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Lifewire / Andy Zahn
Excellent image and video quality
Compact and portable size
Wide range of intelligent safety and creativity features
Incredible subject tracking
Impressive safety features
Camera has some functionality compromises
Android app limits some features
Long, mildly frustrating setup process
The DJI Air 2S may not be the smallest or cheapest drone, but it is the smallest and cheapest drone to offer a professional grade camera paired with a host of advanced features. For beginners and advanced flyers alike, this is the best drone you can fly right now.
We purchased the DJI Air 2S so our reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for the full product review.
When buying a drone, there have always been tradeoffs to make for portability and affordability. Buying a compact and/or low-cost drone typically means giving up camera quality, obstacle avoidance, transmission capability, or speed.
However, the DJI Air 2S may be the rare device that falls into this sweet spot, the Goldilocks zone where all but the most minor of compromises dwindle into irrelevance. On paper, this drone is a portable, affordable powerhouse, but can it live up to such lofty expectations?
As someone who has flown the DJI Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom on an almost daily basis since those drones launched, my first impression of the Air 2S was of just how small it is. The drone isn’t as small as the Mavic Mini, but at 3.3 x 3.8 x 7.1 inches and 1.3 pounds, it’s shockingly small considering what it’s capable of, and it strikes a good balance between portability and capability.
A small but significant detail of the Air 2S is its camera gimbal protector, which is much better than those included with other DJI drones I’ve flown. Its release system makes it easier to remove, while providing a much more secure fit at the same time. These kinds of little fixes are present throughout the design of the Air 2S, such as the folding arms that have a more robust hinge than those on my Mavic 2 Pro.
The new controller design for the Air 2S is pretty decent. It’s a solid piece of hardware with removable thumbsticks that stow away in special slots at the bottom of the controller. All the familiar controls are there, so as a long time DJI drone pilot I had no trouble getting used to it. It’s all very straightforward, so new fliers should be able to get to grips with it fairly quickly. The shape of it is designed to be as compact and easy to stow as possible, without sacrificing ergonomics, and it’s quite comfortable to use.
It comes with a USB charging cable, as well as several different adapters (USB-C, Apple Lightning, and MicroUSB) for the necessary wired connection to your phone. These are attached inside the retractable phone holder. I appreciated that they are very easy to swap out, which has not been my experience with the Mavic 2 Pro controller.
The Air 2S is a massive upgrade in every way from the previous Mavic Air 2.
The phone holder itself is also an improvement over previous DJI designs, with a robust spring loaded and rubber padded arm extending from the top of the controller. However, if you have a big phone like my Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, especially if it’s in a case, it’ll be a tight fit.
Every DJI product I’ve ever owned has been a bit of a pain to set up, and the Air 2S wasn’t without its hiccups. It works through the DJI Fly app, which requires an update to fly the new drone. However, the update download failed twice for no apparent reason. The third time the phone glitched out and eventually told me I had to grant permission for the installation.
After this, the option to connect an Air 2S drone appeared, but the phone wouldn’t detect the controller or the drone. I restarted both the controller and the drone, and finally the phone was able to see it and walked me through the pairing process.
After activating the drone to my DJI account, it asked me whether I wanted DJI Care Refresh or not, and then proceeded to a major firmware update for the drone itself. With my slow internet this took some time, particularly since the download speed was wildly inconsistent and persistently slow even for my poor home connection.
The Air 2S is a massive upgrade in every way from the previous Mavic Air 2. Most significant among the many advantages this drone has over its previous iteration of DJI’s Air series of drones is its camera. With 20MP and a large 1-inch sensor, this camera is vastly superior to that in the Air 2. You also get ADS-B Airsense capability, among tons of new features and generally improved performance across the board.
Flying the Air 2S felt very familiar to me compared to similar DJI drones I’ve flown. It’s very comparable to the Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom drones, with its top speed of 44Mph. Speed and obstacle avoidance behavior vary between cinematic, normal, and sport modes.
It’s subtle, but my experience with the Air 2S was that it’s actually a tad more responsive and nimble than the other drones. You get a whopping 31 minutes maximum flight time, which I found to be more than enough to film and photograph locations with a battery to spare.
The maximum transmission range is about 7.5 miles, though of course this is heavily affected by the terrain around you. I found that within safe, line-of-sight operating distances, the signal never wavered in the slightest. However, I did find that the video signal suffered from occasional minor hiccups that, while not a major concern and just a mere annoyance, were consistent in every flight with both the standard and smart controllers.
