DJI's Mavic Air 2 is a perfect combination of price and features

Jason Cipriani, CNN Underscored
Thu May 14, 2020

On paper, DJI's Mavic Air 2 consumer drone hits all the right marks. It records 4K video, can take up to 48MP photos, has a 34-minute flight time and a 6.2-mile range, and is priced at just $799.

The Air 2 is a big upgrade over the $399 Mavic Mini, the entry-level drone we reviewed late last year.

You can buy the Mavic Air 2 right now for $799, or pay a little extra and get the Fly More Combo that includes extra batteries and accessories.

After flying the Air 2 for a while, we're feeling inspired to get outside more often and push the Air 2 to its limits. Just, you know, not too far. Let's take a closer look at the Air 2 and what it has to offer.

What's in the box?

Pictured above is the DJI Mavic Air 2 Fly More Combo.

Included in the $799 basic bundle is the Air 2, a battery, the controller, battery charger, three sets of propellers, and all of the necessary cables to charge or connect the controller to your phone. It doesn't matter what kind of phone or tablet you own, the kit includes Lightning, USB-C and micro USB cables to ensure you can connect.

The Fly More Combo, however, is the way to go. For $988, you get all of the above, plus two more batteries, three more propeller sets, a charging cradle, a carrying case, ND filters for the camera (a handy way to control exposure), and a battery-to-power-bank adapter that lets you use an Air 2 battery to charge your phone while on the go.

The difference in cost is more than made up for in batteries alone. A battery for the Air 2 by itself is $115, and then the battery charging hub is another $59. That's nearly $300 worth of accessories you get for less than $200, not to mention everything else that's included in the Fly More Combo.

Overall design

The Air 2 is roughly the size of a brick when it's folded up (180 by 97 by 84 millimeters, about 7 by 4 by 3 inches). When it's unfolded, its wingspan increases its width, so it's 183 by 252 by 77 millimeters (about 7 by 10 by 3 inches) when open. It weighs 570 grams (1.26 pounds), meaning you'll need to register it with the Federal Aviation Administration before your first flight.

The four motors are mounted on arms that fold out of the Air 2's body. The battery makes up the majority of the top of the Air 2 and is easily removed by pressing the buttons on either side of the pack. On the left side of the Air 2 is a USB-C port for charging or transferring photos and videos to your computer. On the right side is a micro SD card slot that will work with cards up to 256GB. The Air 2 has 8GB of internal storage, should you forget your card.

On the front is a three-axis gimbal that holds the new 1/2-inch sensor capable of shooting 48MP or 12MP photos, recording 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, and creating HyperLapse videos at up to 8K resolution.

The controller has a USB-C port on the bottom for charging and is centered between two compartments that hold the removable joysticks for safe storage. On the top are indicator lights for battery level, a dedicated return-to-home button, a switch for various flying modes, the power button, joysticks, and two more dedicated buttons. One is programmable and can do things like switch between gimbal positions with a quick press. The other button switches between shooting modes.

On the top of the controller is the phone holder and antenna, along with a gimbal control and shutter button.

The bottom of the controller has a contoured shape that is easy to grip, and even with a OnePlus 8 Pro phone connected to the controller for an extended period of time, it never felt heavy or unbalanced.

The Mavic Air 2 is packed with fancy features

DJI Mavic Air 2

DJI has packed a ton of features into the Air 2. Some features are staples for DJI (and its competitors), like the automated video modes such as Rocket, Circle and Dronie, which allow you to record short clips with the drone flying up and away, or in a big circle, while keeping you in the center of the shot. Other features — like AirSense, which uses signals emitted from every airplane and helicopter to warn drone pilots of nearby aircraft and even show them in real time on a map in the DJI Fly app — make the Air 2 feel futuristic.

On our last night of testing, we received an alert that an aircraft was nearby. A helicopter was flying to a hospital a couple of miles away, and the DJI Fly app not only started beeping to warn us, but it placed an aircraft icon on the map, showing us exactly where the helicopter was and which direction it was heading. A few minutes later, we received another alert stating it was in flight again. We were only flying about 20 feet off the ground, so neither our drone nor the helicopter was at risk of a collision, but knowing that an aircraft is nearby and its location is sure to help many drone pilots. Currently, the Air 2 is the only consumer drone from DJI that has this feature built in.

Adding to its futuristic feel is its ability to follow a subject using ActiveTrack 3.0 and to avoid objects without stopping or forcing the pilot to take over. The Air 2 has sensors on the front, rear and bottom that are used to monitor its surroundings.

