DJI Mavic Air

Pros

  • Incredibly compact and convenient to carry around
  • Easy to fly with intelligent flight modes
  • Great video quality
  • HDR and panoramic still images
  • Includes built-in storage

Cons

  • Need to opt for the Fly More Combo to get the most out of it
  • Switching between control methods can be fiddly

Key Features

  • Review Price: £769
  • Compact, foldable drone
  • 4K/30 video
  • 12-megapixel still images
  • 32-megapixel spherical panoramas
  • SmartCapture gestures
  • QuickShot automated flight modes
  • 8GB built-in storage
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What is the DJI Mavic Air?

Sitting in between the beginner-friendly DJI Spark and the soon-to-be-replaced DJI Mavic Pro, the Mavic Air is the Chinese company’s latest mini 4K drone.

Well, it will be until the imminent DJI Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom are announced, although these will be premium successors to the Mavic Pro rather than direct competitors.

The Mavic Air is smaller than the latter – which won Drone of the Year at the Trusted Reviews Awards 2017 – but still manages to pack in 4K video recording at 30fps and a range of handy, automated flying modes called ‘Quickshots’.

It’s available for £769 standalone, which includes the drone, remote controller, a battery, carrying case, two pairs of propeller guards, and four pairs of propellers in Onyx Black, Arctic White and Flame Red.

Like DJI’s other offerings, there’s also a Fly More Combo that includes three batteries, the remote controller, a travel bag, two pairs of prop guards, six pairs of props, a battery to power bank adapter, and a charging hub. This costs £949 and will arguably be the better value prospect for most users.

The DJI Mavic Air takes the blueprint of the Mavic Pro and improves on it in many respects, which is one of the reasons why the DJI Mavic Pro is likely to be replaced soon. Ultimately, the DJI Mavic Air is likely to be the best option for most wannabe drone pilots.

DJI Mavic Air – Design

When folded down, the DJI Mavic Air’s footprint is just slightly larger than a phablet, and about half the size of the Mavic Pro. This makes it DJI’s most portable model yet. While it’s unlikely to fit in your jeans pocket, it did fit reasonably comfortably in my jacket pocket.

Likewise, the remote controller is designed to collapse down in size. The phone cradle in the bottom folds down alongside the antennae on the top. The control sticks now unscrew and can be stowed away in the bottom, further streamlining the controller. The result is a device that is around the same size as the folded-down Mavic Air, so perfect for your other pocket.

Related: Best action cameras

DJI Mavic Air

For the first time, I could feasibly take out a fully featured drone without the need for a bag, making impromptu flights when a moment warrants it far easier. The Mavic Air accompanied me on a recent holiday to Morocco, and it was liberating being able to quickly whip out the drone to record captivating footage of the surroundings or to take a group selfie from the sky.

I had a few folk who were surprised I was able to take the Mavic Air into Morocco. Supposedly, a number of drones have been confiscated at the airport. I’m assuming its distinctly unrecognisable form factor when folded down helped it get through the x-ray scanners undetected.

As a result of its new shape, DJI has had to add air vents in order to keep the Mavic Air cool. The Mavic Air weighs just 430g, so will hardly prove encumbering on your next outdoor adventure.

DJI Mavic Air

DJI has made improvements in the area of storage too. The Mavic Air includes 8GB onboard – a first for DJI. You don’t lose out on microSD storage either. I expect most people will still use a microSD card, but that 8GB will be welcome if you find yourself without a memory card.

A USB-C port has been added in place of micro-USB, so data transfer from the drone will be faster if you do need access to that onboard storage.

DJI Mavic Air – Features and flight

The Mavic Air borrows not only the folding design from its older sibling, but the 4K camera too. It means the Mavic Air sits between the DJI Spark (which doesn’t fold down and has only a 1080p camera) and the bigger DJI Mavic Pro.

In total, there are seven cameras and IR sensors onboard to help the Mavic Air keep track of objects and surrounding terrain. DJI says its more powerful capabilities and optimised algorithms will make for a better 3D map of the environment, as well as more precise hovering and flight performance.

Object detection is present on the front and back, which has been improved to up to 20 metres. Hopefully, you’ll now have fewer accidents.

Morocco proved to be an excellent testing ground for the Mavic Air’s flight, as some of the days were particularly windy. In such conditions, object avoidance and hovering abilities can be compromised, as warned in the DJI GO 4 app. Even then, the Mavic Air coped remarkably well under some particularly testing conditions.

DJI Mavic Air

Only one time did it hiccup, and that was because of cold conditions. At one point, up in the snowy mountains, the app reported the batteries were too cold for take-off. That’s actually the first time I’ve ever encountered this issue, having on many occasions flown the device in cold, snowy conditions in the UK. Keeping the batteries warmed in my fleece-lined pockets brought them back to life eventually.

The Mavic Air has newly developed Advanced Piloting Assistance Systems (APAS) for object avoidance, adjusting its flight plan to actively fly over or around objects rather than just coming to a stop.

At least in theory, that is. The Mavic Air actually needs quite a large run-up towards an object for the automatic avoidance to kick in. If it starts too close to the object, it will likely just come to an abrupt stop – which is still better than a head-on crash. It also struggled when there were two obstacles in close proximity. If the second obstacle is obscured by another, the Mavic Air won’t see it and as such won’t have enough time to re-draw a route around it.

Given a little more room to assess its surroundings, the Mavic Air can go up and over obstacles such as trees, or simply skirt around them. I can see this being a useful safety net for novice flyers. You can simply toggle APAS on or off in the DJI Go app.

DJI Mavic Air

The Mavic Air can either be flown by the remote controller, or paired with your smartphone over Wi-Fi direct. The range is considerably less for the latter, but it can be useful if you want to quickly grab some shots. Annoyingly, though, going between the two control methods required re-linking the drone to the remote control, which makes it far less convenient for when you want to go back to more nuanced controls.

