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 for 4000 meters connectivity. That’s just short of 2.5 miles. I don’t know about you, but if I am flying legally within line-of-sight, that’s plenty more than I need. If you choose to skip the remote control and fly directly connected to your mobile device, expect range of about 260 feet.
In the real world, my experience with the Mavic Air has been solid. I’ve had an unstable connection a couple times when the drone reaches maximum altitude. Not problematic, just adjusted the antenna on the remote to smooth things out. Something to be aware of, at least.
I had one other hiccup I’d like to mention. I was hit with an update on the drone while I was in the field. I always look for updates before leaving the house, but it was a couple hours from that check until I hit the sky. This update went smooth, but immediately afterward my phone could not connect to the drone.
I was using the wired connection to the remote, I restarted all devices, reconnected all cables and everything else I could think of, nothing fixed it. Luckily, I always have a couple mobile devices on me, so I slapped in another phone, boom everything worked immediately. I still have no idea what that was about, and the initial phone connected again just fine the next day, so I didn’t dig too deep.
What I learned, what I urge you to consider, bring a backup mobile device when you fly a drone. Any drone, not just the Mavic Air. Myself, I now have a dedicated phone just for this, my main phone is the backup.
Finally, the camera. We’re going to need a full section for this.
DJI Mavic Air camera
Tucked behind a lens with 85 degree field of view is a 1/2.3-inch camera sensor. The Mavic Air camera sounds just like the Mavic Pro and the DJI Spark so far. Luckily, there is more to the story. The primary update to the Mavic Air camera is the ability to record video at 100 Mbps data rate. If that means nothing to you now, I suspect it might after you see the results.
Before we dive into the galleries, allow me to prattle off the rest of the Mavic Air camera specs. The sensor is set to 12 MP resolution, again measuring 1/2.3-inches. The lens is set to 85 degree field of view, with an f/2.8 aperture, 24mm focal length and your picture is auto focused at a minimum distance of 0.5 meters, or 1.6 feet.
That last bit is important. I will demonstrate what I mean when I do a full Mavic Pro vs Mavic Air comparison, for now, know that the Mavic Air is full auto focus. Not only this, it is infinite focus as well. Everything from the person in front of the lens all the way to the mountains on the horizon will be in focus. The Mavic Pro, on the other hand, you tap to choose what is in focus.
What we have here, in the end, is perhaps the easiest to use camera of any DJI drone. The Mavic Air takes point and shoot to new heights… literally.
The bump from 60 Mbps up to 100 Mbps data rate on the DJI Mavic Air does not expand some of the more familiar specs you might be familiar with. You are still getting a maximum of 30 fps when shooting at 4K resolution. You do get up to 120 fps when shooting in Full HD, however.
There are additional capture modes as well. Stealing from the Spark, the Mavic Air includes the Quickshot features, adding something new as well. The two new capture modes are the boomerang, which does what the name implies, circling you in an oblong pattern. The next is Asteroid, which combines an outward and upward movement with a sphere capture, creating a video that emulates an asteroid coming down on you. You’ll see what I mean in the videos below.
I mentioned a sphere capture, this is a new mode within the Panoramic settings. Previous DJI drones could capture multiple images and stitch them into a panoramic image, but the Mavic Air is a vast improvement on the task. Capturing a full Sphere is as close to 360 degree camera capture as you’ll find here. It covers the entire view of the world below you, and captures upward not far enough to make a full 360. You will need a 360 image viewer to see it properly.
The full suite of follow-me modes and other self-piloting and flight assist features from DJI are included. Better yet, DJI has included HDR photo capture.
HDR snaps a few shots at different exposure levels, then intelligently blends them together to make the best image possible. In your typical drone shot, with the sky on top and the ground below, a non-HDR shot is typically too bright to see the sky clearly or too dark to see the ground. In HDR, you will see both with the best available exposure settings. Check it out in the following image:
Let’s stop talking about the camera, and see what the new 100 Mbps 4K shooter on the Mavic Air can do.
Don’t miss our full DJI Mavic Air camera review!
The DJI Mavic Air can be controlled in a handful of ways, which is a way to control it all in itself. You’ve got the controller, your phone, apps and you can fly by hand.
The majority of the best flight modes for this drone are controlled through the DJI GO 4 app on your mobile device. Don’t get me wrong, the very best way to fly this drone is by using the remote control and little else, but if you desire to utilize the fun autonomy functions, the remote can almost be left at home.
When we talk about the self-piloted flight modes on the Mavic Air, we refer to modes you’ve seen already, including Active Track, TapFly, Tripod, Cinematic Mode, and Point of Interest. There is also SmartCapture and Quickshot.
DJI Quickshot includes the following modes first found on the Spark:
Rocket – the camera faces downward and the drone rockets straight up.
Dronie – the camera faces the subject and flies slowly upward as it backs away from the subject.
Circle – the camera keeps a focus on the subject and the drone flies around it in a circle.
Helix – the camera keeps focus on the subject and the drone both flies outward, upward and circles around. Basically, it combines the Dronie and Circle functions.
Then add in the new quickshot modes exclusive to the Mavic Air right now:
Boomerang – Similar to Circle, the drone keeps focus on the subject, then flies around it. This time, it flies in an oblong shape, starting close, flying out as it circles and then returning in close again.
Asteroid – Starting close to you, the drone flies out, as if performing a Dronie, at maximum distance the drone stops and begins capturing a full sphere. The resulting video makes it appear as though the camera is an asteroid, screaming in to meet you.
Once your video is captured, enjoy fast and easy editing. Tap the button in the DJI GO 4 app and your footage will be automatically edited down to as quick and fun video, music included.
