Despite being less than a year old, DJI is already upgrading its mid-tier Mavic Air 2 drone. The new $ 999 Mavic Air 2S (yes, $ 200 more than the previous model) comes with some notable new features and upgrades, including a much larger image sensor. The new one-inch sensor can take 20 megapixel photos, 5.4 K video and 4K up to 60 fps. But hold on to your horses (or wallet), there are a few caveats to those impressive capabilities.
The camera sensor of the Mavic Air 2S has the same dimensions as that of the more expensive Mavic 2 Pro. It’s much bigger than the half-inch sensor used in last year’s Air 2. The Air 2S should take nearly as good photos and better video as the Mavic 2 Pro, at least on paper.
The Air 2S’s maximum video resolution is 5.4K, versus 4K on the Mavic 2 Pro. And the Air 2S’s 4K video has an even higher bit rate – 150 Mbps compared to 100 Mbps. Finally, the Air 2S’s 4K video also has a higher frame rate. These are all nice upgrades from what you get in the more expensive model, not to mention the benefits of the smaller Air 2.
However, once you switch to 4K 60fps, the highest 4K frame rate you can capture, there will be significant cropping as it won’t use the full one inch sensor in that mode. It looks something like a 1.3x crop to my eyes, but DJI wouldn’t be able to confirm exactly how much crop there is. That shouldn’t discourage you from using 4K / 60fps. The video quality remains good and the image looks great in the final result. But if you are comparing specification sheets only, you will not see that there is a crop in this mode.
That could also explain why the Air 2S has a slightly longer focal length than others in the Mavic series. When using the full 1-inch sensor, the focal length is 22mm. Usually DJI drones are 24 or 28mm. Personally, I like the slightly wider look, but if you prefer a tighter composition you can use the built-in digital zoom or crop while editing.
The availability of digital zoom depends on the shooting mode you are in. You can zoom 6x in 1080p / 60fps; With 1080p / 30fps you can zoom in 8x; 4K / 60 to 3x; 4K / 30 has 4x zoom; and finally, there is no digital zoom in 5.4K at all. Historically, digital zoom isn’t something that tickles my fancy, but a one-inch sensor with a maximum resolution of 5.4K really helps here and the quality loss isn’t that high. Even at 3x you can capture very useful images.
Here we come to another caveat though: none of this matters if you’re filming in D-Log or HDR, because you can’t zoom in while shooting in one of those color profiles, just the default color profile. You will have to redo all of your zooming and cropping after doing the edit if you shoot in one of these modes.
Also, you can’t use the digital zoom at all while taking photos, which is a bit confusing. There is one more caveat between color profiles: the maximum ISO in the D-Log color profile is 1600, while the standard color profile goes up to 3200. In comparison, the maximum ISO of the Mavic 2 Pro in the standard color profile is 6400. It’s not a deal breaker, but as with the 4K 60 crop, it’s good to be aware of this.
The Air 2S also introduces a new automated flight mode called SmartShots. Once you activate it, it will take a few minutes for the drone to take a few pre-programmed videos. It has options such as wide round shots, tight round shots, dronies, top downs and so on. It records five to ten ‘must-have’ clips and the app automatically generates a short edit. It’s like the slideshows in GoPro’s Quik iOS app, but for drones. It’s a great option for less experienced pilots who just want something reliable and easy to share with their friends.
A big selling point of the Air 2 was its ability to capture 48-megapixel photos using pixel binning. You don’t have that option here, but I’d always prefer sensor size to pure resolution, and the Mavic Air 2S proved me right. The photos look phenomenal. As someone who prefers to take drone photos over video, having a one inch sensor in a smaller body than the Mavic 2 Pro is a dream come true. Both drones take 20 megapixel photos, but there are a few notable differences.
There is the focal length that I mentioned earlier, but the dynamic range of the 2 Pro is also better. It offers 14 stops compared to 12.4 stops on the new Air 2S, preventing your air from blowing out in high-contrast scenes. Of course you will lose a bit of information to work with, but the difference is not super obvious. Photos look impressive at both low and higher ISOs. You’ll also miss that Hasselblad color science, if that’s worth anything to you.
The Mavic 2 Pro has one big feature compared to the Air 2S: adjustable aperture. This is useful for both photos and video and gives you another point of control when trying to capture the perfect exposure. On the Air 2S, the only controls you have are for ISO and shutter speed, so DJI has included a set of ND filters in its Fly More bundle ($ 1,299, including extra batteries and other accessories) so you can control the amount of light in the lens.
There is also a small change to the hyperlapse mode. You can no longer get 8K hyperlapse export like you did on the Mavic Air 2 – only 4K or lower as the maximum photo resolution is 20MP. An extra post stabilization has now been applied to that export, but it is not perfect; I still saw an unwanted shock in some of the videos I recorded. I would still recommend using a different stabilizer in the post.
Most of the hardware on the Air 2S is identical to the Air 2, but there is an extra set of sensors at the top of the drone to help detect and avoid obstacles, especially at higher speeds. DJI calls this APAS (Advanced Pilot Assistance System) 4.0.
Obstacle avoidance is something you have to manually enable and you choose how you want your drone to handle: it brakes for an obstacle or tries to drive around it. During my tests, the drone was a bit more hesitant than I expected. He often chose to brake for obstacles rather than avoid them. Again, there’s a caveat here: APAS or focus tracking won’t work in modes above 4K 30fps.
It’s encouraging to see some extra attention in that area, but DJI is nowhere near Skydio when it comes to autonomous flights. This is still just a safety option, not something that allows you to take smooth shots while narrowly avoiding obstacles.
Finally, all upgrades have a slight impact on battery life. DJI rates the battery at 31 minutes of flight time compared to the 34 minutes on the previous Mavic Air 2. It’s a fair compromise, and I haven’t noticed it affecting my way of flying.
Despite some strange limitations in its features, the Mavic Air 2S is still a fantastic drone, especially for beginners who want something a little more proficient than a DJI Mini 2. There are a few trade-offs compared to the Mavic 2 Pro, but frankly, most people will get along with them.
I recently wrote about how the underrated Mini 2 became my favorite drone for its unparalleled portability and better than expected image quality. The Air 2S almost took that title away. If you prioritize image quality, this is an obvious choice, provided you can take the extra blow to your wallet. The Mavic Air 2S now strikes the perfect balance between a compact size and great image quality, despite all the asterisks and caveats.
Photography by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge