DJI’s first real attempt to sell drones to the masses has not been as successful as one would expect from the company that has dominated the market in terms of quality and revenue since consumer drones became a thing. Introduced last year, the Spark suffered from a very short battery life and a control interface that needed a bit of refinement to be ready for mass consumption. The Mavic Air ($ 919) was supposed to be the Spark: foldable, with a 4K camera and a battery that would keep the drone in flight longer. It packs a ton of tech in a small package, including panoramic photos and video tips, and it’s a great option if you’re not looking to spend $ 1,149 on our editor’s choice, the DJI Mavic Pro Platinum.
The DJI Mavic Air ($ 499.00 from Drone Nerds) is the smallest drone produced by DJI. Like the Mavic Pro series, it can be folded up for storage and transport. When folded, it measures 1.9 x 3.3 x 6.6 inches (HWD), is small enough to fit in most jacket pockets, and weighs a little less than a 15.2-ounce iPad. When unfolded and ready to fly, it measures 2.5 x 7.2 x 6.6 inches. You can buy it in Arctic White, Flame Red or Onyx Black finishes.
Unlike the Spark ($ 449.00 on Amazon), the remote is included in the basic package. You don’t have to use it – the Mavic Air can be controlled with hand gestures or with your smartphone. As with any drone, flying the remote gives you smoother, more convenient manual controls and extended range. DJI claims the Mavic Air has a range of 2.5 miles with the remote, but only 262 feet when flying with a smartphone. I didn’t fly that far, but had no issues with the video feed or controls at 1800ft during the test.
The remote is similar to that of the Mavic Pro Platinum ($ 1,009.00 on Amazon), but like the Air, it’s smaller. The control levers are removable for storage and there is no LCD information display. It features clips that can be used to hold a smartphone down so you can fly with the sticks and see in first person from the camera mounted on the nose of the drone. The phone case is snug, so you need to remove the device from the case to fit it. The telephone connection cable is detachable. DJI includes Lightning, Micro-USB and USB-C cables.
Unlike the Mavic Pro Platinum ($ 1,009.00 on Amazon), the battery is not installed at the top but at the bottom of the frame. Unlike the Spark, you cannot charge it via USB. You must use the supplied charger, which is also used to charge the internal battery of the remote control. If you need extra batteries, consider the $ 999 Fly More package. Contains everything in the base package plus two additional batteries, a hub for easy charging and three sets of propellers (the standard package includes two sets).
According to DJI, the air is suitable for about 21 minutes of flight time with a fully charged battery. The flight times shown are still a bit optimistic. On our test flights, the average air speed per battery is approximately 18 minutes. Since it takes a good half a minute to take off and take off, plus another minute to ensure a safe landing, the actual gain flight time is slightly less. It’s still much better than the Spark, which only has 12 minutes, but not at the same level as the Mavic Pro Platinum, which offers 28 minutes. If you are a fan of long flights and are considering the Fly More package, it is worth spending a little extra and going for the Mavic Pro Platinum.
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The Air has 8 GB of internal storage and a USB-C port for downloading files to a computer. It also has a standard microSD slot with support for microSDHC and microSDXC media. Internal storage is only good for around 10 minutes of 4K video, so you should probably use a memory card for long trips and flights anyway. But it’s good to have internal storage available for those times when you forgot a memory card.
DJI frequently releases firmware updates, which can be a problem for infrequent travelers. Usually you can fly without updating the firmware. However, it’s a good idea to check for an update the night before a scheduled flight and to recharge the batteries. Firmware updates are done through the smartphone and typically take 15-30 minutes. In the three months that we had the Mavic Air available for review, DJI released two firmware updates.
Like other DJI drones, the Air also has GPS and GLONASS satellite positioning. They signal your position in the world and allow for automated and semi-automatic flight modes as well as constant hovering and the important safety feature to get home. Position detection also defines no-fly zones. There are different levels of warning, some of which can be ignored if you are cleared to fly and others that cannot be ignored, such as: B. airspace around Washington DC. If you’re concerned about the flight you live on, check out DJI’s interactive map before purchasing a drone.
