Review: DJI Air 3
After a considerable wait, the successor to the well-received, but getting on a bit, DJI Air 2S has finally touched down. It's called the DJI Air 3, and it draws inspiration from the Mavic 3 Pro by integrating a dual-camera system to make for a more versatile shooting package while retaining a compact size.
The Air 3 is available in two variants - the Air 3 with standard DJI RC-N2 controller, which will set you back $1,699 in its cheapest form, and the Air 3 with the DJI RC 2 controller, which retails for around $2,349 as a combo.
The overall build of the Air 3 seamlessly folds into a compact package for travel, just as you would expect for the Air series. It features all-around obstacle sensors, a standard microSD slot, 8GB of internal storage for emergencies, and weighs 720 grams, notably heavier than the Air 2S's 595 grams.
This heft stems from the introduction of 4,241 mAh batteries, surpassing the weight of the entire Mini 3 Pro drone. That said, what the weight gives you is battery life that rivals the capacity of the Mavic 3 Pro, and increases the Air 3's flight time to an impressive 46 minutes, a substantial leap from the Air 2S's 34-minutes.
Similar to the Mavic 3 Pro, the Air 3 comes with either the budget-friendly DJI RC-N2 or the premium DJI RC 2 controller. The DJI RC-N2 encompasses both the drone and the controller.
For those who crave the heightened capabilities of the DJI RC 2, it is available as part of the Fly More Combo.
To further customise your setup, the DJI RC 2 can be purchased separately, but of course, this will be a decision between individual preferences and budget.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that the gimbal is shielded by a semi-transparent plastic cover, akin to the Mini 3 Pro's. I found it difficult to remove at times and it almost felt like I was going to damage the gimbal with the amount of force needed to detach the cover.
The biggest difference between the Air 2S and the Air 3 is camera systems is the fact that the Air 3 has two lenses to choose from, rather than the single lens on the Air 2S.
The camera tilts 90 degrees down and 60 degrees up, which gives a particularly broad field of view when combined with the different focal lengths.
The Air 3's dual camera system features a 24mm f/1.7 primary lens and a 70mm f/2.8 telephoto lens mirroring the Mavic 3 Pro’s setup. As both lenses share the same 1/1.3-inch sensor size and shoot at the same resolution, it's possible to combine footage from both cameras seamlessly, which is a nice touch.
It's worth noting that the 1/1.3-inch sensors are actually marginally smaller than the 1-inch sensor found on the Air 2S, but they use more advanced technology, faster readout and have denser megapixels - 48MP versus 20MP, so offer better overall image quality.
In testing I found the primary sensor, equipped with a larger f/1.7 aperture lens, demonstrated great low-light performance.
In particular I enjoyed shooting with the 70mm telephoto lens when shooting wildlife, when I didn't want to disturb an osprey nest.
In saying this, the images from the telephoto lens did look a bit flat for my liking, and the separation was minimal, so don’t expect creamy soft bokeh. On the other hand, the parallax effect was excellent.
In terms of focusing with the DJI Air 3, I had anticipated accuracy like the DJI Mavic 3 Pro, however, the experience turned out to be a little inconsistent. Despite indications of successful focus on the RC screen, there were instances where the subject was not in focus, so it's worth firing off a few shots to be sure.
This was more noticeable with the 70mm lens, which is a shame because that’s likely the addition that is the most appealing to buyers when compared to the Air 2S. I missed quite a few ‘great shots’ because of the focussing issue.
The Air 3 boasts 4K 60 video recording without the cropping found in the Air 2S.
Remarkably, nearly all features, such as Active Track, Night Mode, 4K 60, and 4K 100fps, are accessible regardless of the lens you choose. The only exception is the vertical mode, a smartphone friendly 2.7K vertical 9:16.
However, unlike flipping the camera 90 degrees for true vertical filming, the Air 3 offers open gate filming (this means the footage has no crop, and the entire possible frame is captured as it passes through the camera) instead of mere horizontal cropping—a practical compromise. Although I do find myself wishing for that camera flip option.
In addition, enhanced light sensitivity comes via dual native ISO support in the sensors, delivering up to 100 fps in 4K slo-mo, slightly lower than the 5.4K of the Air 2S. 1080p also maxes out at an impressive 200fps for slo-mo playback.
Both cameras offer 10-bit 4:2:0 D-Log M and HLG HDR, enhancing dynamic range and helping to manage banding.
It's worth noting that as the Air 3 doesn't offer the variable aperture featured in the Mavic 3, the optional ND filter kit, included in the Fly More combo, is almost a necessity for shooting in bright scenes in order to capture faster shutter speeds.
DJI's seemingly endless refinement and revision of its aircraft has resulted in a flying experience devoid of surprise - every aspect of the flight experience performs as you would expect from a DJI drone, which means you can expect an easy, intuitive flight experience.
As mentioned earlier, the Air 3's new battery offers extended flight durations compared to its predecessor. While DJI claim a flight time of 46 minutes, I consistently managed over 30 minutes per battery, which is still good.
Another feature of the Air 3 which is welcome is DJI's inclusion of its new O4 transmission system, enhancing flight range and signal stability, especially in congested environments. It now has a higher bitrate streaming at 10MB/s for 1080p 60fps, surpassing the Air 2S's 1.5MB/s.
Even the Mavic 3 Pro, with its standard remote, only streams at 5.5MB/s, while exceeding 10MB/s requires the more expensive DJI RC Pro remote. This is a big leap forward for sure.
In summary, the Air 3 showcases responsiveness, stability, and dependability. Impressively, it handles wind speeds similar to the Mavic 3, which is very good considering its smaller size and lighter build.
Great. Flying performance was fine, just as you would expect for a drone from DJI.
Build Quality ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Solid build and overall the Air 3 feels like a quality product for the money.
Features ⭐️⭐️ 1/2
Decent. The Air 3 is a bit underwhelming in terms of new features. It’s a combination of old ideas we’ve already seen.
Image Quality ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
Great, images look sharp as long as you nail the focus.
The eagerly anticipated DJI Air 3 boasts dual cameras, extended battery life, and improved transmission. Moreover, its reasonable pricing makes it an attractive option for those who don't seek the weightier and costlier Mavic 3 Pro.
That said, the Air 3 isn’t the most exciting or inspiring drone released by DJI, however it is a step forward from its predecessor. The dual lens arrangement in particular is a huge benefit – more so I believe than the slightly higher definition video at 30fps.
Despite the additional weight, the improved battery life is also welcome, allowing you to push the limits further. I also think the omnidirectional collision detection system and improved transmission system is also a nice addition to the Air series, making it easier and safer to fly than before.
With this drone, it seems DJI has decided the Air 3 will have the flexibility most serious users demand, while reserving the largest sensors and pixel counts for the Mavic 3 series.
The Air 3 may be a little underwhelming in terms of overall wow factor, however, it works as intended and is priced reasonably if you cannot justify the cost of its bigger brother.