DJI Mavic Air: The 4K Foldable Drone Close To Perfection
Nice foldable Design ideal for traveling, the 4K camera mounted on 3-axis platform takes great pictures and videos, automated shooting options and obstacle avoidance can quickly achieve good results.
Incredible technology in a foldable format, the Mavic Air is the best travel drone of the moment.
The DJI Mavic Air is an easy-to-fly drone that takes great Ultra HD video in an incredibly small format. In many ways, this consumer drone is the best of the Chinese brand that is to drones what Apple and Samsung are to smartphones. This Mavic Air combines the best of the Mavic Pro (our reference camera drone since its release in 2016) with the compactness of Spark (compact model more transportable) while offering great new features such as a better camera 4K and a more advanced obstacle detection system.
The Mavic Air is clearly more upscale than the Spark. However, its positioning against the Mavic Pro is more vague. The Pro has some options that the Air does not have, but the opposite is also true. The main differences are in the slightly better range for the Pro, a larger range for video transmission, and a “true” 4K recording at 4.096×2.160 pixels. There is also a Pro Platinum version which is quieter and flies a little longer.
For its part the Mavic Air is a drone much more advanced than are the Spark and the Mavic Pro, which not only makes it safer to drive but also protects itself from accidents. For fans who want a camera drone that does more than selfies while being compact enough to travel, the Mavic Air is almost perfect.
Before going into the heart of the matter, let’s talk about autonomy first. DJI announces 21 minutes, but in ideal conditions without wind. During our test, we flew between 15 and 18 minutes with wind. It would probably be wise to acquire at least one additional battery. DJI proposes a kit “Fly More” which includes three batteries, spare propellers and a charger multi batteries.
Driving With The Force
The SmartCapture mode of Mavic Air, which allows you to control it with hand gestures, is a good illustration of its “intelligence”. The Spark has a similar function that allows you to take off and land the drone in the palm of your hand and take pictures without remote control or phone. But the Mavic Air system is even more elaborate. With the hands, you can make it take off / land on the ground, fly towards or away from you, increase the altitude and even make it follow your movements. Make the peace sign with your fingers and he will take a picture, form a square with thumbs and forefingers to start or stop a video recording.
It’s pretty awesome, especially to impress family and friends. All these functions are of course present in the mobile application. But it’s the QuickShot mode that we found most useful with its six preprogrammed air selfie modes: rocket, drony, circle, spiral, boomerang and asteroid. The videos are sized for immediate sharing on social networks.
A Flying Robot
As nice as they are, the SmartCapture and QuickShot modes are intended for occasional use. It is above all the driving on the remote control will be the most common. The latter is similar to the Spark and requires an Android or iOS smartphone as a screen. Its antennas and handles are foldable, the joysticks are disassembled and stored in a compartment. The drone transmits a video back in 720p HD up to 4 km away, twice the range of the Spark. It can be flown only with its smartphone, but the remote is a really practical option. In addition, this frees up the screen for displaying flight data and framing shots. The remote also has physical controls to control the camera and gives access to the sport mode that allows you to fly up to 68.4 km / h.
But even seasoned pilots sometimes have trouble handling obstacles. This is where the system of seven cameras and infrared sensors Mavic Air enters the scene. It allows the drone to map its 3D environment in real time to find out where it is and where the obstacles are. The aircraft is able to avoid obstacles in front and behind with the Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems (APAS), which automatically calculates the flight path. We tested it by flying straight to a waterfall and then to a rock and each time, the drone deviated his flight to fly over the obstacle. Then we directed it towards ourselves and there, instead of passing over our heads, it stopped and began to fly around us slowly.
Even if the APA system is disabled, the sensors display an alert on the screen to warn you when you are too close to an obstacle or a person. However, keep in mind that there is no sensor on the sides and top of the unit. So if you fly up, under a canopy for example, you will not avoid the crash. You also need to know that the sensors do not work in sport mode. However, the Mavic Air is the best small drone equipped with such a protection system.
New Drone, New Camera
On paper, the Mavic Air’s camera looks identical to that of the Mavic Pro, but DJI has equipped it with a new processor that can handle the creation of panoramic photos in 32 pixels, 4K video recordings 30 frames / second to 100 Mb / s There are also 2.5K 60 frames / sec and full HD 120 frames / sec for slow motion. These options involve creating larger files. And despite the presence of 8 GB of internal storage (and a USB-C port to quickly transfer data), it may be wise to bring a microSD memory card.
The 4K video is crisp and rich in fine detail. The best renders are obtained in daylight, but the small size sensor cuts on the dynamic range. If you want better in this area, you should head to the Phantom 4 Advanced or Pro which is also more bulky and less suitable for travel. Although the Mavic Air gets a little shake when the wind blows, its 3-axis motorized pod does a great job of stabilizing the camera image and making the video smooth.
In addition to the QuickShot and SmartCapture modes, the drone offers other interesting video options. ActiveTrack, for example, can detect up to 16 selectable subjects at a time. We can follow people who run, jump or ride a bike. In our test, we noted that the system worked better with slow-moving subjects, in small open areas at low altitude. ActiveTrack can follow a car or a bike, but it is better if they run at a reduced speed, in a straight line and without obstacles that obstruct the vision of the drone. Note also Tripod mode that lowers the speed of flight to facilitate the framing and Cinematic mode that extends the stopping distance to avoid jolts in the video.
The Best Travel Drone of The Moment
Like a camera, the smaller a drone, the easier it will be to take it on a trip. This is how we (almost all) dropped our classic cameras for our smartphones. Size is without a doubt the most distinctive feature of Mavic Air. But once we discover all the techno that it embarks, we better understand its price. Autonomy is always shorter than what one would like, but if you are looking for a safe and stable camera drone for more than occasional use, this is the one to choose without hesitation.