A cross between the DJI Spark and Mavic Pro, the tiny Mavic Air packs an impressive punch in a modest package. It includes 4K recording, near perfect obstacle avoidance and 8GB of internal storage. If you're looking for a powerful drone at a reasonable price, we may have found it.
If you like crunching the numbers, here is the Mavic Air as quantifyable data without the mumbo jumbo.
|Price (as of March 2018)||$799|
|Price of Fly More Combo (as of March 2018)||$999|
|Camera||4K video, 12 mega pixel stills.|
|Sensors||Forward, backward and downward facing camera sensors|
|Top Speed||42 mph (slighly faster than the Mavic Pro and 11 mph faster than the DJI Spark)|
|Flight Range||2.4 Miles|
|Flight Time||Realistically: 15 minutes|
|Size (when folded up)||168×83×49 mm|
DJI Mavic Air - Design
It's really quite difficult to show you how small this drone is. We have tried though.
Next to the Spark, the Mavic Air actually looks fairly similar to the smallest drone in DJI's range. The Air even has retractable arms for transport wish further minimises the form factor. This is really nice as you can just throw it into a backpack when hiking or on a mountain bike ride without having to worry about your propellers snagging on anything and causing damage to the drone.
Next to the Mavic Pro, the higher end drone in the Mavic line released in 2016, the new Mavic Air is dwarfed. Two years ago, the Mavic was DJI's most compact and portable drone. The Air has taken this philosophy far further.
As mentioned in our video review, this drone can also take a hit! Although the sensing system forward, rearward and downward facing sensors, the drone doesn't know what's immediately above it. Unfortunately, Alex took advantage of this blind spot by triggering the return to home function that resulted in the Mavic air automatically raising its altitude right into some overhanging trees. We're pleased to report that the drone suffered only minor scratches to one boom after falling to the sidewalk. Points for durability!
DJI Mavic Air - Features
The camera is small but fairly powerful. Unlike the cheaper DJI Spark, the Mavic Air setup includes a 3-axis gimbal which results in buttery smooth video unaffected by breezes, most turbulence and jerky movements on the controller. With 4K capability, you can capture some stunning visuals. The device feels like a very capable filmmaking tool, despite not being the 'Pro'.
The tiny controller unfolds to accommodate an Apple or Android smartphone in its grip. Your phone can connect to with a small cable and the controller automatically binds to the Mavic Air. With this, you can view the drone video live (in high resolution) whilst being able to change settings via the DJI Go app on your phone’s screen. At the same time, you can keep the physical flight controls within reach above your phone screen. This is just so much better than controlling a drone purely from your phone. You need some sort of tactile response that you don't get with, say, the standard DJI Spark which does not include a controller.
One feature of this remote that we love is that you can remove the joysticks themselves. It's not just the drone that is super portable. This is great, again, for when you just want to chuck your gear into a bag and not worry about it pressing up against things and damaging itself. Aside from these physical features, there are a few other things on the Air that we've seen before, such as gesture control.
DJI Mavic Air - Performance
One of the most crucial performance factors of drones these days that makes all the difference is flight time. The Mavic air can do a respectable 15 minutes of flight time in real-world conditions. Officially, DJI says that the drone can do 21 minutes without wind. Factoring in all of the correcting that the Mavic Air does in even a slight breeze, however, means that you'll see about five minutes taken off that realistically. This might mean that you want to invest in an extra battery or two. You can pick these up with your initial purchase in the DJI Mavic Air Fly More Combo package, which is helpful. This means that you can go up, get those establishing shots and work out where the best angles are and then keep flying when you've found them. With the Mavic Pro, you might not need an extra battery to do this as it has a very impressive official flight time of around 27 minutes.
Footage and video, as mentioned, look excellent in 4K. HDR Stills at 12 megapixels also look stunning when taken at those unique angles that the Mavic Air can achieve. The Mavic Air can also do slow motion. 120fps makes the final video results even sweeter - ocean waves, for example, can be slowed down by a factor of four to reveal their motion in intricate detail.
In terms of it's range, this drone can easily fly far further than you're allowed to in the United States. DJI say it does around 2.5 miles. This would be handy for travelling abroad though if you wanted to fly over a glacier or around a mountain in a country that doesn't require you to stay in line-of-sight range of the aircraft.
Should you buy the Mavic Air?
If you want a tiny yet extremely powerful and capable drone for a fairly reasonable price, the Mavic Air may be a perfect choice. It's miles more professional than the DJI Spark, which has been labelled DJI's selfie drone. The Air is definitely a tool for taking some amazing video and stills that will take your videography game to the next level. The design is also more compact than the Mavic Pro and yet it doesn't compromise on features or performance.
The Air has lowered the entry gate for photographers and videographers who want the right tool for the job without huge compromise. If you want a few more features, like the varying focus of the Pro, maybe it's worth stretching a couple of hundred dollars more if you can afford to.
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Article by James Whomsley