DJI Mavic Air: hands-on – Emphasis on ‘hand’

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Have you ever wondered at the power that resides in your hands? Just lift up your hand. Yes, right there. Now watch as this drone follows your hand’s every move. Why? Because it is equipped with 3D tracking tech that allows the pilot to put down the controller and wave their hands in the air instead.

We saw this tech demonstrated at the South African launch of DJI’s new drone, the Mavic Air. This fine piece of equipment was created with the travel and photography enthusiast in mind, to be ultra-portable while including impressive AI tech and camera features. It might be time to up your Insta-game…

The Mavic Air still stays true to DJI’s Mavic range though, complete with a 4K camera for great video- and image quality, new QuickShot modes and SmartCapture for easier picture-snapping, and FlightAutonomy 2.0 which provides Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems (basically some cool AI developed specifically for drones) for drone safety. Which really is a thing.

Pocket-sized flight

And you can literally put it in your pocket. This little quadcopter only weighs 430 grams. The arms and propellers are foldable and they sit flush against the frame, which makes it very compact.

The Mavic Air is equipped with a recessed three-axis mechanical gimbal, suspended from dampeners to further reduce vibration. It seems to be an improvement on the original Mavic, which we’re very pleased with. The drone’s camera houses a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor and the equivalent of a 24mm F/2.8 lens (on a 35mm full frame sensor) which is designed to capture high-quality photos and videos.

The Mavic Air’s excellent images are due to the 12-megapixel HDR camera on-board, which also proves to be competent in low-light. It shoots stabilised 4K video (at 30 fps). It can also shoot 1080p slow-motion video at 120 fps for that dramatic effect you get when something hits water at speed.

We didn’t really get to test out the camera quality first-hand, because of some by-laws in Cape Town prohibiting drone flight in public areas (we were not spying on the Capetonians, calm down). We did get to fly it around indoors, though.

Up in the air

Apparently you don’t have to be a pro-drone pilot to be able to control the Mavic Air. And this is true, we are in no way professional drone racers.

We got to play around with the SmartCapture control mode that gives you the ability to control the drone with your hands only. It has a maximum range of up to 6 meters, and you can give hand gesture commands to launch, follow, photograph, record, push (go backward), pull (go forward) and land.

It works better than you would imagine (and definitely better than it did last time out). The device uses AI and 3D-mapping abilities to know exactly what the pilot’s gesturing means. It kind of feels like training your dog for the first time, if you are not used to it. The difference being that you are the dog…

It won’t crash

One of the biggest worries when purchasing a drone is that it could fall/fly into an obstruction and break — which is understandable considering these guys aren’t cheap.

DJI knows this and has been working to create a drone that really is smart – smart enough to know that it shouldn’t crash or fall. They designed optimised algorithms with their Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems to help the Mavic Air fly safely through obstacles and terrain. Data is gathered from seven onboard cameras and infrared sensors are used to construct a 3D map of its environment for better flight performance, so this little guy will not crash (hopefully).

It is also equipped with forward and backward dual camera vision systems that can sense obstacles up to 20 meters away. That’s the claim and it seems to be true, as the drone was flown indoors at the demo and didn’t bump into anything while remaining very stable at all times. If you consider that this was in a confined space with roughly 50 people present and there was no drone-inflicted injuries reported… that’s a good sign.

We think that this is a very interesting development in commercial drone-tech, one which gives every amateur (and professional) photographer the opportunity to take stunning pics from the sky while still having the assurance that their investment will be safe. After the demo, DJI has definitely convinced us of that.

The Mavic Air is now available in South Africa from selected retailers from R15,700.

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Deputy Editor at Stuff. Nevermind the fancy title, I like writing about things that are cool. Like games, gadgets and sometimes even software. Depending on how cool it is.

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