Best Drone So Far? DJI Mavic Air Review
Although the Mavic Air was released by DJI several months ago, it still remains one of the most popular drones in the mid-priced level. Advertised as the cross between the Mavic Pro and the Spark, the Mavic Air combines the best features of both drone models and even enhances them. The real question is whether the Mavic Air still holds up several months after its initial release. Did the drone age well? Is it still worth it? Read on and find out.
The Mavic Air was released in January of this year as a smaller and lighter version of the original Mavic Pro. Ever since the Mavic Pro wowed the drone world with its array of features combined with its portable but rigid build, every drone pilot has been eagerly waiting for the next generation of Mavic drones. The Mavic Air is not exactly the drone that defines that next generation yet, but it is certainly a welcome addition to the family. It is smaller and cheaper while retaining most of the features that made the Mavic Pro a hit.
Build quality and appearance
True to its marketing as a cross between the Mavic Pro and the Spark, the Mavic Air truly does look like the offspring of the two drone models. That being said, the Mavic Air has a sleek and very modern look to it. The minimalist and utilitarian design of the Spark, combined with the futuristic appearance of the Mavic Pro, gives the Mavic Air a look that makes it distinct yet similar to the other Mavic drones. True to inheriting the playfulness of the Spark, the Mavic Air is available in three colors: black, white, and red.
As we have come to expect with DJI, the build quality of the Mavic Air is top-notch. The drone feels solid, and even the foldable arms do not feel flimsy at all. If the durability of the Mavic Pro is any indicator, then we expect the Mavic Air to be tough enough to withstand several bumps and crashes. Any less than that would be a disappointment for a DJI drone.
Comparing a Mavic Air side by side with a Mavic Pro makes it very apparent how much smaller the Mavic Air is. It is about an inch shorter in both length and height. Since it is a member of the Mavic family, it also comes with the signature foldable arm design. These features combine to make the Mavic Air the ultimate in portability. In its folded form, the Mavic Air is so small that it can probably fit comfortably in your jacket pocket.
The Mavic Air also leads the Mavic pack when it comes to being a lightweight. At only 430 grams, it is more than 300 grams lighter than the Mavic Pro and less than half the weight of the newly released Mavic 2. You would be hard-pressed to find a drone this light in any selection of middle or high-end drones.
In terms of portability, DJI has definitely outdone themselves with the Mavic Air. We cannot imagine another drone in the market today that is as compact and light as the Mavic Air and has all the features that the Mavic Air has to offer.
Battery life and flight time
All good things come at a price, and this is the area where DJI had to compromise to make the Mavic Air smaller and lighter. The Mavic Air comes with a 2,375 mAh LiPo battery, a significant downgrade from the 3,830 mAh batteries of the Mavic Pro and the Mavic Pro Platinum.
The decreased capacity of the battery of the Mavic Air has also translated to a shorter flight time of only 21 minutes compared to the 27 minutes of the Mavic Pro. This is despite the lighter weight of the Mavic Air and the modified propellers that make it more aerodynamic.
Perhaps it would be fairer for the Mavic Air to be compared to the Spark, which had a 1,480 mAh battery allowing it 16 minutes of flight time. In this regard, the Mavic Air does hit the middle ground between the Spark and the Mavic Pro, exactly as advertised.
The Mavic Air is controlled via the included remote controller, eliminating the need to control the drone via a clunky smart phone app. The remote controller itself is also very portable, with removable joysticks allowing it flat surface to be neatly put away in a small pocket attached to the drone’s container. This remote controller does not come with the flight telemetry monitor that comes with the Mavic Pro, but having a smart phone attached to the remote controller provides enough flight data while you pilot the drone.
Similar to the Mavic Pro, flying the Mavic Air is as smooth as butter. The controls are highly responsive but tight. The drone will go exactly where you want with minimal drifting or wandering. Surprising for a drone its size, the Mavic Air is remarkably stable even in strong winds. We have had no problems with the Mavic Air even when flying along beaches where winds pick up speed quite normally (although the app will notify you if winds are too strong).
Unlike the Mavic Pro and Mavic Pro Platinum, the Mavic Air has a limited set of automatic flight modes built in. It has the standard Sport mode, where you will witness just how fast the Mavic Air can fly. It also has the Tap Fly function, where you can set the destination your drone will fly to with just a tap on the screen of the DJI GO app. It also has the very entertaining Gesture controls, where you can tell the drone what to do with just a few gestures of your hands or arms. There is very little latency in the response of the drone when using Gesture controls, but it may take a couple of tries for the drone camera to recognize your arm movements.
The selection of flight modes of the Mavic Air is not as comprehensive as its predecessors, but they should be enough for all your standard outdoor shoots.
Despite its modest stature, the Mavic Air is no slouch when it comes to speed. With its lighter load and more aerodynamic propellers, it beats out the Mavic Pro with a top speed of 42.5 mph. This is not a massive improvement to the 40 mph of the Mavic Pro, but it is a surprising and welcome feature.
Transmission range is another area where the Mavic Air has been slightly compromised, as it only uses a Wi-Fi connection instead of radio frequency. This means that the maximum range of the Mavic Air is only at 4 km, a huge downgrade from the 7 km of the Mavic Pro. That being said, 4 km is a pretty long range and still provides a nice increase from the 2 km of the Spark. If you are planning to push the range of your Mavic Air, then you should expect a poor connection between the drone and the remote controller, as well as dropouts in the video feed.
