker. This is important to know, for when shooting with a “Manual” exposure (as described above) the Mavic isn’t going to help you out. It’s up to you to make the requisite changes. Here are some tips for both photos and videos.

Photo is too dark: First, open your aperture to f/2.8. To let in even more light, incrementally drop the shutter speed to 1/60 (and then stop). If that’s still not enough, slowly raise your ISO until your exposure looks acceptable.

Photo is too bright: First, make sure ISO is set to 100. Next, stop-down your aperture until you reach f/5.6 or f/8 at most. If that’s still not enough, raise your shutter speed as high as necessary. If the image is then still too bright, see the next section on neutral density filters.

Video is too dark: First, open your aperture up to f/2.8. If that’s not enough, slowly raise your ISO until your exposure looks acceptable.

Video is too bright: First, make sure ISO is set to 100. Next drop-down your aperture until you reach f/5.6 or f/8 at most. If that’s still not enough, see the next section on neutral density filters.

Neutral Density Filters

Neutral Density Filters (via PolarPro)

Neutral Density Filters (via PolarPro)

The most important third-party accessory for the Mavic 2 Pro! These filters are like tiny sunglasses for the drone’s camera. Not only do they help reduce incoming light in bright conditions, but they also reduce haze, improve clarity, and saturate colors (just a little more). They’re nice-to-have (but not essential) for photos, but for video, they’re a must-have. Why? Because in order to maintain that natural, cinematic frame rate/shutter speed combination I wrote about above, there’s no way to darken your video past the camera’s minimum aperture without blocking the light using an ND filter.

Which set do I recommend? This one from PolarPro. They attach/remove easily, stay in place, cause minimal color cast, and they come with circular polarizers to help reduce reflections on hard surfaces. There are cheaper sets out there, but I’ve had great results from this pack and feel they’re worth every penny (especially for video).

Summary

This post ended up being a lot longer than expected, but a complicated topic deserves a thorough explanation. Hopefully by now you’ve learned something new about the Mavic 2 Pro, and will put these settings and recommendations to good use!