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DJI Mavic Air 2 Review: Smarter, faster, stronger

DJI Mavic Air 2 front view in the air
DJI Mavic Air 2
MSRP $799.00
“Whether you're a first-time or casual flyer, the DJI Mavic Air 2 rules the sky.”
  • Detailed and crisp 4K 60 FPS footage
  • Excellent dynamic range with HDR recording
  • Easy to pilot
  • Long-lasting battery life
  • Obstacle avoidance
  • Camera can't handle low light

DJI’s dominance in the consumer drone market is unrelenting. Just this past fall, the company wowed everyone with its lightest and smallest drone to date, the Mavic Mini. In order to achieve that scale, though, the company had to strip away some features, which made it attractive for first-time buyers, but not to serious enthusiasts.

Enter the Mavic Air 2, successor to 2018’s Mavic Air and a far more legitimate contender in the prosumer market. Given its standout features, like its 4K recording at 60 frames per second (FPS), 48-megapixel high-res snapshot mode, and a 34-minute flight time, you’d think it would cost just as much as the Mavic Pro 2. But it doesn’t, and that’s what makes it stand out.

Bulking up

Compared to its predecessor, the Mavic Air 2 is slightly larger and heavier (570 grams). That’s not a problem at all, because the arms can be quickly folded for easy storage — making it perfect for stowing away in a backpack. Sure, the Mavic Mini can be flown without having to register it with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but the Mavic Air 2 retains the same portability to make it a weekend road warrior. For comparison, the Mavic Mini measures in at 160 x 202 x 55 mm unfolded, while the Mavic Air 2 isn’t that much bigger at 183 x 253 x 77 mm.

As for looks, I don’t mind that it has more in common with the Mavic Pro line — it’s still a sleek-looking drone. It shares the same hard lines on its chassis, giving it a more aggressive look than its predecessor. Honestly, it’s a warranted change given the upgrades under the hood. DJI drones have always set a standard for looks, and the Mavic Pro keeps that up. It looks and feels like a high-end piece of kit.

DJI Mavic Air 2 body closeup
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you’re worried about the extra bulk slowing it down, don’t be. Speed isn’t impacted one bit — it’s capable of reaching a top speed of 42.5 mph, just like its predecessor. You really get a sense for its speed in sport mode, which offers tighter controls that help the Mavic Air 2 achieve slick acrobatics in the air. The top speed is only accessible in sport mode.

For most pilots, normal mode more than suffices with its balance of speed and responsiveness, while tripod mode offers slower and smoother movements.

It’s also quieter than other drones I’ve flown, with its hum almost silent when hovering at around 150 feet in the air. Most impressively, its battery is rated for 34 minutes of flight time, which is the longest in the Mavic line. Few consumer-grade drones ever reach close to 30 minutes, with the vast majority clocking in around the 20- to 25-minute range.

It’s a whole lot of muscle power in a compact body.

Novice flyers will appreciate the Mavic Air 2’s smart piloting features, which protects the drone from collisions and risky situations. The same forward and backward obstacle sensors found in the Mavic Air are present here as well, though it benefits over its predecessor with the addition of downward-facing sensors. All of this helps to power DJI’s latest obstacle-avoidance system.

In my experience, it stopped the drone dead in its tracks from colliding with a tree, even if you still have your thumb pushing forward on the controls. When you’re forking over a huge sum of money for the Mavic Air 2, it’s reassuring that it’s smart enough to avoid these disasters.

So, when you consider all that’s on board, it’s remarkable that everything is packaged nicely together. It’s a whole lot of muscle power in a compact body.

Camera quality

At the center of the Mavic Air 2 is a new 12-megapixel, 1/2-inch Quad Bayer CMOS sensor on a 3-axis gimbal. It’s a larger sensor than what’s found in the Mavic Air and Mavic Mini, so that alone helps improve its overall performance.

Shutterbugs will be especially happy to find a new 48-megapixel high-resolution mode. Looking at a few comparison shots, there’s more detail and sharpness versus its 12-megapixel captures, but dynamic range isn’t as good. However, some of the details in the shadows can be recovered in post using an editor. There’s definitely a case for using the high-resolution mode, especially if you want to crop images later on. Beyond that, I found the 12-megapixel snapshots perfect for social media posts.

O the video side, there are marked improvements to be found everywhere. First and foremost, it records 4K video at 60 FPS, which bests even the Mavic 2 Pro’s 4K recording at 30 FPS. It’s also worth pointing out that it captures at a bit rate of 120 Mbps in this mode (dropping down to 100 Mbps with HDR video capture), which provides more room to retrieve details in the shadows and highlights in post. I also prefer the D-Cinelike profile for its low contrast and unsaturated colors, because I can better color grade it to my liking in post.

