The Mavic Air was DJI’s first shockingly small consumer aircraft, winning over aerial photographers and videographers with its quality 4K camera and portable design. But it’s showing its age—in the two-plus years since its release, we’ve seen big improvements in battery performance for drones, and mobile imaging tech in general.
Enter the $799 Mavic Air 2. It’s bigger all around than the first edition, but is still small enough to slide into the same camera bag pocket that normally houses a 24-70mm F2.8 zoom lens. As for its camera, it’s also new, with a 48MP Quad Bayer image sensor for full-size or 12MP output.
We just received the Mavic Air 2 for review ahead of its May 11 ship date and have taken it in the air for a shakedown flight and some photos during a brief respite from rainy weather. We’ll have a full review down the road, but for now we have some early impressions to share.
A Bigger Air
The pocketable form factor is gone, but the Air 2 is still small enough to find a place in your camera bag or luggage. It measures 3.3 by 3.8 by 7.1 inches (HWD) when folded and weighs 1.3 pounds. It’s heavy enough where you’ll need to register with the FAA to fly outdoors, in contrast to the low-cost Mavic Mini.
Each propeller is mounted on its own strut, and folds in snugly against the body for storage. When they’re extended and locked into position the drone is ready to fly. You’ll need to find some flat, level ground for takeoff and landing.
The camera is mounted in the nose, steadied by a three-axis gimbal. It tilts down to get shot’s with a bird’s eye view, forward for a point-of-view effect, or anywhere in between.
The extra size and weight is well utilized. The Air 2 supports a bigger, larger-capacity battery with a promised 34-minute flight time, up from the advertised 21 minutes from the first edition. My first flight used up about 40 percent battery for 13 minutes of airtime, putting it right on pace for 30-minute-plus flights.
The Mavic has 8GB of internal storage, as well as a microSD slot for longer clips. Video is recorded at a high bit rate, 120Mbps, so you’ll want to add a 32GB or 64GB card at minimum—you can fill up the internal storage in about 15 minutes.
There are a number of safety features. Dual GPS and GLONASS systems precisely pinpoint the Mavic’s location, so it can hover almost perfectly in place. They also support automated return to home, and there’s a Find My Drone feature available to help you locate your quadcopter if you need to make an emergency landing.
It has obstacle detection sensors on the front and rear, so it won’t smack into a building or tree if you have a lapse of judgement during flight. It promises to improve automated navigation around objects—the APAS feature—but I haven’t had a chance to test it yet. There’s a sensor on the bottom too, used to help keep the drone steady when flying indoors without the aid of GPS.
And finally there’s an ADS-B transceiver, a tech that DJI is branding as AirSense. It warns you when there are other aircraft nearby. The FAA eventually wants to make ADS-B a must-have for drones operating in the US. Supply chains are constricted at this time, though, so DJI is only including it in units sold in North America at launch; it expects it to roll out to international customers by midsummer.
The remote control looks quite different than the one used by earlier entries in the series. It’s a little boxy, and finished in matte gray plastic. It doesn’t have its own screen, so you need to clip in your smartphone and load the DJI Fly app to see the view through the drone’s camera in flight and adjust exposure settings.
Flying a drone isn’t that hard—it’s actually a lot like playing a video game. There are dual analog sticks to control its movements, and there’s no discernible lag in the feed.
With the Mavic Air 2 remote, you have sticks that unscrew and stow in the bottom, a single control wheel at the left shoulder, and a Photo/Video button at the right. There’s a programmable Fn button on the front, another to switch between photo and video capture, a toggle switch to change maximum flight speed, and a Return to Home button.
The remote has a USB-C port at the bottom for charging—its battery is internal and can’t be swapped out. Your phone plugs in via a short cable at the top—Lightning, micro USB, and USB-C cords are included.
The remote feels good in the hand, and I like the size. It’s a bit chunkier than other Mavic remotes, but no bigger than many gamepads. I do miss having two control wheels—the one that’s there is used to tilt the camera up and down, and doesn’t offer dual function operation. I miss the second wheel for dedicated brightness (EV) control, something you get with the pricier Mavic 2 Zoom and Pro drones.
The connection between the drone and remote seems very strong, at least from one shakedown cruise. In my suburban neighborhood I was able to fly without any loss of video feed or control, right up to the boundaries of my vision. The Mavic Mini struggled to maintain a solid connection under similar circumstances in our tests.
Quad Bayer Camera
The Mavic Air 2 sports an all-new camera design. It has a wide-angle prime lens with an 84-degree angle of coverage, just about matching what a 24mm full-frame lens sees. The aperture is fixed at f/2.8, but DJI offers neutral density (ND) filters to help you keep shutter speeds appropriate for daylight videography.