Initially, I also encountered some problems getting the DJI Go 4 app to recognise my OnePlus 5T smartphone, which was connected over a USB-C cable (short micro-USB and Lightning cables are also included for compatibility with other devices). It turns out you need to have USB Debugging – and possibly USB OTG – turned on for the phone to recognise a connected remote control. Worth keeping in mind.

DJI Mavic Air

The remote control has a range of 2.5 miles/4km with 1080p real-time transmission, which is an improvement over many consumer drones that only allow 720p video transmission. When using the remote controller, you can also toggle on the Sport mode, which unlocks the Mavic Air’s top speed. This is DJI’s fastest drone yet, and it feels like it. It flies nimbly, however, and is great fun to use beyond the video- and image-capture capabilities.

The Mavic Air can withstand blustery environments up to 22mph, and you can expect top speeds of up to 42mph in Sport mode for those feeling particularly brave.

The controller is otherwise similar to that of the Mavic Pro’s, minus the screen and a wheel that can quickly adjust the exposure.

DJI Mavic Air – QuickShots and gestures

Automated flight modes also make a return, for more ‘hands-off’ flight. Known as ‘QuickShot’ mode, this first debuted with the DJI Spark, allowing you to capture professional-looking videos automatically.

These predefined flight paths resulted in some seriously dramatic shots. These include ‘Rocket’, which locked the camera on a target and then shot straight up in the air; and ‘Circle’, which had the camera fly around a target while keeping it in frame.

The Mavic Air has all of this functionality and more, with the addition of two new QuickShots in the form of Asteroid and Boomerang. Asteroid, in particular, is super-cool. It starts with a spherical image that zooms in as the drone descends towards the subject on the ground. It’s all a little bit Deep Impact.

Here’s an Asteroid video I shot where the footage was taken off the memory card. It’s worth noting that when saved through the DJI Go app, the app saves a version of it played back in reverse to live up to its Earth-crashing ‘Asteroids’ name. The drone actually records as flying away from you rather than towards you, however. The below is played back the way it was recorded:

The DJI Spark’s SmartCapture also returns, allowing you to control the Mavic Air with hand gestures to capture selfies, follow you around and more. That means you won’t have to dig out the remote controller whenever you want to grab some footage – making you feel like you’re controlling the drone with The Force.

DJI also adds new gestures such as using two hands drawn apart or brought together to control the Mavic Air’s distance while it’s locked onto a subject. Throwing up a ‘peace’ sign now tells it to take a still image.

DJI Mavic Air

Overall, the palm gesture recognition’s accuracy seemed improved over that of the DJI Spark, which I often found struggled to achieve a lock. It’s still far from perfect, though. It requires a conscious effort to keep the drone under control and focused on your hand, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable using it in a busy environment. Keep the remote control or your phone nearby just in case.

DJI Mavic Air – Video and image quality

The Mavic Air is packed with a three-axis mechanical gimbal that itself sits recessed and suspended from dampeners to reduce vibrations further. The new mechanics result in seriously smooth footage, even under the most difficult wind conditions.

The camera itself has a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor that captures 12-megapixel stills and has an equivalent 24mm f/2.8 lens. You’ll be able to capture mechanically stabilised 4K footage at up to 30fps with a maximum bit-rate of 100Mbps. You can even drop down to 1080p for 120fps slow-motion footage for some added aerial dramatics. Image quality is excellent overall, with plenty of detail and sharpness.

The only time the DJI Mavic Air struggles is in low-light, where you’ll get noticeably grainier, less-detailed shots.

The DJI Go 4 app will also help you to edit your drone footage with transitions and music. It can automatically generate highlight videos, similar to GoPro’s Quik app too.

Here’s a recap of some of my flights in Morocco:

You can capture 32-megapixel spherical panoramic shots, with all the processing and stitching completed by the Mavic Air in about a minute. There are also HDR stills image capture thrown in. You can see some unprocessed example still images below:

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DJI Mavic Air – Battery life

You can expect up to 21 minutes of flight from the Mavic Air, under optimal conditions, which is more than the DJI Spark managed – but below the Mavic Pro and its rumoured successors, the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom. This felt about right from my flights and made the Fly More Combo’s extra battery packs a more tempting prospect.

You charge the batteries in a separate intelligent charging cradle.

DJI Mavic Air

The remote control should last about two hours; its battery is drained by your connected smartphone, as it acts an external charger. One puzzling aspect is that the remote control is charged via micro-USB, whereas the drone itself uses USB-C for its data transfer. Potentially, this means carrying around two different cables.

Why buy the DJI Mavic Air?

Despite some very welcome new competition from the Parrot Anafi, the Mavic Air remains our favourite sub-£1000 drone.

Both drones easily slip into a backpack and shoot comparable video and stills, but the Mavic Air’s trump card is its obstacle avoidance, which is something the Parrot Anafi lacks. This is a really useful safety net for novice flyers and for shooting quick, set piece scenes.

The improved stabilisation over the older Mavic Pro was also evident from the footage I shot, and the QuickShots are fantastic fun. The spherical 360 stitched photos are a great addition, too, allowing you to capture your surrounding environment in a novel way.

I’m still not a huge fan of QuickCapture, simply because I’ll never feel completely confident in its palm recognition; it’s more a nice-to-have than a must-have feature.

For those with deeper pockets and the need for more pro-level features like larger sensors, the imminent Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom are likely to be tempting new propositions. But they are also likely to be significantly more expensive, which means the Mavic Air will remain our king of the mid-range skies for a while yet.

DJI Mavic Air

Verdict

The DJI Mavic Air is still the consumer drone to beat, packing in incredible portability and fantastic image quality.

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