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The DJI Mavic Air is one of the premium but affordable quadcopters of the industry leader DJI. The high-tech drone armed to the teeth with technology is said to be the new wonder drone in copter heaven.
Mavic Air is right at the edge of two world: advanced hobby pilots and career photographers and videographers who pay attention only to professional drones.
An even better camera than the Mavic Pro and new flight modes are supposed to make this copter the best drone ever. We have put Mavic Air through its paces and show you what you can expect from the drone in real life.
If you are interested to see how Air fares against newer, small DJI models, check out the following head to head comparisons:
Mavic Air: the quadrocopter at a glance
The drone is developed under the working title of Mavic Air and represents a logical addition to the company’s product range.
The quadcopter was presented to the public in New York on January 23rd, 2018, and of course it was introduced in detail.
DJI stated that the Mavic Air is intended to technically complement the Spark and Mavic Pro drones that are already in the product portfolio.
Spark represents the company’s lightest and most affordable quadcopter, which can even be guided through the air via the owner’s smartphone. At least that was the case until DJI launched the Spark and Mavic Mini.
Mavic Pro is a portable camera quadcopter with retractable rotor arms, reasonable extended flight time and relatively low rotor and drive noise in operating mode.
Anyone who purchases a drone nowadays pays attention to a high degree of portability for various reasons. In each case, the reasons for this are very different.
On the one hand, as is well known, the legislator has made the so-called drone driver’s license generally mandatory for drones with a total weight of 250g or more. On the other hand, as the dimensions and weight of the drone increase, the possibility of transporting it without any problems and using it practically anywhere decreases drastically.
Since its foundation in 2006, the Chinese company DJI in particular has therefore explicitly committed itself to the principle of optimizing the portability of its drones and aircraft as far as possible, thus ultimately ensuring appropriate usability.
While the previous model of the Mavic Air, the Mavic Pro, launched in 2016, was already characterized and distinguished by an attractive portability, this decisive and, in the eyes of pilots, essential feature of the latest product, the Mavic Air, was once again improved and optimized.
The aircraft is no longer equipped with the famous retractable rotor arms (which are fixed). Only the outriggers are foldable and collapsible. However, the whole aircraft is then only a moderate 430g heavy. Thus it exceeds the lightest and cheapest aircraft produced by DJI, the Spark, by only 130g.
Especially all outdoor users will undoubtedly appreciate the further improved usability of Mavic Air.
The weight of the Mavic Pro, DJI’s predecessor model, was reduced by 313 g. With its smaller dimensions, the Mavic Air represents an additional gain in handling and transport efficiency compared to its predecessor, the Mavic Pro.
The dimensions of the Mavic Air also underline its suitability for transport and its excellent overall portability. When folded, the Mavic Air is only 169 mm long, 89 mm wide and 53 mm high.
In a direct size comparison with the Galaxy Note 3, it is noticeable that the drone is the same size as the mobile phone when folded. So the Mavic fits into any jacket pocket or a small backpack.
Compared to the Phantom 3 Pro, the full extent of the minimalism becomes clear. Not only the width of the drone is much smaller, but also its height. An absolute lightweight brimming with the latest high-end technology.
The aim of DJI was clearly to build a relatively compact, streamlined and also technically loaded, light and easy to handle aircraft: This was clearly the intention of DJI in the development and production of the Mavic Air.
All in all, it can be said that the company has succeeded in doing so.
The built-in drone camera: photo and video quality
In my opinion, the Mavic Air camera is the best part of the whole drone. Not only the increased bitrate, but also the higher sharpness, detail and contrast have completely impressed me. I will explain all parameters in detail below.
Thanks to the built-in 4 K camera, which can be swivelled around 3 axes, pilots can take impressive 32-GP spherical panoramic pictures from the ground.
The 3-axis gimbal system works cleanly and reliably. So far we have not been able to find a single wobble in a video of us. The camera is mounted a bit deeper in the housing (compared to the Mavic Pro), so this is good for image stabilization.
The possible tilt angle of the gimbal is between -100 and + 22°. Furthermore, it can be tilted between -12° and + 12°. The controlled angular accuracy is ±0.005°.
The bitrate for Mavic Air is estimated by DJI at 100 Mbps. The Mavic Pro for comparison was equipped with a bit rate of 60 Mbps.
The difference is really enormous and clearly visible in video recordings. Not only does the filming look more dynamic and vivid, but the sharpness and the level of detail has increased significantly compared to the Mavic Pro.
This applies to both bright and low-light film conditions.
Those who want to generate some still images with the Mavic Air can do this in two common formats JPEG or alternatively in the RAW format that can be easily processed by most of the image processing programs.
In the RAW format, the images can be processed after filming, so that also demanding photographers can get the maximum out of their images. I use Adobe Photoshop CC to edit images and Magix Video Pro X for video editing.
The richness of detail in the images generated by the drone is amazingly high thanks to the 100 Mbps as already mentioned. HDR-photos are therefore no problem or challenge for the small, quiet and light quadcopter.
Mavic Air offers a whole range of intelligent photo modes. These include classic single shots, continuous shooting, bracketing, as well as internal accidental and panoramic photos. The panorama bracketing mode allows you to select 3×1, 3×3, 3×7 or 3×8 shots.
The 120 frames per second capability also allows Mavic Air to generate cool slow-motion shots. This looks really good, especially for otherwise fast jerky movements.
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A further improvement for ambitious amateur pilots and aerial photographers is the fact that Mavic Air can be used for aerial photography and aerial video without the need for an external storage device.
For filming or photography without the need for an additional memory card, this modern aircraft has a total internal memory of 8 GB. With 8GB, you can record about 10 minutes of Ultra HD (4k) video.
If this capacity is not enough, it can easily be expanded by a further 128 GB in the form of Micro SD.
It is important to note here that the SD cards must support high data rates, otherwise the video is not stored on the SD card but on the internal memory. However, this only happens if the inserted SD card is too old or incompatible.
The following video resolutions are supported (I always mention the maximum available frames per second)
- Ultra-HD (3840×2160) 30FPS
- 2.7k (2720×1530) 60 FPS
- Full-HD (1920×1080) 120 FPS
- HD (1280×720) 120 FPS
Either MP4 or MOV (h.264/MPEG-4 AVC) can be used for the video format.
The sensor of the camera is a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor with an effective 12 megapixels. The lens has a field of view of 85°. The aperture is an f/2.8 and the recording range is 0.5m to ∞.
Flight safety and control – obstacle avoidance
DJI also developed and designed the Obstacle Avoidance System for use in the small Mavic Air camera drone.
This system enables the small drone to independently detect objects or obstacles that may suddenly appear in the air during the flight, independent of the pilot or user controlling the device.
Another technical system installed and used by DJI in Mavic Air is called Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems or APAS.
This assistance system allows the drone to automatically avoid an obstacle detected during the flight, or to stop the flight if necessary.
Obstacle detection works really well in practice, both forwards and backwards. Nevertheless, the following applies: Only rely on it in an emergency and preferably always use the remote control to handle everything.
However, the above-mentioned visual sensors, located on the front and rear, but also on the underside of the small drone Mavic Air, allow for much more.
Based on the impressive and modern technology of the Chinese manufacturer DJI, it is possible, theoretically and practically, to control the entire aircraft by gestures of the pilot.
According to the manufacturer’s specifications, however, the Mavic Air should be controlled and directed through the air by a flight controller with removable joysticks.
The remote control of the drone is said to have a range of up to 4km. We made a range test and as you can see in the test video, we could control the drone within the range of vision of almost 250m without any problems.
In addition, the drone has initiated the automatic flight home (=Return-to-Home) to land exactly at the starting point, which the drone has previously saved via GPS. This all worked smoothly and really great.
Compared to the Mavic Pro, the Mavic Air was able to stop at the starting point several times in a row, accurate to 10cm.
