Review: DJI’s Air 2S is the ultimate consumer drone: Digital Photography Review Leave a comment


Introduction

Arriving just one year after its predecessor, the Mavic Air 2, the Air 2S is DJI’s newest mid-range consumer drone. The new model sheds the familiar Mavic branding in favor of a shorter naming scheme, following the lead of DJI’s Mini 2 model, but receives some significant upgrades in return. Most notably, the Air 2S features a camera with a 1″-type sensor – something that was previously exclusive to DJI models costing over $1,500.

Whereas the Mavic Air 2 emphasized resolution over sensor size, with features like 48MP stills and 8K hyperlapse modes, the Air 2S pivots in the direction of image quality; its larger 20MP sensor easily outperforms the camera on the Mavic Air 2 and addresses one of the most frequent requests from users.

The downside is that the retail price of the Air 2S is $200 more than the Mavic Air 2, coming in at $999. The good news is that the Mavic Air 2 will continue to sell alongside the new Air 2S, so consumers can choose the option that best fits their needs – not to mention their budget.

There’s also a Fly More combo that includes two additional batteries, a charging hub, a set of three ND filters, and a shoulder bag for $1299. The addition of ND filters to the Fly More combo should please a lot of users as they’re a common add-on purchase.



Key Features

  • 20MP, 1″-type CMOS sensor
  • 22mm (equiv.) lens with 88º FOV and fixed F2.8 aperture
  • 5.4K/30p, 4K/60p, and 1080p/120p video
  • H.264 and H.265 recording at 150 Mbps
  • 10-bit D-Log and HDR video capture
  • Raw and JPEG image capture
  • OcuSync 3.0 (O3) image transmission (12 km range)
  • Four-way obstacle avoidance
  • APAS 4.0
  • ‘MasterShots’ cinematic capture mode
  • ‘RockSteady’ electronic image stabilization
  • 31-minute flight time
  • 595g (1.3 pounds) total weight

Compared to…

On paper, the Air 2S compares favorably to both the Mavic Air 2 as well as the more expensive Mavic 2 Pro.

DJI Air 2S Mavic Air 2 Mavic 2 Pro
Price $999 $799 $1599
Camera

20MP, 1″-type sensor

22mm equiv. F2.8 (fixed)

48MP, 1/2-inch sensor

24mm equiv. F2.8 (fixed)

20MP, 1″-type sensor

28mm equiv. F2.8-11

Video transmission OcuSync 3.0 (O3), 4 antennas, 12 km, 1080p OcuSync 2.0, dual antenna, 10 km, 1080p OcuSync 2.0, dual antenna, 10 km, 1080p

Video resolution 5.4K/30p, 4K/60fps 4K/60p 4K/30p
Video bit-rate 150 Mbps 120 Mbps 100 Mbps
Log video 10-bit D-Log, HDR video (10-bit) HDR video (8-bit) 10-bit D-Log, HDR video (10-bit)
APAS version (Advanced Pilot Assistance System) APAS 4.0 APAS 3.0 APAS 1.0
Obstacle avoidance Forward, Backward, Downward, Upward Forward, Backward, Downward Forward, Backward, Downward, Left, and Right
Flight time 31 minutes 34 minutes 31 minutes
Dimensions 180×97×80 mm 180x97x84 mm 214×91×84 mm
Weight 595g 570g 907g

There’s no question the improved camera alone warrants an upgrade. In fact, the Air 2S one-ups the Mavic 2 Pro in an important area. The Mavic 2 Pro could record 4K video using the full width of its sensor, but it did so using pixel binning. As a result, the best 4K footage was obtained by shooting from a native crop of the sensor, which also narrowed the camera’s field of view.

In contrast, the Air 2S captures 5.4K video using the full width of the sensor – with no pixel binning – resulting in more detailed video capture. The upgraded sensor appears to put the Air 2S on par with the prosumer Mavic 2 Pro. Or does it? Let’s take a look at what the Air 2S has to offer and determine if it’s a must-have for hobbyists and professionals alike.

