It seems far, the time when DJI was an obscure builder of drones that began to venture into the world of cinema and aerial photography! Today the Shenzhen giant is number 1 in a market where competition is rare, and it is not the Mavic Air that will change the trend, quite the contrary.
Last January, from our first takeover of the Mavic Air in the South of France, we drew the conclusion that DJI had made enormous progress both in style and ease of use. Exit the silhouette a little pasted Phantom 3 and 4: since the Mavic Pro, DJI is based on a “bio design” inspired by nature and insects for better aerodynamics. The Mavic Air is the fruit and we find on this small body picked up supports that increase the stability and fluidity of flight.
After this first contact, we left to face the rigors of a winter much too long to test the quadricopter in real conditions, in the countryside then at the edge of the water, and finally deliver our verdict. No needless suspense: the Mavic Air is simply bluffing, and in many ways. The proof in this test.
So let’s start with this reworked design and its compactness. DJI continues its quest for “transportability” and offers the Mavic Air the ability to fold its four arms to slip everywhere. Even smaller than the Mavic Pro with 168 x 83 x 49 mm folded against 198 x 83 x 83 (L × W × H), the Mavic Air fits in any bag or large jacket pocket. To give you an idea, if we compare the Mavic Pro to a DSLR without a lens, the Mavic Air has meanwhile the size of a hybrid. The same goes for the tiny radio, which we appreciate the removable joysticks that make it even easier to transport.
Despite its small size, the Mavic Air boasts an impressive data sheet, including a stabilized 3-axis gondola, 4K video, a Sport mode that allows it to point to 68 km / h, flight modes and more. automated shots that capture those of the Spark (Helix, Rocket), as well as other modes varied (Asteroid, Boomerang, Smart Capture). In addition, we access the Active Track mode that brings detection several topics at once and above all an increased accuracy of tracking. Flight Autonomy 2.0 offers obstacle detection up to 20m with two pairs of cameras at the front and rear of the aircraft.
After many flights, we find that the system of folding arms holds well in time. We did not notice any assembly defect or excessive play. The same goes for Wi-Fi antennas housed in landing gear. In contrast, the rear hatch protecting the microSD card slot detonates, with its plastic tab that does not inspire confidence. However, after several weeks of use, the Mavic Air did not suffer from our various treatments.
The Mavic Air responds to the same start-up procedure as other members of his family. First we turn on the radio control, we unfold the drone like a robot, we activate the power by a double click on the button of the battery, then we put his smartphone in the body of the radio control. The DJI Go 4 app, unchanged, still offers comprehensive and comprehensive menus that will satisfy the advanced amateur but may lose beginners. Given DJI’s desire to target a very large audience, it might have been preferable to operate in stages, offering a first approach in full automation, and then unlocking functions as the learning process progressed. In addition, the messages and other pop-up necessary for the prevention, although useful, end up irritating by their pregnance.
If at the time of writing, spring is already well advanced, our first test flights were conducted in the middle of winter, with negative temperatures and freezing winds. And to be honest, we even sent our little Mavic a ride in the Himalayas. Except for a particularly chaotic takeoff above 5,500 m or worrying error messages (missing propeller or overheating engine …) in classic flight conditions, the Mavic Air takes off with ease and does not move not. A few gusts of sea wind come to blow him in the engines, but the Mavic Air compensates, fight and the return video shows that the stabilization is of a formidable efficiency.
Our flight sessions confirmed an impression noted during our first grip: in normal mode, a small latency is felt in the steering. The latter, although reactive, marks a slight heaviness in the changes of direction, a bit as if the orders were sticking. Same observation in Sport mode; the speeds reached are much higher, but we feel that the automations ensure the maintenance of overall course.
The experience is however very pleasant and the driving very reassuring. Moreover, here too, Flight Autonomy 2.0 does a great job of protecting the drone from obstacles. Based on sensor redundancy and 7 on-board cameras (including 2 on the back), the system creates 3D environmental mapping to detect obstacles and avoid them. Joystick pushed forward, the Mavic Air dodge walls and poles. However, be careful if you fly close to trees: the obstacle must be sufficiently contrasted and large to be detected. But overall, the flight is so fun and easy, especially as the Mavic Air is also controlled via the SmartCapture, that is to say, by gestures corresponding to different functions. The function has been improved since the Spark and it is easier to take off, backward, forward, shoot, take pictures, etc. ; nevertheless the recognition is sometimes still a little random.
