Powerful performance in a super compact body, the Mavic Air has been making strides since DJI rolled the red carpet on a smaller, lighter, and smarter drone on 2018. Designed for adventurers, travel bloggers, and explorers around the world, the ultraportable quadcopter is an excellent option for enthusiasts that don't want to invest in its bigger brother, the Mavic Pro.
DJI's growing fleet is now bolstered by a cheaper yet more recommendable drone that in many ways resembles its much-complimented bigger brother. The Mavic Air pretty much mirrors the latter in both design and hardware. However, the Air is lighter and more compact thanks to the revolutionary Spark DNA technology.
For those looking for casual use without the bulk of the Mavic Pro, and the limited view of the DJI Spark, the Mavic Air would be the go-to choice. But before you go on to decide, we’ve tested the unit for what it's worth, if you want to know more, read on!
DJI Mavic Air Review
What we like:
What we don't like:
Summary: The DJI Mavic Air is the best "small" drone currently one the market. It's perfect for travel, comes with a ton of flight systems that make it insanely easy to operate and it's affordable.
What's in the Box?
DJI offers two options for the would-be owners of the Mavic Air. A standard pack that includes all the necessary peripherals for flying, and the Fly More Combo, for reference you can check our quick list below.
- The drone
- Remote controller
- Gimbal protector
- RC cable slider (large)
- 2 RC cable slider (small)
- 4 Propellers
- Propeller Guard Set
- RC cable
- Communication cable
- USB Adaptor
- Carrying Case
When purchasing the Fly More Combo, you get all of the above as well as: 2 additional batteries, 2 additional propellers, a battery charging hub, a battery to power bank adaptor and a travel bag.
Specs and Features
Released on January 23, 2018, the DJI Mavic Air is designed for the adventurer, traveler, and explorer in everyone. The combination of powerful features in an ultraportable package makes it an ideal solution for travel and exploration.
We'll look at this drone's features more in-depth a little later, but a few key elements we love here at Drone Riot are;
- 32 MP Sphere Panoramas: the Mavic Air can quickly stitch together 25 photos and create a crystal-clear 32 MP Sphere panorama in just eight seconds.
- Foldable & Portable: when collapsed, the Mavic Air is just about the size of a water bottle.
- 3-Axis Gimbal & 4K Camera: In-flight vibration around the camera is significantly reduced with a 3-axis mechanical gimbal and dampeners. The camera integrates a 1/2.3" 12 MP CMOS sensor with a f/2.8 lens. When shooting video, the camera shoots 4K 30 fps recording at 100 Mbps speeds.
- 3-Directional Environmental Sensing: A feature that makes flights a little safer for less experienced pilots. The drone can sense objects around it to prevent on-air collisions.
- SmartCapture: This innovative addition allows the pilot to control the drone with hand gestures for take-off, landing, pictures, and videos.
- Respectable Flight Time: With up to 21-minutes in the air there is plenty of time to film all your travels. (Our actual tests put the flight time between 15 to 18 minutes depending on the flight conditions, but we will get to that later on in the review.)
As with all their drones, DJI has a complete list of every possible specification you could want to know on their website, www.dji.com/mavic-air/info. Here are just a few of the ones we found most important;
-Take-off Weight: 430 grams
-Dimension (L x W x H) in mm: folded 168x83x49 and unfolded 168x184x64
-Max Speed: 68.4 kph
-Max Flight Time: 21 minutes
-Sensor: 1/2.3" CMOS 12MP
-Lens: FOV: 85 degrees, 35mm format equivalent: 24mm, Aperture F/2.8, and a shooting range of 0.5mm to infinity
-Operating Frequency: 2.400-2.4835 GHz, 5.725-5.850 GHz
With the social media fostering a global culture of shared content, the Mavic Air provides helpful tools for both amateur and entry level professional enthusiasts. A few not already mentioned are;
- Impressive Slow-Motion Capture: The drone camera video recording supports 1080p 120fps slow-motion video.
- HDR Photos: The Mavic Air’s algorithms intelligently helps you find the correct settings for exposure based on the live lighting conditions. Dark areas of photos that indicate overexposure are processed to create a more natural transition between dark and light areas. Additionally, DSP acceleration allows for more efficient shooting.
- Prepacked Internal Storage: The Mavic Air comes with an internal 8 GB internal storage along with an expandable Micro SD card slot.
- ActiveTrack: A convenient feature for sports, and adventure fanatics. The Mavic air can simultaneously track 16 subjects on-the-go so you'll capture every live moment in complete detail.
- QuickShots: Pre-installed settings that allow first-time users to choose from 6 scenes for excellent aerial photography. The options include Dronie, Circle, Helix, Rocket, Boomerang, and Asteroid.
Quick Shots Explained
The camera will lock onto a subject and record video while flying away with the target as a focal point.
The camera locks on to a subject and orbits around them. Perfect for travelogs and creative videography.
A combination of the first two modes. The drone locks on to the subject and rotates around it as it hovers away from the starting position.
The drone starts with a fixed point on the ground and records the video as it flies straight up to a predetermined height.
