DJI Mavic Air – intro
In his first article and video for
Coolsmartdrone.com Coolsmartphone.com, Lukasz unboxes the latest drone from DJI, the Mavic Air, comparing it with other drones, and shares his first impressions and some footage from the beautiful Scottish coast.
Let’s get to the headlines first:
- No headphone jack
- Luckily, there’s no notch, or screen for that matter
- One-upping Huawei’s rumoured 3 camera setup with 7 cameras – an RGB one and 6 more used for obstacle avoidance
- Finally, removable batteries are back, but expect no more than 21 minutes of battery life
Those would have been the headlines if the Mavic Air was a smartphone. But since it’s a drone, let’s look into what really matters for such a device and compare it to other drones rather than something like the iPhone X.
Build and portability
Mavic Air is the latest in the Mavic line, and aimed at the “enthusiast-on-the-go”. It follows in the footsteps of the Mavic Pro from September 2016 (I’m mostly skipping the slightly refreshed Mavic Pro Platinum here though). It is significantly smaller than those drones, both when folded and unfolded.
Compared to the entry-level Spark, it’s slightly bigger when unfolded, but since the Spark doesn’t fold, the Mavic Air is smaller and easier to transport when folded.
While it won’t fit into your skinny jeans, it’s actually small enough to fit into a bigger pocket of a jacket, or into any backpack or bag. It’s almost the same width and length as my Samsung Galaxy S8+, but it’s obviously much thicker than a phone.
The remote has also been slimmed down, but not without sacrifice. There’s no LCD screen anymore, and some of the controls, like the exposure rocker have disappeared. I also love the fact that the two joysticks are now removable, which makes the remote much more portable.
The main feature of any drone is the camera (*I’d argue it was the ability to fly, but that’s just me – ed). The Mavic Air has a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor and a 24mm f/2.8 (35mm equivalent) wide-angle lens, capable of 12MP HDR photos. The video footage can be recorded in up to 4K 30fps and slow-motion 1080p video in 120fps. The higher frame rates are an upgrade when compared to the Mavic Pro, which only supported 96fps in Full HD. The Spark records video only up to 1080p.
The bigger improvement, however, is the camera’s bitrate, which now goes up to 100Mbps, akin to the more professional DJI Phantom Pro 4. The Mavic Pro records up to 60Mbps, while the Spark goes up to only 50MBps. This allows the new drone to have much higher video quality and colour reproduction.
However, a good lens with a powerful sensor and high bitrate would be useless if the footage was shaky. Luckily, DJI’s latest drone has a 3-axis gimbal stabilizer, which ensures the video is as stable as possible. Actually, the picture is so good that it looks as though it was shot on a tripod and not a hundred feet above the sea on a windy day in Scotland. Just watch the video at the head of this post to see how good it is. This is also another area where both the Mavic Air and Mavic Pro beat the Spark, which only has 2-axis stabilization.
What’s even more impressive is that the design of the Mavic Air’s gimbal and its cover means that the camera is now much better protected. We don’t need two separate, fiddly pieces of plastic to cover it, like in the Pro – now it’s just the one cover which does a fantastic job.
Software and functionality
The Mavic Air builds on past experience and expands the drone’s functionality even further. In addition to manual controls, you get a number of other modes. You can follow a target, circle around it, or even create an “asteroid” effect by combining flying up and make an epic 360-degree panorama effect – you can see it (and many others) in my video above. It also improves obstacle avoidance with two additional back-facing sensors. What’s more, it takes the hand gesture functionality from the Spark (absent on the Mavic Pro) and, at least according to specs and reviews, improves on it due to better-incorporating gesture recognition.
The perfect drone?
Despite some limitations mentioned above, it looks like the Mavic Air is currently the best consumer travel drone around. It’s an improvement in many areas against the Pro, and cheaper than its older brother – you’re looking at $799/£769 for the basic Mavic Air, as opposed to $999/£1099 for the Pro. It really does appear to be a better option for most potential buyers.
There are of course, higher-end options like the prosumer Phantom 4 Pro/Advanced or the professional Inspire 2 (with micro four-thirds sensors and replaceable lenses), but for the majority of uses, and especially for anyone who travels a lot, the Mavic Air fits the bill better. I know I’ll now be taking it with me everywhere.