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Aircraft and controller

At 180x97x80 mm folded down, the DJI Air 2S has a frame that’s almost identical to the Mavic Air 2 and can fit in the palm of your hand. What’s noticeably different is that the 2S has obstacle avoidance sensors placed on top of the drone.

The Air 2S (L) and Mavic Air 2 (R) side-by-side. The Air 2S boasts a camera with a larger 1″-type sensor plus upward obstacle avoidance sensors.

In fact, DJI has equipped the Air 2S with four-way obstacle avoidance detection and APAS 4.0 – the latest iteration of an autopilot system that automatically avoids, and will fly around, obstacles it encounters, when recording up to 4K/30p footage. There is also an auxiliary light on the bottom of the aircraft to aid in takeoff and landing during low-light situations.

The Air 2S uses the same remote as the Mavic Air 2.

DJI has opted to use the same remote that powers the Mavic Air 2 and Mini 2. It doesn’t have external antennas, and it can still be a challenge to attach a smartphone. However, it’s comfortable to hold and includes everything you need to operate, including a gimbal wheel plus buttons to instantly start and stop taking photos and video. It’s easy to switch between Cine, Normal, and Sport Modes while the Return to Home feature is instantly accessible.

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Photos and video

The camera on the Air 2S has a 20MP, 1”-type CMOS sensor, mounted on a 3-axis gimbal stabilized with the ‘RockSteady’ EIS system introduced on DJI’s FPV drone. It has a 22mm (equiv.) fixed-aperture F2.8 lens with an 88º FOV.

Until now, getting a 1″-type sensor on a DJI drone required you to purchase a much more expensive model like the Mavic 2 Pro or Phantom 4 series. So the fact that it’s now available on a model costing under $1,000 is notable. Where the camera on the Air 2S differs from the Mavic 2 Pro is that the Hasselblad color profile is not included.

The camera on the Air 2S uses a 1″-type CMOS sensor capable of 20MP photos and up to 5.4K/30p video.

Like its predecessor, the Air 2S is powered by the DJI Fly app. The pared down, intuitive menu showcases all the photo modes on the same screen. Single, SmartPhoto, AEB (in brackets of 3 and 5 images), and Burst mode can be easily accessed. The shutter allows up to an 8-second exposure, and together with DJI’s RockSteady EIS, make’s low-light, night time, and motion blur photos possible.

The shutter allows up to an 8-second exposure, and together with DJI’s RockSteady EIS, make’s low-light, night time, and motion blur photos possible.

SmartPhoto mode, which uses computational photography technology similar to smartphones, automatically gives you an ideal image using one of the following methods, depending on lighting conditions:

  • HDR photos: The camera automatically captures seven different exposures and combines them for greater dynamic image.
  • Hyperlight: Images taken in low-light conditions tend to be grainy and contain noise. Hyperlight takes multiple photos and merges them for a clearer image.
  • Scene recognition: This mode allows the drone to recognize five major components of a photo – sunsets, blue skies, grass, snow, and trees. It will analyze these objects and maximize tone, clarity, and colors.

DJI’s RockSteady EIS makes it possible to capture night shots with long exposure and motion blur.
ISO 200 | 6 sec | F2.8

The Air 2S allows you to record video at resolutions up to 5.4K/30p, 4K/60p, and 1080p/120p at 150Mbps with either the H.264 or H.265 codec. You can also zoom up to 4X at 4K/30p, 6X at 2.7K/30p, 4X at 2.7K/60p, 6X at 1080p/60p and 8X at 1080p/30p. That’s an upgrade from the Mavic Air 2, which maxed out at 4K/60p and 120 Mbps (which is still impressive in its own right).

This video shows an example of 5K/30p video captured on the Air 2S.

One area where the there’s a big difference between the Air 2S and Mavic Air 2 is support for HDR and Log video. The Mavic Air 2 could capture HDR video but was limited to 8-bit, and it didn’t include a Log gamma profile. In contrast, the Air 2S includes 10-bit D-Log and 10-bit HLG capture in addition to the Normal (8-bit) color profile for video. That’s a substantial upgrade for serious video shooters.

