I am going to start off by professing that I am a camera snob. I have been into photography for many years and every new drone brings me closer to having both an affordable, and high quality camera in the air. Sure, you could jump into an Inspire 2, or put a DSLR on an M600, but having something AFFORDABLE is really appealing. Working up through the Phantom family, every machine got better and better. Then the Mavic Pro came out. I loved the portability but it offered nothing over the Phantom 4 except portrait mode and tap-to-focus, image quality-wise, it was no improvement. Next, the Phantom 4 Pro came out and blew me away with the vast improvement in dynamic range, image quality, and low-light performance. So now the Mavic Air comes out, of course I need to try it out. I’ve had it in my hands for a little over a week now….so what does a pixel peeper like myself think of this little guy?
On the portability side, the Mavic Air bests even the DJI Spark. when folded, the Mavic Air is only 6.6″ x 3.2″ x 1.9″, easily fitting into almost any jacket pocket. The Mavic Air is lightweight and the joysticks are removable to make storing the remote control even easier than before. Compared to the Mavic Pro, the Mavic Air takes a win in this category.
Range and Flight Time
The Mavic Air uses “Enhanced Wifi” versus the Mavic Pro with OcuSync. This difference means the Mavic Air has about half the range of the Mavic Pro. In our tests, we are getting around 17-18 minutes of flight time (not really ideal conditions) at sea level and around 15 minutes or so at home (6,700′ above sea level). This puts it about 5-6 minutes less than the Mavic Pro. So if you are looking for long distance and longer flight times, then the Mavic Pro takes the win in this category.
The Mavic Pro came with front-facing obstacle avoidance that would stop the aircraft from running into something in front of it, so long as you were not in Sports Mode. The Mavic Air is equipped with both front and rear sensors along with a new system called APAS that will actually allow the Mavic Air to plot a course around obstacles. The Mavic Air takes the win in this category.
The Mavic Pro and Mavic Air both share most of the same flight modes but the Mavic Air adds two new features, Asteroid and Boomerang and does a major improvement in gesture control. While Asteroid is a bit gimmicky, boomerang does a super cool elliptical flight path creating a very cinematic shot. The Gesture control on the Mavic Air is way more responsive than on the Mavic Pro or Spark. ActiveTrack adds the ability to recognize up to 16 subjects and lets you tap to select an object and does a fantastic job of tracking. We are giving the win easily to the Mavic Air in this category.
The Mavic Air bests the Mavic Pro in video quality due to an improved image processing system and 100Mbps bit rate means less compression artifacts for cleaner, crisper video. This is very obvious when you look at the video footage. This is a big win for the Mavic Air.
Ok, this is where I thought that the Mavic Air and Mavic Pro would end up in a tie. With both systems having basically the same sensor, and bit rate not affecting stills, the best way to get better image quality is to move to a bigger sensor like on the Phantom 4 Pro. The two main differences, in terms of specs are that the Mavic Pro has a FOV of 78.8° and a f/2.2 aperture while the Mavic Air has a a FOV of 85° and an aperture of f/2.8. This should really only result in a slightly wider angle on the Mavic Air. In good lighting conditions, it was pretty hard to tell much of a difference between the images except for the field of view. However, when we did some low-light shots, what we got out of the Mavic Air blew our socks off. The new image processor in the Mavic Air makes ISO 800 very usable, and even ISO 1600 images can be cleaned up quite nicely. Here are a couple of samples:
Something to note on the last two images. The panos were shot at 1/2 second and 1/3 second exposures and are made up of 21 images each. That means it took close to 30 seconds to capture all of the images. As you can see, you cannot detect the seems and the images are tack-sharp. We really had no idea that the low-light performance would have such a drastic improvement and the gimbal stability allows for long exposure shots very easily. A huge, and surprising win goes to the Mavic Air.
Other Things To Consider
If you look at how we rated the Mavic Air in the difference categories, it would seem that the Mavic Air is clearly better than the Mavic Pro. The main thing to keep in mind is that, as I said at the beginning, I am a camera snob, regardless of any other features, the camera matters to me the most, so I am a bit biased in that area. There is no doubt that the Mavic Pros range and flight time and ability to wirelessly connect and integrate with the DJI Goggles are going to be a priority for many people. I don’t need, or really care about the range or flight time as I have a Phantom 4 Pro that is used in those cases.
The Mavic Pro I consider to be a 99% camera, meaning it will deliver images and video that will be completely acceptable by 99% of the users out there.
To wrap this up, is the Mavic Air better than the Mavic Pro? The short answer is “it depends”. This may seem like a cop-out, but it really does depend on what features are important TO YOU. I have been as transparent as possible in saying that I am heavily biased towards camera performance. That makes the Mavic Air a better choice FOR ME. You need to look at the specs, and take note of what I have mentioned above, and decide what is the right choice FOR YOU as your needs and requirements may not be the same as mine.