Mid-Sized Drones: What Are the Advantages?
Part two of our catch-up of current drones amps up the weight of the craft. Why should you choose something heavier?
When we looked at mini drones, we concluded that the secret to their success was their weight—or lack of it. But, even though the minis, by virtue of their size, can easily find their way into your camera bag, there are good reasons to raise your aim to include bigger, heavier aircraft—better video is a big one.
DJI Air 2S
To continue our weight obsession, the Air 2S‘s take-off number is 595g, around double of the Mini drones, although Air 2S is also a foldable design so it looks like a mini.
Moving up the scale of drones also means you can keep your smartphone in your pocket as this drone comes with its own independent remote with a 5.5″ 1080p 10-point touchscreen.
Ticking off the features includes a 3-axis gimbal, on-board OccuSync 3.0 and four antennae to ensure the connection. DJI claims that you can receive a stable, live view from the drone up to 7.5 miles away. That’s pretty mind-blowing, if you think about it.
Also, leaving your Mini drone behind rewards you with a bigger sensor and, with it, better “everything” to do with video. A one-inch sensor and 22mm wide-angle lens pushes capture specs up to 5.4K ultra HD video and 20 MP stills.
You also get more “pro” features that promote safe flying, like multi-dimensional obstacle avoidance, geofencing, return-to-home, and DJI’s AirSense.
AirSense gives you the ability to identify craft around you, like an Air Traffic Controller. You get flight location information from airplanes and helicopters in your area that transmit ADS-B signals, displays those aircraft on a map, and provides audio and visual alerts through the DJI Fly app to help you keep the drone out of the way of those aircraft.
That won’t, however, protect you from airplanes under visual flight rules (VFR).
MasterShots comes with the drone and is the Air 2S’s presets for newbies—it’s an evolution of QuickShots. Spotlight 2.0 is where the camera keeps centered on a subject.
ActiveTrack 4.0 is where you follow your subject with active obstacle avoidance, and Point of Interest 3.0 is the classic circle of a centered subject. There are plenty more automatic presets to give your footage a “pro” look until you learn to do it yourself.
- Launched April 2021
- Package (remote and accessories): $1,749
DJI Mavic 3
Five years ago, if I said that a drone could carry a Hasselblad camera, you could have questioned my sanity. But, when DJI bought a minority stake in the Swedish company back in 2015, we all felt that a medium format camera on a drone was possible.
Well, we’re not quite there yet. Mavic 3’s Hasselblad camera is a 4/3 CMOS sensor model with a pixel count of 5280×3956.
But here’s the twist, there’s another camera in the housing. The telephoto one is a 1/2-inch CMOS sensor model with a 4000×3000 measure. A 4x digital zoom is the reason for the “telephoto” name, but that might only be of use for spotting ahead what’s coming for your Hasselblad to photograph.
Talking more about the cameras for the Mavic 3 seems to make sense, but there are other fine features as well.
The DJI sensing feature has evolved into one that sees all around, forward, backward, lateral, upward, and downward sensing obstacles in milliseconds, and up to 200m ahead. It’s more like a bat than a craft.
The Mavic 3 comes in standard form, but the Mavic Cine model is more expensive—for good reason. It adds Apple ProRes and a 1TB SSD to deal with the uptick in footage that ProRes will give you.
But the Hasselblad camera in on both models where it’s the same spec. Amazingly, the camera is similar to a decent handheld product with 12.8 stops of dynamic range and an adjustable aperture from a light f/2.8 to f/11.
You also get the RC Pro remote with the Cine.
You can then add a 10-bit D-Log Color Profile and Hasselblad’s own color science NCS (Natural Color Solution). As of now, this is the DJI flagship drone and points towards how Hasselblad will be used going forward—even a standalone camera perhaps.
Just for consistency’s sake, Mavic 3 Cine comes in at 899g, and Mavic 3 is 895g. We have no idea why there is a 4g difference.
If the new Mavic 3 is all about the image, then the FPV (first-person view) is about speed. How about 0-60mph in under two seconds! Top speed is around 87mph for the FPV and, as speed is the need for owners of this craft, you’ll need multiple frame rates to catch the action and a good battery solution to keep you up there.
DJI’s RockSteady EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization) technology helps with smoothing out the footage with an optional 120 Mbps bitrate, and you can get HD at 50/60/100/120fps, but 4K tops out at 60fps.
Because the FPV concentrates on speed, the gimbal only acts on one axis—the tilt. There’s also some electronic help with the roll, but only when the aircraft is tilted at angles of up to 10°.
The best way to enjoy FPV is with the optional FPV Goggles V2 to take full advantage of the 150˚ field of view that FPV offers.
But, there’s a new way of flying the craft with a video game-like motion controller. This is a one-hand operation, and as you turn your wrist, the craft moves that way. You press the big red lever, like an old Scaletrix controller, to go forward. Through your goggles, you see where to point the controller.
Looks like fun.
But, with all this enjoyment, DJI gives you layers of safety with an emergency hover mode (it’s called Emergency Brake and Hover) when you’re in trouble and step-up methods that help you go from your regular drone operation to the speed of the FPV.
However, if it all ends in tears, don’t worry, as the gimbal camera, landing gear, and top shell of the DJI FPV aircraft are all modular and replaceable.
- Launched March 2021
- Drone only: $739
Mavic Air 2
The Mavic Air 2 may just be hanging on to its place in the DJI product firmament, but it has a solid mix of features that helps people looking for a drone under the psychological $1000 price point.
Here, we packaged it with a Smart Controller, raising the price a bit.
Basic video features are a 1/2inch sensor with an ultra HD performance of up to 60fps. You can come down to a 2.7K crop, but I wonder why with less resolution on offer—2688×1512 at 60fps.
The smart move would be to use HD, especially for slo-mo, as you can cram 240fps onto your media at that resolution—1920×1080 24/25/30/48/50/60/120/240fps.
Speaking of media, you have 8GB of internal storage and optional SD cards up to 256GB in size.
You don’t have any Log modes, but we’re unsure if D-Cinelike is just a color curve or a bonafide Log measurement. Either way, it should give you a nice contrasty look.
I won’t go through the photo mode, but it’s comprehensive with 8K hyperlapse mode activated in the app and 48MP images.
Back to video, and you have the usual Quickshots and Intelligent Tracking Modes described above for the Air 2S. Only OcuSync 2.0 is available, but that’ll take you up to 10km with a 1080p/30fps video transmission.
Mavic Air 2 is one of those products with a broad range of features that tick boxes for prosumer customers. It wasn’t killed off when the “S” model turned up last year, but it’ll undoubtedly be superseded this year. So, look for deals at the super dealer websites.
- Launched April 2020
- Drone with Smart Controller: $1,399
The US vs. DJI
Late last year, the U.S. government looked to ban Chinese company DJI. The Treasury Department put several companies on an investment exclusion list, banning U.S. citizens from buying and selling shares in them. DJI was one of them.
The move made little sense in the case of DJI as they’re not a publicly held company and have no shares to trade. Consequently, you can still buy DJI products in the U.S.
In 2020, the Department of Commerce barred U.S. companies from exporting products to DJI, which has been judged to be a national security threat by the Department of Defense.
Ironically, according to the Reuters news agency, more than 900 U.S. public safety agencies—including police in New York City—use DJI products with close to 80% of the consumer market for drones.
Whether the government’s intervention will affect DJI’s product roadmap remains to be seen. Perhaps the worldwide slowdown in silicon production will have more impact.
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Cover image via DJI.
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