Since we are only allowed to fly within our visibility range in USA anyway (usually this corresponds to a distance of 200 to 300m), the alternative search for a greater distance is not necessary for the majority of pilots.
For all drone pilots who want to fly a longer distance, you can deactivate the automatic channel selection of the app and select a channel yourself. You can then select another channel on the channel index.
Channel 1 to 13 is the 2.4G frequency and 149 to 165 is the 5.8G frequency. You can also see how much the channel is already used. Of course you should select a channel which is less frequented.
In our example, channel 149 or 157 would be the best choice to fly interference-free.
The remote control also has no more display, which was superfluous in my opinion anyway. The Air is flown via the GO app, so all important parameters can be viewed there.
Mavic Air gesture control
Mavic Air can be controlled with gestures, just like the DJI Spark. As shown in the Mavic Air test video, it works very accurately, promptly and reliably, but is more of a gimmick than it is really useful.
There are several different commands. By simply pointing the hand frontally at the Mavic Air sensors on the muzzle, horizontal and vertical movements can be used to control the drone.
In this case, the drone simply follows the outstretched hand.
By extending the hands, the drone moves away from us. By pulling together the drone comes back to us.
By a peace sign the drone receives the command to take a photo. It then takes a few seconds before the photo is actually taken. This time delay was built in so that the photographer can move into position accordingly.
Of course a video can also be started and stopped via the gesture control.
The drone can be started or landed by simply showing the flat palm of the hand when the drone is on the ground for take-off or when the drone should land when it is still at a height of approx. 0.5m.
The drone can also take off and land at the flat palm of your hand, but DJI clearly advises against this. Nevertheless it does work via gesture control.
All in all, the flight performance of the small and quiet camera drone from the People’s Republic of China is also well suited to impress hobby pilots all over the world and to convince them of this technology.
The Chinese manufacturer DJI has already succeeded in doing this with the predecessor model of the Mavic Air.
From its sleek design, the Mavic Air looks as if it represents an extremely powerful and ultra-fast modern unnamed aircraft.
Mavic Air flight experience
Rugged plastic and, last but not least, ultra-light brushed aluminum are the dominant materials on the outer shell of Mavic Air, providing not only stability but also a correspondingly significant weight saving.
To ensure that the aircraft can survive landings in difficult outdoor environments without damage, it is equipped with landing legs that can be folded in and out.
The flight time of the Mavic Air is indicated by the Chinese manufacturer DJI as 21 minutes in total. This corresponds to a maximum range (FCC) of 4 kilometers for the aircraft.
Mavic Air speed, flight time and battery
In practice, we were able to achieve an effective flight time of 16 minutes. However, this time can vary depending on the demands on the drone. To ensure that the flight experience is not over after just 16 minutes, DJI offers a Fly-More combo package that includes two additional batteries.
If you want to buy Mavic Air, I would recommend you to buy this package directly. This saves you the trouble of having to put the drone back on the charging station after flying it on some nice place.
At this point I would like to point out that you should only buy original batteries from DJI, otherwise it is not guaranteed that they work properly.
A colleague ordered a NoName battery for half price.
The battery did its job for about 2 months, but afterwards the drone went up in flames during a normal flight because the non-original battery exploded. This scenario is not necessarily to occur to everyone, but I wanted to warn you against using replica batteries.
The flight stability of the device was also completely convincing in the test. As usual from DJI, the drone stands as if chiseled into the air, even in larger and stronger gusts of wind. Nevertheless, it is advisable not to fly the Mavic Air in stronger winds.
The manufacturer of the Mavic Air has abandoned the so-called Ocu-Synch-technique in favor of a rigid pre-focusing of the flight time. The drone uses the GPS instead.
Flight modes of the DJI Mavic Air
Mavic Air offers a wide range of different flight modes. One of them is a new mode that I really like, the Asteroid mode.
In the following, I will explain the most important modes and the quickshot modes in more detail. The Mavic features the latest technical innovations that DJI has just put into its drones.
