DJI Mavic Air - purchase advice and comparison with the Spark and Mavic Pro

The DJI Mavic Air was presented by DJI on January 23, 2018. The new, small drone wonder was admired in an Apple-style keynote. In contrast to Apple, however, the "new" Mavic could be ordered directly after the Keynote already order and not months later, as Apple does with the HomePod. If you missed the event, you can read about it here: DJI Mavic Air: "Adventure Unfolds" event recap from January 23, 2018.

Are you already sure you want a Mavic Air? Then you can find the link to the product here:

» directly to the store: buy DJI Mavic Air (fly more combo) «

Folding drone from DJI - space-saving to transport.
Extremely space-saving: The Mavic Air is easy to stow thanks to the folding mechanism.

Comparison of the Mavic Air with Spark and Mavic Pro (Platinum)

Someone who does not yet know all the details about the Mavic Air and is wondering how the technical data compares to the DJI Spark, the Mavic Pro or the Phantom 4 will certainly be interested in our article, in which we present exactly these illuminate points in more detail. The built-in table in the article compares the "Specs" of the Mavic Pro with the new Mavic Air: DJI Mavic Air: The technical data and the comparison to the Mavic Pro.

FOC - control of the motors in sinus form makes the drone significantly quieter.
The motor controllers of the Mavic Air are also provided with a sinusoidal control. This makes the Mavic Air just as quiet as the Mavic Pro Platinum.

Since we do not make a direct comparison with the Mavic Pro Platinum I would like to briefly note that the difference between the Pro and Platinum Pro is mainly the flight time and the quieter propeller noise. The camera and the other features are the same.

» Fly drones more quietly - with the Mavic Pro Platinum

Volume: compared to the Pro / Platinum

With regard to the volume development, DJI has also given the Mavic Air the special sinusoidal control ESC (Electronic Speed ​​Control - i.e. the speed regulator of the motors), so that it flies as quietly as the Mavic Pro Platinum. I assume that soon all new drones from DJI will be equipped with the more efficient and quieter motor control, as this also significantly extends the flight time.

At first I was of the opinion that the Mavic Air should be quieter than the Mavic Pro (without Platinum) due to the motor control, but what I do this volume test and various reviews, the Mavic Air is about as loud as the Mavic Pro. That's a bit of a disappointment because I think quiet drone flying much more pleasant, because you are not so quickly in the focus of other people. But maybe DJI will deliver special propellers for the Mavic Air to make it quieter.

The 2-axis gimbal of the Spark.
The gimbal of the DJI Spark looks similar, but only offers 2-axis stabilization - this is clearly noticeable in the quality of the film recordings. This is where the 3-axis gimbal from Mavic Air scores.

Unfortunately, a comparison with the DJI Spark is still pending on my side. But what I can already say: The Mavic Pro and even more the Mavic Air are much better suited for filming than the Spark. On the one hand, the Spark lacks the 4K resolution, but even more the 3-axis gimbal and the high bit rate that the DJI Mavic Air has. Compared:

  • DJI Spark: 24 mbps (at 1080p) / 2-axis gimbal
  • DJI Mavic Pro: 60 mbps (at 4K) / 3-axis gimbal
  • DJI Mavic Air: 100 mbps (at 4K) / 3-axis gimbal

You can see that the bit rate of the Mavic Air is almost twice as high as that of the Mavic Pro - and this worries Youtube even for good video recordings. By increasing the bit rate to 100 mbps, the Mavic Air offers even more details when filming and, in conjunction with the 3-axis gimbal, ensures impressive recordings. For a better comparison: The Sony A6500 or the Lumix G85 digital cameras also have this bit rate - but they cannot fly. ;-)

Video recordings in Cinelike D format

The higher bit rate is also helpful for getting more out of color grading or other post-production work. Speaking of post-production... one more thing: While the Mavic Pro supports both D-Log and Cinelike D, the Mavic Air "only" supports Cinelike D as a log format for videos. From my point of view, however, this is completely sufficient, since it leaves just as much scope for post-processing as the D-Log format. For me it even has the advantage that the display on the monitor when filming is closer to reality than it is with the D-Log format. This means problems with colors or exposure are noticed earlier and can still be fixed.

