Mavic Air 2 review camera sensor

Mavic Air 2 review: it’s everything you expect — and that’s a good thing

Reviewing new drones can often be unexpected. The first time I flew the original Mavic Pro, I was delighted by how small it really was — and surprised to find myself wanting to carry it with me wherever I went. When I flew the Skydio with its obstacle avoidance for the first time, my heart raced as it gets harrowingly close to a tree. When I finished my first Mavic Mini flight, I was impressed by how quickly I could get my footage edited and onto Instagram — without even removing the memory card.

For people who have been flying drones for a while now (for me, it’s more than 7 years at this point) there is pretty much nothing unexpected about the DJI Mavic Air 2. And that’s a good thing.

The Mavic Air 2 promises a robust set of features, especially given the price point. For $799, you’re looking at a brilliant flying camera with a 1/2″ CMOS Quad Bayer sensor mounted on a 3-axis stabilized gimbal that can capture up to 48 MP resolution (well, sort of).

It’s got obstacle avoidance sensors on the front, rear and bottom of the aircraft, which can help it avoid crashing (though I wouldn’t call it fully crashproof).

And most importantly, the Mavic Air 2 provides the seamless experience you’ve come to expect from DJI. From start to finish, the DJI Mavic Air 2 is easy to fly. On-screen text on the app walks you through exactly what you need to do to have a successful flight — even if you didn’t read the instruction manual (but you absolutely should).

Unlike many drones that have connection issues, where you inevitably have to unplug, replug, turn on and turn off your drone to finally get it in the air, DJI’s drones as of late are reliably perfect — and the Mavic Air 2 is no exception.

You can expect the Mavic Air 2 to do exactly what it promises. It takes amazing photos. It’s easy and safe to fly. It operates without any headaches.

No drone is more reliable than a DJI drone, and the Mavic Air 2 confirms that.

Here’s my DJI Mavic Air 2 review:

The camera quality — and the shots the software allows it to take

The Mavic Air 2’s camera uses a 1/2″ CMOS Quad Bayer sensor, plus 24mm (equiv.) fixed-aperture F2.8 lens with an 84º field of view.

Photos can be taken in 12 MP or 48 MP, and can shoot in RAW format (and of course, JPEG also).

SmartPhoto records 12-megapixel photos in one of three image capture options:

  • HDR: The drone automatically shoots seven different exposures of the same photograph and merges them together, which brings out a highly dynamic image
  • Hyperlight: Your drone takes multiple photos and then merges them to bring out a clear image with less of the noise, helpful if you’re shooting in low light.
  • Scene Recognition: Your drone automatically detects landscapes (ie sunsets, grass, snow, trees) to optimize their settings, which can be useful if snow might otherwise appear gray, or faces might appear dark in front of a bright sunset.

For video, you can record unique content using HDR video, 4X Slow Motion in 1080p at 120 fps or 8X Slow Motion in 1080p at 240 fps.

And while the video quality is good, where the DJI Mavic Air 2 really shines is how its automatic flight software controls the drone for you to actually take those videos.

Because yes, you can control the drone manually, but you should fly in automatic flight modes like ActiveTrack 3.0 and FocusTrack — which is the most advanced tracking feature on any DJI drone.

Within FocusTrack, there are three automatic flight modes:

  • ActiveTrack 3.0: Select a subject for Mavic Air 2 to automatically follow. The third iteration of ActiveTrack uses state-of-the-art mapping technology and new flight path algorithms to offer improved subject tracking and obstacle avoidance, along with the ability to quickly re-engage the subject if it temporarily moves behind an object.
  • Point of Interest 3.0: Set an automated flight path around a specific subject. The updated iteration improves surface recognition to better dynamically track subjects.
  • Spotlight 2.0: Found in professional DJI drones, Spotlight locks a subject in the frame while the user has free operation of the drone’s movement. 

There’s the additional option of 8K resolution if you’re filming in Free and Waypoint Hyperlapse modes (hyperlapse is like a timelapse but with the element of the drone moving too).

Mavic Air 2 review controller new

An all-new, redesigned controller

A big change with the Mavic Air 2 vs any other drone in the Mavic family is the new controller. The new grip is certainly more ergonomic — but that’s not the only benefit.

