I have been flying drones for years, back to the DJI Phantom 2 days. This was before obstacle avoidance, integrated cameras or proper online instructions. My last drone I owned was the DJI Phantom 4, it was an amazing drone but I could never get past the size. It was bulky, awkward to transport around, and it took time to setup. On top of that, it was not discreet. It was not possible to grab quick aerial shots unnoticed. Which made it difficult to get the shots I wanted when I was out shooting my personal films.
Along came the DJI Mavic Pro, a great looking drone with all the aspects I wanted. The compactness coupled with the amazing visuals were an improvement. As with every other business decision I make, I decided to bide my time and wait for a good sale. The more I waited, the more I heard rumors of an even smaller drone coming out. I figured, I’m already waiting, whats a little longer, right?
When the DJI Mavic Air was announced and released I jumped on it, it was exactly what I was looking for, great video in a very compact body. I knew the limitations, limited flight time, reduced connectivity, blah blah blah. None of these were enough to dissuade me from my purchase, but I have made rash decisions when gear lust is involved.
What do I love about the DJI Mavic Air
This drone is small. Small enough to fit in my pocket, small enough to launch from my hand. 4 batteries, controller, charger, drone, and parts all fit in the small satchel that enables me to hike to remote spots, launch from my hand, get the shot, and hike back out. Its not only the small footprint for transportation, but the small footprint in flight. The Mavic Air can slip through tight spots most drones wouldn’t dare to go, between trees, under bridges, it opens up an entire new possibility of shots.
The image from the DJI Mavic Air is as good as that from my original DJI Phantom 4. The amazing optics you get from this tiny drone, crisp videos and the colors are on point. The photos have a richness and depth that far exceed expectations. Granted the size of the actual image have certain limitations to its applications. When doing high res images for commercial clients, I opt for the larger image size of the Phantom 4 Pro, but for social media such as Instagram, they are absolutely perfect.
The DJI Mavic Air is not a one trick pony, it has a pleathera of creative options within the software to allow pilots to get uniuqe and challenging shots. From active track to boomerang there are options within the software that open up all sorts of new creative avenues.
I will neither admit or deny that I have crashed my old drone a few times while flying in reverse. But I will say that being able to avoid obstacles when flying backwards is one of the greatest things to happen to my life since Velcro shoes. The APAS function on the DJI Mavic Air allows the drone to actively avoid obstacles, not just stop in front of them. So when I’m flying through a path in the woods and the drone detects a tree, it will calculate a flight path around the obstacle. There is nothing that ruins a shot more then a drone coming to a dead stop.
With a smaller drone, you have smaller parts, and smaller parts are less expensvie. Everything from the props to actual components, the cost savings on these lower priced parts is signifiant.
What Annoys Me about the DJI Mavic Air
The DJI Mavic Air uses a weaker connection signal to pilot the drone, which means not only limited range, but also a weaker signal in denser urban areas. While I’ve never needed to fly my drone beyond the signal limit, I have noticed often getting severe signal interference to the point where flights have had to be cut short. Nothing is more jarring than seeing that “extreme signal interference” warning pop up again and again. This limitation has been one of the major factors why I do not use the DJI Mavic Air for commercial projects.
I’ve flown the DJI Mavic Air all over the state, from the mountains to the beach and its had one reoccurring issue, if the wind is to strong the gimbal cannot compensate for it. For example, when flying forward in strong wind, it will force the gimbal from a forward position to a 45 degree position. If I am pointing the gimbal down, the wind will force the gimbal up. I understand that with a reduced size comes a reduced strength in all aspects of the drone, gimbal and motor alike, but it can be annoying at times.
As with the gimbal, the motor strength is not suffecient enough to deal with higher winds. Now i’m not talking winds that would ground you, but average winds. I’ve recieved wind warnings on the monitor when I couldn’t even feel a breeze. In addition to this, some of the drones flight acceleration is diminished noticably. When taking off and landing you will notice a signifigant reduction in speed compared to larger drones, and this can affect your ability to create shots you did with ease with your DJI Phantom 4.
While I love the feel of the controller in my hand, there are some downsides to it. Anytime I need to connect my iphone I need to remove it from my case first, as it will not fit with any case on it. I have a waterproof case so its a pain in my butt to snap off and on. The other issue is with the control itself, its incredibly challenging to make smooth and minor modifications to the flight of the drone using the controller. Changes in direction can be jarring and abrupt, unlike how smooth they are with larger phantom controllers. Additionally the way the phone fits in the remote covers the home button, so any navigation through apps on your phone while flying is a pain.
I could go either way on this. You will get between 12-15 minutes of flight time, which really is an adeequet amount of time for me, but with the reduced motor strenght, it takes longer to take off and land so that limits the time you are actually in the air getting footage. I opted for the fly more package which came with 2 additional batteries, and with the lower cost of the battery i ended up pruchasing a fourth battery. So with enough batteries you can negate the reduced flight time issue.
with all that said and done, I absolutely love my DJI Mavic Air. its been an invaluable asset in my social media marketing as its allowed me to get amazing aerial photos and video quickly and efficiently, and thats exactly why i purchased it. I had no delusions that this would be used for commercial work, this is a social media and marketing tool for my company. Plus its fun, its fun to fly the DJI Mavic air. But as I write this, I see on my phone that DJI is announcing a new drone this week, most likely the new DJI Mavic Air 2, so as with all good things, I’ll probably be trading in my Mavic Air for a Mavic Pro 2. That makes me wonder why I took all the time to write this review?