There’s no arguing that 4K 60 FPS and a 120 Mbps bit rate are unique offerings in the Mavic line, and also unique for drones in this same price bracket. Some $1,000 drones offer 4K 60FPS, and you’ll generally need to bump into that higher price bracket for a competitive video bit rate.

The Mavic Air 2 also features HDR video capture, a handy option for those who want the best results without having to work on footage later on. That’s due to the improved dynamic range, as highlights are toned down to prevent the sky from being blown out. Colors, too, receive a bump in saturation to boost the overall look, but noise does become more prevalent in the shadows. It’s not as distracting under ideal conditions when it’s sunny out, though.

DJI Mavic Air 2 closeup of camera
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Other notable improvements over its predecessor include 1080p slow motion at 120 and 240 FPS, as well as an 8K hyperlapse mode that essentially speeds up the footage into bite-sized clips. On top of that, you have the cool shooting modes — like rocket, circle, and asteroid — that DJI has perfected to give content creators professional-grade video.

The Mavic Air 2 has the tools and features that pros crave to continue producing high-quality content, but it’s also wonderful for new flyers. The only downside is that quality takes a considerable dip under low-light situations. I took it out at dusk, with the sun already below the horizon. Even the larger sensor is still not enough to draw in more light from the scene, resulting in high noise and details loss.

There’s a disparity with the performance you get, from say, the larger 1-inch sensor used by the Mavic Pro 2 versus this one, which is why it’s no surprise its low-light performance isn’t a drastic step up over its predecessor. I wouldn’t expect any other drone with a 1/2-inch sensor to perform better.

Smarter flying

It’s been a while since I last piloted a drone, but the safety standards introduced with the Mavic Air 2 make flying a breeze. Obviously, the obstacle sensors I explained earlier help to avoid collisions, but there are still a few more safety features in place that will ease minds.

Landing the Mavic Air 2 is made easier under difficult lighting conditions thanks to an auxiliary light at the bottom of the drone. AirSense technology allows it to receive ADS-B signals from other nearby aircraft and will show their locations on screen. Finally, the updated APAS 3.0 system intelligently allows the Mavic Air 2 to avoid collisions, and in some situations, will allow it to determine a path around obstacles. It’s not always perfect in making some of these decisions, but I have yet to encounter a serious collision.

DJI Mavic Air 2 controller
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The controller packed with the Mavic Air 2 has been redesigned. This time, there’s a section you pull out from the top to cradle your smartphone. It can be a bit finicky, especially if you have a thicker case on your phone, however, I do like how the appropriate cable to connect your smartphone is neatly tucked away inside of the controller. The controller is on the chunky side, but I found it comfortable to use.

In one instance during a flight, the video feed from the drone was severed at roughly 600 feet away from my location. It was a heart-racing moment, but I restarted the app, moved a few steps away from where I was, and the feed was established again.

The Mavic Air 2 features updated Ocusync 2.0 transmission technology, which is said to deliver a reliable video feed at a distance upward of 10 kilometers, but it has to be line of sight. In my case, a small building may have obstructed the connection. Luckily, all I had to do was move a bit to get connected again.

Our take

The DJI Mavic Air 2 is an impressive drone that’s fun, easy, and safe to fly. Whether you’re new to the drone scene, or a seasoned professional pilot, the Mavic Air 2 has everything you’ll need. It’s priced at $799 for the standard package, but I suggest spending the extra money to pick up the “Fly More Combo” at $988 because you’re getting more value. You get a total of three batteries, a set of ND filters, extra propeller blades, and a carrying case for the extra money.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes and no. The DJI Mavic Mini is an excellent drone for first-time and casual flyers, thanks in part to its small size and lower cost, but it doesn’t come close to reaching the same scope of features found in the Mavic Air 2.

Professionals who care about performance will want to look at the Mavic 2 Pro, mainly for the larger sensor that’s better equipped at low light. However, it’s double the cost.

As for the rest? The only other drone to come close to matching the Mavic Air 2 is the Skydio 2, which features a more sophisticated obstacle avoidance system. However, it costs more, runs shorter with its battery life, and doesn’t collapse into a more compact size.

How long will it last?

If you take the proper flying precautions, the Mavic Air 2’s solid build quality ensures it’ll keep on flying smoothly for a while. The propeller blades may need to be replaced at some point, but DJI does throw in an extra set in the box.

Buyers will want to also consider buying DJI Care Refresh+ for $135, which protects the drone from water damage, collisions, and other crashes. It’s peace of mind for when you’re flying.

Should you buy it?

Yes. This is an excellent drone that packs a ton of features into a midrange price. If you are looking for deals, check out this awesome compilation of the best Black Friday drone deals.

John Velasco
John is the Smart Home editor at Digital Trends covering all of the latest tech in this emerging market. From uncovering some…
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