The new smartphone clamp is much improved. It drags out to fit smartphones of varying sizes. I have a case on my iPhone, and most other controllers require me to remove the case in order to fit my phone on the controller’s clamp which is just annoying.

There’s also something quite different about this controller. There are no antennas to fold out. Instead, the antennas are actually held inside that same smartphone clamp.

DJI Mavic Air 2 controller smartphone clamp
The pull-out smartphone clamp fits a broader array of smart devices. Plus, the cord tucks in neatly.

Like many of the more recent DJI drones, the sticks on the controller screw off, making the drone much more compact.

There’s a switch prominently featuring on the controller that allows you to quickly toggle between Tripod, Normal, and Sport flight modes (more on those later).

And it’s not just the aesthetics that are new on this controller. This controller is smart. it supports 2.4/5.8GHz dual-frequency communication. With that, the Air 2 can automatically switch to the best channel with the lowest interference in real time, significantly improving the drone’s anti-interference ability (helpful if flying in crowded airspace).

Sally French DJI Mavic Air 2 controller drone

Getting your Mavic Air 2 set up

While the Mavic Air 2 is great for newbies, there is one component of this drone that I found a bit less newbie-friendly.

The propellers don’t come automatically installed on your drone — you’ll have to do it yourself. If you’ve flown a drone before, you’ll know that there are two sets of propellers — one clockwise, and the other counter clockwise. And, the design of the drones are the inverse of each other. But newbies might not necessarily know that.

The Mavic Air does come with propellers in two separate bags — one labeled A and the other labeled B. However, the propellers themselves aren’t labeled A and B, so be careful to not get them mixed up once they’re out of the bag. For new pilots, it might not be entirely clear what specific propellers otherwise go on each specific arm. Otherwise, there’s only a small silver mark to indicate which propellers go on which arm, but it can be easy to miss if you don’t know what to look for.

Luckily, DJI has an enormous amount of failsafes, including one for this situation: the drone won’t take off if a propeller is incorrectly place. Still, a newbie might be confused or frustrated by the experience.

DJI Mavic Air 2 drone flying

DJI Mavic Air 2 review: what flying it is actually like

I was really impressed by how quiet the DJII Mavic Air 2 is. I was actually flying it out on this trail mid-hike and another hiker passed through. She didn’t even notice we were flying a drone until I explicitly said, “hang on, let me get the drone away from you!”

The drone has a max flight time of 34 minutes. Though, expect it t be less when flying in wind, or in sport mode.

DJI says it can fly at a max flight speed of 42 kph in Sport mode — but I was too chicken to test it. I actually prefer flying in tripod mode — which is the opposite. Tripod mode significantly reduces your drone’s speed, which makes it much easier to shoot smoother video.

If you’re out flying and forget a memory card, don’t sweat. The drone contains 8GB of internal storage as backup — a feature that was first introduced in the original iteration of the Mavic Air, which launched in 2018.

There are obstacle avoidance sensors on the front, rear and bottom of the drone, though none at the top. They can certainly be helpful in avoiding potential crashes, but I wouldn’t call this drone crash-proof or able to totally fly itself, the way I would describe the Skydio 2. This TechCrunch piece highlights exactly why you shouldn’t rely on the drone’s sensors to avoid crashes. You should use your own good judgement when setting your drone on an automated flight path about what objects are in the area.

It’s great in empty fields or parking lots. Less great in a wooded area.

One more note about flying the Mavic Air 2 — which you may not even know about when you’re flying: this is DJI’s first consumer drone with AirSense technology, a feature that alerts you if there’s another aircraft nearby. This drone is actually equipped with ADS-B, which can receive signals from nearby airplanes and helicopters to warn you of other incoming traffic (thus you can take action).

Sally French, The Drone Girl, holds the DJI Mavic Air 2, which launched in spring 2020.

Why DJI is still the best (and I don’t anticipate their throne being unseated)

DJI drones provide something for everyone — they’re just as accessible and useful whether you’re a total beginner or a drone pro.

