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DJI Air 3 review: A high-quality zoom adds new creative options

Plus more range and battery life in a quieter drone.

Steve Dent for Engadget

DJI is one of the most innovative gadget companies out there, constantly trying new things with its drones like a triple-camera setup on the Mavic 3 Pro. With the launch of the mid-sized Air 3 camera drone, the company has introduced a new trick called dual primary cameras. That means the telephoto camera has the same specs as the main camera, rather than being relegated to lesser quality like it was on the Mavic 3. That opens up new possibilities for pilots, giving them two ways to create cinematic shots.

It also has numerous improvements over the Air 2 and Air 2S. It uses DJI’s new O4 transmission system that greatly increases range, while bringing the Waypoint feature to Air drones for the first time. It also has much improved battery life and is considerably quieter. Otherwise, it matches the Mavic 3 Pro feature for feature, with obstacle detection all around, focus tracking, Hyperlapse and more.


While its cameras aren't pro level, the DJI Air 3 offers the Mavic 3 Pro's bells and whistles for half the price.

  • Dual cameras
  • Great image quality
  • Long battery life
  • Reliable obstacle protection
  • Extensive feature set
  • Slow charging
  • Occasional subject-tracking lag
$1,099 at Amazon
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$1,099 at DJI

Some buyers might see the 1/1.3-inch sensors as a downgrade compared to the 1-inch sensor on the Air 2S, however. How does it stack up against that model, and how does it fit in with the Mavic 3 Pro and Mini 3 Pro models? I took it flying in France’s Loire valley with my drone pilot friend to find out.

Design and performance

With a dual-camera module up front and similar design, the Air 3 (no more Mavic in the name) looks more like the Mavic 3 than the Air 2 and Air 2S. It has the same frog-like design, and folds up exactly like the Mavic 3, collapsing into a compact size for travel. The body has omnidirectional sensors all around for obstacle detection. For storage, it comes with the usual microSD storage slot and has 8GB internally that’s really for emergency use only. It’s also considerably heavier than the Air 2S, tipping the scales at 720 grams compared to 595.

At the same time, it has borrowed some aerodynamic tricks from the Mini 3 Pro, particularly the larger propellers that reduce noise down to 81 decibels — making it near-inaudible when flying at over 100 feet or so. The body is also more aerodynamic, giving it better range in forward flight and the ability to handle stronger winds than past models.

Much of the extra weight comes from the new 4,241 mAh batteries that weigh 267 grams more than an entire Mini 3 Pro. They have nearly the capacity of the Mavic 3 Pro’s batteries, greatly boosting the Air 3’s range to 46 minutes, up from 34 minutes on the Air 2S.

In real-world use, we saw flight times of around 35 minutes before the return-to-home warning went off, depending on flying style and winds. That generally allowed us to fly for a full day with three charged batteries. DJI also introduced a new charging feature with the updated battery hub, letting you transfer power from two weaker batteries to the most charged at the touch of a button. Doing so allows for longer flights if you’re in a location with no charging available. The one drawback of the higher-capacity batteries is that charging speeds are relatively slow.

DJI Air 3 review: A high-quality zoom adds new creative options
Steve Dent for Engadget

Another key feature is the next-gen O4 video transmission system that boosts range from 15 to 20 km (9.3 to 12.4 miles). Drone range can be a big problem in Europe, because laws significantly reduce transmission power compared to the US. To help compensate for that, DJI added a new 5.1GHz frequency in Europe that appears to have a large impact on range and transmission dropouts in tricky terrain, from what we saw in our tests in France.

In terms of maneuverability and speed, the Air 3 offers a good compromise between stability of the Mavic 3 Pro and the agility of the Mini 3 Pro. The latter makes it great for following fast-moving subjects like mountain bikers and vehicles, but it’s also steady in stiff breezes. At the same time, if a subject is moving through trees, obstacle avoidance with APAS 5.0 is outstanding, with less risk of crashing than the Mini 3 Pro thanks to the extra sensors — particularly from the side and rear.

All of DJI’s tentpole features like Active Track, Master Shots, Quickshots and Timelapse are available on the Air 3 and work on both cameras. Active Track, used to lock onto and follow subjects, works about the same on both cameras. As with DJI’s other drones, it’s generally reliable, but if you’re chasing a mountain biker through the trees, it can lag a bit and the tracking can switch off without warning.

