DRONES REVIEWS

DJI Mavic Air: A Small Drone With a Giant Potential

DJI Mavic Air
Jack Brown
Written by Jack Brown

Are you a professional videographer, or simply someone who loves to travel and make videos of all the places you’ve visited? Is buying a drone on your list of gear to have? Do you need a perfect camera, excellent stability, speed, flight times of over 20 minutes, and plenty of autonomous camera and safety features? Sounds like you need a big, serious drone. Or do you? What if we told you that you can get all that, but from a drone that is not bigger than the palm of your hand? Yes, the latest model from the most famous drone manufacturer, the DJI Mavic Air, packs a lot of pleasant surprises under its mini hood!

The Mavic Air inherited the best from the now iconic Mavic and the best drone in the selfie class, the Spark. It’s got the agility, speed, and excellent video and image possibilities of the Mavic, and small size and the innovative hand gesture modes of the Spark. And, it’s got some new tricks up his sleeve that neither the Spark or the old Mavic has. It is a drone that is great for every occasion, whether we are talking about the serious video production such as video commercials or real estate, or about making breathtaking footage of your vacations.

In this review, we will take an in-depth look at all the bells and whistles of this new, foldable and small beast, and help you in deciding if this is the right drone for you. But, the chances are that this might be the best drone for everyone! Yeah, it’s that good!

But first, let’s take a look at this video and see how good the Air’s videos actually are.

Product Specification:

  • 4K video and 12MP photos
  • 3-Axis gimbal
  • GPS- & Vision Position-Based navigation
  • 8GB of internal storage
  • Flight autonomy with Obstacle Detection
  • Top speed of 43 mph in Sport Mode
  • Active Track subject tracking modes
  • 21-minute flight time
  • Foldable portable design

Check Price on Amazon

Build Specifications

It’s time to get neck-deep into everything that makes the Mavic Pro a PRO quadcopter!

Packaging

There are a few versions of packages you can buy when it comes to the Mavic Air. Now, if you want to get the most for your money, we recommend getting a combo deal, the one we found as the best value for money, the “DJI Mavic Air Fly More Combo (Onyx Black)”. It includes the following:

  • DJI Mavic Air Onyx Black Quadcopter
  • Remote Controller
  • 3 x Intelligent Flight Batteries
  • Charger
  • Power Cable
  • 5 x Pairs of Props
  • Set of Prop Guards
  • RC Cable (Lightning)
  • RC Cable (Micro-USB)
  • RC Cable (USB Type-C)
  • Gimbal Protector
  • Communication Cable
  • USB Adapter
  • RC Cable Slider (Large)
  • 2 x RC Cable Slider (Small)
  • Carrying Case
  • Battery Charging Hub
  • Battery to Power Adapter
  • Shoulder Bag
  • Sandisk 32GB MicroSD Memory Card
  • Sling Backpack
  • Microfiber Cleaning Cloth

Since you always get a better idea of pretty much everything when you see it with your own eyes, we have included a Fly More Combo box opening video so that you can see what’s included:

Design & Durability

The design of the Air reminds slightly of the Spark’s design. And, it also slightly reminds of it’s older brother, the Mavic, with the folding arms. But, it is much more powerful than the Spark and much smaller than the Mavic, and when it comes to portability to quality ratio, it takes the lead from both.

When the arms are tucked in close to the body, you can easily slip it in a cargo pants pocket, or a jacket pocket and take it with you anywhere you want. You won’t be feeling the weight that much because it weighs just 430 grams, which is 310 grams lighter than the Mavic, but 120 heavier than the Spark. Nevertheless, it won’t represent a burden to you even if carried in a pocket.

But, if you want to keep it protected, the props mostly, you should use the carry case it comes with it. It’s not bulky and doesn’t make it much bigger actually, yet offers protection and a piece of mind.

Mavic Air carrying case

Image credit: Mavic Dave on forum.dji.com

Now, when it comes to durability, even though the Mavic Air has the size and the looks of a toy-grade drone (at least looks like a toy drone until you power it up and see all that it has to offer), it is actually a really durable and well-built model.

