DJI's Mavic Air: Why the DJI Pro's baby brother is the one you really need in your kit bag
"No place is boring if you've had a good night's sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film" - Robert Adams
Robert Adam's quote may seem a little outdated now (I mean when was the last time you really rolled out of bed with a pocket of film), but one part is so true - nothing is boring when you have a camera on you. With DJI bringing aerial photography to the masses, the level of intrigue that you can find in a place is now higher than ever. With the recent release of the DJI Mavic 2 likely making the old Mavic Pro more wallet-friendly, you may be wondering whether the Mavic Air – its baby brother – is still the go-to drone for travel enthusiasts and, well, the short answer is yes, absolutely. Looking for more of a long answer? Scroll down to see our head-to-head comparison and why the Mavic Air, nearly a year on from its release, is still the one to buy.
Size – quite literally pocket friendly
The photographer and author Chase Jarvis once wrote that “the best camera is the one that’s with you” and, if the Mavic Air’s compact design is anything to go by, then it is by far the best drone on the market. The fact that it’s the same size as some of the flagship mobile phones out there and weighs just 430g means that it can comfortably fit into any bag or even jacket pocket – making it easy to carry around just about everywhere. To compare, the Mavic Pro weighs in at 743g and, even when folded, is nearly twice the size of the Air. Now sure, the extra 300g doesn’t sound too harsh now, but when you’re trying to fit all your gear into your carry-on, or into one bag for a day of hiking, the Air’s compact nature is a gamechanger.
Flight and Footage – the two F’s
Okay, so you’ve transported your drone to your location, now it’s time to fly. After all, portability and size are great but if it doesn’t fly well or produce great footage then what is the point? While the Pro does boast a longer flight time of 27 minutes - compared to the Air’s more than respectable 21 minutes, that is where its victories kind of end. Sure, it’s longer range of 7km (compared to the Mavic Air’s 4km) does sound great, drone laws tend to require pilots maintain a line of sight to their drone – something you probably won’t be able to do from 4km’s away, let alone 7.
Then let’s get on to the camera. While the Mavic Pro is able to shoot 4k videos at 30fps and a 60mbps bitrate, the Air offers 24 fps 4k at 100mbps, as well as the ability to shoot 1080p 120fps for that silky-smooth slow motion guaranteed to get those insta followers’ attention. Photo wise, both have a 12mp camera, but the Air’s higher iso range of 100-3200 make it the better option for those low-light shots, which, when coupled with the introduction of a panorama option and HDR option gives the newer Air the advantage over its bigger brother.
Be more cinematic with automatic smart capture
While both the Mavic Pro does have active track and gesture controls, both have been upgraded for the Mavic Air. It can now track up to sixteen people at the same time, keeping them all in focus even while cycling or jumping, so you can rest assured knowing that all your travel companions are always in the frame. On top of that, the new app includes some of the Spark’s more endearing features like boomerang and ‘quickshot’ to make it easier to get the shots you need without that whole being an expert thing.
To see just how smart-capture can boost your aerial photography be sure to check out our full tutorial on your drone’s automated features here!
Internal memory – a genuine shoot savior
The coup-de-grace of the Mavic Air may, arguably, be one of its least glamorous features – it’s 8 gigabytes of internal storage, something the Pro lacks. Now, I know you are probably reading this thinking “pfft, just pick up a couple of extra micro SD cards” and, I mean yeah, you’re right but, as anyone who has had SD cards fail will appreciate, the security blanket internal storage gives you can be a shoot-saver. For example, my first flight was at 5am up a mountain in Southern China and, as anyone who gets up to shoot the sunrise can appreciate, my brain refused to function that early. A lack of sleep (and coffee!) had meant that I’d left my box of memory cards in my hotel room. With the Pro, that kind of mistake would have left me without sunrise drone footage but, thanks to that internal storage, I was able to grab enough shots to bore my Instagram followers for days!
All of this brings us to one of the most attractive aspects of the Mavic Air. Its price. At the time of writing, the Mavic Pro is listed at $999 - a full $200 more than the Mavic Air ($799). Now I’m not entirely sure where you are based in the world but, if I were you, I’d grab that $200 and book a plane, train, or automobile somewhere new and exciting for a weekend of awesome exploration. After all, a fancy new drone is great, but it’s only good if you’re out and about flying it – and where better to do that than on an adventure. Just be sure to pick up a couple of extra batteries to make the absolute most of your trip.
DJI’s Mavic Air may be nearing it’s first birthday but it’s clear that it is still one of the best drones that money can buy. Combining the Spark’s portability with the Pro’s ability, the Air is perfect for anyone who doesn’t quite need the top-of-the range specs of the Mavic Pro 2, but still wants to take their photography to new heights (pun intended!). In the US? Check out the DJI Black Friday sale and pick up yours ready for the next adventure.