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DJI announces new Mavic Air compact drone

by on Jan.23, 2018, under Reviews


DPReview was in New York City as DJI unveiled its newest drone, the Mavic Air, which fuses enthusiast-oriented features and foldable design from the company’s Mavic Pro line of drones with the compact form factor if its Spark model. The Mavic Air also introduces some exciting new technologies that should make drone flying safer, easier, and more creative.

Key features include:

  • A 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor
  • 3-axis gimbal
  • 24mm (equiv.) F2.8 lens
  • 12MP still images w/ Raw support
  • 4K/30p video
  • Full HD video up to 120fps
  • 32-megapixel spherical panorama mode
  • HDR capture mode
  • 8GB internal storage in addition to MicroSD card
  • Foldable legs with integrated omnidirectional antenna
  • Updated flight autonomy system with 3D modeling
  • Improved ActiveTrack technology
  • New ‘Asteroid’ and ‘Boomerang’ intelligent flight modes
  • Advanced pilot awareness system (APAS)
  • Obstacle-avoidance sensors in the front, back, and bottom
  • Visual positioning system for better control, hovering and indoor flying
  • 2.5 mile range with controller
  • 42.5 Mph in Sport Mode
  • Flight ceiling of 16,404 ft.
  • 21-minute flight time
  • USB-C port
  • Compatible with DJI’s SDK for third party applications
  • Available in Arctic White, Onyx Black, and Flame Red

DJI has clearly aimed the Mavic Air at travelers, outdoor photographers, and particularly adventurers who may go off the beaten track. It’s small size is impressive, as DJI’s Michael Perry demonstrated by pulling three of them out of his pockets on stage, and its rich feature set is sure to appeal to people like adventure filmmakers.

The Mavic Air is reminiscent of DJI’s tiny Spark drone, but packs in all the features found on the Mavic Pro.

With a weight of 430 grams, the Mavic Air is heavier than the diminutive Spark (300 grams), yet substantially lighter than the Mavic Pro (734 grams), demonstrating just how much technology DJI has been able to cram into a very small package.

It uses the same 12MP 1/2.3” CMOS sensor found in the Mavic Pro, so it’s fair to expect similar image quality. The camera is mounted on a compact 3-axis gimbal, a welcome improvement over the 2-axis gimbal found on the Spark.

Imaging features

Videographers will be happy to learn that the Mavic Air captures 4K/30p video at bit rates up to 100Mbps using the H.264 codec, though it doesn’t shoot 4K/60p as some rumors had suggested. Additionally, full HD capture is now supported at 120 fps.

In addition to 12MP Raw image capture, DJI has added new features for still photographers as well. In addition to vertical, horizontal, and 180º panoramas, the Mavic Air can create 32MP spherical panoramas by automatically shooting 25 still images and stitching them together in under 8 seconds. There’s also a built-in HDR function which should help to better capture scenes with high dynamic range.

Anyone who flies drones regularly has probably had at least one experience where they arrived on site only to realize that they left their memory card at home. In a nod to forgetful pilots everywhere, the Mavic Air includes 8GB of on-board storage – something that may be particularly helpful for adventurers far from the car.

Controls

Taking a popular gesture from the Spark, the Mavic Air includes gesture controls, allowing users to control the drone’s movements and certain functions (such as taking a photo) using their hands. This can be particularly useful to anyone trying to film themselves, such as a climber on a rock wall. Also, thanks to a rear obstacle avoidance system, the drone will sense if you’re trying to back it into an object.

In our review of the Spark we noted that its gesture controls were often far from reliable, however DJI tells us that the system on the Air has been ’significantly improved’ for more precision and reliability. Based on our hands-on experience with the Air at the launch event we’re inclined to believe this. The air seemed much more responsive to our gestures, and we didn’t notice any hesitation when directing it to move. Gestures will work up to a distance of 19 ft.

Also included is a compact controller that’s visually similar to that of the Mavic Pro, however it’s now possible to detach the sticks to make it as compact as possible for travel. Using the controller the Mavic Air can be controlled at a range of up to 2.5 miles, likely more than enough when operating with visual line of sight.

Obstacle avoidance and intelligent flight modes

A very useful feature on a drone is obstacle avoidance, and the Mavic Air is full of it. It includes seven onboard cameras for sensing and avoidance, including dual forward, downward, and backward cameras. Also included is a feature DJI is calling ‘Flight Autonomy 2.0’, which conducts real-time positioning by building a 3D map of the environment around the aircraft.

Thanks to this 3D mapping, the Mavic Air also includes an ‘advanced pilot awareness system’ (APAS) for advanced obstacle avoidance. Instead of simply stopping when an obstacle is detected, APAS will plan a path to bypass or go around obstacles, allowing the drone to continue on its course.

DJI has also added two new intelligent flight modes, ‘Asteroid Mode’ and ‘Boomerang’. Asteroid mode creates a sort of hybrid clip in which a spherical panorama zooms into a short video clip. Boomerang does more or less what the name suggests, flying up and away from a subject before coming back to create an interesting cinematic effect. Additionally, DJI claims to have improved its ActiveTrack technology, giving it more precise tracking as well as the ability to detect multiple subjects simultaneously.