For starters, the gimbal and the camera are not exposed and that means a lot in case of a crash. Also, while not using it and carrying it around in your pocket or the backpack, you can use the gimbal cover for additional protection. The only downside to this accessory is that when you need to put it on, there’s no perfect solution for doing so and it makes the whole process kind of fiddly. But, once you master that routine, you will not have to worry about the gimbal damage during transport.

As for the color choices, following the path of the Spark, DJI decided to offer the Air in more than just one color. You can buy it in three colors: Arctic White, Flaming Red, and Onyx Black. All three colors look amazing on the drone, yet we found the white one to be hard to track in the distance during a bright, sunny day, but great for when it comes to no fingerprint stains. On the other hand, the red and black are simply like a magnet for fingerprints, but much easier to spot in the distance.

Flying a Mavic Air

When it comes to practical connectivity design, you will find two ports under a removable cover at the back end of the drone. The left one is a content transfer USB-C port (never seen before on any DJI drone), and the right one is the Micro SD card slot. Unfortunately, the USB-C port cannot be used for charging the battery while attached to the drone and that is why you need to carry the charger with you (which actually has an adapter for a power bank). And, other great news is that when you use up your memory card, there is an additional 8GB of memory storage in the drone itself!

Camera

And now, probably what many of you were waiting for, the review of the DJI Mavic Air camera. We will start off with the gimbal.

Gimbal Stabilization

Unlike the Spark, where due to its size and design, it was complicated to fit in a 3-axis gimbal, the Mavic Air has it. And, it really performs well and provides a chance for the camera to shoot amazing, stable, smooth videos, and take crystal clear images. Also, the gimbal itself is very well isolated from the motor vibrations and there’s no jello effect whatsoever, even at high shutter speeds. And, you can even opt for ND filters as it allows you to screw them on.

Holding Mavic Air

Bitrate

With the Mavic Pro, the problem with the video footage was is it shoots in 4K, yet has a low bitrate of only 60 Mbps. This means the limited flow of data and the inability to handle the Ultra High Resolution of the camera. However, with the Mavic Air, the bitrate is higher, at 100 Mbps, meaning that you can pull off some serious, cinematic effect with true 4K details.

But, you don’t have such a high bitrate with lower resolution settings. Let us give you a breakdown of the resolution/bitrate/fps options you can expect from the Mavic Air:

  • 4K – 100Mbps @ 24, 25, 30 fps
  • 7K – 50 Mbps @ 24, 25, 30 fps
  • 7K – 90 Mbps @ 48, 50, 60 fps
  • 1080 – 35 Mbps @ 24, 25, 30 fps
  • 1080 – 70 Mbps @ 48, 50, 60 fps
  • 1080 – 25 Mbps @ 120 fps

And, a word of advice, if you plan on shooting in 4K @ 100 Mbps, don’t think that your old memory card is going to cut it. You will definitely need a card that can handle that amount of data quickly, so choose the fastest card you can find.

Image distortion

Like every other drone that came out of DJI, complex distortion is the problem with the image that comes out of the lens. You can find a bit of a mustache distortion at the corner edges of the images and videos, and there is a slight barrel distortion present as well. But, it is really not that noticeable, even when shooting close range objects such as buildings, or when dealing with distant straight lines, like the horizon, for example. All in all, considering the focal range of this small camera, the image distortion is nothing to be worried about.

Sharpness, Noise and Dynamic Range

Unlike with other newer models of DJI drones, where the sharpness of the image is actually too sharp and usually you have to tone it down, with the Air drone, the image sharpness in 4K is soft. Which is a great thing if you ask us. We are not sure if the default settings are set that way on purpose, or maybe it’s the fact that the lens is made of a “Plastic” material, not glass. Anyway, it provides a much smoother image, which, if needed, can be sharpened in the post-production.

