Review: DJI Air 2S
Arriving just a year after the release of its predecessor, the Mavic Air 2, the Mavic Air 2S is a welcome, although perhaps unexpected, addition to the Chinese company’s consumer drone line-up.
Why unexpected? Well even I must admit that when I first heard DJI were releasing an upgrade to its Air line-up, my initial thought was ‘why?’. It wasn’t that long ago that DJI released the Mavic Air 2, which still stands as probably the best compact mid-tier drone on the market.
And, at first glance, the Air 2S appears to be almost identical to its predecessor. The front of the drone has received a subtle redesign to accommodate additional upward-facing sensors, but otherwise, it’s the same compact formula we’ve seen before. But is that the whole story? Well, not quite. So, let’s dive into it.
The design of DJI’s Mavic still stands as among the company’s greatest creations. By making the drone portable while still compact in size and weight, Mavic drones quickly became the ideal travel companion for many photographers.
You’ll be pleased to know this foldable design ethos is still alive and well with the Air 2S, even if it doesn’t carry the Mavic name - it fits snuggly in a hand, making it easy to store in a backpack or one of the padded lens slots in a camera bag.
The controller is the same as that on the Mavic Air 2 and Mini 2, although it doesn’t have external antennas like earlier models. It’s a rectangular, gray block with removable control sticks, several camera and flight control buttons, and USB-C charging.
Some people have found it challenging to fit a smartphone to the controller, but I didn’t. It’s ergonomic to hold, it feels solid and includes everything you need to operate, including the standard gimbal wheel on the rear left side and shutter button/video on-off button on the rear right side of the remote.
I really like that the slider switch in the middle of the remote allows you to quickly switch between modes: Cine, Normal and Sport while the RTH (Return to Home) button is easily accessible should you need to RTH quickly.
Only a few years ago, getting high-quality pictures and stills from a DJI drone meant paying a significant amount of money. The Phantom 4 Pro was the first consumer-oriented drone featuring a 1-inch sensor, but at launch that retailed for more than $2,000. Fast forward a year or two, and DJI launched the excellent Mavic Pro 2, which successfully combined a smaller body with a 1-inch sensor, but still retailed for north of $2,000.
Now, with the Air 2S, you get the benefits of a 1-inch sensor and the advantages of DJI’s most compact body, for just $1,699. To put it in perspective, the sensor is about four times as large, in terms of surface area, as the Mavic Air 2’s camera. Not only is it physically larger, but it also has more pixels, 20MP, as well.
Combine that camera and sensor with a three-axis gimbal that keeps it stabilised and level, with the option to adjust the gimbal to 90 degrees downwards and up to 24 degrees upwards (disabled by default to avoid props getting in your frame) and you have a seriously capable imaging tool.
One drawback for some users will be the lens’ fixed f/2.8 aperture, which unfortunately doesn’t give as much flexibility in adjusting the focal plane or controlling exposures on the fly. Instead, DJI recommend using ND filters to control shutter speed, with the Fly More Combo version ($2,099) including a set.
While personally I probably would prefer an adjustable aperture to make the most of flight time when shooting still images, the ND filters do work well if you pre-visualise your scene.
By comparison, the Mavic Pro 2 has a variable aperture which may be preferred by some people, especially videographers who often require critical control over shutter speed.
Single Shot, Timed Photo, AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing), HDR, Panoramas, and Hyperlapses are just a few of the extensive camera modes available on the Air 2S.
In addition, a new SmartPhoto mode records full-resolution images by utilising scene analysis and deep learning to pick the best of three possibilities for your shot – HDR, Hyperlight, and Scene Recognition – very trick.
Oh, and the image quality? The 22mm lens (full-frame equivalent) with that f/2.8 fixed aperture lens combines beautifully with the sensor. Of course, it’s at its best in good light, and at low ISO values between 100 - 800. I noticed less resolving power higher than ISO 800, so I recommend staying below this for maximum image quality. The 12.6 stops of dynamic range when shooting RAW is not only impressive, but allows plenty of room to push the files in post when bringing back shadow detail.
The Air 2S can film at 5.4K resolution at 30 fps, as well as 4K Ultra HD at up to 60 fps and 1080p at up to 120 fps. 5.4K is an upgrade on the 4K of the Air 2, with each frame from a 5.4K clip containing about 16.8MP, about twice that of an 8MB 4K frame.
Interestingly, neither the Mavic 2 Pro nor the Mavic 2 Zoom can match these features (with video maxing out at 4K on both), making the Air 2S an appealing quadcopter for videographers.
As you might expect, the DJI Air 2S is incredibly simple to fly. The flight modes, automatic video modes, collision avoidance, and manual flight controls give as little or as much assistance as you need, whether you’re a complete novice or a seasoned professional.
Speaking of collision avoidance, a new four-way obstacle avoidance detection system and APAS 4.0 (the newest iteration of an autopilot system to automatically avoid collisions simply from bypassing obstacles it encounters) makes for a confidence-inspiring flying experience.
The maximum flight time of the Air 2S is an impressive 31 minutes, although that is three minutes less than the Air 2. Of course, this time will vary greatly depending on flight conditions and user configurations with the return to home low battery function. I like to set mine between 25% - 30% just in case the drone is a long distance from the home point. It’s also worth noting how quiet the Air 2S is.
Compared to my old Mavic Pro, it’s a much more peaceful experience, and there were times during flights that the lack of rotor noise meant I was unable to locate it in the sky.
Finally, on the bottom of the drone is a handy little auxiliary light to help with take-off and landing during low-light situations. This could also be used to create interesting light on your subject when working at night.
In my opinion, the Air 2S is one of the best consumer drones DJI has made to date. Compact, user-friendly, and extremely versatile, the AIR 2S also has excellent image quality, solid low-light performance, and impressive battery life. The DJI Air 2S is a joyful experience to fly, and even better to photograph with. I recommend it highly. ❂
Handling ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Great. A very simple and intuitive design making it a joy to operate both for novice and seasoned professionals.
Build quality ★ ★ ★ ★
Both the quadcopter and controller are made from a tough plastic that gives it a premium feel.
Features ★ ★ ★ ★
Plenty of useful features. For stills, the automated modes are good, although I wish DJI had included the variable aperture from the Mavic Pro 2.
Image Quality ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Very impressive. The 1” sensor works excellently well in low light. Images are sharp and I’m confident they’ll print nicely.
The DJI Air 2S is a high-quality compact drone. If you are on a budget and cannot justify the price of the Mavic Pro 2, then the Air 2S will serve you well.