In previous small, lightweight drones from DJI, a universal compromise was in photographic capability. However, that changes with the Air 2S. The 20MP 1-inch sensor is comparable to that of the Mavic 2 Pro, and in terms of overall image quality, I might actually give a slight edge to the Air 2S.
It’s 22-millimeter equivalent f/2.8 aperture lens is super sharp, and the high megapixel count gives you plenty of latitude for cropping in post. It excels in low light, making filming around sunset or sunrise during the blue hour possible with minimal noise. Colors look great, and RAW images offer plenty of dynamic range for editing.
The camera can capture RAW images, as well as Jpeg, and offers plenty of useful video recording options as well. You can go up all the way to 5.3k 30fps video, or 4k 60fps, or 1080p 120fps video for decent-looking slow motion. HDR, timelapse, and panorama modes are also available, among others. Images and video are stored on 8GB of onboard storage, or an optional micro-SD card.
It excels in low light, making filming around sunset or sunrise during the blue hour possible with minimal noise.
I have only two complaints regarding the camera in comparison to the Mavic 2 Pro. One is that the gimbal on the Air 2S is unable to be pointed upwards, which is a function in the Mavic 2 Pro that I find useful for navigation and for capturing panoramic images. The other thing missing here is an adjustable aperture, so the camera is locked at F2.8, unlike in the Mavic 2 Pro. These are hardly deal breakers, but they are factors worth considering.
Something that will be of particular interest to more advanced pilots will be the fact that the Air 2S is compatible with the DJI Smart Controller. This controller eliminates the need to connect your smartphone and greatly reduces the time required to set up and fly the Air 2S. Pairing the Smart Controller to the Air 2S was easy enough, though it was necessary to make sure that both controller and drone were fully updated, which took an entire afternoon on my slow DSL internet connection.
Once the initial setup is out of the way, the Air 2S functions just about flawlessly with the Smart Controller. If anything, I found the signal to be more reliable than with the Air 2S’s bundled controller.
The Smart Controller is a very expensive $750 accessory, which comes close to doubling the initial cost of the drone. However, it represents a major upgrade for the Air 2S that’s certainly worth it for professional pilots. It also makes the drone more appealing to drone pilots who already own and use the Smart Controller.
In the past, I’ve never found much use for DJI’s intelligent tracking features, or their automated filming modes, but the Air 2S definitely challenged my long-held prejudices against what seemed like gimmicks in the past.
First of all, the subject tracking is absolutely phenomenal. Once it locks onto something, it holds on and just won’t let go, and the excellent obstacle avoidance system prevents it from running into anything while it's tracking you.
Even better, through a number of intelligent controls you can change the position of the drone around the subject it's tracking, or have it orbit at varying speeds. I see this as being immensely useful to new drone pilots and seasoned professionals alike.
The subject tracking is absolutely phenomenal.
I still can’t see myself using the automated shooting modes in which the drone pulls off a pre-programmed maneuver. The Air 2S features a new one called Mastershots that captures a series of cinematic clips of a chosen subject, which is kind of cool and good for beginners, but with a little practice you can pull off these moves yourself and that’s much more concerning.
The big problem with these programmed shots is that if you’re using an Android device to control the drone you can film in only 1080p. If you’re using an iPhone you’re fine, but there’s no reason, at least as far as I know, that Android users should be so limited.
The Air 2S features the most powerful collision detection system in any DJI drone to date, and with it enabled you’d be hard pressed to run into anything if you tried. Even better, the drone features an ADS-B warning system that’ll let you know when aircrafts are nearby, though during my time testing the drone I never encountered a situation where this feature would have been activated. If you do run into trouble, such as your signal being interrupted, the drone is GPS equipped and its "return to home" function is capable of bringing the Air 2S back to you unharmed.
With an MSRP of $1,000, the DJI Air 2S is easily the best drone on the market from a value perspective. It makes both more expensive drones and less expensive drones look less attractive from a features to dollars point of view.
Considering that it’s more than half the price of the Air 2S, the Mavic 2 Pro should blow the Air 2S out of the water, even if it may be getting a bit long in the tooth. However, these two drones are evenly matched, each offering minor advantages over the other in terms of functionality.
Once you factor in the significant size and price advantage of the Air 2S, it seems as though the Mavic 2 Pro has been almost wholly outdated by the Air 2S. If you already own the Pro you probably don’t need to switch, but if you’re deciding between the two, the Air 2S is clearly the better buy.
This is quite simply the best drone you can buy right now.
The DJI Mavic Air 2S is genuinely amazing for what it’s able to offer at its price point, and it’s the drone I’d recommend to anyone either new to the hobby or looking for an upgrade. It’s a tool that will truly take your photos and videos to new heights.
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