The intelligent flight and obstacle avoidance system of the Mavic Air is where it truly shines. While the Mavic Pro has visual sensors in the forward and downward directions, the Mavic Air does it one better by adding a backwards sensor. The Mavic Air will automatically stop or correct its course when it encounters an obstacle, regardless of pilot input. This added safety feature will allow you to more confidently fly your Mavic Air and focus more on capturing those really nice drone videos.
The Mavic Air also comes with the brand new Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems (APAS) which allows the drone to scan its surroundings, and use this information to improve obstacle avoidance. We have taken our Mavic Air on a ride through a forest thick with trees, and it does a stellar job of avoiding even multiple obstacles. However, you are going to have to reorient the drone manually to its original course after it dodges an obstacle.
Camera and gimbal
The great thing about the Mavic Air is that despite its modest size and price, DJI did not skimp on its camera. The onboard camera of the Mavic Air is able to capture 12MP stills and 4K videos. It has the same 1/2.3” CMOS sensor as the Mavic Pro, but has a slightly lower ISO range, making it ineffective in very low light conditions. The Mavic Pro also has a slight edge in video quality, as it can shoot in what is known as Cinematic 4K.
If you are interested in shooting slow motion video, the Mavic Air will actually do better than the Mavic Pro. Where the Mavic Pro can only shoot 720p video at 120fps, the Mavic Air can crank it up to 1080p at the same framerate.
Another improvement of the Mavic Air is its increased bitrate. Where the Mavic Pro encoded video at only 60 Mbps, the Mavic Air boasts of an improved 100 Mbps. This means that video is captured with much finer detail, and that low-contrast videos are come out with better definition.
What really surprised us was the redesigned gimbal of the Mavic Air. The gimbal of the Mavic Pro drew a lot of criticism back when it was first released with a design that seemed fragile and flimsy. The gimbal of the Mavic Air seems a little more robust, so you can be a little less concerned that it will break with a crash or a bad landing. The gimbal of the Mavic Air also seems to have a wider range of motion, although it is hardly noticeable in its footage.
The Mavic Air also comes with standard selection of automatic camera tricks, called QuickShots. It comes with the same tricks that came with the Mavic Pro and Mavic Pro Platinum, which includes ActiveTrack, Tripod, Point of interest, Cinematic, Rocket, Circle, and Helix.
The Mavic Air does come with a few cool new tricks: Asteroid and Boomerang. In Asteroid mode, the drone flies up to a preset elevation and take a 360-degree photo. The drone then shoots a video at it flies down and combines this with the previously created 360-degree photo. The result is a unique and dynamic shot that probably has not been done before.
For photographers, the Mavic Air is capable of the Sphere Panorama mode, where the drone rotates in place to create a 360-degree image that you can zoom and pan around in the DJI GO app.
The price point of the Mavic Air is probably one of its greatest assets. At only $799, it is a full $200 cheaper than the Mavic Pro and $300 cheaper than the Mavic Pro Platinum. This establishes the Mavic Air as the most affordable entry in the DJI Mavic line.
Is the Mavic Air worth it?
The Mavic Air made waves back when it was first released for being an even more portable version of the original Mavic Pro. Despite its small size, it packs a punch in the technical features department. It sports a 4K camera with increased bitrate and an improved stabilization system. It has a dedicated remote controller and carries the improved aerodynamics of the Mavic Pro Platinum. It exhibits remarkably stable flight, and is equipped with an obstacle avoidance system that is a massive improvement over the Mavic Pro.
The smaller size of the Mavic Air does come with a few consequences. It carries a smaller capacity battery, that effectively cuts down the flight time by around 6 minutes compared to the Mavic Pro. It also has a shorter maximum range of only 4 km due to the exclusively Wi-Fi connection between the drone and the remote controller.
The Mavic line from DJI has consistently produced excellent drones that have redefined the casual drone game with every release. The Mavic Air has been no exception to this trend. In fact, it has changed how we look at the types of features that we should expect out of ultra-portable drones. If you are a casual drone pilot with interest in taking high definition photos and videos, then the Mavic Air is perfect for you. With its advanced obstacle avoidance system and stable flight, even beginners can feel confident flying the Mavic Air.
If you are a professional drone photographer and you need to take shots in low light conditions, then the original Mavic Pro with its wider ISO range is still the better option. However, if you really have the money for it, then why not go for the new Mavic 2 drones? The Mavic 2 Pro, in particular, has the best camera out of all the available Mavic drones today.
At a relative lower price point of $799, the Mavic Air truly gives you bang for your buck. It is not a cheap drone by any means, but the Mavic Air was not made cheap: it has an excellent camera, a top of the line obstacle avoidance system, and delivers top notch flight experience. To top it all off, the Mavic Air is the most portable drone that DJI has ever made. It is lightweight and folds in all the right places to fit comfortably into your shoulder bag or jacket pocket.
The drones from DJI are built to last, and you can expect your Mavic Air to last for up to 5 years with normal use. DJI even releases firmware updates even for the drones that have been released years ago, so you can rest assured that your Mavic Air will still receive support several years down the road. If you are in the market for a mid-ranged drone, then we can confidently say that the DJI Mavic Air will not disappoint.