We appreciate the automated flight modes and the Mavic Air also pushes the concept quite far: now, in addition to the famous Helix and Rocket, we are entitled to more complex figures, such as Asteroid and Boomerang. On this point, there is no criticism to make; it will only be necessary to operate in clear terrain, and that the drone does not encounter obstacles laterally, since the Mavic Air is devoid of detection of obstacles on the flanks.
Obviously, the trap would be to be content with these automated modes – especially since nothing in our opinion replaces the flying experience via radio control – but undeniably they facilitate the life of the pilot and, above all, offer interesting points of view much harder to get when it comes to operating alone and managing camera shafts plus throttle, pitch, roll and yaw.
One point saddens us however: the transmission distance. The enhanced Wi-Fi system promoted by DJI is supposed to offer up to 4 km range and 2 km in CE standards. During our various tests, it appeared that the video return suffered from significant latencies from 500 m and became chaotic around 800 m. Under various conditions, the range stops between 800 m and 1000 m. Beyond that, the absence of video feedback no longer makes it possible to continue to fly serenely; in principle, it is boring, even if in practice the pilot must in any case keep the drone at sight to remain within the framework of the law.
All these qualities of flight should not make us forget the primary purpose of the Mavic Air: shooting. With its Cmos 1 / 2.3 “sensor 12 MP and its video recording capacity 4K 30p, we are in known terrain.The lens is a 24mm equivalent f / 2.8.The sensitivity allows to work 100 at 3200 ISO in both photo and video, and the electronic shutter manages the exposure time from 8 s to 1/8 000 s.
The options are numerous: there is the possibility of shooting single or continuous images up to 7 shots, HDR, exposure bracketing and an intervalometer. On the video side, the 4K Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160 px) is available in 24, 25 and 30 fps and it is possible to work up to 60p in 2.7K (2,720 x 1,530px) ) and 120p in Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 px) to create slow motion. In addition, the maximum throughput is up to 100 MB / s and Jpeg + Raw recording is available.
In photo, the result is consistent with our first impressions, that is to say good; the image is well contrasted and relatively stitched in the center. It is possible to play on curves of settings to reduce the contrast and the saturation, because the rendering is a little too flattering to our taste. But overall, the quality of image impresses and is amply sufficient for us to multiple uses. Obviously, care should be taken not to exceed 200 or 400 ISO to avoid too much granulation and, above all, a smoothing of the finest details that transforms the trees on the horizon into a flat green. On the other hand, the acutance on the edges proved to be of good quality and it is only in the angles that the small lens showed its limits.
Finally, in terms of video, image rendering is also flattering and contrasting, but less so than on the Spark. In Full HD video, the result is correct, even if we feel that compression does some damage to the details. However, the result is commendable in 4K 30p: the image is full of details and, especially, which, contrary to what is observed with the Mavic Pro, the pace does not jerk on tracking shots or other camera movements.
The Mavic Air is equipped with a LiPo 3S battery of 2,375 mAh and 11.55 V weighing 140 g. It loads in less than an hour, but not in USB-C. The manufacturer promises a range of 21 minutes. In fact, we counted several times flights ranging from 16 to 18 minutes; we do not take into account the low flight time at 5 500 m altitude, these conditions remaining exceptional, but we can still say that this drone has successfully met the elements and negative temperatures. The Mavic Air is no exception to a rule: to take full advantage of its many capabilities, it is better to carry with you at least one or two additional batteries.
The Mavic Air is more than a drone. It offers the user not only the opportunity to have fun with its different flight modes, but especially to report beautiful images in both video and photo, and this in a fun way via relevant QuickShots. We regret only Wi-Fi transmission less powerful than Ocusync and a little weak autonomy. DJI asserts its supremacy and its expertise here. The Mavic Air is a “must-have” that is very easy to recommend.