Mavic Air vs Mavic Pro - image sharpness

Image credit: myfirstdji.com

When it comes to the low light sensitivity and dynamic range, don’t expect wonders from its small 12 MP 1/ 2.3-inch sensor. In low light conditions, the noise is present, not extremely, but present. But, it is also present in bigger model cameras, so it really isn’t that much of a problem.

Still Images

When it comes to taking pictures with the Mavic Air, the quality of the stills can be compared to some newer generation, mid-end smartphones. The 12 MP sensor shoots acceptable quality, but you can have the option of shooting in RAW or JPEG, or in both. Also, you can shoot HDR images and 360-degree panoramic image that is equivalent to a 33 MP camera, when all the images are automatically stitched together.

Battery & Flight Time

Like always, DJI’s flight time advertisement is over exaggerated. They claim that the drone can stay in the air for 21 minutes, while in reality, you have to count in return to home point time. This means that you have to head back before the battery reaches 20%, and that cuts down the flight time to some 16 minutes of effective flight. You might use up all the battery juice and hit a critical level, but you will only get up to 17, 17 and a half minutes, and risk of damaging the battery.

Mavic Air battery

Image credit: thephoblographer.com

Controller

When it comes to the controller of the Mavic Air, this is another section where DJI implemented some innovations. In order to make the overall package really portable and suitable for traveling, they designed the controller with removable control sticks. This means that, unlike with the Mavic or the Spark, you can actually fit the controller in your pocket because you can unscrew the sticks so that they don’t get in the way.

Also, like the Spark’s controller, you don’t have an inbuilt telemetry screen the Mavic Pro does, but if you attach your smartphone and use it as an FPV monitor, you get the telemetry anyway. So, the lack of the screen is really not a deal breaker.

Flight Performance

Even though it is considered as a small drone (not small as the spark yet considerably smaller than the Mavic Pro) the Air is amazingly agile in the air and can handle a fair amount of wind (Max 15 mph). If you encounter stronger winds, the gimbal will stabilize the video, but the drone will fight the wind and have a hard time keeping the precise trajectory. It is not as wind resistant as the P4, but considering the size (and the price) it had us pleasantly surprised.

DJI Mavic Air flight

You can get more aggressive if the wind picks up by using the sports mode, but then the gimbal won’t “iron” out the footage that well, and due to the fact that in this mode, the pitch angle is higher, meaning the props will get in the way of your shot. But, this mode is great for when you are in the hurry to reach a certain point of interest, and then switch back to normal flight mode. And, the max speed of the Air (in sports mode), surprisingly, it is faster than the Mavic Pro! The Mavic Pro can reach the top speed of 40 mph, while the Air reaches 42 mph.

Like with every other DJI model, stabilization and altitude hold is flawless. It uses both the GPS and Glonass satellite signals and utilizes two gyros and accelerometers for an additional sense of orientation.

Value For Money & Guarantee

Assuming that you opt for the Fly more Combo, which is priced at around $1000, some might think if this drone is actually worth it or not. But, when you take into consideration everything that you get with this combo deal, the price is more than worth it.

DJI Mavic Air Fly More Combo

Image credit: PB Tech

One of the most important aspects when comparing value is the fact that you are getting both the controller and the drone itself in one box, three batteries, and numerous useful accessories that will really keep it in the air longer, with just a single purchase.

Also, DJI does offer insurance and a protection warranty, which, if you ask, is something you must take if you want your drone to be covered from crashes, which as we all know, might happen when you least expect them.

Unique Features

And now, let’s see what makes this drone so special and what all the fuss is about.

Anti-Collision Systems

What the Mavic and the Spark lack of, is back anti-collision system. Meaning, if you fly them backward in FPV, you can easily crash if some obstacle comes in the drone’s way. However, the Mavic Air, in addition to front collision avoidance, the drone is also aware of the objects behind it, and it will avoid them and allow you to fly and shoot those breathtaking pullback videos. As for side collision avoidance, that is unavailable.