There are several ways to control the drone. It supports the same gesture controls (DJI calls it SmartCapture) as Spark. Move your hand and the drone will take off from the ground and follow your movements. You don’t need the remote, or even your phone, to start SmartCapture. After power on, just double tap the button on the back of the air to activate gestures. SmartCapture is limited to 1080p, but you can set the frame rate using the DJI Go 4 app, with standard 24-60 fps options available.
The control system has a few additional features, including the ability to have the drone move away from you for a larger photo. it moves up to 19 feet from the person controlling it. You can start a video by gesturing with the photo frame in front of your face. The Mavic tracks your movements as you record. You can also capture a still image by making a V mark with your index and middle fingers. The drone’s headlights will flash to let you know that you are about to fire. So it doesn’t always seem like Winston Churchill is showing any sign of victory in his aerial selfies.
You also have minimal movement control with gestures. Move your hand up and down, reach out with the palm of your hand, and control altitude while moving the drone towards or away from you by holding both hands in front of you and moving them in or out. outside. When landing with the drone, the palm of the hand should point towards the ground.
Phone control is available through the DJI Go 4 app for Android and iOS. (Like other DJI drones, the Mavic Air has an open SDK, so controlling third-party apps will be possible in the future.) If you’re just using your smartphone, your range is limited and you’ll need to use it with sticks on the screen. use. for manual flight. I’m not a fan of phone commands in general, as the haptic feedback you get from real sticks makes for smoother flight. However, if you leave the remote at home or it’s empty, you can get up in the air and take a photo.
Using the phone alone is preferable for automated flight modes. The Mavic Air has pretty much everything DJI has put together, including. This means that you can follow a topic with the ActiveTrack system. Just draw whatever you want to monitor on your phone screen and you’ll stay centered in the box. It also supports TapFly, the mode that lets you fly by simply touching your phone screen. Do you see anything interesting? Press it and the Mavic Air will fly towards it.
And it supports QuickShots, which were first seen in Spark. These automatic camera recordings move the drone through the air according to a predetermined pattern. You’ll get Rocket (an upward flight with a downward tracking plane), Dronie (a backward and upward shot), Circle (an orbit around a point in space), and Helix ( a corkscrew orbit). New to the Mavic Air are Asteroid (pictured above), a reveal that combines a video with a little planet-style image, and Boomerang, a reveal that flies in and around you before returning home.
Even with front and rear obstacle detection, you have to be extra careful with some QuickShots. Please understand that the drone flies on its own. If you do not properly assess the surroundings, these automatic routes can lead to a collision. For example, I was struggling to find enough free space to run Helix safely. An asteroid is the safest bet as the air stays in place throughout the firing sequence and it is easy to judge whether it is clear above for a rocket explosion or forward for a drone .
Finding the snapshots in the app takes work. You will need to click and explore an icon in the app to access it. And they’re not the most intuitive at first. I tried a bit to go into asteroid mode not realizing that I had to use my fingers first to draw a box on the phone screen. Once you got it it was easy, but it would be nice to have some additional onscreen instructions.
Finally, you can just grab the remote and manually fly the drone the old fashioned way. The Mavic Air flies at 17.9 mph with the obstacle avoidance feature enabled, or up to 42.5 mph in Sport mode, a mode in which the Obstacle Sensing system is disabled. Sport flight is great fun, but you have to do it in a large, open area with no obstacles. Easily accessible by remote control: the toggle switch is located in the middle between the two control levers.
The Mavic Air’s obstacle detection and avoidance system is better than what we’ve seen in previous drones. It has front, rear and rear sensors so that you can return more safely. The front sensors use the new APAS (Advanced Pilot Awareness System). Rather than simply stopping in place when they discover an obstacle blocking the drone’s path, the Mavic Air examines the area and automatically adjusts the flight to avoid it, whether to the side or overhead.
I tried APAS at a local park and fell to the ground under a canopy of trees. Powering up the system will greatly reduce the speed of the Mavic. it didn’t go over 3 mph in our testing. However, the system works as advertised. I tried to get the air straight through the logs and towards me, and every time it deviated from its course on its own, I changed the angle of approach just enough to avoid a collision. Not quite clever – a wide swathe of thin dangling branches stopped the drone in its path, but the only way not to hit it was to make a 90 degree turn out of sight of the aerial lens. and obstacle sensors.