The ActiveTrack mode is suitable for tracking one or more objects.
As shown in the test video, the drone can follow you without you having to drag the remote control with you. The drone has been programmed to persistently track the object you specify.
In this mode, all sensors work so that the drone can detect obstacles and fly around them even if it gets too close. However, caution is required here, as obstacles must have sufficiently visible edges.
In my test the drone detected even the finest branches on trees and avoided them (but that doesn’t mean that it will do the same in your case).
In tripod mode, the drone drastically reduces its speed and flies only about 4km/h. This mode should be suitable for video recordings indoors or low to the ground.
The sensors function normally as usual. The effective braking distance is less than one meter, so safety is very high in this mode.
In Cinematic mode, Mavic Air’s speed is also reduced and the braking distance is shorter. The sensors also work normally.
What is special about this mode is that the camera movement is very smooth and abrupt braking is deliberately slowed down automatically.
Even fast changes of direction are balanced in practice, so that it is 100% guaranteed that the picture is taken without jerking and absolutely cinema ready.
Since we already have enough flying experience, we have used these modes very little. Nevertheless, this mode can be interesting for beginners.
The TapFly mode can be used to draw a path for the drone on the mobile phone display, which the drone then flies along at a specified speed.
This seems a bit like magic, but in practice it works really well and reliably.
The sensors work normally and avoid obstacles in an emergency. The speed can be adjusted in the app.
TapFly can be a great relief on large flight stretches. Especially if you want to operate the camera independently during the flight.
We already know the Point of Interest mode from the Phantom 3 series. In this mode the drone moves around a predetermined starting point and orbits the object.
The speed, direction and length of the radius can be set in the DJI GO app.
This mode is especially useful if you have a viewpoint such as a tower, church or plateau that you want to circle.
In Dronie Quickshot modes, the drone flies backwards and upwards at an angle you specify. The Air will fly away at a variable speed according to the parameters you set.
This allows you to produce some very spectacular shots. However, it is important to note that there must be enough space to the rear and upwards to allow the drone to fly far enough.
Ultra-HD resolution is possible in this mode.
As the name suggests, in this mode the drone circles around a fixed point. This can either be an object of your choosing or it can be yourself.
In the app you can set the radius, the direction and the speed. Be careful, however, as Mavic Air does not have a lateral obstacle detection system on board, like the Phantom 4 Pro.
Ultra-HD resolution is possible in this mode.
In this mode, Mavic rotates around a fixed point. The drone rises in altitude and gradually increases its flight radius.
With this mode we have produced very cool aerial shots during our holidays. For example, if you are standing on an observation tower, this quickshot mode is perfect for taking a great shot.
In the DJI Go app you can also set speed, direction and starting point.
Ultra-HD resolution is possible in this mode as well.
In Rocket Mode, the drone flies vertically upwards like a rocket and takes a spectacular video shot from above.
You can adjust the height to which the drone should climb in the app. You can also set the speed.
Ultra-HD resolution is possible in this mode.
The Boomerang flight mode lets the drone fly the path of a boomerang. The route looks exactly the same as if you were to launch a boomerang and it returns to the exact same place where it started.
In practice the shots look really extraordinary with this mode.
You can adjust the radius as well as the speed in the app.
It is possible to set a resolution in Ultra-HD.
The Asteroid mode is the most spectacular flight mode DJI Mavic Air has to offer. In this mode, the drone takes an all-round shot and then calculates a very chic round “world”.
You can definitely impress everyone in your family with this mode.
The environment can be captured at Full-HD (1920×1080) resolution. Unfortunately DJI does not offer a higher resolution for this mode.
Nevertheless, Asteroid is my new favourite mode which I use almost everywhere by now because it makes even the most boring square look very cool.
Conclusion about Mavic Air
Many hobby pilots consider Mavic Air, the latest camera drone produced by the Chinese manufacturer DJI, to be the best comparable product currently available on the market. Safety technology, high portability, the impressive cam and last but not least, of course, the price all contribute to this.