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.
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.
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.
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.