Bit rate of 100 Mbps when recording 4K video
The video recordings of the Mavic Air offer more details than the Mavic Pro, as the films are recorded at 100 Mbps at 4K @ 30fps.

Those who are less interested in creating videos may be satisfied with the Spark. You are welcome to read my test of the DJI Spark here: The mini drone “DJI Spark” in the test and in comparison to the Mavic Pro. In it I show comparisons of photos and video recordings and explain why the Mavic Pro - or now the Mavic Air - is the better video drone, but also for what it is quite useful. For taking photos, for example, the Spark is still an interesting drone, as it is even lighter than the DJI Mavic Air and there is no need to open it. So it is ready even faster and also available for less money (here to Spark in the DJI Shop).

Footage comparison: Spark, Mavic Air and Pro Platinum

I've been looking for videos for a while that actually allow a comparison of the raw data of the different DJI models. Besides many Youtubers who didn't even have the Mavic Air and still filled a video with the comparison of the technical data and those who had the Mavic Air but didn't actually compare the recorded videos, I only have this one from "We Talk UAV" found. It shows unedited (cropped only) footage of the Spark, Mavic Air, and Mavic Pro Platinum models, and you can see the quality for yourself. My tip: Make the video large on the monitor and set the quality to maximum.

My feeling is that the Spark struggles a lot with contrasts. In my opinion, it is completely out of the question if you want to make videos (also because of the low resolution and the 2-axis gimbal). With the Mavic Pro, you can already see in the video that the backlight situation cannot be handled by the camera. The Mavic Air, on the other hand, still has clear structures on the ground and in the sky. Only the shadow areas may be lacking in detail. But here you can certainly take countermeasures with the recording in Cinelike D and subsequent processing. Fixing the bright, "blown-out" areas in the Mavic Pro's video, on the other hand, is difficult or impossible unless you want to spend an inordinate amount of time reworking. From my point of view, the difference in recording quality to the Mavic Pro can be seen very clearly and is a reason to buy the Mavic Air.

Video comparison of the Pro and Air models.
A screenshot from the video by We Talk UAV: ​​in the left area you can see the image of the Mavic Pro, which is clearly too bright. On the right, however, a more detailed video image of the Mavic Air.

If you want to see a bit of unedited raw footage from Air, you can go to continue reading this post. Here I have put together some videos that were uploaded unedited (only cut).

The best choice: Fly More Combo

If you want to buy the DJI Mavic Air, you should definitely get the DJI MAvic Air FlyMore Combo look at. This is a package in which DJI packs a lot of practical accessories for the drone. That was already the case with the Mavic Pro and Spark and I have to admit that I was annoyed that I didn't order it from the Mavic Pro. You save a lot of money and get a good set put together. For this reason, I bought the DJI Spark Fly More Combo directly from the DJI Spark and I am very satisfied with it. At that time I only bought a few batteries afterwards.

» directly to the store: buy DJI Mavic Air (fly more combo) «

Small pack size thanks to removable sticks.
The remote control of the Mavic Air does not have a display - as was the case with the Mavic Pro - but the sticks are now also removable, so that the pack size is even smaller.

Range: The radio transmission

One point that unfortunately worries me is the radio transmission, which, like the DJI Spark, is based on a WiFi signal. Another radio transmission (OcuSync and Wifi) was used in the Mavic Pro, but it is obviously much more stable. While I almost never had picture failures with the Mavic Pro, this happens quite early on with the Spark. In an open field after approx. 150 meters. With the Mavic Pro, I was over 350 meters away for a test and had no failures. The ranges given by DJI are as follows:

  • DJI Spark: up to 2 km (WiFi with 2,4 / 5,8 GHz)
  • DJI Mavic Pro: up to 7 km (OcuSync transmission)
  • DJI Mavic Air: up to 4 km (WiFi with 2,4 / 5,8 GHz)
  • DJI Phantom 4 Pro: up to 7 km (Lightbridge HD with 2,4 / 5,8 GHz)

The ranges are not only dependent on the environment (shading by trees, buildings, etc.), but also on regional laws. In Germany, for example, the radio signal is automatically weakened by the drone in order to comply with these laws. The consequence is an additional reduction in the range.