Furthermore, the drone is equipped with two cameras at the bottom, which is in charge of keeping the drone aware of the proximity of the ground or other objects that might find their way into the drone’s path while it’s descending, like, for example, three branches. The ground collision system is backed by a 3D Infrared module for even a better reading of the object below the drone, especially in low light conditions. Also, this system provides improved altitude hold control even if the GPS signal is low or there isn’t any.

Important note: The Anti Collision System is not available when you are flying your Mavic Air in sport mode.

Intelligent Flight Modes

Now, it’s time for the Air’s magical modes. Like the other DJI drones of the newer generations, the Air also comes with a few intelligent flight modes. And, like the Spark, it also has the ability to recognize hand gestures, where you can be a “Jedi” and control the drone by simply moving your hands, and make it start or stop the video or take stills by making a “Frame” hand gesture.

What we found pretty neat are the modes where the drone can do series pre-programmed flight patterns like spiraling up around you or flying in circles with you in the center of the shot all the time. Also, during these automatic filming modes, it shoots a 10-second video, which is great and easy to post instantly on social media.

But, those are automatic modes that are limited to 10-second videos. If you want to get much more serious, you need to try the “Active Track” mode. In this mode, the drone can lock onto several moving objects and track them no matter what, and that is done by simply selecting the object on the screen of your smartphone. Also, during the “chase” it can switch between different angles.

How good are these modes? Well, they work flawlessly, but, keep in mind that the drone is “blind” on the sides and that, when it follows a certain subject sideways, it will not be aware of what’s coming its way. Furthermore, after the drone goes over a certain speed level, it might not be able to detect the upcoming objects in time, therefore, it won’t have time to react until it’s already late. Therefore, we recommend investigating the route prior to actually taking off and filming.

Now, these modes are all great and really fun to use, and they deliver some amazing new perspectives and video shooting angles. But, if you want to use the Mavic Air for some more serious, cinematic videos, you will have to use the Tripod mode. When in this mode, the Air is limited to max speed of 2.2 mph, and the stick input responsiveness are likewise toned down, which allows you to have smoother, much more controlled flight, thus the quality of the video will be on a much higher level due to the fact that you can’t make any sudden movements with the drone.

Similar Models

Let’s see which other models offer the similar features and see if they are a better choice or is the Mavic Air in the lead.

DJI Mavic ProDJI Mavic Pro

The DJI Mavic Pro is the older brother of the Mavic Air. And, like all older brothers, this drone is more serious and bigger. But, if we take a deeper look, we will discover that even though the Mavic Pro is quite compact and a great choice for travelers who love shooting videos of their adventures, the Mavic air is much more practical for many reasons.

For starters, the Mavic Pro comes with the same camera resolution, but actually has a lower bitrate for 4K videos. So, the Air takes a win when it comes to video quality and cinematic moments.

Furthermore, the Mavic Pro is double in size and heavier, which makes the Air much more portable and practical for transport. Also, the Mavic Air will go through airports much, much easier, and due to the fact that it looks like a toy-grade drone, you will have fewer problems with the law when filming, anywhere.

Another thing, the Mavic has only front collision sensors, meaning that it’s not protected when flying backward in FPV. Another win for the Mavic Air.

However, there is one thing that gives the Mavic Air the advantage and that is the LightBridge technology. This allows live video stream to distances of up to 7km from you and makes long-range flights possible. The Mavic Air lacks that technology and as far as the video signal is concerned, you cannot expect that range.

DJI Phantom 4DJI Phantom 4

The DJI Phantom 4 is still DJI’s flagship model and it really is superior to any other model from this manufacturer (or any other manufacturer for that matter). It has a perfect drone camera that can shoot in 4K, it is unbelievably resistant to high-speed winds, and it has collision avoidance systems on all sides except the top. So, in general, the Mavic Air is an inferior model when compared to the glorious P4.

However, many videographers and aerial photographers have realized that when traveling with the Phantom 4, the transport is complicated as this is not a small drone, plus all other accessories demand proper storage, which means you have to haul everything in one huge luggage. And, if you have to go through airports, it will be a nightmare.

Furthermore, the video quality, camera and shooting modes of the Mavic Air have actually toned down the final video result gap, and many professional photographers will rather choose to travel by the Mavic air and sacrifice a bit of video quality than hauling a huge case with the P4 and everything else inside.

In general, the P4 is a much more advanced model and offers better video and image quality that is aimed for professional purposes, but for traveling, the Mavic Air might be a much better choice.

DJI SparkDJI Spark

The DJI Spark is a great little drone for beginners who are just entering this hobby, yet want a model that is advanced and simple to use at the same time, and not start off with a toy-grade model. The Spark is pretty much a mini version of the Mavic Air. It doesn’t lack that much behind when it comes to smart camera modes but has a camera that can only shoot 1080p tops. And, the base model of the Spark doesn’t include a controller, rather a smartphone can be used to control the drone and the camera.

However, you are then limited to the WiFi range and that is not much. Actually, not more than 50 meters. But, if you want to unlock the full potential of this little beast, you need to cash out additional $200 (approximately) for a dedicated controller, and then the range goes up to 2Km.

The drone is really small and fits the palm of your hand. It has the front collision avoidance system and a Vision Positioning system that recognizes your face and your hand gestures up to 50 meters away from you and has a 2-axis mechanically stabilized camera that, as we mentioned, doesn’t shoot over 1080p.

So, in conclusion, Spark is the kind in small drone class, but when compared to his bigger, younger cousin, the Mavic Air, it is inferior. The Spark is great for family vacation videos, backyard birthday parties, and generally, for people who want to get into the hobby, but when it comes to serious aerial filming and high quality, 4k cinematic aerial videos, the Mavic Air takes the crown.

Overview

Let’s take a look at the most important Pros & Cons of the DJI Mavic Air Quadcopter:

PROS:

  • Size and portability
  • Image stabilization with a 3-Axis Gimbal
  • Build quality and durability
  • Better bitrate @ 4K videos (100 Mbps) than the Mavic Pro
  • Wind resistant to winds up to 15 Mph
  • Fast and agile in sports mode (Faster than the Mavic Pro)
  • Comes with 8 GB of internal storage (And an additional SD card slot)
  • Front, back, and down collision avoidance systems
  • Not a bad flight time considering the class

CONS:

  • Flight time advertised by DJI is 20-21 minutes, not true
  • The auto-exposure settings are aggressive
  • Doesn’t have a second wheel on the controller for shutter speed or exposure adjustment

As you can see, the DJI Mavic Air is not just about pros, it has a few cons. But, all things considered, we truly believe that this is an amazing little drone that offers so much and that those few things that could be better, are completely irrelevant when looking at the wider picture. It is not a record breaker, that is certain, but when you consider the size, it is amazing what it can actually do. The gimbal and the camera deliver true 4K videos thanks to 3-axis stabilization and 100 Mbps bitrate.

Sure, the Wi-Fi radio link can be tricky for shooting in urban environments, and the image noise in lower light conditions could be a bit lower, but for that size and price, this drone is simply amazing! If you are a frequent traveler and you simply don’t want to travel without your drone, believe us, the whole experience will significantly improve once you leave the Mavic Pro or the Phantom at home, and put the little Air in one pocket, the controller in the other.

Amazon-Button-2

Thanks for reading and make sure to leave a comment in the comments section below if you have already tried the Mavic Air. We would love to hear your thoughts or to answer your questions if you have any. Also, if you found our review interesting to read and informative, feel free to share it on social media so that your friends can also learn a thing or two about the latest aerial photography tool that is really picking up some speed.

About the author

Jack Brown

Jack Brown

Jack is the Chief Pilot at MyDroneLab.com bringing experience, expertise and knowledge in this quite new industry. He is a graduate of the Drone/UAV Pilot Training Certificate program and member of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Besides having all the necessary technical knowledge when it comes to drones, Jack and his team love to spend the time outside by the ocean, working on new features and teaching others how to pilot these amazing and exciting new robots.