Finally, DJI has released the ideal drone for us adventure filmmakers and photographers. This summer I finally spent the money to upgrade camera bag with the DJI Mavic Air, and I have zero regrets. This review is based off my prior experience with the DJI Phantom series drones and how much better the Mavic Air is. This review is more for those who are familiar with drones, drone capability/limitations, and are maybe looking to get a smaller drone to take with them on every adventure, not just the big ones.
I’ve broken this review down into 4 categories: Size, Camera, Adventureworthi-ness, and Flight. I’ve decided against just doing a compare & contrast the Air vs (insert drone here). There are plenty of reviews out there that already do that and I will link those at the bottom of the article. This review is more about my experience and how the Mavic Air excels in each category.
The Mavic Air weighs only a stunning 0.94 lbs and folds down to the tiny dimensions of 6.6L x 3.2W x 1.9H. Which means it will take up about the same amount of space and weight as a Nalgene bottle filled only halfway with water. Just think about that for a second, you have a fully-functioning drone that can fit in the side pouch of your backpack or in your jacket pocket. The possibilities with that kind of portability are endless. This means you never have an excuse to leave your drone out of your camera bag anymore. And if you’re really cramped on space, leave the controller at home and just use your phone to control the drone.
This is probably the best attribute of the Mavic Air. Before this, I had to sacrifice a precious carry-on bag to bring my drone it its backpack case when traveling on a plane. Now, it’ll fit in pretty much any bag I bring. Additionally, because of it’s unique folding design and the case that comes with the drone, I am comfortable letting it take a little more of a beating than I previously was with the Phantom Series drones. I throw it in my camelback when I go mountain biking, knowing full well that it’ll be shaking the entire ride and could possibly get fallen on if I take a big crash. And so far, it’s stood up to every test I’ve put it through as far as packing and durability goes.
Now that you see how small this drone is, I bet you’re wondering if it can even shoot high quality photo/video? Valid question, because there are plenty of tiny drones out there, like the DJI Spark. But none of those drones come close to the Air’s camera quality. The Air’s 3-axis gimbal mounted camera can shoot 4K@30fps, 2.7K@ 60,30fps, 1080@120,60,30fps. And it’s 1/2.3” CMOS sensor shoots up to 12MP photos. Are these specs anything to write home about? Probably not, since we’ve come to expect them from all of DJI’s latest drones. But to get this high of quality, packed down into such a small frame and camera, that’s what’s so incredible. You can now capture all the action of someone ripping down a trail in full slow motion, or capture pristine landscapes in high resolution, without the weight and bulk of a larger drone. Not to mention the epic 32MP panoramas that the Air is capable of capturing, which are pretty sweet when using the VR goggles.
I have found the picture quality to be equally similar to that of the Phantom 3 series drones. It definitely isn’t nearly as good as the Phantom 4, Inspire, Mavic 2, or even the Mavic Pro. But those drones have much larger cameras and sensors than the Air does. So you sacrifice the video/picture quality for the size of the drone. If you’re a professional, and care more about the quality of the image than just getting a good shot, then this might not be for you. But for the rest of us out there just looking to get an epic shot to add to our adventure film, or a photo, then this camera is plenty good enough.
This is sort of a category I made up, but it’s my article, so deal with it. Beyond the portability issues I’ve had with the Phantom series drones, I was always paranoid about crashing the drone when I tried to get the shot, especially when I tried to follow close to a subject. Have no fear, the Air is here. With accurate forward, backward, and downward obstacle avoidance sensors, you can focus on getting the shot and not about how close you are to that tree/rock/person. The display will show you how close you are to an object and avoid it if necessary. In just a short few months of owning this drone, these sensors have saved me plenty of times when navigating over rivers and through the woods.
Additionally, to take the shot completely out of your hands (which might be necessary if you’re trying to be the subject of your own video), switch your mode over to ActiveTrack. Then, all you need to do is tap the subject on your screen, press record, and go. The drone will follow behind, or alongside, your subject. Plus, the drone has a select few “quick shot” options that allow you to get the classic filler video shots that make any video better. These include the pull away, circle around a subject, and a few others. Simply click the subject on the screen to set the focal point, and the drone does the rest. Now you’re video won’t always include you staring down at your screen as you fly the drone around you or your subject to get those sweeping background shots.
Another issue that I’ve complained about with prior drones is the time-to-flight. Sure, you can have the best drone in the world, but how long does it take for you to get it out of your bag and in the air? In the past, sending up a drone required you to bring a separate, drone-dedicated bag, get the drone out, install the propellers, adjust the gimbal, fire up the controller, and get send it up. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was long enough that it’d make you question whether or not it was worth taking it out to get the shot. The Mavic Air takes approximately, from case to flight, 30 seconds to send up. Yup, because of it’s innovative folding arm design, getting this thing out of the case and into the air is super simple. Because at the end of the day, you should be spending your time adventuring, not setting up and putting away gear all day.
And lastly, how good is the actual drone when it comes to flying the thing? The answer: Pretty dang good! To be honest, I was nervous at first when I felt how light the drone was. I thought that there was no way something this light could maintain its position in heavy winds, let alone navigate with any speed. I was wrong again. I’ve flown the air from atop 10,000′ peaks with heavy winds and it performed wonderfully. The specs say it can keep stable in ~23mph winds, and I agree with it. But there’s more to a drone’s flight than being stable, there’s also speed and maneuverability. And the Air can do both, reaching speeds of 18mph in P-mode and up to a staggering 42mph in S-mode. It can also climb at a rate of 4.5mph/9mph (P-mode/S-mode), which is fast enough to get up and over any obstacles in time or to get that sexy pull away shot.
The Air has a flight time of 21minutes, which I have found to be sufficient to get 2-3 decent flights out of before needing to change the battery. I usually fire up the drone, fly up 300+ feet to capture the landscape, fly back down to get a sweeping and panning shot, then put it away. Depending on conditions, it usually only burns 30% of the battery. So I am able to get a few of those shots on a hike or ride before getting to the danger zone of 10% batter remaining. And with the controller, the operating range is between 1-2.5 miles depending on the amount of interference and obstructions between you and the drone. This is sufficient for any drone. I still don’t understand why people complain about range of their drones not being 3miles or more. Why would you ever need this? That’s just reckless and not smart to fly your drone more than a mile away from you. With that being said, I haven’t had any issues flying this drone in the mountain environment of Utah. And it’s way more stable in wind than I expected, which makes it perfect to still catch the drone instead of land in on the rocky surfaces.
Is the Mavic Air the perfect drone for everyone? Absolutely, not. Is the Mavic Air the perfect drone for those filmmakers and photographers who are always on the move, shooting in challenging terrain, and have minimal space to carry extra gear. Absolutely, yes! I hope this review helped sway you in either direction. If you have any more questions, feel free to reach out in the comments!
Below are some of the best comparison reviews for the Mavic Air:
|Mavic Air vs.||Link to Article||Link to Video|
|Phantom 3 Pro||dji.com||YouTube|