At first glance this sporty-looking drone captured our interest. We then learned all about the DJI Mavic Air and knew we were in for a treat. That was at launch, from that point forward we flew this folding quadcopter, we took a month before releasing our official opinions of the drone. Several years later, we still think the Mavic Air is a superb drone for flying, but there are absolutely better flying cameras to consider before you spend your money.
DJI may have had a lot planned for 2018, but it all started with the Mavic Air – if what we are experiencing so far is any indication, it’s going to be a good year. Let’s dive in, this is our DJI Mavic Air review.
January 2021: With the launch of the DJI Mavic Air 2, which is a far superior camera, and the DJI Mini 2, which is a very similar camera for a much smaller price tag, we no longer recommend the DJI Mavic Air for pilots that care about putting a camera into the sky. If you are looking for a decent flying machine without a concern for the best camera experience, please still look into the Mavic Air, it remains a reliable and fun quadcopter to fly.
DJI Mavic Air quick highlights:
- Compact design
- Fast and fun
- 100 Mbps video capture – great camera
- Competitive price
- Asteroid and other autonomous flight modes
- HDR photo capture
- Three direction obstacle avoidance sensors
- WiFi connectivity – No Ocusync
- Good, but not great battery life
- Infinite focus camera (if you like to control that)
DJI Mavic Air Overview
DJI Mavic Air
January 2018Release Date
DJI found great success with the Mavic Pro, they followed that up with the far less expensive Spark. The Mavic Air bridges the gap between these two, offering all the fun features from the smaller Spark as well as all the pro flight features of the Mavic Pro. Better yet, the Mavic Air introduced a 100Mbps data rate for video capture on a DJI drone under $1500. That sounds like a mouthful, suffice to say that the Mavic Air instantly took the crown for the best video at the lowest price of any drone on the market.
After the launch of the Mavic 2 series of drones, we had to recommend the newer Mavic line as the best camera on a compact drone, but the Mavic Air still remains our top pick if ultimate portability is your concern. The Mavic Air manages to pack down to almost fit comfortably in your pocket.
The DJI Mavic Air is a folding quadcopter that is smaller than the Mavic Pro and larger than the Spark. It is important that we mention those two other drones, as the Mavic Air takes the best of both, improves on it, adds more and hits the sky as one of the most capable small drones from DJI.
Folded down, the Mavic Air fits snugly in the palm of my hand. I have larger hands, mind you, but I suspect even a child could palm this machine. The rear propeller arms fold down and out, the front arms fold straight out and have a little kickstand that swivels down.
The propellers of the Mavic Air do not fold. I thought this was going to be a problem, but it turns out that DJI thought it through. At least when the drone is folded for transport, the propellers sit flush to the body of the drone, keeping them safe. I did some walking around with the drone unfolded, you know, from one flight spot to the next in a flying session, and found the props in my way a little, not a problem, just worth noting.
If you find the props in your way, or it’s time to replace them, simply push down and twist a little to remove. It’s the same quick release structure as the Spark and Mavic Pro.
Related reading: DJI Mavic Air unboxing and setup
On the front of the drone is a small horizontal tube of a camera. It looks a little like the camera from the Spark, which is not a stretch, as it uses the same 1/2.3-inch sensor. However, the Mavic Air is equipped with a full 3-axis stabilized gimbal with rotation that rivals the Mavic Pro.
We have plenty to say about the camera, but we’ll save it for later.
Looking around the outside of the drone, you’ll notice downward and forward facing obstacle avoidance sensors. Then, taking things beyond its predecessors, there is rear facing sensors as well. Just like that, the Mavic Air takes safety well beyond what we’ve seen before in a DJI drone under $1000.
Over all, I like the design of the Mavic Air. It takes styling cues from high-end sports cars, an aesthetic not everyone will care for. Structurally, the design lends to a solid flight experience, there are few moving parts, and everything springs into place nicely.
Drone legal and safety
Specifications and performance
Looking like a sports car is not the end of the idea, the Mavic Air enjoys speeds matching those looks. The drone is rated for 42.5 mph, but we’ve seen it get up over 44 mph ourselves, with help from some wind.
The top speed is not an indicator of how fast you can go with fully stabilized video, however, that limit is about 22 mph. For my flights, I consistently see 19 mph at maximum travel while shooting video.
In terms of size, the Mavic Air measure in at just over 6.5 inches long, just over 7 inches wide and 2.5 inches tall in flight. That’s a 213 mm frame, for those that measure diagonally. That’s fairly small, but when it comes time to travel, fold the Mavic Air down to a slender 3.3 inches wide, 1.9 inches tall and still 6.5 inches long. That’s the smallest folding drone with 4K camera we’ve put hands on.
Aside from flight speed, capabilities in the air include the same sold hover as other DJI drones, and the same service ceiling as the Mavic Pro, that’s 16,404 feet, or 5000 meters. Vertical ascent speed tops out at 4 m/s, and descent at 3 m/s. That is in Sport mode, your stabilize flight is 2 m/s up and 1 m/s down.
This descent speed is something to be aware of. It’s like having a 4×4 truck on ice – sure, you’ve got lots of grip for acceleration, but it means nothing when you hit the brakes. I almost guarantee you will experience some panic moments when that battery warning is blaring, you’re bringing the drone down as fast as you can and wondering if you’ll make it. Try to not ignore the built-in emergency RTH, it’s pretty accurate.
The same idea is true when you are flying on a windy day. The Mavic Air can handle up to 23 mph winds, but if you fly out with the wind, please account for the extra battery needed to get back. The auto RTH does not, it’s all you.
Ignoring the extremes, you can expect up to 21 minutes of flight time per charge. For our experience, we’re seeing about 17-18 minutes per flight, landing with at least 10% battery remaining.
GPS, GLONASS and six cameras keep you stable and safe. That’s forward, downward and backward facing obstacle avoidance sensors. The sensors work best at speeds under 17.9 mph, effectively avoiding obstacles up to 40 feet forward, 33 feet backward and 26 feet downward. These measures are for precision maneuvering, the sensors can detect obstacles beyond this, up to 78.7 feet forward, 65.6 feet out the rear and 98 feet down.
The effectiveness of these obstacle avoidance sensors enables a new feature for compact DJI drones, something called APAS. We’ll cover it in detail later, but let me tease that it is smart self-piloting, enabling a new level of follow-me capability.
Connectivity is a big topic with the Mavic Air. The Mavic Pro shipped with DJI’s in-house Ocusync technology. We are passionate fans of this tech, as it allows multiple devices to connect to a single drone, great video streaming and some serious range. The Mavic Air does not have Ocusync, it uses WiFi instead.
As a simple example, you have to use a cable to connect the Mavic Air remote control to the DJI Goggles. Wireless connectivity to the Goggles remains exclusive to the Mavic Pro. This also means that you get roughly half the flight range as the Pro as well.
Lack of Ocusync aside, the Mavic Air is rated