(Pocket-lint) – DJI has long been the champion of the consumer drone market, pushing boundaries and implenting technology that makes it easy for the average person to do previously impossible aerial photography and videography.
It was undoubtedly through the Mavic series that it saw success reach new heights, but over the past couple of years DJI has been focusing on its smaller, more nimble drones.
It ditched the Mavic name with the Mini 2, and has now followed up the excellent Mavic Air 2 with a new-and-improved Air 2S. No ‘Mavic’ moniker in sight.
For the most part the DJI Air 2S looks just like the Mavic Air 2. It has the familiar Mavic-style sharknose front and arms that fold inwards to make it compact and easy to carry around.
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The new stuff isn’t necessarily all that visual. Improvements are almost entirely performance enhancements. It has a bigger 1-inch sensor and more advanced sensors for spotting obstacles. That means better photos, better video quality and much smarter obstacle avoidance.
That’s not to say there aren’t any visual changes. For example, the extra upward-facing obstacle sensors are easy to spot on the front. Plus, the propeller blades now have bright orange tips – just like the Mini 2 – and the camera housing is silver rather than black.
If it ain’t broke…
- Dimensions (unfolded): 183 × 253 × 77mm
- Dimensions (folded): 180 × 97 × 80mm
- Weight: 595g
DJI’s Mavic design is the company’s best idea to date. By making it possible to fold the drone up into a small enough size that it can easily fit in your backpack, it made quadcopters accessible. That’s still here with the Air 2S, which is small enough to fit in your hand when it’s folded.
Like its predecessors, the top arms fold outward, while the bottom ones pivot down and out to form the traditional quadcopter shape. Those front/top arms sit slightly higher, too, with feet that rest on the ground to ensure the camera system has enough space beneath it.
This particular camera is mounted underneath the nose and mounted to a three-axis mechanical gimbal, meaning that any movement or shakiness is counterracted – resulting in smooth and sharp images and video. It’s a pretty familiar mechanism by now, and has worked well in previous models.
The removeable battery makes up part of the body of the drone too. In fact, the rear two-thirds of the drone is practically all battery. It’s held in place by a couple of internal clips that you release by pressing a button on either side of the battery. It’s a secure system and keeps it in place unless you really want to take it off.
As you’d expect, the drone ships with the redesigned controller we first saw ship with 2020’s Mavic Air 2. It’s a larger, chunkier controller than the old control pads, but it’s practical. It’s easier to grip for one, and the phone holder is much sturdier and less likely to mess with the buttons up the sides. Plus, it’s easier to fit larger phones in it.
- Four-sided obstacle avoidance
- 3500mAh battery capacity
- 31 minutes max flight time
- 8GB internal storage
- microSD to 256GB
DJI drones have led the way when it comes to obstacle avoidance and smart flight paths, and that’s not likely to change any time soon. This latest drone features sensors to avoid obstacles on the front, back, underside and the top. It doesn’t just stop in front of obstacles either, it makes use of DJI’s latest version of APAS (Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems) – which can automatically plot a route and move around obstacles.
The company also says it uses something called ‘binocular zooming technology’ which means the drone can pick up obstacles from further away and detect when they’re coming towards the drone. It should result in obstacles being much harder to hit and easier to avoid, even when they’re coming in fast.
There are lots of smart flying modes included too. Those include the usual QuickShots – which can move in a preset path around a subject – but more impressive-sounding is MasterShots.
With MasterShots enabled the drone decides for itself how to fly around the subject in a number of different paths for a couple of minutes and then create a unique video from that footage.
FocusTrack is another staple, where you can focus on a subject and then either get the camera to stay locked while you manually fly the drone around it, or get it to follow the subject in a set direction.
- 1-inch CMOS sensor
- 20MP (2.4μm pixel size)
- 5.4K video (to 30fps)
- 4K (to 60fps)
- Digital zoom/sensor crop up to 6x
Just a couple of years ago if you wanted really good quality images and stills from a DJI drone it meant spending quite a lot of money. The Phantom 4 Pro was the first consumer-ish drone with a 1-inch CMOS sensor, before it was followed up by the Mavic 2 Pro. Both of those drones are significantly more expensive than the Air 2S.
Now, that same-sized sensor is in the Air 2S and on first impressions the results are very good. We’ve managed to get a little time in the air testing a few of the different modes and the photo quality already looks to be a huge improvement on what the last Mavic Air 2 managed.
That’s no surprise really. Larger sensors mean bigger pixels and that means more data is captured and you usually see better colours and more light, which is more noticeable in low-light situations. We’ve not done enough testing yet to give our final say, but it’s looking to be a very competent camera so far.
It’s similar for video. It can shoot 4K resolution up to 60fps, so you can capture that sharp and smooth footage. If you want to up the sharpness for cropping in post production, you can up it to 5.4K resolution – but this tops out at 30fps.
Of course, there are other resolutions and frame rates which includes slow-motion options. Full HD (1080p) resolultion can go all the way up to 120fps to help give you that slowed down footage. In addition, DJI has added digital zoom to this latest drone, so depending on which resolution and frame-rate you’re filming at you can zoom up to 6x.
Should you get the Fly More combo?
- Two additional batteries (three total)
- Charging hub – charges all three at once
- Ships with 4 ND filters
- Carrying bag included
While battery life should be pretty strong on the DJI Air 2S, the 31 minutes flight time might not be quite enough if you’re planning on a long stint out in the hills. And those are 31 minutes in windless and sterile conditions.
Extra batteries are always a good idea – and the Fly More combo gives you more than just extra batteries. You get a charging hub that allows you to charge all three batteries at the same time, plus a little case with four ND (neutral density) filters.
These filters attach to the front of the camera and offer varying strengths. If you’re shooting on a bright day, or shooting near a lake or the sea, it’s always worthwhile to have an ND filter or two kicking around to reduce some of the harsh light and highlights.
The kit comes in a bag which can carry all of it, meaning you don’t have to take your own backpack if you don’t want to carry a big bag around with you.
Of course, getting the Fly More combo pushes the cost up by £270 in the UK, so it’s not cheap, but is a far more cost effective way to get extra batteries and accessories. Just one Intelligent Flight Battery for the Air 2 costs £105 on its own, while the charging hub would set you back £49 and the shoulder bag costs £69.
To get a 1-inch sensor in a DJI drone used to mean spending over four-figures and going with something quite big. Granted, the older Mavic 2 Pro is still foldable, but it’s nowhere near as compact as the Air 2S.
What’s more, the new Air drone still features a lot of the same capabilities of its bigger, more expensive siblings. It’s a win-win. It’ll cost you less, do mostly the same stuff, and takes up less room.
On the whole, based on our short time with the Air 2S so far, this could quite possibly be the best drone for consumers that DJI has ever released. It’s well-equipped, has a great camera, and all the tech and sensors you’d usually expect come in a much bigger and more expensive machine.
Writing by Cam Bunton.