DJI Mavic Air - The Best Budget Drone Available
Looking for a portable drone that shoots 4K at 100 Mbps? Then look no further.
Adding to its already extensive product line, DJI recently released the DJI Mavic Air, earlier this year. For those of you unfamiliar with the drones DJI carries, the following are the different lines DJI currently offers:
Best known for: These larger drones do not come with a built-in camera but are instead used to fly hevier, professional camera setups. They require 6 propellers vs the 4 that all other DJI drones use.
Cost: $1,999 to $20K+, depending on the model and setup you go with (they also have interchangeable lenses on the newer models).
Best known for: These are the cinematic cameras that are used on commercial grade shoots, as well as feature films. They shoot the best possible picture you can get unless you’re operating a drone, plane or helicopter that actually carries a separate camera.
Cost: $599 to $1499
Best known for: The Phantom line is right under the Inspire series. Not quite as great quality wise but they are close in picture and a lot easier to transport. They are often used for lower budget productions and stock footage.
Best known for: Portability. The Mavic has been the traveling vlogger’s dream since its release. It shoots 4K and is much smaller than both the Phantom and Inspire series.
Best known for: Extreme portability. While still under the Mavic line, the Mavic Air is even more portable than it’s predecessor. A hybrid between the Spark and Mavic Pro, this drone Still has the ability to shoot 4K, and literally fits in the palm of your hand.
Best known for: This drone is DJI’s cheapest option and is more or less a toy. The Spark only shoots in 1080 HD, has a 2-axis gimbal and flight time of about 16 minutes.
While all of these drones are great, they serve completely different purposes are were designed for different drone pilots. For the sake of this article, we will be highlighting why the Mavic Air is one of the best drones you can get for the price.
For its size, the camera on this tiny drone is quite impressive. Rocking an onboard camera that integrates a 1/2.312-megapixel CMOS sensor and an f/2.8 lens with a 35-mm equivalent focal length of 24 mm, it shoots 12-megapixel stills and 4K video (24 and 30fps), up to 100Mbps. It also supports 2.5K at 60fps and Full HD at up to 120fps for slow motion. The camera is of course stabilized by a three-axis gimbal, which is newly redesigned to give this drone much more stability.
For stills, the Mavic Air also has the ability to shoot HDR, which can help capture the correct exposure and a great deal of dynamic range for those not wanting to constantly shoot multiple exposures and edit them together in post-processing. The Asteroid feature, new to the DJI series, is also quite cool to play with and allows you to easily create a 32 megapixel, spherical planet from any area you’re currently at.
Its ISO ranges from 100-1600 for video and 100-3200 for stills in manual mode. We’ve found that the narrower ISO range doesn’t affect image quality, except in low light conditions. The images below, taken by photographer Pat Kay show a few sample environments where the Mavic Air excels.
Form Factor and Portability
As mentioned, the Mavic Air literally fits in the palm of your hand (or in your pocket). The foldable design, similar to the Mavic Pro, easily breaks down and only weighs 430 grams. DJI also added a few small legs that allow the drone to stand when preparing for takeoff.
The controller, which clips onto a smartphone, also now has removable joysticks - making the set that much more compact and portable. Unfortunately, the Air’s controller doesn’t include the built-in screen for telemetry that the Pro has, so you can’t just pop in your phone and quickly have all of the flight info immediately available.
DJI advertises that the drone flies on a single battery for 21 minutes. Although we’ve found that in real time, it’s more like 18 minutes. While this is less than every other DJI drone (with the exception of the Spark), it isn’t terribly short. However, we would highly recommend purchasing one of the bundle pack options ($999 or $1,298), which comes with a few spare battery replacements.
With a top speed of 40mph and maximum transmission distance of 2.5 miles (with a controller), this drone can still go pretty quick and far. However, given that it relies on Wi-Fi video transmission instead of radio frequency, it does not have as strong of a connection as its more expensive siblings. But we’re happy to say that we have yet to experience any issues with this in normal flight conditions.
This thing has near-perfect obstacle avoidance. We’ve even seen videos of people flying the drone, hitting rocks and/or trees, only to miraculously save itself from crashing. For those of you who have flown a drone before, this is something that doesn't happen too often.
Similar to many of the other DJI drones, the Mavic Air also comes with a variety of gesture controls and flight modes, including ActiveTrack, Asteroid, Boomerang, Rocket, Dronie, Circle, Helix, SmartCapture and Tapfly.
The Mavic Air also has 8GB of internal storage built in. This is great for anyone who normally forgets their SD cards. If you're not a fan of using SD cards, then you can also use the USB-C port for transferring content instead.
Recent Updates and Conclusion
Since it’s release, there have also been a few innovations in the drone world that are worth mentioning.
Parrot, which has always been a lesser competitor drone to DJI has just released their new Parrot Anafi, which is a 4K/HDR foldable drone that shoots 21-megapixel stills. It also has a flight time of 25 minutes and costs $699. Although we haven’t been able to test it yet, it will be interesting to see how the two stack up against each other.
DJI also recently released an announcement date to “see the bigger picture” - an event that was originally scheduled to be held in New York on the July 18th. However, with a recently leaked photo of the Mavic 2, DJI has postponed the event, stating that they want to ensure they can “exceed customers’ expectations for our technology by the time of the event… and deliver according to our standard of innovation.”
So until any more information on the Mavic 2 is released, the Mavic Air still takes the cake for the best budget drone available. If you’re interested in purchasing one, then click here. If you’ve had experience flying this drone or have any questions, then feel free to leave us a note in the comments section below. Also, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest news on DJI and other dronie reads.