SmartCapture is potentially the most fun you’ll have controlling your Mavic Air. This is the hand gesture controls that we first saw in the Spark. That’s right, your Jedi practice has sparked into something new and improved.
We can not quantitatively tell you how much better the Mavic Air is than the Spark at handling your hand gestures, but trust us, it’s much better. In addition to take off and landing, then moving left and right and snapping your photo, you can now push the drone out and bring it back in with accuracy, and take off and land from the ground.
Make no mistake, the selfie camera capabilities of the SmartCapture mode is fun, but it serves this one role, selfies. The hand gesture controls lock onto you – if you desire to capture the landscape or fly more than 19 feet out, you’re going to need the remote control and other flight modes.
Asteroid in action
DJI also introduced the Advanced Pilot Assistance Service (APAS) with the Mavic Air. In short, this allows the drone to analyze obstacles in front of it and adjust its flight to go around the objects. Simple enough, you get to push up on that right hand joystick and the drone ensures it does not run into anything. It already did this, mind you, but previous compact DJI drones would come to a halt, the Mavic Air, thanks to APAS, will keep moving forward until there is nowhere left to go.
A few things to know, APAS is not enabled by default, but the button to turn it on is always right there on the left hand side of your screen. Also, by default, APAS only operates for manual flight. The options are there to enable APAS in ActiveTrack and other self-piloting modes, but you’re digging through menus to get there.
Last thing to note, while the DJI GO 4 app tells us otherwise, APAS is only supposed to work going forward. The rear obstacle avoidance sensors will always bring your drone to a halt, but we’re going to have to get back out there when the sun returns in a week to test. Sorry for the confusion, it’s the rainy season, we’re at the mercy of the weather, and the forecast isn’t looking favorable for a while.
If you are flying for pay, or any other form of compensation, you must operate under a different set of rules and possess a commercial drone license. We call it the Part 107, it’s not too hard to get, but it will take some time to learn all the rules. We want to help you learn the rules and get your commercial license, check out our drone pilot training material.
DJI Mavic Air remote control
DJI introduced a new portability feature – you can unscrew the joysticks from the remote and store them under the phone mount arms. This is superb for portability.
That said, more than once I found myself in the field having to interrupt my flow because I forgot I had to put the joysticks on before I could fly. Not a problem, and I eventually got used to it, but I have the habit of prepping the drone and then reaching for the remote. With this machine, that meant setting the drone down, wasting precious battery, as I take the time to put the controller together.
Connectivity has been great. Mostly. I explained above the one hiccup we experienced, otherwise we’ve remained connected with streaming video for every flight. This is not to say we’ve been without stutter.
Related reading: Mavic Air unfiltered first impressions (reactions to the announcement)
With the Mavic Pro, it made little difference which way you pointed the antenna, the connection from remote to drone remained solid for us. (The app is another story, but that’s not for today.) With the Mavic Air, pointing the antenna is something to always be aware of.
For example, most of the time I fly to 400 feet I do so directly above my head. The vast majority of times I do this, I get an interference warning when I exceed about 350 feet. I then rotate the antenna so that they are perpendicular to the drone and the warning goes away. Then I fly away from my self and have to change the antenna again to point toward the drone.
There is a long way between the warning and complete connection loss, but it’s still unnerving to experience.
Connectivity is available in the 2.4 or 5.8 GHz range. You can manually select between the two, but by default the connection is managed automatically. There are no feature differences between the two, these are just extra options to ensure you can connect on a non-crowded channel.
Mavic Air price and availability
We’ve put some serious consideration into this drone, in the end, we feel DJI has a great offering on their hands. The Mavic Air proved to be one of the easiest to setup and fly drones from the company, also one of the most capable in the air.
Portability has been superb, admitting that the travel bag that comes with the Fly More combo is nearly the same dimensions as the Spark and Mavic Pro bags. Ignoring the bags, folding the Mavic Air down and breaking down the remote control make for the smallest package from DJI to date.
We really were worried that the small size and light weight of the Mavic Air would make for poor wind resistance. I think the sports car aerodynamics help out, but in-flight performance has been quite good. Without the wind, I’ve yet to get the Mavic Air up to its full top speed, but it covers ground nicely at its average of 19 mph while shooting video.
We’ve seen folks fly the Mavic Air in cold weather and experience a bad shudder, we have not been cold enough to duplicate this.
WiFi connectivity has always scared us – it works great, until it doesn’t. The Mavic Air has calmed some of those fears for us. Connectivity has been far better than we had expected, particularly we have been stumped by the range the drone gets. With all that said and done, I have no fears at all flying the Mavic Air to the edge of what my eyes can see. Worst case, DJI’s RTH functionality is pretty solid.
Should you buy this drone? I can’t say that the Mavic Air will satisfy everything you are looking for in a hobby aircraft, but if the features are in line with your desire, yes, buy this drone. Overall build quality is superb, flight features are some of the best on the market, the camera is as good as you’ll find under $1000 these days and the machine is just plain fun.
We will be exploring in-depth the Mavic Air vs the Mavic Pro next, there is much to consider between the two. Stay tuned for that.
For now, we are happy to promote the DJI Mavic Air for $799 as the drone alone, and we recommend the Mavic Air Fly More combo for $999 to get extra batteries and more. (Watch for sales, we’ve seen $549 and $799 so far, with normal pricing around $729 and $899 but prices are always slowly edging down.)
Is it worth it?
The DJI Mavic Air remains a fun and reliable drone, it shoots great images from the sky, and offers most of the best flight features from DJI. That said, newer DJI drones offer similar and better specs and features, some with lower price tags. We’re not saying the DJI Mavic Air is not worth purchasing, but you might do better with one of these alternatives: