DJI has a new drone, the Air 2S, and it’s one of the best drones I’ve ever flown.
It’s pricey at $999, but the Air 2S is fast, agile, packs in a new high-resolution 1-inch sensor with up to 5K video, and brings some artificial-intelligence-powered flying smarts to help you capture that perfect shot with the press of a button.
Same Body, New Insides
The Air 2S is externally nearly identical to last year’s Mavic Air 2. It even uses the same batteries, which makes upgrading a little cheaper.
But they’re nearly identical. There are some very welcome changes in this update. The Air 2S adds an object detection camera to the top of the drone, which improves the collision avoidance system. It really helps when you’re flying toward something at high speed, since the drone pitches forward, rendering the front sensor slightly less effective. Despite many attempts, I could not get the Air 2S to fly into things in Normal or Cine modes going forward, backward, up, and down.
It’s also heavier than its predecessor (595 grams vs. 570 grams). That might not sound like an improvement, but I found the Air 2S performs better in windy conditions—more weight likely helps.
But the big difference is the new 1-inch CMOS camera sensor. That’s double the size of the one in the Mavic Air 2. It also jumps from 12 megapixels to 20 megapixels for stills. Putting RAW images side by side in a photo editor, it’s very easy to see the greater detail, sharpness, and improved definition.
The new sensor also means you can capture 5.4K video at 30 frames per second. That’s a good choice if you want to crop into the video because you’ll still get high-quality clips, though filming at 4K at 60 fps still results in smoother footage in most cases.
On paper, the 1-inch sensor matches what you get in the more expensive Mavic 2 Pro, but the Pro has a variable aperture that can stop down to f/11, which is a huge help when shooting in bright daylight. Still, for the size and price, the Air 2S’s sensor is hard to beat.
This alone is well worth the upgrade from the previous version, but the updates don’t stop there. The Advanced Pilot Assistance System (APAS) now uses a wider field of view to detect obstacles. This means you can do more automated flying and worry less about what’s around you. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I still have a hard time trusting automation in tight situations.
The Air 2S also inherits DJI’s O3 flight system (previously called OcuSync) from the company’s recent FPV drone. I haven’t had time to review that one yet, but I’ve flown it enough to say that the roughly 7-mile (12-km) range claim is accurate—that also applies here. As for battery life, the company claims 31 minutes of flight time. My tests were close: 30 minutes was my max, and I was flying in some windy conditions.
The Air 2S does lack the side-to-side sensors found on the more expensive Mavic 2 Pro, but its collision avoidance is still a huge step up from previous drones of this size and price. As per usual, Sport mode turns off all obstacle detection; use it at your own risk.
Those are all welcome improvements, but my favorite part of the Air 2S is what DJI calls MasterShots. Open the MasterShots menu on the companion app, select an object, and it will automatically calculate flight paths for various types of shots.
Send your drone off on its way, and it’ll record everything. The app will then combine it all into a single chunk of footage. It’s a dead-simple way to get a ton of B-roll (supplementary content of whatever you’re filming) without needing to do much on your end.
But it doesn’t always work well. For example, I tried to use MasterShots on my car, which was sitting in front of my house. The app had no trouble detecting it and plotting a course, but it couldn’t actually fly the path because there was a large tree in the way of some of its planned shots. My solution was to go up a bit higher and get what I could with MasterShots, and then do some careful flying by hand to fill in what else I needed.
Luckily, MasterShots isn’t a take-it-or-leave-it feature. All video that’s shot in this mode is available separately from the final, app-produced edit. That means if you don’t like the edited results, you can still take the RAW footage and edit it yourself in the software of your choice.
The Air 2S is available today for $999, and that includes the drone, a remote controller, and one battery. There’s also the Fly More combo for $1,299, which gets you two more batteries, neutral density filters (useful on bright days), a charging hub, and a shoulder bag.