Hands-on Gear Review

DJI Mavic Air Review

Editors' Choice Award
Price:   $800 List | $799.00 at Amazon
Pros:  Great video quality, portable, easy to use, many intelligent flight modes
Cons:  Expensive, relatively short battery life
Bottom line:  Top of the line consumer drone for travel
Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
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  • 5
Video Resolutions:  4K, 2.7K, 1080p, 720p
Weight:  0.95 lb
Max Claimed Flight Time:  21 minutes
Manufacturer:   DJI

Our Verdict

For those seeking a drone that produces great footage in an unbelievably portable package, the DJI Mavic Air is the best option available. It is loaded with features including new autonomous flight modes, an unlikely folding design, and a better camera than that of the Mavic Pro. We were impressed with the balance struck between performance and portability. Even though it's a bit heavier than the DJI Spark, the Air has a much better camera and takes up the same amount of space in a bag. The Air will not disappoint if you're looking for something that can be tossed into a backpack and carried to even the most remote locations. DJI has created a new standard for portable consumer drones with the Mavic Air. We couldn't find any drones in its price range with similar cameras that are comparably portable, making it our favorite drone that we have tested.

Should I Get the Mavic Pro or Mavic Air?

Making a decision between the Mavic Pro and Mavic Air is difficult because of how similar these two drones are to one another and it seems like DJI has created a bit of competition within its own drone lineup with the Air. Both drones have identical camera sensors, but the Pro has a higher video ISO range, a slightly narrower field of view, and a lower video bitrate than the Air. Overall the Air has a superior camera but its gimbal isn't as effective at reducing stabilization as the Pro's The Mavic Pro also has much more automatic sharpening and saturation in its footage, which led us to be partial to the Air.

We spoke with DJI's customer service and they said that the main performance differences between drones are in their flight capabilities and battery lives. The Mavic Pro batteries have 27 minutes of flight time while the Mavic Air's batteries only last 21 minutes. Both have comparable maximum speeds that exceed 40 mph. The Mavic Pro also has a flight range of 4.35 miles compared to the Air's 2.49 miles. If you aren't concerned with the differences between their cameras we recommend the Pro if you want to maximize battery life and flight range and the Air if you want an unbelievably portable high-performance drone. Read on for further detail about how the Mavic Air stacks up against other drones that we tested.



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Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Max Mutter and Steven Tata

Last Updated:
Tuesday
March 13, 2018

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We spent a lot of time flying the Mavic Air alongside the Spark and Mavic Pro to see how these three drones stack up against one another. The latter two drones can be used for many of the same applications and have plenty of overlapping features with the Air.

Performance Comparison


To find out which drone truly topped them all, we bought all of the top products on the market today and flew them side-by-side, testing everything from their flying skills to their video quality. We divided these tests among five weighted metrics — Video Quality, Video Downlink, Flight Performance, Ease of Use, and Portability — with the results of the Mavic Air compared to the rest of the group described in the following sections.

Video Quality


The camera on the Mavic Air took excellent footage and photos which are far better than anything shot by comparably sized drones. It beat the Mavic Pro in video quality and has less automatic sharpening and oversaturation baked into its images. This makes the Air's footage much easier to edit and adjust later, where we sometimes felt that the Pro was a bit limiting when it came to post-processing. The Air scored an 8 out of 10 in this metric while the Pro only earned a 7. In well-lit settings, we found that the Air's camera produced realistic, in-focus, footage with accurate colors and sharpness. Like the Phantom 4 Pro+ it records at a bitrate of 100 Mbps, compared to the Pro's bitrate of 60 Mbps. This reduces compression and improves the overall video quality.




We liked the HDR photos produced by the Air and found them to be less dramatic than those of the Pro but much more realistic. This is useful if you want to get good shots of backlit settings without spending a lot of time stitching shots or post-processing multiple images.

The Mavic Air's HDR capabilities were useful for shooting backlit scenes or landscapes with high contrast.
The Mavic Air's HDR capabilities were useful for shooting backlit scenes or landscapes with high contrast.

A new "Asteroid" Quickshot mode creates a spherical panorama and a "Boomerang" mode shoots from an elliptical orbit. Below you can find an example of this feature.



These new functions aren't in any other drones and the Asteroid mode is completely unique to the Air in the realm of consumer drones.

The panorama mode of the Mavic Air only provides you with individual photos that you have to stitch together on a photo editing software. When you take a panoramic photo with the drone it automatically sweeps a large area from one location, ensuring that photos will stitch smoothly. Below is a panoramic photo that the Air created from 25 individual still shots. We scaled down the resolution and adjusted it to have a rectangular shape.
By using a photo editing software you can stitch together panoramic shots from the Mavic Air. When you use this setting it saves the individual shots to a separate folder.
By using a photo editing software you can stitch together panoramic shots from the Mavic Air. When you use this setting it saves the individual shots to a separate folder.