The drone captures the video as it travels back to you like a boomerang.
The drone focuses on the subject while flying to a peak point to capture a panoramic photograph.
Fluid and aesthetically pleasing, the Mavic Air is a gorgeous drone. Its folding design mimics the Mavic Pro albeit in a smaller more stowable body. Numbers-wise, it's 41% lighter than the latter and is at least half of its size.
When folded, the Mavic Air is 32% smaller in terms of surface area to the DJI Spark. But the biggest draw is its ultraportable carry case that makes it comparable to everyday objects like books, and over-ear headphone cases.
DJI also equipped it with a 3-axis mechanical gimbal, and it's by far one of the smallest drones to have such a feature. Company engineers had to implement a recessed niche at the front of the unit to protect the gimbal. Despite the design, the battery still conveniently snaps into the bottom of the drone without any problems.
Hardware wise, the Mavic Air is packed with optical sensors and the patented FlightAutonomy 2.0. It enables the Mavic Air to see and learn its surrounding environment and determine its orientation. Furthermore, this technology gives users a reliable and safe flying experience.
The drone's flight is also well engineered. A Field Oriented Control (FOC) sinusoidal drive architecture and Electronic Speed Control (ESC) allows for a smoother motor communication process. For the pilot, this means a more efficient flight with less vibration.
Built within the landing gear is a new Wi-Fi video transmission system that supports both 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz frequency bands. This allows a 720p live view from up to four kilometers away. A fantastic feature if you are looking to pair the Mavic Air with the DJI Goggles for an FPV flight.
The Charm of the Spark and Boldness of the Mavic Pro
If you've ever wondered what the lovechild of the Mavic Pro and Spark would be like, it will look exactly like the Mavic Air. It begins with emulating the compact features of the Spark, and the Mavic Pro's foldable prop design. With the changes in place, the Mavic Air itself is small enough to be stowed on a backpack.
When folded and stowed in its case, the Mavic Air's 166 x 83 x 49mm dimensions are perfect for quick trips. Since its 41% lighter than the Mavic Pro, stowing it won't be a problem. Unfolded the drone stretches its four arms to a total dimension of 168 * 184 * 64mm.
DJI offers three colors to the fray, the standard Arctic White, the elegant Onyx Black, and the friend of the bold, Flame Red. Combined with the contours, and the subtle finish, the Mavic Air's design isn't as aggressive as its bigger brothers. In fact, it seems to appear mild, and near bystanders agree that it has a friendlier overall look.
The controller is similar to the Pro minus the display, and the thumbsticks need to be attached before the flight. It also lacks the second dial that adjusts the exposure.
Wifi Isn’t as Great as Advertised, But APAS Rocks
Surprisingly we've run some trouble with the initial pairing before the flight. Compared to its bigger brother, the Mavic Air uses Wi-Fi rather than the trusty Radio Frequency (RF). We did not actually know what caused the pairing issues, but some updates to the firmware might solve the problem.
In RF you'd get fantastic coverage, but Wi-Fi isn't that bad. We've never ventured past the four-kilometer mark because I prefer to fly the drone within my line of sight. Strangely though, I did lose the video link on some occasions, but the footage was intact.
The Wi-Fi thing was a bit alarming, but the Air's newest flying assist mode called APAS (Advanced Pilot Assistance System) is something to behold. It's a beginners bane to crash their brand new drones off a wall or a tree, (I did several times) but APAS totally prevents it from happening.
We've tested it on several obstructions, and it makes DJI's primary obstacle avoidance system obsolete. The big difference? APAS allows the drones to fly past them instead of coming to a full stop. I tried it to trees, poles, and people, the drone would elegantly hover away at the object. If the reading area is poor though it will just hover in place.
Camera Isn’t the Best, But it Does its Job
The Mavic Air's camera isn't the best, but it beats other drones on the same category by a mile. It even outmatched the Mavic Pro in terms of video quality, it does not overcompensate colors like the latter.
In my experience, the Mavic Pro drives its images with automatic sharpening and oversaturation. Although it has some advantages, overcompensating the footage can make it difficult in post-production.
In well-lit environments, the Mavic Air's 12 MP camera produced realistic footage with accurate colors and sharpness. It also records the video at a bitrate of 100 Mbps, outmatching the Pro by at least 40 Mbps. This results in better video quality and reduced compression.
In some cases, the Mavic Air does lack a little dynamic range and can lose some details, especially on bright and glaring subjects. It also suffers in lowlight environments and isn't as professionally tuned as the Mavic 2 Pro.
Still, images are perfect in well-lit places, but as soon as you start shooting a scene with a high contrast environment, the picture falls flat. In lower light, dark areas of the photo has a lot of noise and suffer from a lack of details. The consolation though is the Air's ability to shoot RAW files, it gives users more flexibility in editing and post-processing.
Flying is as Easy as A B C
Like all drones on the DJI fleet, the Mavic Air is incredibly simple to use, but it is by far one of the easiest one to fly. I had it hovering around for 15 minutes, and it was pure joy and bliss. The DJI GO 4 apps are self-explanatory and pretty straightforward.
Its controller felt similar to the Mavic Pro minus the display, but the sticks felt almost identical. The Mavic Air also features plenty of autonomous flight modes and can be controlled through hand gestures.
On our tests, the nimble drone managed to circumvent rough winds with ease, we didn't push the drone to its maximum speed, but we managed to hit 64 kph. The three-axis gimbal prevented unwanted distractions on the footage, and it did well in transitioning scenes.
But the one that stole the show was its APAS technology. Beginners would find it easier to fly, the Mavic Pro and DJI Spark lack backward obstacle sensors, but the Mavic air has a 360 coverage on obstacles.
We weren't sure if the 21-minute maximum flight time was accurate, but we had the drone flying for about 15 minutes, and the battery indicator was getting low. We would advise an extra battery pack to avoid inconvenience when you are up for a long shoot.
Charging the battery
Using the included charger and Intelligent Flight Battery is easy to plug and charge. It takes about 55 minutes to charge a fully drained battery.
Setting Up the Controller
To operate the drone, the remote first needs to be opened and connected to a phone or small tablet.
The lower arms of the controller move down and out. Small metal joysticks can be seen in their storage recess once the arms are extended. Remove the joysticks and screw them into the large circles on the face of the controller.
Next, select the RC Cable that matched your device and plug it into the controller. The extended arms will cradle most smartphones securely.
You can then power the controller on by pressing the power button in the top right-hand corner of the controller. Press the button once and release. Then, press a second time and hold it down until the four white LED lights turn on visible under the words "Mavic Air" on the controller.
You will need to open the DJI Go 4 app on your smartphone to complete the setup. The app is available for iPhone and Android devices.
Setting Up the Mavic Air
Setting up the Mavic Air is fast and straightforward. It takes only a few seconds to go from storage to flight.
Remove the drone from its carrying case. Extend all four arms out. The forward arms fold out while the rear arms roll into place. The landing gear are located on the front arms and are also folded out into place.
The battery is clipped into place in the recess under the drone.
Finally, carefully remove the gimbal cover from the camera.
To power on, push the battery on button twice. Once the controller and drone connects, you are ready to go!
For those willing to spend a little more on the initial investment, the Fly More Combo is by far the best deal for you. It will provide you everything you need.
For the standard combo, we recommend getting a few more accessories to get the most out of the Mavic Air. Have at least two batteries. With almost an hour needed to charge one battery a fun day of flying can quickly become a drag when you only have one battery to play with until another hour of charge time passes. Ideally, we like to have four batteries with us when we fly the Mavic Air. Two is the absolute minimum we would recommend.
Extra sets of propellers are a must. One move too close to an object can quickly destroy your propellers. Always carry at least one additional full set of propellers with you whenever you take your drone out.
Finally, we would recommend a landing pad. There are numerous on the market. The low profile of the Mavic Air allows it to disappear into the grass or other similar terrain features quickly. A landing pad provides a flat surface where propellers can spin up without doubling as a mini lawnmower.
The Mavic Air has many imitators given the success of the drone. Some of these are very cheap knockoffs sold for under $100. For this comparison, we do not consider these drones to be alternatives. There are however two drones we feel are within the same category that may be worth looking at; the Parrot Anafi and Yuneec Mantis Q.
The Parrot Anafi is in the same price range as the Mavic Air and is newer to the market.
"ANAFI is the new generation of drone."
- This lightweight drone is a great solution for filming and capturing images for professionals and beginners alike
- 4K camera has HDR capability and unlike competitors in drones of this size a 180 degree tilt gimbal and 2.8X zoom lens.
- Highly portable size.
- Quiet and resistant to extreme weather conditions, and an advertised 25 minutes of flight.
- Your purchase includes 2 months of Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan, a $20.00 value!
Yuneec's Mantis Q costs about $200 less and has a design similar to the Mavic Air. Here are a few things you should know about the Mantis:
Mantis Q is portable and great for travel. Designed for adventures, the drone's light weight makes it ideal for backpacking and on the go shots. Featuring voice control as well as visual tracking this drone will be your travel companion as you explore the world. The advertised flight time is 33 minutes. The camera takes respectable images and video.
While both drones are more recent additions to the market, the Mavic Air still seems to be a more attractive buy given a similar price point as the alternatives with much better design and features.
The DJI Mavic Air was released in early 2018 to much fanfare and critical acclaim. Over a year later the model continues to impress both in design and functionality.
The drone's numerous innovative design specifications allow for safe and reliable aerial adventures for both the newbie and the experienced pilot.
The built-in features compliment the ability of the camera to bring quality photos and videos to life with little to no post-production needed. Content can quickly be delivered from the drone to any number of platforms or even live in 720p video.
DJI delivered a perfect drone for the traveler. Whether you plan to explore the ins and outs of your local city park or adventure into the unknown in search of lost civilizations the Mavic Air is a great choice. Cost, capabilities, and fun are all a part of this drone even over a year since it was released. If you haven’t already, get yourself a DJI Mavic Air!