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DJI Air 2S review: a great drone with one big flaw

DJI Air 2S review: great drone with one big flaw

Last week, DJI launched the DJI Air 2S, the successor to the Mavic Air 2, including a greatly improved camera and extra sensors. After a week of test flying the new drone, my conclusion in this DJI Air 2S review is that this latest DJI drone is an excellent and versatile camera drone that delivers excellent images and offers the versatility of its predecessor. But unfortunately, the drone has one major flaw: the device is not yet prepared for the new European regulations that will apply to drone operators living in Europe.

DJI Air 2S review: a great drone with one big flaw for European drone pilots

As you may recall, I was very excited about the Mavic Air 2 last year. “DJI’s most versatile drone to date,” was the headline of that review.

Less than a year later, I am already looking at the successor, the new DJI Air 2S. The compact size and relatively low weight (595 grams) have remained. New are the 1 ”sensor in the camera and the extra sensors on the top for obstacle avoidance and ActiveTrack.

For this review, I received the DJI Air 2S Fly More Combo from DJI. In addition to a drone and controller, you then get three batteries, quite a few spare propellers, a carrying case, a set of ND filters and a multi-charging hub. In terms of build and finish, the drone is very similar to the Mavic Air 2. Only the slightly larger camera module, the extra pair of “eyes” on the front and the orange propeller tips reveal that I am flying with the Air 2S.

DJI Air 2S review
The camera of the DJI Air 2S has a 1 ″ sensor and a resolution of 20 megapixels.

As always, reviewing a new drone starts with a lot of software updates. The process runs smoothly through the DJI Fly app, which I used this time in conjunction with both an iPhone 12 Pro and an iPad Mini. Charging batteries takes a while because the charging hub charges the batteries one by one. (Note: you can also use the batteries of the Mavic Air 2 with the Air 2S).

During a short first test flight, the controls of the DJI Air 2S feel precise and responsive. The drone seems to have become quieter again and it feels a bit tighter than the Mavic Air 2.

You can choose from three modes:

  • Cinematic
  • Normal
  • Sport

Cinematic is ideal for making smooth and smooth camera movements, especially useful when you are close to your subject. In Sport mode, you can make good speed, up to 70 km/hour. Theoretically, the maximum flight time is 31 minutes per battery, but in practice, you should count on about 25 minutes.

The main screen of the DJI Fly app during a flight.
The main screen of the DJI Fly app during a flight.

DJI Air 2S review: Controller

At first glance, the controller is exactly the same as that of the Mavic Air 2 and Mini 2. A solid design, where you place your phone in a holder that slides out of the top. The sticks are removable and are stored in recesses at the bottom of the controller during transport. Yet there is an important difference under the hood: the Air 2S uses OcuSync 3 or O3 as it is now called. The range would be no less than 12 km. (Just keep in mind that you always have to keep the drone within visual-line-of-sight.)

On the front, you will find a return to home button that doubles as a pause button, a flight mode selector switch, the power button, a programmable button, and a button to switch between photography and video. On the back, there is a dial with which you can turn the camera up and down, and the shutter button for taking a photo or starting/stopping a video recording.

De controller van de DJI Air 2S.
De controller van de DJI Air 2S.

DJI Air 2S review: video performance

The main achievement of the DJI Air 2S is the new camera, with a one-inch sensor on board. The lens has a focal length of 22mm equivalent (angle of view 88º). The drone can film in no less than 5.4K resolution (5472 × 3078 pixels) at 25 or 30 fps. In 4K this is a maximum of 50/60 fps, in 1080p HD 120 fps. In addition, it is possible to film with 10-bit color depth and color profiles such as D-log and HLG. That means more nuances in color shades and more space to play with contrast, brightness, and saturation during editing.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so last week I took the necessary shots with the Air 2S, at different locations, and during different conditions, ranging from sunny weather to sunrise and sunset. I chose the settings that deliver the highest quality video (5.4K resolution, H.265 compression, 10-bit color depth, D-log color profile, 25 fps). I used all three flight modes.

During filming, the lack of an adjustable aperture with manual exposure is a great shortcoming. With the DJI Air 2S, you’re stuck with f/2.8. That means that during filming you only have two options to adjust the exposure: place an ND filter, or vary the shutter speed (adjusting the ISO is actually not an option during the day). Both options are not ideal if you are used to keeping the shutter speed at 2x the framerate (in this case 1/50).

