The DJI Air 2S is a small foldable drone with a premium 1-inch sensor camera, 5.4K video, and a number of autonomous flight and safety features, making it a more professional option than the Mavic Air 2.
The $999 DJI Air 2S is essentially the Mavic Air 2 from last year, with an enhanced camera and obstacle sensors, increased autonomous camera movements, and the solid safety features and quality that have made DJI the world leader in aerial imaging. Professional photographers and videographers may appreciate the larger camera sensor and 5.4K recording, but we believe most pilots just getting started with a drone will be just as satisfied with the Mavic Air 2 for $200 less, which is more of a crowd-pleaser and retains our Editors’ Choice winner. The Air 2S, on the other hand, is worth it if you want more than 4K.
No longer a Mavic
DJI has dropped Mavic from the product name for the second time in a row, indicating that the business is moving away from smart branding. Instead, it gets right to the point: this is the DJI Air 2S, which is somewhat larger than the DJI Mini 2 and has a different camera than the otherwise identical DJI Mavic Air 2. Okay, so that’s still a little perplexing, but as DJI continues to change their naming patterns with subsequent updates, hopefully, it will become clearer.
Whatever you call it, the Air 2S largely follows the Mavic blueprint. It’s a little drone with folding arms, so it’ll fit into your camera bag more easily. When folded, it measures just 3.3 by 3.8 by 7.1 inches (HWD) and weighs roughly 1.3 pounds. The arms, too, fold-out in a flash.
The Air 2S is small enough to grasp with one hand and takes up slightly more space in a camera bag than a standard 24-70mm full-frame zoom. It’s not as small or light as the Mini 2, but it’s still handy to bring along on a trek or excursion.
It is, nevertheless, heavy enough to necessitate FAA registration. A $5 fee covers any drones you possess for three years if you’re flying for enjoyment. Pilots who work for a living—whether in real estate, film production, or anything else—must pass a certification exam.
DJI is offering it alone for $999 or as part of a $1,299 Fly More Combo. Everything you need to get started is included in the standard version, including the drone, a flying battery, a remote control, and chargers. Two extra batteries, a multi-charger, a set of neutral density filters, and a carrying case are included in the Fly More package.
|Flight time is half an hour||Raw photos are not immediately transferred to cellphones and tablets.|
|Camera with a 1-inch sensor||There are no filtered looks available in-camera.|
|Safety aspects that are strong||Only professionals should use the HDR HLG workflow.|
|Camera photos taken by a robot||The internal storage of 8GB isn’t much.|
|Detection and avoidance of obstacles||Only 1080p output is possible with app-based editing.|
|HDR, Log, and Standard video profiles are all available.||The EV control wheel is not included in the remote.|
What is the quality of the camera?
The Air 2S’s immediate predecessor, the Air 2, had a 48-megapixel camera with a quad-Bayer filter, which many people would consider to be equivalent to 12 megapixels at 1.6 microns. With 5472 × 3648 pixels (20 megapixels) at 2.4 microns, the new camera easily outperforms it. Of course, the Air 2 offers the option of exporting a 48-megapixel file, which, to be fair, looks pretty damn nice, but when it comes to image quality, physics is very much on the 1-inch sensor’s side.
The Mavic 2 Pro’s 1-inch camera has the same 20 megapixels as the new Air 2S, but it has a narrower 77 field of view (28mm EFL) than the new Air 2S’s 88 (22mm EFL), which makes a visible difference when shooting. A larger field of view is sometimes touted as if a larger number is better, but the Air 2S appears to have reached its maximum for me; a digital zoom is an option, but it is only available in certain video modes.
The Mavic features an adjustable aperture (/2.8-/11), but the Air 2S has a fixed aperture. This sounds worse than it is – partially because the Mavic’s photos are significantly better at the wide end, and primarily because very little drone work uses depth of field. Nonetheless, you should use the focus peaking feature, and you’ll either find yourself tapping on the screen to check focus a little more frequently than you would with other drones (just as with the Mavic 2 Pro) or making sure you have the ND filters (included in the Fly More kit) on hand. Keep something handy to wipe finger grease off your phone screen; otherwise, it will build up and become difficult to use, especially in bright light.
The video’s quality
In terms of video, the increase to a maximum resolution of 5.4K (5472 x 3078) would astonish any drone, even if it is at 30 frames per second, as it is here. When you reduce the resolution to 4K (3840 x 2160), not only does the entire image zoom in to match the crop, but frame rates also increase to 60fps or (in the version I tested) digital zoom is accessible at 30 fps or lower. Because digital zoom is expected to appeal solely to individuals who want to share rapidly, the fact that it isn’t available in 10-bit video formats is unlikely to be a problem; it’s also not accessible at 120 frames per second, implying hardware limitations.
