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DJI Air 2S Review: Big Improvements for a Mid-Cycle Upgrade

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The DJI Air and Air 2 drones have proven to be some of the most popular on the market, with many of the same features as the venerable Mavic Pro, and a little better price point. Now, with the DJI Air 2S, DJI has added some features that go beyond even the current Mavic 2 family, along with a much-improved, larger, sensor that puts its image quality on the level of the Mavic 2 Pro. The Mavic Air 2S is available beginning today for $999 or as a Fly More Combo for $1,299. We’ve been flying an early version for a couple of weeks now and it is a lot of fun.

DJI Air 2S by the Numbers

DJI Air 2S FoldedThe most important number for the Air 2S is its 1-inch format 20MP sensor. Basically, the same specs as the one the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, but with a little more support in silicon. As a result, it can capture 5.4K video (using the full horizontal resolution of the sensor) at 30fps and 4K video at 60fps, as well as 10-bit D-Log output. All of that in a package about 2/3 the size and weight of a Mavic 2.

Another important addition is the dual-function, upward-facing obstacle sensors. In most cases, they simply sense overhead obstacles. But if the drone is moving forward quickly, it tilts down. As a result, forward-facing obstacle sensors aren’t really looking forward. But on the Air 2S, the “upward” sensors can now do the job of forward-facing obstacle detection. It strikes me as a very clever solution, but I’m not brave enough to fly a review drone at high speed into a tree to find out how well it works. The obstacle sensors are powered by an upgraded version of DJI’s obstacle avoidance software, APAS 4.0.

The Air 2S also supports DJI’s newest O3 (formerly Ocusync 3) connectivity, as well as four antennas, giving it a theoretical maximum transmission distance of 7.4 miles (12km). Obviously, that’s not because DJI wants you to fly your drone that far (especially in the US where there are regulations against it), but should provide pretty good resistance to radio interference. Flight time is a little less than the Air 2 at 31 minutes nominal. The Air 2S uses DJI’s slick twist-off camera filter system, so if you get the company’s ND filters, it’s trivial to swap them off and on.

DJI Air 2S 20MP JPEG -- un-altered except downsized for the web

DJI Air 2S 20MP JPEG — unaltered except downsized for the web.

Flying the DJI Air 2S

I don’t have an Air 2 to compare side-by-side, but the Air 2S definitely felt more responsive to me. It was a joy to fly even in “Normal” mode, but the remote provides a mode switch to make things more exciting (Sport) and less exciting (Cinema). Other than lacking an LCD — the same as is the case with all of DJI’s drones that are smaller than the Mavic family — the remote is easy to use, has removable joysticks, and a nice solution for storing a short phone cable.

I was worried about the rear-mounted phone clamps inadvertently pressing buttons on my phone, a problem I’ve had with other DJI products. But they’re designed in such a way that, at least with my Pixel 4a, they touch at the front and back edges, leaving room for the buttons.

DJI Introduces MasterShots for Quick Videos

Personally, I still carefully plan my drone videos, and typically post-process them in Adobe Premiere Pro or Adobe Premiere Rush if I’m in a hurry. That lets me use device-specific noise and color plugins, and map from D-Log or D-Cinema to encoded output. But that’s definitely not for everyone. DJI has continued to enhance “point-and-shoot” drone video creation. For the Air 2S, they’ve added MasterShots. To create one, you highlight a subject and pick one of three modes — Portrait, Landscape, or Proximity — and the drone picks a combination of QuickShots and strings them together. After the MasterShot is finished, in addition to the original footage, the DJI Fly app allows you to select an editing template and background music, so that you hopefully get impressive results quickly.

In testing, I had mixed success using MasterShot. Most of the time, the result did indeed seem like a great shortcut to sharing an experience. But other times, uninteresting objects seemed to get star billing, possibly because I didn’t do something quite right. In any case, you’ll want to experiment with it before you rely on it. Note that I have been using early-release firmware, which has been updated once, and I suspect will be again by the time most people get one of these. So I’m sure DJI will continue to tweak the MasterShot algorithms.

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Automatically generated clip from a MasterShot, ready to share.

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The source footage captured by the Air 2S while recording the MasterShot.

Lack of SDK Support Is Holding Air 2 and Mini 2 Back

Many of us who use our drones to create travel videos rely on third-party software — often an app called Litchi — to be able to perform predictable multiple “cinematic grade” maneuvers that we can’t fly as smoothly on our own and that aren’t just simple combinations of DJI’s pre-programmed tricks. Unfortunately, the full DJI SDK doesn’t seem to be available for some of DJI’s smaller drones, limiting their usefulness to many of us. There is another program, DroneLink, that does something similar but in a different way, by essentially acting as a virtual remote control. Once the 2S is officially available (which it should be by the time you read this), I plan to see how it works with DroneLink for capturing video. Of course, I also hope DJI will continue to support its cool new drones with its SDK.

Is the DJI Air 2S the Right Drone for You?

DJI Air 2S Fly More ComboAs an overall flying camera package, the Air 2S is impressive. However, it’s not cheap. By the time you load up on accessories like extra batteries and ND filters and add sales tax, you’re looking at $1,500 or so. That’s still $500 less than the same setup for a Mavic 2 Pro, and you get better connectivity features, more video bandwidth, and additional software tricks. However, you give up the LCD on the remote, sideways obstacle detection, and might be limited if you rely on apps that use the SDK. For travel, the Air 2S is noticeably smaller than a Mavic, but nothing you’re going to stick in a pocket.

[Image Credit: David Cardinal]

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