Right now, DJI’s new Mavic Air 2 camera drone can go where I can’t. I live near a county park in New Jersey where I’ve tested out drones in the past but, with it closed to help flatten the coronavirius curve, flying there was out of the question. For me, at least.
The Mavic Air 2 can fly farther and for longer than the original from 2018, and that’s in spite of it being slightly larger and heavier at 570 grams (1.3 pounds). Its max flight time is now 34 minutes without wind, up from 21 minutes. (I got roughly 32 minutes of zipping around my backyard before it forced a landing.) Its max video transmission range has increased from 4 kilometers to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). With it I could stand outside the near-deserted 121-acre park — an odd sight for a sunny spring Saturday — and fly over its flowering trees and capture it all with the drone’s new 4K-resolution camera even if I couldn’t see them in person.
The camera uses a larger 1/2-inch Quad Bayer image sensor behind an f2.8 24mm-equivalent lens. The sensor’s design allows it to capture 48-megapixel images (here’s a sample I shot) as well as 12-megapixel shots with less noise. There’s a new SmartPhoto mode, too, that uses “advanced scene analysis and deep learning to automatically choose one of three processing options — HDR, low light or scenery like snow or sunsets.
As for video, the camera can record at up to 4K-resolution video at 60 frames per second, which is a first for a Mavic drone. The 4K video records at a higher bit rate of 120 megabits per second and it shows in the amount of detail. You can also record in HDR in 4K at 30 frames per second, which helps balance out things like clouds where you’d normally lose some detail in highlights as well bring up shadow detail. The Air 2 can do 1080p slow motion, too, at 120 and 240fps. It’s nice to have the 240fps option, but it seems to come with a dip in video quality. The 120fps looked good, though.
A new auxiliary LED helps you land after the sun sets.
One other new option is 8K-resolution hyperlapse, also known as a motion time lapse. It wasn’t available in the firmware I tested, but will be partially available when the drone ships with more options coming with another update in June. You also get DJI’s set of six automated QuickShot modes like Dronie, Helix and Rocket that perform complicated flight paths while keeping its camera on the subject you choose, creating perfect shareable clips.
Like the original, the Air 2 can track subjects you select just by drawing a box around them on your phone’s screen in the DJI Fly app. DJI updated its ActiveTrack mode for improved subject recognition and obstacle avoidance, so you can walk through trees or other obstacles and the drone will automatically go over or around. It may struggle with bare branches, but at least in my initial tests, it worked as promised. This model also has a Spotlight option so you can control the drone even while it’s tracking so the camera is always locked on. You’re able to do automate flight paths around a targeted point of interest, too.
The redesigned controller is more comfortable and easier to set up and use.
Part of the reason it’s able to do all of that is the sensors on the drone’s front, back and bottom, what DJI calls its Advanced Pilot Assistance System. You can fly right at things and the drone will find its own path around or over obstacles and you get audible and visual warnings the whole time from the app and controller.
This is also DJI’s first consumer drone to include AirSense, which receives ADS-B signals from airplanes and helicopters. This gives you a notification on your screen so you know when there’s air traffic in your area. DJI said the pandemic caused some supply chain issues, which will initially limit the availability of AirSense to Mavic Air 2s sold in North America where officials have implemented the strongest regulations. A version without AirSense will be sold in all other regions where ADS-B requirements for helicopters and planes are less strict. Units with AirSense will ship to regions outside North America this summer.
That’s, of course, just the tip of what this drone is capable of and I haven’t even gotten to its excellent new controller. It’s larger than the last and instead of your phone awkwardly sandwiched below the controls, it’s now clipped up top. Its sticks are still removable for travel and store in the bottom; you just pull them out and twist them in.
Front and center is a switch for moving from normal to the slower Tripod or faster Sport modes (the Air 2 has a max speed of 68 kph or 42 mph in Sport). There’s a programmable Function button on the top left that controls the drone’s auxiliary LED light on its belly out of the box. Plus, on top, there’s a dial for tilting the camera on its three-axis motorized gimbal and a trigger for capturing video or photos. Another button on front lets you toggle for switching between photo and video.
DJI added a speaker to the back so you’ll hear system warnings loud and clear.
I was only able to get a handful of test flights, but so far it’s an impressive drone that flies smoothly and has an incredible feature set. And once restrictions are relaxed, this will likely be DJI’s best consumer travel companion. The DJI Mavic Air 2 starts shipping on May 11 in the US starting at $799 for the drone, one battery and the controller. In the UK it’ll be £769 and AU$1,499 in Australia. A Fly More package with a shoulder bag, ND filters, charging hub and three batteries will be available, too, for $988, £949 and AU$1,899.
First published on April 27.