DJI Mavic Air: First impressions

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Unveiled at Sydney's Luna Park yesterday, the $1299 Mavic Air is DJI's newest drone and a hybrid of the Mavic Pro and Spark.

Featuring the same 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor and 24mm f/2.8 (35mm equiv) wide-angle lens as the more expensive Mavic Pro, the Air is about half the size, will fly for 21 minutes, and can be flown with both hand gestures and an included remote.

Size and weight

The first thing you notice with the Mavic Air is the size, with some people describing it as about as big as a paperback book. The design has more in common with the Spark than the Mavic and inherits a similar bulky body with short arms. We were able to easily fit it in a pocket. 

The Mavic Air is tiny, half the size of a Mavic Pro, and about half the weight at just 425 grams. For scale, the camera here is a Sony A7RII.
The Mavic Air is tiny, half the size of a Mavic Pro, and about half the weight at just 425 grams. For scale, the camera here is a Sony A7RII.

Like the Pro, the arms of the Air fold in, however the propellers on the Air don't fold in half. The body does appear a little plasticky, but that's to be expected for a drone so light. 

Inside and inflight

DJI said it had to start from the ground up when developing the Air, and while we weren’t able to fly the drone, we did get a good look at how all the new features work in harmony. To increase the performance of signal transmission, which the company says is good for 4km, DJI placed the omnidirectional antenna in the landing gear, away from the main body.

The Air features seven sensors (forward, downward, and backward), covering three dimensions. In theory this means the Air can more easily detect objects in the distance and make smart decisions on how to avoid them. The rear sensor in particular appeared very sensitive to objects appearing in range, allowing the Air to quickly adjust its flight path.

The Air also uses a new ventilation system which is found near the gimbal. This pulls air from the front and out through the back, helping prevent overheating.

As with the Spark, the Air can be flown with hand gestures, and DJI says these are more responsive than ever. With one hand, you control take-off and landing, and can also move the drone side-to-side and up and down.

You can also fly the Mavic Air with two hands - spread your hands apart or move them close together and the Air will fly towards you or away. You can take a selfie by doing a peace sign, and start video recording by making a picture frame with you thumb and index fingers. The demonstration of these features was, as you might expect, flawless.

The camera

According to DJI, attaching the Air camera to a three-axis gimbal is a first for a drone this size. However the company also says the gimbal is more precise and durable than any other due to its recessed casing design and inbuilt vibration dampening. Although we haven't tested it, the video quality demonstrations, especially from the 1080p at 120fps and 4K video, looked great on the big screen.

Below is some footage shown at the demo by Sydney photographer @itchban. The video was shot in 4K 24fps (100Mbps) and 2.7k 60fps (slow motion scenes), and has been downscaled to 1080p.

When it comes to stills, one of the interesting new features is being able to 'zoom out' to take a 360 photo. When enabled, the Air will shoot a 32MP spherical panorama. Better yet, the resulting 25 high-res images are stitched in-camera using computational imaging, and it should all happen in about a minute.
The Mavic Air doesn't replace the Mavic Pro or Spark, but instead shows how DJI is appealing to three distinct audiences. The Mavic Pro has a longer flight time, better wind resistance and greater range, while the Spark is pitched at first-time drone users with it's size and more affordable cost of entry.
The Mavic Air sits nicely in the middle of the two and offers arguably the best features of both. You get the relative ease of flying and beginner-friendly collision detection of the Spark, paired with the solid imaging capabilities of the Mavic. It's probably the most well-rounded drone we've seen yet.
DJI said that preorders are now open, and they will ship in just five days time. 
About the author:  Born in Ambert, France, Josselin bought his first camera in 2012 before moving to Australia. In 2017, Josselin was awarded the French National Award by the World Photo Organisation. Josselin’s photographic work is now focused around discovery and sustainability. Find him on instagram @untitledshot
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