Let us weigh. Let us deliberate. Let Us Drone.
On January 23’rd, 2018, DJI released yet another drone. The UAV juggernaut is pumping these things out quicker than customer service can respond to an email. So who’s the new arrival? Let’s welcome the Mavic Air to the star-studded lineup. The newcomer may be physically dwarfed by most of DJI’s drone fleet, but don’t let its size fool you. The slight quadcopter has a lot going for it.
When it comes to physical dimensions, the Mavic Air rests neatly between the Spark and the Mavic Pro. Unlike the Spark, The Mavic Air’s arms fold in, allowing the drone to fit in a sleek case small enough to slide into your coat pocket. Let’s take a quick look at the specs.
Mavic Air- Folded: 6.61 x 3.27 x 1.93 in. (168 x 83 x 49 mm)
Unfolded: 6.61 x 7.24 x 2.52 in. (168 x 184 x 64 mm)
Weight: .95 lb (430 g)
Spark- 5.63 x 5.63 x 2.17 in. (143 x 143 x 55 mm)
Weight: .66 lb (300 g)
Mavic Pro- Folded: 7.80 x 3.27 x 3.27 in. (198 x 83 x 83 mm)
Unfolded: 12.01 x 9.61 x 3.35 in. (305 x 244 x 85 mm)
Weight: 1.62 lb (734 g)
Basically, the Mavic Air is about half the size of the Mavic Pro and 41% lighter. Though it resembles a dieting Mavic Pro, the Mavic Air is very comparable in size to the Spark. Additionally, the sticks on the Mavic Air’s remote control are removable, making the drone even easier to transport. Images by DJI
Specs & Features
Max flight time for the Mavic Air is 21 minutes, which also falls between the Spark’s 16 and Mavic Pro’s 27-minute max flight times (unless you spring for the Mavic Pro Platinum which boasts a 30 minute max flight time). The Mavic Air shines when it comes to speed, topping out at 42.5 mph, quicker than the Mavic Pro (40 mph) and Spark (31 mph). Using your hand, the Spark is able to launch from and land in your palm, rise and descend in elevation, fly laterally and maintain a constant distance from the operator as he/she walks forward/backward. Since the Mavic Air is slightly larger and more powerful than the Spark, DJI has traded palm launch/land for ground launch/land. As with the Spark, the Mavic Air will also rise/descend in elevation and fly laterally, but you can now bring both palms together or apart to fly the drone toward or away from you. All three drones will take your picture with hand gestures but the Mavic Air and Spark will also record video. Although flying without a remote controller is possible for all three drones using Wi-Fi, nothing beats the tactile feedback of those sticks, thus having the remote present at all times is highly recommended. Max ranges for the three drones are as follows: Mavic Air- 2.4 mi., Mavic Pro- 4.3 mi., and Spark- 1.2 mi. The significant difference in max range between the drones is due to the transmission systems used. The Mavic Air and Spark use “Enhanced Wi-Fi”, whereas the Mavic Pro uses DJI’s OcuSync. Intelligent Flight Modes are always fun. The Mavic Air does not sport as many as the Mavic Pro (although this may change with future firmware updates), but has a couple that the Spark lack. All three come with Active Track, a crowd favorite.
But will I crash it?
So you finally convince your significant other that spending half your paycheck on a drone is a great idea, only to fly it backwards into a tree on its maiden voyage because you were distracted with the live feed on your LCD. Fortunately, DJI’s obstacle avoidance technology has improved yet again with the Mavic Air. Besides, the customer support staff just can’t take it anymore. I’d be willing to bet that it was their department that incentivized CEO’s Frank Wang to invest more time into the “make this thing uncrashable” part of research and development. Enter APAS or Advanced Pilot Assistance System. Gone are the days of you making those small but crucial stick bumps with your right thumb when heading for that eucalyptus down at your local park, thanks to APAS which will simply fly around the obstacle while continuing to provide a stable feed. APAS works when flying forward or backward. I’d call this a win for the Mavic Air. Not only does it have rear obstacle avoidance (which the Spark and Mavic Pro lack), but flying will be smoother than ever with the introduction of APAS.
Wave for the Camera
The three drones are all capable of shooting 12 MP stills (Mavic Air takes HDR photos as well), but the two Mavic’s are capable of shooting 4K video at 30 fps, leaving behind the Spark which records 1080 at 30 fps. Standing out is the Mavic Air’s capability to record 1080 video at 120 fps. The higher fps will especially shine during those slow-motion videos you took of your kid jumping off the park bench. Another area the Mavic Air really “rises above” is with its max video bitrate of 100 Mbps, which is an improvement over the Mavic Pro’s 60 Mbps and the Spark’s 24 Mbps, giving you ultra-detailed video. The Mavic Air shares the 3-Axis mechanical gimbal feature with its bigger brother, the Mavic Pro, while the Spark is only equipped with a 2-Axis mechanical gimbal. We’ve all seen those jumpy drone videos on YouTube. The wife has relented and Jimmy is just too ecstatic to not upload his first recorded video to the internet. Well DJI has taken notice and has all but eliminated the need to spend hours honing your flying skills to get that smooth fadeaway shot (which DJI refers to as the “dronie”). The Mavic Air has not three (ahem, Mavic Pro), not four (cue, Spark), but six Quickshot modes. Without getting into each mode, here are the two new ones that only the Mavic Air has; Asteroid: we’ve all seen them, those tiny planet pics have been popping up for a while now, but their creation has eluded many due to the time, skill and software required. DJI took notice while scrolling through their Instagram feed and decided to have the new Mavic Air just automate the whole process for the user. Jimmy can now have his very own tiny planet with a few taps to his iPhone screen. Boomerang: just as the name implies, the Mavic Air will circle you while alternating between flying close and far away. Lastly, the Mavic Air is the first DJI drone to come equipped with internal storage. 8 GB of it to be precise. That isn’t a ton, but more than enough to document your park outing if you forget that SD card. Images by DJI
Once again the $799 Mavic Air finds a slot between the $399 Spark (no remote controller included) and the $999 Mavic Pro. Like the other drones, DJI offers a “Fly More Combo” for the Mavic Air, bringing the total to $999.
I have to give “props” to DJI for their newest drone. The Mavic Air is sleek, elegant, and extremely portable. It looks as though DJI was on a quest to create a smarter, more compact Mavic Pro. Here’s the way I see it, the Mavic Air is an improvement over the Spark in every way, and even surpasses the Mavic Pro in a few key areas such as the top speed, camera (120 fps, and 100 Mbps), internal storage, backward obstacle sensing and hand gestures. If one can overlook the shorter range and flight times vs. the Mavic Pro, I’d absolutely recommend the Mavic Air to anyone in the market for a new drone. So what do you think? Will you be adding DJI’s newest quadcopter to your collection? DJI just began shipping them this week, so start working on that pitch you’re going to give to your significant other later. Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the new DJI Mavic Air!
Video by DJI