November 06, 2023

DJI Air 3:

Taking my New Drone to the Dolomites

About a month ago, I acquired a new drone: The DJI Air 3. After using the DJI Mavic 2 Pro for approximately two years, I decided to upgrade to a DJI Air 3. After conducting several tests with this drone in my local area, I had the opportunity to visit the Alps and the Italian Dolomites to thoroughly test the drone.

I’d like to share my impressions of the device in this blog post.

 

Dolomites in Italy Photography Panorma Dominik Schlorff

Panorma shot, taken in the Dolomites near the Tre Cime Mountain

 

Why the DJI Air 3?

After my previous model, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, it would be natural to upgrade to the DJI Mavic 3 Pro. However, I made the decision not to do so for several reasons. First and foremost, there’s the issue of price. Depending on the variant of the drone (such as the Fly More Combo), the DJI Mavic 3 Pro costs approximately double that of the DJI Air 3.

After conducting some research, I realized that the DJI Mavic 3 Pro didn’t offer double the value for me. The DJI Mavic 3 Pro is undoubtedly the superior drone, especially with its larger sensor in the main camera and the second zoom camera, which are compelling reasons to consider it for a purchase.

In fact, having a zoom camera was crucial to me when choosing my drone, which is why models like the Mavic 3 Cine were not suitable. As I mentioned earlier, I had previously used the DJI Mavic 2 Pro and the DJI Mini 3 Pro, both of which lacked a zoom camera. The DJI Air 3 features a 70mm zoom camera with the exact same sensor and optics as the DJI Mavic 3 Pro. In this aspect, the two drones are identical.

Since my primary use for the drone is capturing nature and landscapes, the low-light performance of a drone is not as critical for me as it might be for other users. Therefore, the smaller sensor of the DJI Air 3 is not a significant issue for me in this regard.

The main difference, as previously mentioned, lies in the main camera. The ability to record in the full DJI Log format and in 5.1K videos is reserved for the DJI Mavic 3 Pro with its 4/3-inch Hasselblad sensor. The DJI Air 3 can „only“ record 4K in the slightly simplified D-Log-M version. Nevertheless, beautiful results can be achieved with it, and I have linked a video from the Dolomites as an example.

In the end, it was not only the price but also the reasonable compromises that the DJI Air 3 offers that convinced me.

Tre Cime Dolomites Dji AIr 3 Photography

Tre Cime Mountain, Dolomites

Neuschwanstein Castle Photography Drone

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Advantages and what I liked

Battery Life:   

First and foremost, the battery life of the drone impressed me greatly. The drone is advertised with a flight duration of 46 minutes with a full battery. Of course, I didn’t fly the drone until the battery was completely empty. Often, challenging wind conditions, especially at high altitudes, thin air, and other factors came into play, which should have limited the battery performance. However, I could hardly notice any limitations. Regularly, I had the drone in the air for over 30 minutes continuously, covered many kilometers, and still had 20% or even more battery capacity left at the end. This really convinced me, and I’ll discuss it further in another section of this blog post.

Range:

The range of the drone is truly remarkable for such a compact device. Several kilometers are no problem at all in real-world use, as long as you have direct line-of-sight with the drone. This allows for discovering new perspectives, capturing time-lapse videos by covering larger distances, and offers many other advantages.

Photo and Video Quality:

When it comes to this aspect, one must always consider the price-performance ratio. Of course, the Mavic 3 Pro outperforms the Air 3. Nevertheless, for a price of around €1,100 (for the drone only), you get a really good overall package here. Features like 4K at 60FPS, D-Log-M, 48-megapixel sensors that can combine four pixels into a „super“ pixel, a 70mm zoom camera, and other elements make this drone an excellent choice.

Flight Performance:

With an ascent and descent speed of up to 10 m/s, a maximum speed of up to 19 m/s, a very capable collision avoidance system, and easy control, it’s truly enjoyable to fly this drone. It also handles strong winds well.

Disadvantages of this drone

Non-Adjustable Aperture:

One significant drawback for me is the fixed aperture of both lenses. The main and zoom lenses have apertures of f/1.7 and f/2.8, respectively, which essentially requires the continuous use of ND filters, especially for video recording. In landscape photography, achieving maximum sharpness in images is often desired, and with conventional cameras and lenses, I typically use apertures of f/8 or even higher. This is not possible with the DJI Air 3. In light of the fact that the Mavic 2 Pro had this feature, it feels like a step backward.

Follow-Me Mode for Moving Objects:

This is a subjective point. In many reviews, I’ve read that people were satisfied with this feature. As long as an object remains stationary and is only circled, the Follow mode works perfectly. However, the Follow Me mode for moving objects has led to some issues a few times. While this is nitpicking at a high level and not a major limitation, I did notice it. It’s possible that my expectations are too high, and fortunately, this is likely a problem that can be addressed through a software update.

Lack of a True-Vertical-Mode:

Given the size of the camera module, it makes sense that the DJI Air 3 doesn’t have a True Vertical mode. However, after using the DJI Mini 3 Pro for a few weeks, I miss this feature on any drone that doesn’t have it. If I want to capture vertical photos, I have to take 2, 3, or 4 different photos each time and then merge them in post-processing. The advantage, of course, is an extremely high resolution, but the drawback is the significant additional effort. This feature can also be useful for videos, and while I prefer horizontal videos, those who create a lot of content for social media may miss the True Vertical mode.

Fly More Combo, DJI Remote Controller? What’s the best value?

For my DJI Air 3, I chose the standard version with one included battery and the DJI controller without a built-in display. Why? Price played a role here as well. The Fly More Combo with the DJI controller featuring an integrated display would have cost almost 500 € more. Personally, I don’t mind using my phone as a display. However, I can definitely understand that the controller with an integrated display is more convenient to use. Perhaps in the future, I’ll consider upgrading to one.

The Fly More Combo, on the other hand, wouldn’t have been worth it for me. I purchased an additional battery, so I have a total of two batteries with the one included. These two batteries are completely sufficient for me, and I don’t need a third one. The drone’s flight time is so good that I can stay in the air for well over 1 hour continuously with two batteries. The batteries can be charged via USB Type C, even with a power bank. With fast charging, the batteries are fully charged within 1 hour. For my usage, these options make it unnecessary to own a third battery. Of course, the included charging station in the Fly More Combo is practical, but it’s not worth the extra cost for me. This is, again, a subjective opinion, and for those who need to fly for many hours in a row, the Fly More Combo with three or more batteries may still be worthwhile.

 

Walchensee Lake Photography with DJI Air 3

Walchensee Lake, Germany

Dolomites Drone Photography DJI Air 3

Mountain Shot, Dolomites

DJI Air 3 Drone Dolomites Photography Dominik Schlorff

Self Portrait Drone Shot, Dolomites

Conclusion:

I am very satisfied with my purchase, and I can definitely recommend the DJI Air 3 for anyone who wants more than the performance of the DJI Mini 3 Pro and Mini 4 Pro but doesn’t want to spend as much money as for a DJI Mavic 3 Pro. For me, this drone is a perfect bridge between the two worlds. I hope this blog post has provided you with some added value, and I thank you for reading.

-Dominik Schlorff

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