Thing Thoughts: Why The DJI Mavic Air Won’t Get My Money

DJI announced a new drone today and I must say, DJI is on a roll. Their drones get easier to fly with more intelligent features in smaller form factors for less money and look attractive to boot.

This little fella seems to have some pretty nifty features packed inside its cute little plastic chassis. They include:

  • 32 MP Sphere Panoramas
  • 3-Directional Environment Sensing
  • Smart Capture
  • A 3-Axis Gimbal mated to a 4K Camera
  • “Smart” Caputre
  • A maximum flight time of 21 minutes

But to date, they suck in the most important way possible: Their cameras. I have never seen decent footage pulled from a Mavic. I owned a Mavic Pro and thought that maybe, just maybe, it couldn’t possibly shoot as low quality video as it does in the year 2017 (yes, it’s 2018 now but I had it in 2017 and figured that firmware updates must have improved things since its introduction in 2016 when its footage sucked even for camera tech in 2016). No, really. They claimed it had high bitrates and could shoot LOG-ish footage, but the dynamic range and definition was disgustingly bad, even in the marketing footage, relative to what you could get out of the iPhone you had to connect to the remote to watch what you were filming. Sure, you could apply LUTS and grade it in DaVinci or the new FCP X (or other program), but its footage still looked like poop.

Here, I’ll show you:

 

On the left you have final graded footage, on the right you have a crop of the same video. The moire and total lack of sharpness or definition is appalling. Look at the way pixels swim around and moire that looks like a CRT display filmed at high speed.

Compare that to footage shot on an iPhone 7 Plus that came out a year before the Mavic Pro and there’s simply no comparison.

I realize I made the Ferrari video bigger, but that’s just for formatting, you can open the Mavic footage on YouTube and see it full size there as well. Also, the Ferrari footage was shot using Filmic Pro on the iPhone which ups the bitrate, but bear in mind, the Mavic Pro has a LARGER sensor at 1/2.3” vs the iPhone at 1/3”.

Now here’s the thing….

I’ve been talking this whole time about the Mavic Pro as opposed to the Mavic Air, but in my biased mind, there’s no way the Mavic Air is any better…in fact for all intents and purposes, it looks like it uses the same sensor as the Pro. And this isn’t about getting what you pay for, it’s just a simple fact that compact sensors are capable of WAY better quality nowadays and so I don’t know where DJI is sourcing their hardware. Frankly it looks like they merely further sliced up the pixel count on a “spy camera” sensor you might find in a cheap “spy watch”.

So until verifiable reviews come out showing that the DJI Mavic Air’s camera sensor can fold my laundry, I’m giving it a pass. The cameras in these arguably highly capable-but-inexpensive-toy-drones are their Achilles heels that prevent me from recommending any of them in the near future.

I’m not holding my breath.