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DJI Mavic Air Review - Still the Compact Camera Drone for the Masses?

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DJI has taken the lead in consumer affordable air borne drones but with professional grade features that anyone can afford and pilot like the Mavic Air!
DJI Mavic Air Review - Still the Compact Camera Drone for the Masses?
The Mavic Air

DJI released the Mavic Air in January of 2018 with heavy emphasis on its from the ground-up design to be able to carry the latest and greatest technology in the smallest possible form factor.

This is the result of its folding mechanisms that lower the overall footprint when not in use.
The controller
The controller

It also featured the latest object avoidance technology and subject tracking technology that has made DJI drones easy to pilot and easy to use for photographers and videographers worldwide.

How does it stack up after 1 year though? Let's find out!

Unboxing/Accessories

Inside the box
Inside the box

We received the unit with the retail box that includes the camera body, the quick start guide, the manual, the charging brick with round prong plugs, the camera strap, the triangle lugs with inserting tool, the battery and the external flash.

We also did a live unboxing on Facebook.

Build Quality/Design

Two guidance sensors and the 4K gimbal camera
Two guidance sensors and the 4K gimbal camera

The concept, design and execution of the Mavic Air is astounding! For it be able to fold into a compact package but still contain features like object avoidance and a 4K gimbal camera with a near 20 minute fly time is astounding!


To be able to fly efficiently and be able to fold into itself, the Mavic Air uses a mix of metal and solid high quality polycarbonate materials aside from the electronic parts. These parts feel incredibly solid but is lightweight.
From the top
From the top

From above, the Mavic Air looks sexy because of its curves for better aerodynamics while at the bottom is the battery compartment with regulatory information, bottom sensing guidance sensors and the gimbal protector.
At the back is rear guide LED light, two guidance sensors and port flap
At the back is rear guide LED light, two guidance sensors and port flap
Side view extended
Side view extended
Side view folded
Side view folded

In front are the two DJI "Guidance" cameras that uses visual and ultrasonic sensors with advanced computer algorithms to detect obstacles in-real time. Below it is the 4K camera with gimbal.

The rear contains two more of the guidance sensors, rear guide LED light and the port flap. Inside the port flap is the microSD card slot and the USB-C port for charging.

When extended, the battery release switch is visible from the side. When folded the front guide LEDs are clearly visible along with the front folded landing feet.

Battery

Battery life could have been better
Battery life could have been better

The drone's battery is a 2,375mAh Li-Po battery while the controller has a 2,970mAh battery. 


The Intelligent Flight battery that is inserted into the drone has a button and 4-LED lights beside it. When pressed once, it indicates how much power it has left inside. When pressed twice with the second press held longer serves to turn on the drone.

It takes under an hour for the drone battery to get from 0 to 100 percent while providing 18 to 20 minutes of real-world flight time.

The controller's battery lasted around 3 hours of flight time in our time with the drone. It does take more than 3 hours and 30 minutes to charge it. We recommend charging it overnight.

We highly recommend getting the Fly More Kit with extra batteries and charging hub.

Performance

Great stills and videos
Great stills and videos

The new Mavic Air features the drastically improved obstacle avoidance system, gesture controls, maximum communication distance of 4 km with controller or 50 meters with a smartphone, and a maximum flight speed of 68.4 km/h with sport mode turned on.

Solid specs and features!

To turn on the drone and the controller, you have to press the button twice with the second one press being held until the drone or the controller beeping.

Great for stills and videos!

It features a 3-axis gimbal camera with up to 4K videos and 12MP photos. There's a 32MP sphere panoramas, 3-directional environment sensing as well as Smart Capture.If you plan to use it with your smartphone, you have to download and install the DJI Go 4 app from the Google Play Store or the iOS App store. You will be prompted to connect either by WiFi or by linking the controller directly to the drone.

The set-up process is easy to follow and listed step by step in the app and when done properly is seamless. Once the drone and the controller are connected, you may be prompted to calibrate the drone by holding it in hand and turning it in different directions. U

We were prompted to calibrate almost every time we turned the drone on which causes delay if you were in a hurry or trying to catch a decisive moment in hurry.

Once set-up and is ready to fly, the drone automatically records the exact coordinates of its origin. After it has taken off it can fly at a maximum speed of 68.4 km/h or 40 mph with object avoidance turned off with sport mode on. 

The Air is noticeably noisier than the Mavic Pro and Mavic 2 Pro/Zoom which can be a problem for people who need quieter drone applications like when taking footage of wildlife.

A new feature for the Air is the Advance Pilot Assistance System that tracks obstacles that are in the Drone's path and will reroute the drone to a safer alternative path is a great concept but because it needs to survey the area/surroundings first, it can be unpractical for pilots who limited by time.

Being lightweight and compact did not deter the Mavic Air from flying/hovering in a stable fashion in ideal sunny conditions with little to no wind. We believe that it can maintain stable flight for up to 35 km/h winds.

Unlike the Mavic Pro and Phantom drones, the Mavic Air uses WiFi to connect to your controller instead of Radio Frequency. This is the Mavic Air's most glaring issue for us because even though it says 4 km of maximum transmission range, we would never reach it because we would lose the visual feed from the Drone's camera when nearing the 2 km mark which vastly limits of distance covered which could limit the amount of footage/content you can record.

In our sample video's case, we weren't even able to have a full view of the roof deck of the Dusit Thani.

The DJI Mavic Air comes with a three-axis gimbal camera that allows for stable video footage. It however struggles with panning. In our sample video you will find that when we panned the camera it sometimes jerks around suddenly instead of smooth, buttery pan. To avoid this and to have smooth footage we recommend practicing and use cinematic mode.

The camera is capable of tracking multiple objects at the same time with Active Track. We were impressed.

It also comes with the gesture controls from the Spark that was released late last year. DJI says that they improved upon it and it does work flawlessly but we never found them practical enough for use. The 'take the selfie' gesture is nice for when you want a hands off experience but how many places allow a drone for selfies? That will depend on the user.

The new QuickShot modes called Asteroid and Boomerang are great but they feel more like novelty for Social Media sharing than anything. It's great at first but we never found a reason for using it again after the novelty wears off.

Image quality of the video and stills are improved over the previous Mavic Pro and is a significant improvement over the Spark. Most people would be happy with this. Serious videographers who need higher quality footage may want more though.

Video Samples


Pros - Innovative transformable compact design, lightweight, great stills and video footage, advance pilot assistance system makes it easier to learn to pilot
Cons - 18 minute flight time, 4 km maximum transmission distance with 2 lm limit visual feed, Fly More Kit is a requirement, noisier than Mavic Pro and Spark

Verdict

The Mavic Air is the best drone for consumers because of its near Pro grade features like the 4K video recording with the three axis gimbal, reliable subject tracking, object avoidance and the foldable lightweight design.

Our major concerns were that the 18 minute flight time, that it is noisier than the Spark/Mavic Pro and that the visual feed from the camera is limited to 2 Km and with 4 Km maximum transmission distance.

If you can live with its flaws, then the Mavic Air will be a great option for anyone who wants to start piloting drones because of its lightweight and compact design and reliable Object Avoidance system that makes it easy to pick up and learn to fly!

The Mavic Air is priced at PHP 48,800. The while the Fly More Kit is priced at PHP 61,000.

Build/Design - 4.25
Battery - 3.75
Camera - 4
Performance - 4
Average - 4
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