Moreover, it is not convenient to have to keep diving into the menu to adjust the exposure: with the Mavic 2 Pro, for example, you can do that simply by turning a wheel on the controller. On the controller of the Air 2S, you will only find one rotary wheel, with which you can turn the camera up and down. I experience the lack of an adjustable aperture as a major disadvantage for the more serious video work.

During the editing of the video above, Final Cut Pro only applied a so-called lut (to convert the flat D-log color profile to realistic colors) and some adjustments in the area of saturation and brightness. While editing the video (on a fairly recent MacBook Pro), it is noticeable that 5.4K resolution demands a lot from the computer. Filming in this high resolution only makes sense if your computer is fast enough to handle such large files.

The 10-bit color depth is a relief during color degrees: you have much more leeway to adjust the colors and lighting. In this respect, the Air 2S is really a big advance compared to the Mavic Air 2 and is comparable to the Mavic 2 Pro. Also welcome is the higher bitrate of 150 Mbps. This translates into smooth color gradients and the preservation of details in “busy” images. The sensor does have its limitations in terms of light sensitivity: in a shot that was taken shortly after sunset, a fair amount of noise can be seen.

DJI Air 2S review: Digital zoom

A new feature of the DJI Air 2S is the possibility to digitally zoom in during filming (this option is missing during photography). However, this is not possible when filming with 10-bit color depth or when filming in 5.4K. In 4K you can choose from 2x or 4x digital zoom. Only in 1080p HD, the option of 8x digital zoom is added.

Normally I’m not too keen on digital zoom, but I have to say that the Air 2S manages to surprise me in a positive way. In the video below you can see the difference between no zoom, 2x zoom and 4x zoom at 4K. The 2x zoom is certainly quite acceptable: only small details show some moiré. With 4x digital zoom there is much more moiré.

DJI Air 2S review: Photography

The DJI Air 2S captures photos with a resolution of 20 megapixels. That is on paper a decline compared to predecessor Mavic Air 2, which offered a maximum of 48 megapixels. But on the other hand, the larger sensor should guarantee better light sensitivity, which should result in less noise. But if you increase the sensitivity, you start to see quite a bit of image noise from ISO 400.

For optimal results, it is possible to photograph in DNG RAW. The drone also offers the possibility to automatically improve the image based on the circumstances. This is especially interesting for novice drone photographers. A disadvantage of the wide-angle lens is that you suffer from perspective effects, especially if you turn the camera down a bit. Furthermore, the image becomes somewhat blurred at the edges.

JPG recording, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/1250, f / 2.8
JPG recording, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/1250, f / 2.8

JPG recording, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/640, f / 2.8
JPG recording, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/640, f / 2.8
JPG recording, ISO 400, shutter speed 1/400, f / 2.8
JPG recording, ISO 400, shutter speed 1/400, f / 2.8
JPG recording, ISO 400, shutter speed 1/400, f / 2.8 (100% crop)
JPG recording, ISO 400, shutter speed 1/400, f / 2.8 (100% crop)

DJI Air 2S review: Panorama and 360º photography

Of course, the Air 2S also offers possibilities in the field of panorama photography. The 360º photo below comes straight from the drone. It is also possible to save the source files in jpg or DNG RAW and then stitch them yourself in professional software such as PTGui, for better results.

DJI Air 2S review: Obstacle Avoidance and APAS

I have sent the DJI Air 2S through orchards in various places. Flying forward, the drone should be able to independently avoid obstacles, in the forward and backward direction of flight, based on the renewed Advanced Pilot Assistance System (APAS) (there are no sensors on the sides of the drone). But unfortunately, I have to conclude that the drone does not work very smoothly. Sometimes the device suddenly stops – for example, because a small twig is suddenly detected – and that means an unusable video shot.

The fact that the Air 2S does not have sideways sensors means that you can never rely 100 percent on obstacle avoidance, especially when flying sideways. This also applies to the use of ActiveTrack, where the drone automatically follows a subject. Due to lack of time (the drone had to go back to DJI) I was not able to test that function, but I have already seen the necessary crashes in various DJI Air 2S review videos.

The DJI Air 2S has an extra set of sensors for obstacle avoidance and ActiveTrack.
The DJI Air 2S has an extra set of sensors for obstacle avoidance and ActiveTrack.

DJI Air 2S review: MasterShots

A completely new feature is MasterShots. Because many drone pilots do not bother to edit their video images (or do not know how to do this), DJI offers more and more options to make a nice video quickly. You may already be familiar with the QuickShots phenomenon, but MasterShots is an extension of this.

