Drones can be intimidating. There’s no doubt that the footage is amazing and awe-inspiring, and it never gets old to see the world from new heights. If you love the idea of being the star of your own drone footage but are terrified of crashing your expensive new drone into a tree, you’re not alone. In fact, up until a few weeks ago, I was right there with you.
Having flown only one drone before (one made of styrofoam) and immediately crashing it into a tree (which obviously broke the styrofoam), I was pretty sure I’d need to spend more time practicing before investing in and traveling with a drone. So when the opportunity presented itself to test out the new DJI Mavic Air on a trip to the British Virgin Islands, I was a little bit nervous. How would I pack it? What if I crash it? What if someone yells at me for flying somewhere I’m not supposed to? And even if none of that happened, how much practice would I need before the footage I was capturing would even be good enough to show the world?
I’m happy to tell you that I didn’t crash the Mavic Air, nobody yelled at me, and the carrying case it came with was so small, I was able to easily tuck it away in my carry-on. And my footage rocked.
By my second day, after some trial and error, I was flying the Mavic Air with confidence and had more time to focus on capturing the beautiful scenes around me. In this review of the DJI Mavic Air, let me walk you through all the features and built-in technology that make this the best drone for beginners to buy.
Price and where to buy it: $799 on Amazon.com or the DJI Store
Easy to Learn, Hard to Crash
Whether you’re using the included controller or the touchscreen on your phone, piloting the drone is very intuitive and the drone is built with stabilizing technology, so you don’t have to worry about the wind setting it off course. It won’t drift away, and it will stay the course that you set.
As a rule, you should always keep the drone in your line of sight, but things happen and there might be moments where you realized the drone has strayed just a bit too far. You should still be able to see what the drone is looking at through the screen on your phone, but you might not be able to physically see the drone itself. If this happens, there’s no need to panic. The software comes with a built-in “Return to Home” feature, which you can activate on your phone. Just press the button and slide to confirm, and your drone will make its way back to the spot it took off from.
If you’re on the move, you can also tell the drone to come directly to your current position. This is, by far, my favorite feature of the DJI Mavic Air. I felt confident knowing that if the wind speed picked up or the battery ran low, I could press a button and the drone would come back to me. And if your battery does run out when the drone is mid-air, the drone reserves enough battery power to return to home, so you don’t have to worry about it falling out of the sky.
Even though the drone is easy to learn, I still recommend spending time practicing at home before taking it anywhere. This way you’ll be more confident, so you can begin capturing that amazing travel footage the second you get settled in.
Quick Shots and Active Tracking
When it comes to making your footage look good, like “pick-up-your-phone-Hollywood-is-calling” good, the DJI Mavic Air comes with a couple of cool features and cinematic presets to capture some wow-worthy footage.
The first and most useful is the “Active Tracking” feature. This allows you to highlight anything in the frame and set your drone to follow it. For example, if you’re filming someone walking on the beach, you just tell the drone that you’d like to keep them in the center of the shot and the drone will constantly readjust and follow them around. You can even set active tracking on yourself, so you can really become the star of your own travel movie. This is a great feature, but if you let the drone track you and walk off to be in the shot, it might lose sight of you depending on the situation. For example, I tried to set the drone to follow me around on a paddleboard, but when I fell in the water, it was no longer able to distinguish me as the object it was meant to be tracking and the setting was deactivated.
If you want to impress someone with your drone skills, there’s no easier way than taking advantage of the “Quick Shots” feature. These are preset flight paths that let you capture stunning aerial footage at the touch of a button. You can set the drone to circle around you, rise straight above you, follow a boomerang-shaped pattern, and more. As with active tracking, you just set your subject and press “go.” The drone will give you a three-second count-down so you can put down the controller and strike a pose.
The camera on the Mavic Air is built in and has the capability to shoot 4k videos. As for photographs, I’m accustomed to the quality of my DSLR camera, so for me, the picture quality reminds me more of a camera phone than a high-end lens. Personally, I miss some of the professional glossiness and depth of field, but the quality is probably fine for the average phone photographer. Plus, if you’re shooting video high up, you want everything to be in focus.
Packing a Drone
One of the most impressive things about the Mavic Air is its compact size. When you’re not using it, the legs are cleverly designed to fold up along the side of the drone, making it small enough to fit in any travel bag. However, to keep it safe, I recommend either the Travel Bag or Backpack from DJI. These are already set with compartments perfectly made to hold extra batteries and the drone’s controller. They are also discreet and keep the valuable equipment inside relatively incognito.
What Do You Need to Know Legally?
In order to use the DJI Mavic Air, you need to download the DJI App for your phone, which is synced to the DJI Flu Map. The app is smart enough to know when you’re in a restricted area, such as the five-mile radius from any airport, and will prevent you from taking off. However, just because the app lets you take off, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear. You should never fly your drone over large groups of people, and if you’d like to fly on private property, always make sure to ask for permission first. You can also check the Fly Safe Geo Zone Map to research your trip in advance and see where you can and can’t fly your drone.
How the DJI Mavic Air Rates:
- Usefulness: 8/10. A drone is definitely a luxury and you’re totally capable of traveling without one. However, this one is so fun to use, it will become an activity in itself and you’ll be able to capture moments in new ways.
- Value: 9/10. For a commercial drone, this price is excellent. Anything less than $1,000 is good, especially when you’re getting the value of quick shots and active tracking that will take your footage to the next level with minimal effort.
- Portability: 10/10. The DJI Mavic Air is shockingly small. And when packed away in the travel bag, no one would even guess that you’re walking around with a drone.
- Cool Factor: 10/10. Hello? Did you watch any of the videos included above? This thing is awesome.
Final Verdict: If you want to try aerial photography and videography to capture your travel memories, but are nervous about operating a drone, this is definitely the drone you’re looking for.
Editor’s Note: Reviews are based on usefulness, portability, durability, value, and “cool factor.” Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews or would like to suggest a product for review, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 7 Ways to Take a Selfie (Without the Stick)
- 10 Camera Accessories That Will Make You a Better Travel Photographer
- How to Make a Great Travel Video (Without Any Previous Experience)
Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.
We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.
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