Also, as noted above, the Air 2S captures 5.4K video using the full width of its sensor, with no pixel binning, for detailed video capture. That’s a step up from the Mavic 2 Pro which could record 4K video using the full width of its sensor, but did so using pixel binning. As a result, the best 4K footage on that model was obtained by shooting from a native crop of the sensor, which also narrowed the camera’s field of view.

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The DJI Fly app and flight modes

The Air 2S uses the DJI Fly app, which was first introduced with the Mavic Mini. Unlike the DJI GO 4 app, which is more fully-featured and suitable for prosumer drones, they Fly app was created with newer pilots in mind. It’s easy to navigate and basically every photo and video setting you need is right on the same screen.

When switching out of Auto mode and into Manual, or Pro mode, in this case, the bottom-right-hand corner gives you sliders that allow you to adjust white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and choose JPG or Raw+JPG imagery. Resolution can be adjusted on the video end.

DJI’s Fly app is pared down, simple, intuitive, and easy to navigate.

Three dots on the upper-right-hand corner of the app will allow you go deeper into the main settings. This is where you can select which video color profile you’d like, whether you wish to brake in front of or bypass obstacles, which codec you prefer, and how high an altitude or far a distance you’d prefer the drone to fly.

A new feature called MasterShots has been introduced as a way for pilots to generate professional-grade footage that’s ready to share on social by simply selecting a few parameters, such as proximity and portrait or landscape orientation. DJI has equipped the Air 2S with ActiveTrack 4.0 and Point of Interest 3.0 for increased accuracy in tracking subjects during automated flights. The usual QuickShots, including Dronie, Circle, Helix, Rocket Asteroid and Boomerang are included.

This is an example of a completed MasterShots sequence, complete with title and music, that was automatically edited together using the DJI Fly app.

I tried the MasterShots feature and have mixed feelings about it. Upon launching it, a notification to ‘watch out for obstacles’ immediately appears. The drone then autonomously launches into a series of pre-programmed shots including Dronie, Rocket, and Boomerang along with some other sweeping movements. It’s best to focus on a static object versus a moving one as the Air 2S will lose track of the latter.

I paused the flight two separate times while a MasterShot was in progress because I was afraid it was going to fly into the side of a mountain I was close to, and over moving traffic in another location. Anyone wanting to test out this feature should make sure they’re at a high enough altitude that the drone won’t encounter a tree or building as the Air 2S tends to pitch down at one point during the recording.

I aborted this MasterShots sequence to avoid having the drone fly over a highway with vehicles, but it it illustrates how MasterShots runs the drone through a series of pre-programmed shots.

MasterShots was made with the casual consumer and beginning pilot in mind. Select shots are stitched into a final clip and music is automatically added in for something that can be instantly shareable on social channels from the DJI Fly app. This is not likely to be something a professional with access to Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, or similar software will be interested in using, but they’re also not the market DJI is targeting with this new feature. Finally, it only works in Auto mode which makes for some potentially awkward lighting switches.

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What’s it like to fly?

The first thing anyone will notice when operating the Air 2S is that the drone is incredibly quiet. It’s clear that DJI has updated the electronic speed controllers and continues to create more aerodynamic propellers for a noticeably more pleasant experience. It maneuvers well too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up in moderate to high winds. In low winds, however, it’s steady. RockSteady EIS image stabilization makes low-light imagery especially easy to capture.

What impressed me most was the improved APAS 4.0, the latest version of DJI’s Advanced Pilot Assistance System, which maneuvers the drone above, below, or to the side of an obstacle. With the Mavic Air 2, I felt that APAS was a bit lacking. This version of the technology worked seamlessly. In the example below, it flew above a tree and then to the side, missing every branch. Keep in mind, this feature works on 4K/30p video and below.

This clip shows APAS 4.0, DJI’s Advanced Pilot Assistance System, in action as the drone navigates around the tree. APAS 4.0 is noticeably improved over previous versions.