Ease of Use


Like DJI's other drones, the Mavic Air is incredibly simple to use. This earned it a 9 out of 10 for its stellar performance in this metric — one of the highest scores of the group, as shown below.


We had it in the air within 15 minutes of taking it out of the box and found the DJI GO 4 app's menus to be intuitive and straightforward. You're prompted about updates automatically when the drone is first turned on and, if necessary, they typically don't take longer than 10 minutes to complete. It is easiest to check for updates at home before you go out and fly, especially if you don't use your drone frequently.

The Air's controller felt very similar to those of the Mavic Pro and Spark. It doesn't have a display like the Pro but the sticks felt almost identical and didn't feel different for flying. The sticks are removable and can be stored inside the controller when it is folded shut, making it much more portable than any other drone controller that we used.

Unlike any other drone in the DJI lineup, the Air has 8 GB of internal storage, which will save the day if you forget to bring a microSD card. This is a pretty limited amount of space for shooting in 4K but works fine for quick clips and photos.

Flight Performance


The Mavic Air has plenty of autonomous flight features and can be controlled through hand gestures, which is also a feature of the Spark and Mavic Pro. It received a 9 in this metric and performed as well as the Mavic Pro. Despite its size, it didn't get pushed around much in high winds and still managed to hit its top speed of 42 mph. The Air's gimbal began to struggle to get clear footage facing forward past 25 mph. You can see how the Air stacked up against the rest of the pack in the chart below.


The Air has forward, backward, and downward obstacle avoidance, while both the Mavic Pro and Spark lack backward obstacle sensors. The backward obstacle avoidance is especially helpful for using intelligent flight modes where you have to estimate distances of objects behind the drone.

Video Downlink


We experienced almost no lag in the Mavic Air's downlink and found it to be reliable when flying in areas with minimal interference. The Air has a range of almost 2.5 miles, while the Mavic Pro's range is almost 4.4 miles. This earned the Air an 8, compared to the 9 of the Pro, as shown below.


We flew over 2000 feet from the controller and didn't experience any issues with the video feed or controls. The downlink is one area where the Pro has a clear advantage. Generally, we don't recommend pushing the limits on any of these drones and suggest you keep them close enough to where you can maintain a clear view of the drone while flying. However, if you are planning on flying further away from you, the Pro is much more suitable than the Air.

The DJI Mavic Air's folding design and light weight enable you to take it anywhere.
The DJI Mavic Air's folding design and light weight enable you to take it anywhere.

Portability


Being as portable as the Spark and packing as much of a cinematic punch as the Mavic Pro makes the Mavic Air an unparalleled travel drone. This earned the Air a 9 out of 10 when it comes to portability — tying for the Spark for the best of the bunch, as shown below.


The base model comes with a soft case that is smaller than most water bottles and easy to pack into most daypacks with an innovative folding design that is similar to that of the Pro. In its basic case, with a single battery and controller, the Air only weighs 1.8 pounds, less than a liter of water. The more expensive Fly More Combo bundle includes a small travel bag that fits the drone, controller, 3 batteries, propeller guards, and still has plenty of room for cables and miscellaneous accessories. The Air was designed to be a travel-ready powerhouse and we can't think of any place too remote to fly it.

DJI's Mavic Air (left)  Mavic Pro (center)  and (Spark) each strike difference balances of performance and portability.
DJI's Mavic Air (left), Mavic Pro (center), and (Spark) each strike difference balances of performance and portability.

Our favorite portability feature of the Mavic Air is the controller's detachable control sticks. This is a subtle improvement from the Spark and Mavic Pro controllers but made the controller feel much less vulnerable to damage when we tossed it inside into a full backpack.

The Mavic Air's detachable control sticks made the controller feel much less delicate when packed into a bag with other items.

Value


At $800 the Mavic Air is a relatively expensive camera drone that provides a great value given its performance. If you're looking for a portable drone with a great camera then it is your only option aside from the larger and more expensive Mavic Pro, which lists for $1000. With the Air you get the best features of the Pro in a compact drone that has plenty of features and produces impressive footage.

Conclusion


Overall we think that the Mavic Air is a groundbreaking drone that builds on DJI's already impressive lineup of consumer drones. You'd be hard-pressed to find a model that can produce comparable footage in such a portable package and the Air is in a class of its own as a travel drone.

Max Mutter and Steven Tata

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