Monday, July 20, 2020

DJI Magic Air 2 Review

I'm back on the blog which just means one thing, it's time for a new drone review. We're looking at DJI's Mavic Air 2. So, DJI says the MavicAir 2 is their smartest and safest drone today, which is great but the thing that I care about the mostis pure image quality.



So, we'll be taking a closer look at that but there's so much to go through that we should just get going. The Mavic Air 2 lookslike a smaller Mavic 2 Pro and a bigger Mavic Mini. It's slightly bigger and slightly heavier thanthe original Mavic Air but it's still portable enough to bring around places. I do have to say I preferthe look of the Mavic Air 1.

I always thought that design looked really nice and it's a little bit more fun, came out in three colorsand I always thought the gray housing in theseis just a little boring. But at least all the Mavicdrones that DJI is offering now, they have have a unified look in this lineup. Another big change, and I do mean big, is the new controller.

It's almost twice the sizeof any other DJI controller, excluding the optional749 Smart Controller. This one doesn't have a screen and there are no visible antennas sticking out. The phone holder is moved tothe top and it's spring loaded. I think the whole designmakes a lot more sense even though it sacrifices the the size.

It's also a lot morecomfortable to hold too. If I were to nitpick, my only wish is for the custom function buttonsto be at the bottom of the controller instead of the front of it. The most important thing for me is that the new Mavic Air hasa larger 1/2 an inch sensor that's capable of shooting4K at 60 frames per second and also 12 megapixel photosand 48 megapixel photos.

Compared to other standard sensor sizes, this is still a tiny sensor. It's only a little bit bigger than the original Mavic Air had, and it's a fraction of the size of a APS-C sensor, which you find in most mirrorless cameras, so, just know you got to adjust your expectations here. So what that means to youand drone photographers is that you can take photoswith a lot more detail, or you know, photos with low resolution but a bit more dynamic range.

If we take a look at the two JPEGs that we get from the drone, now these are not RAWs, just JPEGs that you get on your phone, it does look like the photo on the right, the 48 megapixel one, wasstruggling to keep the details in the highlights compared tothe 12 megapixel version one. I do think this might bein DJI's JPEG processing, so that could get fixed within an update.

But if we take a look atthe RAW photos in Lightroom, I'll go ahead and crank up the shadows and pull the highlights in post, so you basically end up with two very, very similar photos. You do lose a little bit of information, the highlights in that top right corner, and I do see some purplecolor casting happening in the bottom right and left corners too, and yes, before you say anything, I'm fully aware thatI'm pixel peeping here, but I just want to point outthat the 12 megapixel photos, they look better to me.

If you need 48 megapixel photos for larger prints or anything like that, you'll be happy that it'sthere and it looks good. All right, moving on to Smart Photo. It's a debut feature for a DJI, and it's one of thosethings that makes this drone the smartest drone they've made. It's in the name. So, what it basicallydoes is scene recognition.

So depending on what thedrone is pointing at, like trees, snow, sunrise,sunset or low light, it'll adjust settings accordingly. The thing is that it doesn'treally tell you what it's doing and when, so you justkind of have to trust it. Here are some normal and smart JPEGs. There's not much that set these apart, but in a way I'm glad thedifferences are subtle, and not something thatlooks over processed.

There does seem to bejust a bit more luminance in the greens here, and if you look at the shadowsat the bottom of the photo, you can see a little bitof more contrast there too, which I like. And sunrises do look better here, just by leveling the highlights and shadows without lookingtoo mushy or to HDR-ry. Finally, for photo section, let's run through aquick noise comparison.

So, we have six photos here ranging from 100 ISO all the way to 6,400 ISO. And yes, the noise handling in these is pretty solid. 800 ISO is probably as high as I would go. If you switch to Smart Modewhile shooting in low light, you can see in the metadata that drone has a bitmore control over ISO. Capping it at 540,lowering the shutter speed, cleaning up some noise andcoming up with nice results.

Again, it's nothing too drastic, but just enough to make thismode a worthwhile addition to this drone and honestly one of the better drones for photography overall The Mavic Air 2 can film 4K 60 with 120 megabits per second bitrate, it can shoot in slow mo footageup to 240 frames per second and 1080p, and it can shootin three color spaces, normal, center-like, and HDR.