For beginners, DJI has continued to improve the experience of taking the drone from box to air for your first flight. On-screen text in their DJI Fly app walks you through it step by step. Everything connects seamlessly.

In the past, I felt like even DJI drones fell into the trap where something would have troubled connecting, and you would fall into a frustrating cycle of connecting and disconnecting the drone to get it to work. With this, takeoff is incredibly painless, and not stressful whatsoever.

And it’s not just takeoff. DJI has perfectly the art of making your start-to-finish experience of getting your drone in the air, and getting great footage onto your Instagram account.

The DJI Fly app makes creating videos — dare I say — convenient. With DJI Fly, you can shoot, editing, and share within the app. Expect to be able to cut multiple video clips together, set them to music, and publish them to Instagram within minutes after your flight — alll without even taking out the drone’s memory card.

Because ultimately for most people, flying a drone isn’t what it’s about. In fact, flying a drone — up until a few years ago — was often a stressful experience where you never really quite knew if the drone would behave.

For most people, flying a drone is about getting that epic shot of the waterfall you hiked to the top of uploaded onto Facebook that same day you did the hike (maybe you even posting as you soak your legs in an Epsom Salt bath). A drone is a tool for being the best photographer you can be — and DJI’s drones have mastered the art of enabling that.

DJI Mavic Air 2 Fly More Combo
Everything you get if you upgrade to the Mavic Air 2 Fly More Combo

Why you’ll want to upgrade to the Mavic Air 2 Fly More Combo

One thing a bit goofy with this drone — I hesitate to say it costs $799. You really need to upgrade to the $988 Mavic Air 2 Fly More Combo. Here’s why:

The base drone doesn’t give enough extra supplies, which you’ll inevitably need: The base drone kit gives you 3 propellers of each kind, so 6 total. That means just one spare for each side. It can be helpful, but if you have a full meltdown crash, you’re out of luck. They also don’t give you a memory card, so you’ll need to buy that separately if you don’t already own one.

You’ll want the filters: DJI’s Fly More combo includes 3 neutral density filters, which are easy to snap on and off.

The Fly More Combo also comes with a shoulder bag, charging hub, and 3 batteries.

Oh, and for an additional charge, DJI Care Refresh offers coverage for accidents like collisions or water damage, for up to two replacement units within one year.

The way DJI packages its standalone drone with just enough accessories to get flying yet not enough accessories to fly really prepared, DJI basically forces you to pay the up-charge and spring for the Fly More Combo. Still, at less than $1,000, this drone is really incredible for what you get. This powerful of a camera — in the air no less — is incredible.

Mavic Air 2 review Sally French The Drone Girl

Who should buy a Mavic Air 2?

You’re a videographer, or perhaps a still photographer. You want high-quality imagery (2.7K won’t do, as you need at least 4K), but you’re not willing to spring well into the $1,000 price range for the highest quality.

If you’re only posting videos on the Internet (say you’re here for the Instagram likes), then you probably don’t need to spend the extra money on the Mavic Air 2; a Mavic Mini is just $399 vs. $799 for the Mavic Air 2.

This drone is also more worth it for videographers than photographers. The standout features are its automatic video modes, so make sure you can actually use them.

That said, this is still a valuable tool for videographers, as the modes like HDR and hyperlight are quite impressive, too.

I’m so amazed by the features with this drone, which really allow photographers to push their creative limits. I’m still continuing to test out new and different shots, learn — and be impressed by what it can do. And for the price, it strikes the perfect balance between easy to fly, shoots high-quality video and photos, and it’s still coming in well under the daunting $1,000 price tag.

Get your own DJI Mavic Air 2 on Amazon (free shipping, and Prime customers can save 5% by charging it to their Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card), or order it on B&H Photo

Or, order directly from DJI, which enables you to take advantage of DJI Select, an annual, renewable membership program that offers benefits like coupons, prioritized shipping, 30-day returns and replacements, and faster repair service. You’ll also be able to participate in the DJI Credit program, which lets you earn earn 1% on every purchase. Plus, you get free shipping on orders of $159 or more

What’s your personal DJI Mavic Air 2 review? Leave a comment below!

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