Overall, everything feels vastly improved and more more reliable. Hyperlapse, especially, looks much cleaner and more stable on a 1″-type sensor coupled with RockSteady EIS. I was impressed with how easy it was to get smooth footage on a mildly windy day.

Hyperlapse sequence captured on the Air 2S.

Odds and ends

Equipped with OcuSync 3.0 (O3) transmission technology, the Air 2S can fly at a distance up to 12 km (7.45 miles) when free of obstacles or interference. Like its predecessor, it supports both 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz frequency bands. The maximum flight time clocks in at 31 minutes in ideal conditions, on par with the Mavic 2 Pro but less than the 34 minutes the Mavic Air 2 offers. It can travel up to 68.4 km/h (42.5 mph) in Sport mode.

The Air 2S supports memory cards up to 256GB and also has 8GB of onboard internal storage should you forget a card or run out of space. Equipped with ADS-B, pilots are warned when manned aircraft are nearby. One feature I appreciated was the fact that the Air 2S automatically returned to home after losing its connection, even as the remote screen remained dark.

The Air 2S Fly More combo includes a set of ND filters that help create better videos and hyperlapses. A simple twist attaches them to the camera.

I would also recommend considering the Fly More combo – particularly since it now includes ND filters, which are very helpful for shooting video and hyperlapses.

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Who’s it for?

DJI has created a top-of-the-line consumer-grade drone with the Air 2S. To have access to a camera with a 1″-type sensor that is capable of capturing 20MP imagery and video up to 5.4K/30p, for under $1,000, is truly remarkable. While the camera doesn’t include the vibrant Hasselblad color profile of the Mavic 2 Pro, it still produces decent color. Imagery feels cleaner and crisper compared to past models, overall.

The Mavic 2 Pro (right) is slightly larger and heavier than the Air 2S. It can fly in more turbulent conditions, and at higher altitudes, but costs significantly more as well.

With that context, what does it mean for the Mavic 2 Pro, DJI’s other foldable drone with a 1″-type sensor? Professionals shouldn’t write off the Mavic 2 Pro just yet. Slightly larger, heavier, and sturdier, it can withstand high winds like its larger peer, the Phantom 4 Pro. It also has obstacle avoidance sensors on each side making it more suitable for inspections and other high risk gigs that require maneuvering in tight or treacherous areas. Let’s not forget the adjustable aperture either.

The Air 2S would be a terrific drone for a professional to take to a wedding, for example, particularly with its quieter props. However I wouldn’t dream of taking it with me to shoot around a high rise building, where winds get stronger the higher you ascend, or to a boat race where it would be whipped around. The Air 2S is built for more casual situations.

The Air 2S would be a terrific drone for a professional to take to a wedding, for example, particularly with its quieter props.

With its fixed aperture and user-friendly features, the Air 2S is still targeted more towards everyday consumers and those who want a solid option to get into drone imaging. DJI isn’t going to cannibalize its professional and prosumer lines of drones by allowing it to operate in the same manner. MasterShots and some of the QuickShots features were created for travelers and content creators who want to capture impressive imagery and share it instantly. The Fly app has even been updated to make adding a soundtrack and subtitles easy for anyone.

Final thoughts

The release of the Air 2S is a strong indication that next Mavic Pro (or even Phantom or Inspire) will see significant bumps in features and capabilities. Also, with Remote ID finalized, DJI has a lot of incentive to start rolling out some new models that both hobbyists and professionals have been wanting for the past few years.

I tested DJI’s Fly More combo, which includes two additional batteries plus a set of ND filters, and was thrilled to be able to carry the entire set around in a bag the size of a small purse. I can imagine a professional commercial pilot wanting one of these for fun or impromptu shoots, especially now that it includes a 1″-type sensor. This really is an ideal solution for travel and on-the-go content creation.

What we like

  • 1″-type CMOS censor
  • 5.4K/30p video with 10-bit D-Log and HLG support
  • Quiet flight
  • Improved APAS 4.0 performance
  • Ability to shoot long exposures

What we don’t

  • Fixed aperture lens
  • Can be unsteady in windy conditions
  • 1080p recording in Quick and MasterShots modes



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