DJI Mavic Air - Review
A review by Jack Barker
I was very excited to learn that we were welcoming DJI into our product family at Simply Computing as I’ve been eyeing myself the Mavic Air since it was announced! What caught my interest was its size, portability and wealth of features and 4K sensor. So, I picked up the Mavic Air Fly More Combo ($1349). The value of the Fly More Combo far exceeds the additional cost of purchasing all the gear separately. Along with the standard gear - Mavic Air, one battery, controller and small travel case - The Fly More Combo comes with an extra set of propellers, two additional batteries (three total), a charging hub that supports 4 batteries and has two USB ports for charging the controller at the same time leaving one USB port to charge your phone or any other USB accessories you might have and a battery-to-USB adapter that allows you to use one of the drone batteries as a USB charger for immediate charging needs. The Fly More Combo also very nice travel bag that packs it all in together and has room for additional accessories if you like!
Unboxing and first impressions:
Getting unboxed and set up was pretty straight forward: following instructions, downloading the companion app (DJI Go 4), removing warning stickers and prepping for my first flight. Once paired, it prompted to update firmware and agree to all the necessary terms and conditions. Familiarizing myself with basic controls and performing a quick calibration and I was ready to launch!
I first tried it in my house. I was very cautious and only took off to a couple feet up. The Mavic Air kicked up a fair amount of wind and quickly rose and paused in place. I was immediately impressed with the responsiveness to the controls and apparent stabilization. I expected a bit of drift, but the Air seemed to know exactly where it was and didn’t budge from its hover. Panning around and working with the controls were a breeze it landed softly and safely with very little effort. Next up: Outdoors!
I was initially concerned that my $1349 investment might be blown away as there was a bit of a breeze about. However, taking off and bringing it up to my eye level again was impressively responsive and it again stabilized right in front of me. I took it up to about 30 meters and panned around and pressed the Return To Home button. It landed itself within a foot of where I took off.
Taking the Air out for more of a real flight in the park - I was impressed with its speed, responsiveness, stability and performance. Flying out to distances beyond where I can see or hear it, the Air put me at ease as it connected to 16 satellites with pinpoint location and it streamed back crisp, clean 720p video to the controller keeping me in the game.
I was thoroughly impressed with the stability of the Mavic Air, at high altitude and decent wind velocity, but more so impressed with the image stability that the Air offered with it’s 3-axis gimbal and it’s onboard camera that integrates a 1/2.3” 12-Megapixel CMOS sensor and an f/2.8 lens with a 35-mm equivalent focal length of 24mm. Video quality at 4K was sharp, and the automatic exposure settings seemed to get the landscape and adjusted appropriately. Along with automatic settings, the Mavic Air offers a myriad of professional-grade settings that let you take full-control of the camera providing breathtaking images and video - including RAW formats, Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) and High Dynamic Range (HDR). The Mavic Air shoots video at an incredible 4K 30 fps, recording at 100 Mbps to capture every second with UHD quality. The Mavic Air also supports recording 1080p at 120 fps slow-motion video, allowing you to create epic video of your epic adventures!
The Mavic Air offers front, bottom and rear proximity sensors that allow you to fly safely and help you to keep out of trouble areas and to avoid obstacles. They also provide the assist for smooth landings on the ground as well as in your hand! While you’re descending for a landing, all I had to do was place my open hand directly under the Air as it approached. It slowed and then softly landed in my palm and spun-down the propellers.
The Mavic Air provides a slick new set of automated features that will help you to create cinematic video with very little effort or, in my case: skill! Some of these features include SmartCapture, ActiveTrack and QuickShots.
SmartCapture is an automated way to launch, fly, land as well as taking photos and videos with the ease of using hand gestures. After a quick tutorial within the DJI Go 4 app and a couple tries, I was able to launch the Air, fly it around me, take a selfie (dronie??), and land it - using only my hands. Truly impressive technology that feels way ahead of it’s time!
ActiveTrack is probably my favourite automated feature that is super-simple, but also very useful for an active person who wants to grab some great footage, literally on the go! You simply launch the drone, select ActiveTrack, pick a subject - yourself, or a friend - and the Mavic Air will follow the subject, avoid obstacles and take some great footage of whatever activity you’re crushing at the moment! One way I really enjoy using this feature is by selecting the subject, start shooting and then simply pushing left or right on the control to capture a fun and smooth moving orbit effect.
DJI has also included a slick new set of features to the Mavic Air called QuickShots. QuickShots are 6 automated actions the Air will do while recording video - Rocket, Dronie, Circle, Helix, Asteroid, and Boomerang.
Rocket mode starts out up-close and personal, focused on your subject then smoothly lifts up and away to about 30 metres giving you an epic top-down view of your surroundings.
Dronie mode also starts out focussed on your subject then moves up and out giving you a much larger view of the landscape behind you.
Circle Mode starts out a small distance away and above the subject and then circles them. Simple but very effective!
Helix mode starts out close to your subject and uses the ActiveTrack sensing feature to circle the subject and goes out further and further as it circles.
Boomerang mode will help you to capture cinematic shots that start out focussed on your subject, slowly and smoothly circles out and away, slowing behind you to capture the surrounding landscape then slowly comes back around to the start point. Great for those contemplative shots where you’re enjoying a day at the beach or admiring a beautiful sunset from the top of a mountain.
Asteroid Mode is a fun one! Starting out close to the front of your subject it pulls out and up then it will take a set of panoramic shots while high in the air. The Air will stitch these shots together and process them immediately in the drone. One more time: It processes them IN-DRONE! Very impressive!
One of the best features is the Cinematic Mode. This allows you to fly and move the drone while recording and your movements are smooth and fluid. What normally takes years of experience as a professional drone pilot just got automated! Capturing smooth cinematic moving shots has never been made easier and perhaps my favourite feature of the Mavic Air!
Getting it under Control!
When it comes to controllers, this one feels natural. Perhaps all the years of video games? Likely. Which makes this controller feel right at home in your hands. The compact size fits right in the palm of your hands giving you easy, familiar access to the buttons, wheel and toggles. The controller also has removable control sticks that fit snugly inside the phone grips that make this controller very portable and can fit in your pocket! It comes with a variety of connection cables to accommodate nearly any smartphone. I connected my iPhone XS Max without any issues to the built-in lightning cable and fit it snugly into the grips. The controller is well balanced and easy to use!
There are a few accessories in the wild for the Mavic Air, but one that I’d recommend is a nice set of ND filters. The Mavic Air has a removable ring on the camera lens that allows you to fit on some high-quality filters. I’ve used a set of PolarPro ND and Polarizer filters that will help you cut-down on blowing-out bright areas in your video or reflective glare when shooting over water.
Bringing it home.
The Mavic Air has a Return To Home feature that allows you to press a button on the controller to bring your Air back home to you. The Air will stop what it’s doing you’re in an automated mode, or if you’ve gone beyond where you can see or hear it, take it to a predetermined altitude (which you can set) return via a straight-line back to either the location where you took off, or to where the controller is - all determined by you - then sets it down softly right in front of you. If you’re flying around trees or obstacles, be sure to set your RTH height well above them so you don’t run into anything.
With all the features packed into the Mavic Air, the true winner here is the compact size! Weighing in just under 500 grams and folding up to about 6 x 4 x 2 inches makes this extremely portable. Tucked away in the included carrying case it’s the perfect companion for hiking, biking, camping, picnics, family gatherings or a sunny day at the beach! With the Fly More Combo, you’ll have about a full hour of flight time to really enjoy and capture all the amazing footage of whatever hijinks you get into!
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