Range test of the drone in Texas.
Range test in Texas: Despite the brief warning message, the Youtuber still manages a distance of about 2 kilometers until the connection breaks off completely and RTH is initiated.

I am a little hopeful that the Mavic Air might not give reason to complain about the range after all this video from Ready Set Drone. He did a range test. It was only after about 1,6 kilometers that he received the first warning that the signal was weak.

Update 01.02.2018/500/1600: I no longer have any concerns. The Youtuber from "Tom's Tech Time" has reported in relation to the range in European countries that he has a range of XNUMX m even in heavily built-up areas. His best result in an open area was around XNUMX m. DJI has obviously improved the WiFi transmission here both in terms of software and hardware. After one of the last software updates, even the Spark should fly significantly further without radio interruptions than before. Thumbs up DJI! I wrote you an article on the subject here: The range of the DJI Mavic Air in practice.

Update 28.02.2018/XNUMX/XNUMX: Now that I've had a number of flights, I can say that the "enhanced Wifi signal" of the Mavic Air is significantly better than that of the Spark. I haven't had any warnings or disconnects so far and it's a lot more fun to fly than the Spark's unstable image transmission.

Comparison of the sensors

If you look at the DJI Spark and the Mavic Air, you will find that the gimbal looks relatively similar. The sensor on the DJI Spark is a 1 / 2,3 inch CMOS sensor with 12 MP resolution. With the DJI Mavic Air and the Mavic Pro we have the same data, although I am sure that the electronic processing of the Mavic Air is a bit superior to the Spark. This can be seen on the one hand with high-contrast motifs, but also on the improved HDR function, which shows more details in photos.

Comparison of HDR photo and normal photo.
The Air's HDR algorithm has been improved. The Spark copes less well with high-contrast subjects - although it has the same sensor (Photos: DJI).

However, I have to say that the photos of the Spark were very similar compared to the Mavic Pro (not the Air!). The Mavic Pro may have a slightly larger optics, but I couldn't make out any clear differences in normal lighting situations.

If you want higher resolution photos, you have to get the Phantom 4Pro with 20 MP resolution or the "new" Mavic Pro, which is rumored to be out in the 1st quarter of 2018 and will have a larger sensor (perhaps 1 inch like the P4Pro?) that will also allow 20 MP resolution for photos .

Camera, aperture and focus options

Something has also changed on the camera itself: while the Mavic Pro works with a fixed focal length of 2,2, the Mavic Air has 2,8. There are also differences in operation: the Mavic Air has a "Fixed Focus", but the Mavic Pro has several settings such as "Touch to Focus", "Autofocus" and "Manual Focus". I personally think the "Fixed Focus" of the Air is actually good, because I've often had blurred photos with the Mavic Pro because I forgot to tap to focus.

Fold-out landing legs - good idea

One problem I have with the DJI Spark is launching and loading from uneven ground or out of grass. The Spark is built so flat that the camera is only a few millimeters above the ground. As a result, the lens gets dirty very quickly and every now and then spoils the recordings with small dirt particles or moisture on the lens. DJI has tackled this problem and has now given the Mavic Air fold-out landing legs on the front.

In tall grass, however, you still have to resort to a "hand launch" (launch from your hand) and catch the drone from the air after the job is done, but in many situations the landing legs are certainly helpful.

Fold-out landing legs of the drone.
The Mavic Air's fold-out legs allow you to take off and land even in "rough" terrain.

Important for photographers: No portrait mode on the Air

I know some photographers who compensate for the low resolution of the Mavic Pro by setting the camera orientation to portrait mode for landscape photography, for example, and then taking several portrait photos side by side. These are then added together in Lightroom and so you get beautiful, high-resolution landscape photos in landscape format. HDR panorama photos are also possible in this way with the Mavic Pro.

New gimbal construction of the Air and the Spark - whereby the Spark stabilizes only on two axes.
The new gimbal construction, which is also used in the Mavic Air, offers a compact construction, but makes it impossible to take pictures in portrait mode.

The new gimbal design, which can now be found on the Mavic Air, does not allow the camera to be rotated 90 degrees in order to use it in a portrait mode. The result is that it is more difficult to take such panorama photos because you probably have to take photos in two rows.