DJI Air 3 review: A high-quality zoom adds new creative options
Steve Dent for Engadget

Quickshots features like Dronie and Rocket are more interesting with the addition of the tele camera that can add extra intimacy and drama. The obstacle detection is handy there as well. Because the drone flies automatically once you hit “go,” it’s easy to misjudge boundaries, so it’s good to know it’ll abort if it gets too close to something.

On top of those flight modes, DJI has brought the Mavic 3’s Waypoint flight mode over to the Air series for the first time. It lets you plan flight and camera moves in advance, letting you repeat a flight precisely for multiple takes, Timelapse videos and more. It requires some time to learn and set up, but it delivers consistent results. It also opens up creative possibilities, like doing a Timelapse during the day and at night, then seamlessly blending them together.

Along with the Air 3, DJI has introduced the new RC-2, DJI’s third screen controller after the RC and the RC Pro. It’s a good compromise between the two, as it’s significantly cheaper than the $1,200 RC Pro. At the same time, it has a brighter screen, more substantial feel and more precise controls than the RC. It’s available either separately or in a bundle with the Air 3 Fly More kit. DJI also announced another new controller, the RC-N2, effectively a refresh of the RC-N1, with the main benefit being the new O4 transmission system.


The big idea with the Air 3 is that the quality of the two cameras is the same. As such, it comes with a 1/1.3-inch 24mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.7 main and 70mm f/2.8 telephoto camera. Those focal lengths match the two primary cameras on the Mavic 3 Pro, with the sensor size being the same as the Mini 3 Pro and the tele camera on the Mavic 3 Pro.

The 70mm lens is particularly good for action or hero shots, adding excitement and a more natural perspective. With a perfect portrait focal length, it’s great for people shots at weddings, for example. It also lets you stay a greater distance from subjects for safety or other reasons, while compressing the space between them. As usual, the main wide camera can be used for establishing, overhead, follow and other shots. And with identical sensors, it’s easy to match footage from the two cameras while editing.

The sensors have dual native ISO support for improved light sensitivity, and deliver 4K 60p in HDR or 4K at up to 100 fps with slo-mo only playback. 1080p can be shot at 200 fps with slo-mo playback as well. The camera module can be tilted down 90 degrees and up 60, and it’s the first Air series drone supporting 2.7K vertical 9:16 video.

DJI Air 3 review: A high-quality zoom adds new creative options

Both cameras support 10-bit 4:2:0 D-Log M and HLG HDR for improved dynamic range and reduced banding, something that can be an issue when shooting skies. DJI’s regular D-Log mode, which offers even more dynamic range, is not available on the Air 3, though. It also lacks a variable aperture found on the Mavic 3, so the optional ND filter kit (available in the Fly More combo) is desirable for sunny day flying to allow for lower shutter speeds and thus smoother video.

With the same 1/1.3-inch dual native ISO sensor and resolution as the Mini 3 Pro, image quality is similar — but there are some improvements on the Air 3. D-Log M offers better dynamic range, particularly in challenging contrasty shooting conditions. It also offers mildly better low-light capability, with less noise in shadows for nighttime cityscapes, for example.

The Air 3 delivers as good or even better video and photo quality than the larger sensor on the Air 2S, likely because the size difference is slight and the Air 3 has higher resolution. That said, it’ll be interesting to see if DJI releases an Air 3S, possibly with a larger sensor.


DJI Air 3 review: A high-quality zoom adds new creative options
Steve Dent for Engadget

DJI has another winner with the Air 3 thanks to the dual cameras. By elevating the tele to the same importance as the main camera, it opens up new cinematic shooting options. It should prove popular with event and wedding pros who are willing to pay a few hundred dollars more than the Mini 3 Pro. In return, they get additional creative options, plus a more stable and secure camera drone.

Image quality might not be good enough for some pros when compared to the $2,200 Mavic 3 Pro, But at $1,100, it’s considerably cheaper, more maneuverable, and offers the same features (including Waypoints) and level of obstacle protection. At the same time, it has a leg up on the Mini 3 Pro in terms of image quality thanks to the D-Log M option.

At $1,100 with the non-screen RC-N2 controller, the Air 3 is $330 more than the DJI Mini 3 Pro with the same controller. That goes up to $1,550 with the RC 2 Fly More kit, compared to $1,253 for the Mini 3 Pro in a similar kit. At those prices, its main competition is Autel’s similarly priced 6K EVO Lite+ and the Mini 3 Pro itself. In any case, it’s a great new option for drone buyers who might like the idea of two primary cameras and can’t quite afford a Mavic 3 Pro.