After activating this function, you must first select a subject. Then the drone will perform various flight and camera movements for a few minutes (make sure you have the aerial space to do so!). Once that is over, you can choose a template in the DJI Fly app. Then a video is automatically made, with music and all. You can then share it directly on Facebook or Instagram. A nice feature for beginners, but otherwise not usable for more serious purposes.

DJI Air 2S review: AirSense

A new feature that DJI has added to the Air 2S is AirSense. This is a safety system that must alert the drone pilot to approaching air traffic. This works on the basis of ADS-B. In the Netherlands (and Europe), however, not all aircraft are equipped with such a transponder, especially the small ones, and gliders use a different system. So you cannot rely on this blindly. During the few hours that I have flown the Air 2S, I did not receive a single warning.

DJI Air 2S review: Conclusion

DJI has once again delivered a great drone with the Air 2S. The drone flies very accurately and stable, the image quality is amazing for such a compact drone, and the drone is even more versatile than the Mavic Air 2. It is that the camera does not have a variable aperture, but otherwise you could almost speak of a serious alternative to the Mavic 2 Pro. As a disadvantage, I mention the still limited obstacle detection. DJI is really starting to lag behind, especially when you see what a party like Skydio has achieved in this area. Furthermore, you cannot rely on AirSense in our regions (Europe).

For drone pilots based in Europe

The elephant in the room for drone operators in Europe is the fact that the DJI Air 2S doesn’t have a Cx label yet. From January 1, 2023, all newly sold ready-to-fly drones must have such a label in order to be allowed to fly in Open subcategories A1 and A2, according to the new European regulations. This does not Apple for pilots based outside of Europe. So-called legacy drones inexorably end up in subcategory A3. That also applies to the DJI Air 2S. Incidentally, there is little to blame for DJI: the technical standards that drones must meet have simply not yet been established. Due to the weight of 595 grams, the DJI Air 2S may be used in Open subcategory A2 until the end of 2022, as long as you have the correct drone certificate and keep at least 50 meters away from uninvolved persons on the ground.

The lack of a Cx label makes it difficult to make a final judgment. Looking at the flight and camera performance, the DJI Air 2S is a must for those looking for an all-around camera drone, if you can live with the lack of an adjustable aperture and you accept the limitations in the field of obstacle detection. However, due to the lack of a Cx label, the drone has in a sense a limited shelf life (unless DJI finds a solution in due course to assign the C1 label to this drone afterward). I cannot determine whether that is a major disadvantage for you as a reader; I can only point it out to you.

The DJI Air 2S Fly More Combo tested for this review costs $1,299 and can be ordered in the DJI Store. The basic version costs $999.

Benefits

  • One-inch sensor with support for 10-bit color
  • Excellent flight behavior and relatively quiet
  • Very versatile in terms of features
  • Digital zoom works surprisingly well (up to 2x zoom)

Cons

  • No C1 label
  • Obstacle detection still limited
  • AirSense offers false security
  • Aperture not adjustable
The DJI Air 2S Fly More Combo.
The DJI Air 2S Fly More Combo.

DJI Air 2S specifications

  • Takeoff weight: 595 grams
  • Maximum flight time: up to 31 minutes
  • Sensor: 1 ”CMOS, resolution: 20 megapixels
  • Camera lens: 88º FOV, 35mm format equivalent, focal length 22mm
  • Aperture: f / 2.8 (fixed)
  • Focus range: 0.6 meters to infinity
  • Video ISO range: 100-3,200 (auto), 100-6,400 (manual)
  • Color modes: normal, D-log, HLG
  • Video Compression: h.264 / h.265
  • Maximum video bit rate: 150 Mbps
  • Maximum photo size: 5,472 x 3,648 pixels, 3: 2
  • Video resolution: 5.4K to 30 fps, 4K to 60 fps, 2.7K to 60 fps, 1080p HD to 120 fps
  • Internal memory: 8 GB
  • Autonomy: ActiveTrack 4.0, APAS 4.0
  • Maximum range: 8 km (CE), 7.5 miles in the USA
  • Cx CE label: n/a
  • Video transmission: OcuSync 3.0 (not compatible with DJI Goggles, but with the DJI Smart Controller)

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This article first appeared on Dronewatch.nl and is written by Wiebe de Jager who is also a DroneXL contributor.

Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager (@wdejager) is the founder of Dronewatch and author of several bestselling books about drone photography. Wiebe is a certified drone pilot and has a full ROC license.

1 comment

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  • Hi thanks for all the info. Found a little typo;

    ” Open subcategories A1 and A2, according to the new European regulations. This does not Apple for pilots based outside of Europe. “