In the animated image above, we weren't flying. Well, we were, but we weren't pushing the joysticks. We simply selected the person on the bike as an object for the drone to follow and pressed Record. In fact, we didn't even realize the tree was in the drone's path until after it went under the branches (admittedly, we were looking at a settings page and not the drone). It wasn't until later that we realized the Air 2 had not only perfectly followed the bike but avoided the branches with zero hesitation or delay.

You can also highlight stationary objects for the Air 2 to film, and then prompt it to fly in a circle, or to allow you to control its flight while it keeps the object centered in the frame. Our initial attempts at having the Air 2 fly around a water tower failed, with the Air 2 losing the object and picking something else nearby to circle instead. However, after experimenting with selecting a subject, we realized that the bigger of a target area you give the Air 2 to focus on, the better the results.

To be clear, the Air 2 isn't an autonomous drone, by any means. And even though what it's capable of doing is impressive, it's nowhere near as impressive as what the Skydio 2 can do, thanks to its extra cameras, sensors and overall technological approach. But for someone who doesn't need to push the limits and have a drone follow you through a dense forest, the Air 2's capabilities will suffice.

Performance, battery life, and distance

DJI Mavic Air 2 controller

The Air 2 is fast, responsive and incredibly fun to fly. There are three flight modes: Tripod, Normal, and Sport. Tripod mode slows the drone down, ensuring you record smooth video. Normal is the default mode that combines speed with steadiness. Sport mode turns off automatic object avoidance, and in turn enables you to fly at up to 68 kph (42.25 mph). Zippy indeed!

With last year's Mavic Mini, one of our complaints about the controller was the placement of the phone bracket below the joysticks. But with the Air 2's controller, the controller's antenna doubles as a mounting bracket, placing the phone above the controls, making it easier to keep an eye on the drone, interact with the screen to change shooting modes, and keep the joysticks within reach at all times.

Using OcuSync 2.0, the Air 2 and its controller have an HD video transmission range of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). We weren't able — let alone brave enough — to test the full range, but we did fly the Air 2 to a landmark that's exactly 1 mile away without any hiccups or transmission issues, despite being in an area with plenty of homes and Wi-Fi networks.

OcuSync 2.0 uses 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz frequencies, auto-switching between the two frequencies to ensure the strongest connection at all times. In other words, the Air 2 avoids the problems of the Mavic Mini, which suffered from Wi-Fi interference issues in populated areas.

According to DJI, the Air 2's flight time should be 34 minutes when moving, or 33 minutes when just hovering. That's an incredible amount of time for it to fly around looking for something to video or take photos of and then fly back to you without feeling rushed.

We tested in Colorado with an elevation around 4,700 feet and were consistently able to get 29 minutes of flight time out of the Air 2. Flight time is lower at higher altitudes in general, so we're happy with that result. Recharging the battery takes about two hours.

Picture and video quality

DJI Mavic Air 2

We're really impressed with the Air 2's photo and video quality. Photos taken at both 12MP and 48MP are clear, crisp and sharp. However, we found the 12MP shots to look better in nearly every comparison set we captured. It looks as if the 12MP photos are applying some sort of HDR effect and doing a better job at capturing darker colors, while not overexposing whites.

Admittedly, we're talking about subtle differences between the two shooting modes, but once you see it, it's hard not to notice.

We were also pleased with the 4K, 2.7K, and 1080p video we recorded during our various flights. Everything looked fantastic, with the most common response when we shared with friends and loved ones being "I can't believe how clear the picture is." Same, fam.

The HyperLapse feature is something we looked forward to testing, and it lived up to our hopes as long as we shot in 1080p. DJI has enabled 8K HyperLapse videos, and they record fine, but we ran into issues viewing them on a Mac or PC. Instead of showing the total video, there are two gray boxes in the corners of the video. We tried processing the short clip using DaVinci Resolve, but that only made the problem worse. Eventually, we found an entry on the Air 2's FAQ page that recommends SPlayer on Mac or PotPlayer on Windows for viewing 8K HyperLapse videos. Sure enough, it works and the videos can be viewed without issue.

However, that doesn't solve the problem of the gray squares when you do something like uploading video to Facebook or sharing it on another social network.

In other words, don't get the Air 2 if you want to use it solely for 8K HyperLapse videos, unless you have all of the necessary video processing apps and programs. You're better off shooting them in 1080p.

Bottom Line

The Air 2 is an incredibly fun drone to fly, with impressive smarts combined with even better photo and video quality. At $799, it's double the cost of the Mavic Mini, a drone DJI created for beginners.

The Air 2 is a fantastic step up from the Mini, and it provides some peace of mind with its built-in safety features that make it an attractive option for beginners.

Just do yourself a favor and get the Fly More Combo. It's worth the extra cost.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.