The automatic panorama function, which DJI introduced with the Mavic Air and has now subsequently also donated to the Spark and the Mavic Pro, may help. This allows you to have automated photos taken for various panorama types and then in the DJI Go App add up.

However, if you want to use "bracketing" for an HDR panorama, in which the drone takes either 3 or 5 shots (with slight under- and overexposure) in one go, then you cannot and must use DJI's automatic panorama function create the recordings manually by slightly "adjusting" the orientation of the drone in the desired directions after each snap and photographing again. Of course, this is more error-prone than letting the process run automatically.

Areas of application that the manufacturer sees for the drone.
Areas of application for the Mavic Air: Travel, weddings, hikes, extreme sports and the like.

Conclusion: who is the drone suitable for?

After so much information, you might be wondering if the DJI Mavic Air is the right drone for you. I'll answer the question by listing a few bullet points that show what the drone is definitely the right choice for:

  • you are often with a backpack and need a small drone
  • you like to make videos and the Phantom 4 Pro is too big for you
  • you like to take photos in nature when you are out and about
  • the "low" resolution of 12 MP is ok for you (for comparison: the iPhone X also has 12 MP)
  • the flight time of 20 minutes is enough for you (otherwise the Mavic Pro Platinum offers 30 minutes and the Mavic Pro approx. 27 minutes)
  • you have a Mavic Pro and want better videos (the Mavic Air offers 100 Mbps instead of 60 Mbps!)
  • you have a DJI Spark and think the size is good, but the videos are not "smooth" enough
  • you don't plan to take photos for professional photographers (they expect the resolution of the Phantom 4 Pro)
  • you do wedding photography and would like to offer the drone photos or videos as an additional product
  • you do not intend to use the drone for measurements (the gimbal and the resolution of the Phantom 4 Pro are much more suitable for this)

If you find yourself in several of these points, the DJI Mavic Air is definitely a good choice for you. For the sake of completeness, I have also linked the other drone options again here. In case you want to take a look at the technical data.

If you still don't know which drone is the right one for you, feel free to email me what your plans are. I will then try to advise you which model is best suited for your area of ​​application.

My tip: DJI Care, Select and batteries

DJI Select

If you want to buy a drone from DJI, I would recommend ordering the "DJI Select" and "DJI Care" service offers at the same time. While DJI Select is more for repeat customers as it gives you access to special offers, discounts and priority delivery at the DJI Store, I know a lot of people who thought they just wanted "one" drone and ended up having one or two years a larger fleet. In this case, you will definitely save with DJI Select if you use the coupons that you get right at the beginning. You can read how this works with DJI Select in this post: “DJI Select: Premium service when buying drones".

Care refresh

DJI Care Refresh is something like "Apple Care". This gives you comprehensive insurance for the drone. It's not just about accidents caused by the technology itself, but also pilot errors and "dropping" are covered by DJI Care. For example, if you fly backwards into a tree, DJI will repair the drone at no cost. If I understood that correctly, only a total loss is designed in such a way that you get a refund of 80% of the purchase price and have to add the rest to the new purchase yourself.

I would recommend the DJI Care program to any drone pilot. You fly much more relaxed and in the event of an emergency you have a functional drone at hand again in a short time. If you are interested in DJI Care, you can find the link here: continue to the DJI Care Refresh program.

Additional batteries

Another tip that I can recommend to everyone: Get additional batteries (DJI Mavic Air battery). At first I only used the DJI Spark Spark Fly More Combo fetched, in which DJI unfortunately only packed two batteries for the DJI Spark. That is far too little. I now have five batteries for the plane and even those can be quickly drained on long hikes or long days without charging. Often you can only take it for one or two take-offs, because then the capacity is so low that you come close to the 20-30% mark, where the drone then warns and initiates the automatic return flight. For the reason: get yourself right away Batteries for the DJI Mavic Air to. The Fly More Combo only comes with three, so that, in my opinion, there is still a need.

And one last note: Even if the Mavic Air doesn't even weigh 500 grams: A Drone registration is mandatory. as soon as the drone weighs over 250 grams. The Drone driver's license is only necessary from a take-off weight of 2 kg.

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