I'm usually not the biggest fan of HDR, it tends to be just likean over-processed mess. But I feel like companiesare getting it right more and more, and DJI is one of them too. So one of the biggest downsides with all drones in generalis that they use tiny sensors that tend to show a lotof noise even at 100 ISO. And at 800, it's basically unusable.

The 1/2 an inch sensor here, it does help with noise reduction, but it's still not mind-blowing footage. So, let's take a look at some of it. And so I'm looking ata couple of clips here which are shot at 100,400, 800, and so forth. You can see that when we reach 400, you already started losing a bit of color and you already start losinga bit of contrast too. It just becomes a littletoo noisy for my taste. Even some clips at ISO 100, they don't really look thatgreat in standard color profile.

But once it's switched to center-like, if you're down to do that, you can easily crush the blacks, eliminate a lot of this unwanted noise even without adding any noise reduction. Overall, this is a big step upfrom the Mavic Air obviously, and if you're down to use center-like and spend more time editing your footage, you'll be pretty happy with the results.

Lastly, Hyperlapse mode cannow render out 8K exports, which is great, but the issues that I had with Hyperlapse modein the past are still here. Most of the times you have to stabilize the footage in Premiere or After Effects, and most of the time those exports have some kind of a shift in exposure which really ruins the whole experience.

Okay, there are a few caveats when it comes to hyperlapses though, not all modes can shoot 8K right now, DJI says they'll be adding them and should have it completedby the end of June. You don't actually get JPEGsand RAWs for the 8K exports, which is kind of a bummer. Next one is that the minimal interval that you can have betweenshots is six seconds, which to me in the final export just looks a little too fast.

You can't actually get the8K exports on your phone, you have to transferthem on a computer first. And then the last one is, well, the ones that I didactually came out corrupted. It worked on some of the other computers but it didn't work on mine. So yeah, it looks like Hyperlapse mode still needs a little bit of work done.

So the Mavic Air 2 comes with front, rear and bottom sensors for obstacle detection, new and improved APASfor obstacle avoidance, 34 minutes of battery time, and ditches enhanced WiFi for OcuSync 2, which is probably the mainreason why you wanna upgrade from let's say the original Mavic Air.

Now, as far as the distance goes, I couldn't really maxout that in the city, for obvious reasons. But what I will say is that OcuSync really providesyou a stable transmission, and I rarely ever had anydropouts during all of my flights. Now, when it comes to battery, I didn't really get the full34 minutes of flight time because you do need to saveup a little bit of battery for landing and gettingthe drone back in time.

But during my tests in whichwas a very windy San Francisco, so you expect the drone tojust kind of fight the wind, the longest that I'vegotten was 28 minutes. But on average, I wouldget around 25 minutes, which is still pretty darn good. As far as follow memodes go, I'll be honest, those are not my priority and I've rarely ever usedthem in real-world situations.

But from the few tests I did, I'm starting to believe DJIs claim that this is their smartest drone so far. It was better keeping me in focus, despite losing me instantlyin this very first test, I'll give them a pass on that one. And overall, it felt likeit was less jittery than the previous models,including the Mavic 2 Pro.

Same goes with APAS, I'mglad it's still here, and I'm glad it's getting better, but is it incomparable to Skydio? No, not really. And that's due to the fact that the Mavic Air 2 doesn't really have 360 omni-directional sensing around it. But it does give you andeveryone else around you that little bit extralayer of protection too.

DJI's Mavic Air 2 is a significant upgrade from the Mavic Air. It even though some things better than their flagship Mavic 2 Pro. But I can't shake off this feeling that this is sort of the iterative, even slightly boring upgrade. Yes, everything is much improved as it should be, but I think that maybeI was expecting more.

DJI has been hesitant tocreep into Skydio's territory when it comes to obstacle avoidance and autonomous flying, even though the Mavic Air2 has some better options than its predecessor. It's still far from what Skydio offers.

I also wish there was more evidence of Hasselblad's color sciencein photos and videos too. All that said, the Mavic Air2 is the drone I'd recommend to most amateurs and expert fliers looking to get good enough videos and some of the best photos out there. So, good job DJI, youmade another good drone. Shocking.

All right everybody, thankyou so much for watching and let me know in the comments, which drone are you flying right now? Are you looking to upgrade? And which one are youlooking to upgrade to? Is it the Air? Is it the Pro? Is it the Mini? Lemme know. 

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