I followed DJI’s announcement of the Mavic Air via live feeds very closely; I was excited about this new consumer drone that was ultraportable, and dare I say, its mainstream appeal. I also watched a bunch of (US) YouTubers review the drone, so you can imagine my levels of excitement when I received one to test out myself, courtesy of Navworld.
The closest I came to purchasing a (mini) drone was in January 2015 while on holiday in the US. The only reason I wanted it at the time was to take epic selfies with my boardgame crew for our bimonthly meet-ups (2013-2017). Buying one of the bigger ones was not an interest of mine, I wanted something small and portable, which is everything the Mavic Air is.
I’ve been playing and learning a lot about the Mavic Air since receiving it less than two weeks ago. Trust me when I say this, the more you fly, the better you become. I’ve had zero experience flying drones prior to this, so everything was new to me. It was intimidating initially, because once you unbox a drone, what do you do next? It’s not often I find myself in a situation where I have no clue what to do with a gadget or piece of tech (I don’t read the manual, always dive in fiddling and learning – best way to teach yourself anything), so I went straight onto DJI’s YouTube channel to watch the Mavic Air tutorials, obvs.
Unfortunately they don’t always go into as much detail (for beginners), so I watched other technical videos later on to try some of the more ‘advanced’ modes; I say that because for me, getting the basics of flying was what I focused on first.
For your reference, here is what is inside the standalone Mavic Air box (i.e. not the Fly More Combo), as seen on the DJI store blog:
Mavic Air Aircraft × 1
Remote Controller × 1
Intelligent Flight Battery × 1
Charger × 1
Power Cable × 1
Propellers (Pair) × 4
Propeller Guards (Set) × 1
RC Cable (Lightning connector) × 1
RC Cable (Standard Micro USB connector) × 1 RC
Cable (USB Type-C connector) × 1
Gimbal Protector × 1
Communication Cable (USB3.0 Type-C) × 1
USB Adapter × 1
RC Cable Slider (Large) × 1
RC Cable Slider (Small) × 2
Carrying Case × 1
Spare Control Sticks (Pair) × 1
In a nutshell, you need to download the DJI GO 4 app; connect your smartphone to the remote control; and link the remote to the drone. Once that is paired, you have to calibrate it before flying – the app will prompt you when it needs to be done, and it needs a GPS signal otherwise it won’t go very high.
This is what your smartphone screen would typically look like once you’re flying:
CHECK OUT MY FOOTAGE
I made a video about it, which you can watch below. It covers my first shaky flight – not even embarrassed about it because we all have to learn somewhere; general flying; and rotating of the camera. Then it goes into features new to the Mavic Air, like Boomerang (where it flies around you to show where you are – alas I was only at Mushroom Park in Sandton), Asteroid (zooms out and all the way upwards with a 360 degree photo effect), and then the Active Track feature where it followed me by rotating the camera. I did not get it to move towards me from this option, but did later on.
I also tried the gesture controls, which I understand was introduced on the smaller Spark. Nevertheless, it is included in the video but I’m not 100% sure which features were already on the Spark. I managed to take off without pairing my phone to the remote and control it with gestures throughout. It caught me by surprise when it started because I was expecting it not to work and was like, “oh, shit; this is it”. Look out for the pic-in-pic footage to see me controlling it, and what the view was from the drone.
The drone is capable of shooting 4K videos at 30fps (100Mbps); and 1080p at 120fps for slow-mo videos. It has a 12MP sensor that is capable of taking HDR shots; burst mode; 32MP panoramic shots; and 180-degree panos. It also has 8GB of internal storage but you will definitely need to add a bigger SD card especially if you’re shooting in 4K (but like, why). Your still images can be shot in RAW or JPEG, or both but the latter is not necessary unless you’re a professional photographer.
And between getting videos, I also grabbed some stills:
THOUGHTS ON THE MAVIC AIR:
[list default_icon=”paper-plane-o” icon_color=”” columns=”1″ arrange_columns=”vertical”]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]You need to be patient if you want to buy a drone. Factor in the time it will take you to learn how to use it before creating content.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]It has a 3-axis gimbal ensuring footage is always smooth and steady.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]This is probably most important – familiarise yourself with rules and regulations and what you’re allowed to do.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]Double check the locations you want to shoot at to see if it’s in a ‘no fly zone’.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]The basic standalone drone with one battery is not worth it, you absolutely should get the Fly More Combo with three batteries.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]The battery life on a single charge is close to 18 minutes instead of the 21 minutes claimed by DJI but you can’t use it in the last 10%.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]The drone is very loud; do not use it if your neighbours are in close proximity.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]If you are a content creator who wants to take things to the next level, this is the drone for you.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]You can do so much with the new Boomerang mode without having an additional camera person with you.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]The foldable design of the drone and compact remote with removable joysticks is exceptionally well thought of; makes it easier to travel with.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]It is not an easy piece of equipment to learn how to use. As mentioned in my first point, be patient.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]If you are a content creator using another bigger drone, you would love the Mavic Air because it is less bulky.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]It is expensive; be 100% sure you want to buy a drone and have the time to learn how to use it.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]At times I felt a bit anxious and wondered if people at the park would have issues with me flying it there.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]It attracts a lot of attention by onlookers, and sometimes people will ask questions.[/list_item]
[list_item icon=”rocket” icon_color=””]The standalone kit only has a wall socket charger; Fly More Combo allows for car and USB charging.[/list_item]
The Mavic Air is aimed at hobbyists, adventure seekers, content creators, and travellers (who out to familiarise themselves with drone laws in other countries) who want to get awesome footage without the help of others as the gesture modes make it really easy to do so, including the track me feature. If you’re a cyclist this could be super useful. It can be used to capture videos, still, panoramas, 360-degree pics, etc and there are loads of settings to play around with.
* Remember, if you are using a drone for private use, you do not require a licence in South Africa. But if you break any rules or laws, you could get fined R50 000 or spend 10 years in prison. There are apps and websites you can use to check for ‘no fly zones’.
Fantastic consumer drone with a well-thought of design but tricky to learn how to use. It is expensive so you should be absolutely certain that you want one, and if that is the case, you may as well fork out for the Fly More Combo. The footage will be worth it.
The Mavic Air can be purchased from Navworld.co.za for R13 900 standalone but I highly recommend the Fly More Combo for R17 200 – you will need those three batteries, and a bunch of cool accessories.
Welcome to Wired to the Web. My name is Nafisa Akabor and I’m a technology journalist covering business and consumer tech for the last 13 years. I’m passionate about start-ups, smartphones, mobile payments, travel tech and electric cars. ✉️ firstname.lastname@example.org