Video and Imaging
Despite its size, the Mavic Air has a 4K camera that is nose-mounted and stabilized by a three-axis gimbal ring. Record smooth, high-quality videos with UHD resolution up to 4K at 24, 25 or 30 fps and 100 Mbps compression. They also support 2.7K with standard frame rates up to 60 fps and 1080p and 720p up to 120 fps. The wider 4K DCI standard is not supported, as is the case with the Mavic Pro Platinum and Phantom 4 series.
However, the video quality is good. The camera’s three-axis gimbal stabilizes the video and makes it silky smooth even when rotating and changing height. The lens captures clear images, supported by a high bit rate of 100 Mbps with H.264 compression. The Air does not support the latest and most efficient HEVC / H.265 codec currently supported by the larger Phantom 4 Pro and the high-end Inspire 2.
For still images, the camera measures 12 MP and uses a similar 1 / 2.3-inch CMOS sensor paired with a 24mm f / 2.8 primary lens (full frame equivalent). You can take photos in Raw (DNG) or JPG format. If you’re shooting in JPG, you can enable HDR capture to better bring out highlights and shadows in mixed lighting scenes. The image above is a raw photo processed in Lightroom and the image below is an off-camera JPG photo taken in HDR mode. The images were taken within minutes of each other.
There is also a stitched panorama mode, the first we’ve seen on a DJI drone. The Mavic Air spins on its axis to take a series of photos and stitch them together into a wide angle shot. You can take a vertical panorama with three shots, a horizontal image with nine shots, or a 180-degree image with 21 shots. There is also a spherical mode which takes 25 photos to simulate the effect you get with 360 degree cameras.
The big picture can be a problem. The drone has serious exposure issues when shooting scenes with different levels of light eg. B. the spherical panorama of the sunrise above. (This is best on cloudy days or when the sun is higher.) Subject movement is also a problem that is resolved whenever multiple exposures are combined. When a point approaches a point, the lines may become blurred. This is definitely a 1.0 implementation. We hope DJI can improve it with future firmware updates. The final results contain many resolutions and details. The fully spherical panoramas offer a resolution of 33.5 MP.
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The Mavic Air is DJI’s smallest and most portable drone and as complete as its big brothers.
The Mavic Pro has shown us that small drones can be just as powerful as bigger ones. The Mavic Air aims to take it a step further and integrate a powerful aircraft and 4K camera into a form factor that fits in a large pocket. It doesn’t have the same battery life as the Mavic Pro Platinum, which scored 28 minutes in our testing, but other than that there isn’t a lot of trade-off to keep its wonderfully small form factor.
It does some things the more expensive Mavic Pro and Pro Platinum don’t, including automatic navigation around obstacles, panning images, and gesture controls. You also get QuickShots (the Mavic Pro series makes some, like Orbit, but ignore the new modes we first saw on Spark) and rear obstacle avoidance.
The Mavic Air is exactly what the Spark should have been: foldable, with remote control, gesture controls, and battery life so you don’t feel rushed every time you want to take an aerial photo. But it’s also much more expensive. The Spark debuted at $ 499, but now costs almost $ 300 on its own and around $ 550 when purchased with a few spare batteries and a remote.
That puts the Mavic Air in a tough spot for just $ 799, or $ 999 if purchased with a spare pair of batteries. Casual pilots will be drawn to the Spark’s low cost, although its battery won’t keep it flying for long. Pros will likely spend more on the Mavic Pro, which currently costs around $ 850, or Pro Platinum ($ 1,099), especially when DCI video and longer flight times are top priorities. Arguably better than the cheap Spark, the Mavic Air, the proverbial middle child of DJI’s small drone family, can compete with the more expensive Mavic Pro in a number of ways, with the exception of the weather. of theft.
Everything else fits – the small size, stability, and picture and video quality are just as good as with the more expensive Pro Platinum. If you think you’d like to be in the air for about 18 minutes at a time, the air is a great sight. However, we still recommend the Mavic Pro Platinum as our editor’s choice for small drones. It costs more, but it costs a good ten minutes more per charge.