The sensor is a 1/2-inch design, so it has a little bit more surface area than the 1/2.3-inch chips you find in most competing models. Resolution is 48MP, but will typically be used at a downsampled 12MP for both imaging and 4K video. You can shoot in Adobe DNG or JPG format, at your choice of 12MP or 48MP.
I expect most to default to 12MP. Output looks as good as other drones, with natural colors, and plenty of resolution for social media. The 48MP shots are a little grainier, but you can definitely see additional detail when zooming in for a close look.
There’s a cost, though—file size hovers around 20MP for JPGs and 100MB for DNGs when working at 48MP, versus around 8MB and 25MB for the corresponding 12MP images. I also noted a delay of a couple of seconds after a 48MP DNG+JPG capture before being able to take the next photo or switch to video capture—the big files take a little bit of time to process and save to memory.
The JPGs are sharpened, but not overly so, and have some distortion removed. I looked at DNG images in Adobe Lightroom, which doesn’t yet have a correction profile for the Mavic Air 2, and noticed modest, but visible, barrel distortion. I expect Adobe to add a correction profile in short order, though.
Video quality tops out at 4K. The drone can record at up to 60fps with 120Mbps quality and H.265 compression in its standard color profile or the flat Cinelike look. For scenes with varying brightness, HDR capture is an option too, but only at 24, 25, or 30fps. You can utilize 1080p resolution for slow-motion capture, at up to 240fps for an 8x slow-down effect.
As you’d expect from a DJI gimbal, the video footage is entirely stable, even when the drone is making turns or changing altitude. Scenes are crisply defined, but without the shimmering artifacts caused by overly aggressive sharpening.
DJI Fly App
I miss the ability to change the look of video in-camera. The DJI Fly app doesn’t have the color profile options that you get with the older, more mature DJI Go control app. This means that you need to apply vivid, black-and-white, or similar filters to video with editing software, rather than getting them in-camera.
This limitation extends to images, too—you can always filter shots with Instagram or your favorite phone-based editor, but mobile editing choices aren’t as robust as I’d like. It has some automated templates to create shareable clips, but you need to take care to feed it exciting shots to get the best results. A manual editing timeline is available, but output is limited to 1080p.
See How We Test Drones
Because of this, I’d look to another app for mobile editing—if that’s your speed, you already have a favorite. If not, iMovie and Premiere Rush are safe starting points. The drone automatically streams okay-quality 1080p to your phone, so you can work with it immediately after your flight.
Photos aren’t copied over, so you need to do that manually via the app. And if you want to work with 4K footage on your phone or tablet, you need to bring it over too. But set aside some time—it took half an hour for about 8GB of footage to copy over to my iPhone.
There’s no easy way to get Raw images to your phone or tablet either. The app will only copy JPGs, though it does send 48MP shots over without a problem. I tried plugging the drone into my iPad Pro via USB-C to see if I could get the DNG shots loaded directly into Lightroom Mobile, a feature supported by most digital cameras, but it didn’t work for me—Lightroom didn’t see the drone as a storage device.
Desktop editors will simply offload footage from the memory card, as usual, and don’t have to worry about this.
The app has the standard array of automated shots, including orbits of both static and moving subjects, and various selfie modes that pull back to show you and your surroundings. It has subject tracking with completely automated flight—ActiveTrack—and a mode that lets you control the drone while the camera keeps track of your target—Spotlight.
For imaging, there are automated scene recognition modes too. If you select SmartPhoto, the app will choose the best settings based on conditions. It includes an enhanced low-light option, HyperLight, but is limited to 12MP output.
Time-lapse is included as well. DJI calls it Hyperlapse, and it’s available in most modes at 1080p, and at 8K during Free and Waypoint flight. DJI promises to expand 8K to any Hyperlapse mode with a firmware update scheduled for late June.
Speaking of firmware updates, they’re a fact of life with modern technology. DJI typically pushes updates out via its app. I’ve already had to run two updates—each took about ten minutes to complete.
Pricing and Availability
The DJI Mavic Air 2 is available for order today for $799, with an expected ship date of May 11 for US customers. It will be available earlier in some other markets—customers in China can buy one today.
The basic kit includes the drone, a single flight battery, a remote control, and the expected charging and connection accessories. For $988 you can get the Fly More bundle. It adds two additional flight batteries, for a total of three, extra propellers, neutral density filters, a multi-battery charging hub, and a carrying case.
We’re putting the Mavic Air 2 through its paces, so check back soon for a full review.