Performance

There are some notable performance improvements as well. With a top speed of 42.5 Mph in Sport mode, the Air is the fastest Mavic to date, and it has an operational ceiling of 16,404 ft. Some drone users may be disappointed with the 21-minute flight time. We suspect it’s a necessary tradeoff in order to achieve the Mavic Air’s compact size, and it’s still 5 minutes more than you’ll get from the Spark.

DJI says the Mavic Air will also be compatible with a wide range of accessories including a car charger, ND filters, and DJI’s flight goggles for a first person view flying experience.

Price and availability

The Mavic Air will be available for $799. The standard package includes a protective case, propeller guards, and the newly designed remote control. A ‘Fly More’ combo that includes an additional set of propellers, 2 extra batteries, a folding charging hub that charges two batteries, and a shoulder bag will be available for $999.

Preorders begin today through DJI.com and other retailers, with shipments and retail availability beginning January 28.

Editor’s note: This story is developing, refresh for updates.



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DJI Mavic Air leaked ahead of announcement, looks like a Spark-Mavic hybrid

by on Jan.22, 2018, under Reviews


Close-up of a banner of the DJI Mavic Air, which DJI is supposedly planning to announce officially in less than 24 hours.

We’re less than 24 hours away from the drone announcement DJI started teasing last week, and it looks like our guesses based on the tagline “adventure unfolds” were spot on: it’s going to be a folding drone. More specifically, a followup to the folding DJI Mavic Pro… but not the followup most of us expected.

According to Drone DJ, who got ahold of a treasure trove of leaked specs and photographs of the upcoming drone, DJI is preparing to announce the DJI Mavic Air: a drone that looks like a hybrid between the DJI Spark and DJI Mavic Pro.

If these leaked photos and specifications are accurate, the Mavic Air will put Mavic-level hardware—a 3-axis gimbal, 32MP 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, 4K 60p video capture, obstacle-avoidance sensors on the front, back, and bottom—into a body that looks very much like the diminutive DJI Spark. The upside is that 4K 60p video capture that the Mavic Pro and even Mavic Pro Platium has been missing; the downside is that the smaller body means even less flight time, which is rumored at just 21 minutes.

Here’s a look at the real thing:

And here are the full set of leaked specs, as reported by Drone DJ:

  • 32-megapixel camera with panorama mode
  • 1/2.3 CMOS sensor and new Image Processor
  • 4K/60p video capture
  • 3-axis gimbal
  • Four Foldable Legs
  • Obstacle-avoidance sensors in the front, back, and bottom
  • Equipped with aVisual Positioning System for better control, hovering and indoor flying
  • Gesture control
  • 21-minute flight time (9 minutes less than the Mavic Pro Platium)
  • It will be available in at least three colors: white, black and red
  • Compatible with DJI Goggles

We won’t be able to confirm these specs until the official announcement tomorrow morning (DJI is streaming the event live at 10am Eastern), but leaks this major and this close to the official reveal are rarely faked. Which leaves us feeling a bit… “meh” about the whole thing.

With Autel Robotics releasing its Mavic Pro competitor Autel EVO at CES, and the original Mavic Pro now nearly a year and a half old, we were hoping for a true Mavic Pro replacement. The Mavic Air seems, instead, like a DJI Spark upgrade… or even what the DJI Spark should have been at launch.

That said, we agree with Drone DJ when they say that this is probably not the true successor to the DJI Mavic Pro, but a separate product line—sort of like Apple’s MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro. It just means we have a bit longer to wait before we see a true Mavic Pro replacement.



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Video: How to make an HDR image using Microsoft Excel… seriously

by on Jan.21, 2018, under Reviews


Photographers have many different kinds of software for producing high dynamic range images, but Microsoft Excel probably doesn’t make your list of photo editing apps. Well… be prepared to change your mind.

On the off chance you don’t know what Microsoft Excel is, it’s a spreadsheet application that’s primarily used for business application. But in May of last year, Columbia University computer science student Kevin Chen showed that is was also capable of producing an HDR photo using some complicated math and a couple dozen GBs of RAM.

Before coming to Columbia, Chen worked as an intern at Apple, working on camera technology. It was that experience—understanding the math behind digital photography in general and high dynamic range imagery specifically—that allowed him to implement the “system of linear equations” that is typically used in HDR imaging.

After turning the original photo grayscale, and using each cell in Excel as a different “pixel”, he was able to implement this math (and zoom way out) to reveal his final product. Here is the color before and grayscale after:

Sure, you probably don’t want to make Excel your primary HDR processing software. But Chen’s presentation reveals something that is easy to lose sight of when you’re processing digital files and working with photographs: as far as your computer is concerned, it’s all pixel values and math.

Check out the full presentation up top, and then head over to Chen’s website if you want to know more about the young computer scientist.



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