My guess is that most of the time when filming in 4K or even one of the lower resolutions favored by the MasterShots automated shooting, most people will choose for the regular tighter crop without the zoom. It helps get closer to a subject by avoiding the lens’ edges – if you’re using a feature like the automated ActiveTrack to follow a mountain biker, you won’t mind them taking up a little more screen real estate, while 5.4K (and possibly some post-production work) is always an option for the most dedicated.
The video quality is outstanding, with a bitrate of 150 Mbps (which handily outperforms the Mavic 2 Pro’s 100Mbps). Video can be recorded in 10-bit D-log, and image processing algorithms have advanced to the point that most post-editing and post-processing is no longer necessary.
Some may find an advantage in switching to ‘Pro’ mode to secure the camera settings before starting a shoot where twists may otherwise cause an exposure shift, but the system does a nice job of it, especially at Cine rates (i.e. slow speeds for filming).
Shooting with intelligence
The idea of using a drone to capture intriguing action, particularly video, is very tempting to outdoor fans, and the changes to the Air 2S seemed to me to be making this experience more cohesive than earlier drones.
Even though this isn’t new to DJI drones, the ease of touching and dragging to frame a target, or even allowing it to select (it recognizes humans on its own) for the drone to then follow (using ActiveTrack 4) or otherwise focus attention on still surprises. With the addition of its upward-facing obstacle avoidance sensors, the Air 2S makes a considerable difference.
The drone can see forward whether it’s leaning into quick flight or traveling more slowly by placing them here (in addition to the pairs on the back and underside). This is a far more effective design than the Mavic 2 series’ rudimentary distance sensors, which can’t do much more than detecting a ceiling or branch above the rotors. Perhaps there were any beneficial lessons acquired when designing the DJI FPV?
As a result, I was able to use ActiveTrack to follow me around obstacles while the aircraft kept the camera on me and avoided colliding with horizontal or vertical barriers, taking avoiding action even as I pivoted, and following me.
While Skydio, DJI’s main competitor in this area, proudly advertises its AI collision avoidance in contrast to a Mavic 2, it appears that their dominance in this area is quickly eroding, as the Air 2S camera has already defeated them.
Even in normal flight, the safety sensors give you the choice of stopping and hovering or re-routing around an impediment, which I used every time (though oddly I had to land to persuade the system to switch its approach).
The upgraded obstacle avoidance software is known as APAS 4, and DJI is emphasizing the sensors in four directions. All-around sensors are still on the wish list — there are none on the sides – but the gimbal does offer panning, which is a partial solution in some circumstances.
The tools have their own idiosyncrasies. It may seem cheeky that ‘MasterShots’ reduces the system’s resolution to 1080P before starting its sequence of shots, but the burden on the DJI Fly app’s edit will be decreased as well. I also find the Hyperlapse manual waypoint flying path difficult to define, but that could be fixed with a software upgrade.
It’s strange that we haven’t talked about the drone until this far into the article, but the camera and the technology that supports the pilot aid functions are the main attractions. After all, the Air 2S is definitely based on the Air 2. (with replacement shell elements to accommodate the extra sensors top-front). It may look better with a couple of extra eyeballs, depending on your preferences.
In my tests, the 3-axis gimbal performed admirably. When you consider the space available for the gimbal on the Air 2, a model with a larger camera seems logical, and even though the entire weight rises to 595g (25g more), the drone remains nimble in the air. Although the reduction in flight time from 3 to 31 minutes may not appear to be significant, I was conscious that I was able to accomplish slightly less while in the air.
The drone also has GPS/GLONASS (which allowed it to return home perfectly in testing), a downward-facing LED, and an updated transmission system – O3 (which is the shortened name for what was to have been called OcuSync 3). This has a range of up to 12 kilometers (in FCC zones), and I didn’t notice any video dropout during my testing.
The controller is the same as the one that came with the original Air 2, which offered considerable improvements in terms of battery life and phone grip over previous DJI portable drone controllers. More time spent with it hasn’t helped me uncover a weakness in it.
DJI Fly is in charge of the options.
Having used a number of DJI apps over the years, I initially assumed that ‘Fly’ would be limited to the most consumer-oriented models – such as the Mini – but it now appears to be spreading across the entire range, and each iteration adds new features while keeping the interface clean and phone-like.
Long-time drone geeks like me might prefer the earlier software’s more obtrusive design aspects, but I have to admit that the app is a pleasant experience.
The system’s logic is simple to grasp, but it also provides refresher advice for less often utilized functions. I’m concerned about how long you have to hover to set up some things while keeping your eyes off the airplane, but that’s a matter of self-control.
The DJI Air 2S drone feels fresh, not only because it introduces a significantly improved camera to the micro drone world, but also because it represents the first time DJI’s intelligence algorithms can fly through a forest, albeit a sparse one. When the world’s largest drone maker takes such a major step forward in AI, the entire market follows suit.