As the owner of a small media/production company focusing on real estate, web commercials, promotional videos, etc., I’m always upgrading equipment, trying to somewhat future-proof my business, in an ever-changing technological landscape.
One of the pieces of equipment I upgrade regularly is our company’s drones. Despite having a small fleet, the Phantom 4 Pro+ was our workhorse until last year, because it performed admirably. I decided to keep an Autel or two as backups, but the Phantom 4 Pro was the go-to.
Enter the spring of 2021 and I really needed to retire the Phantom 4 Pro. As curiosity surrounding drones quickly turned into an ever-growing field of disdain and annoyance from the public, I could see that something smaller that garnered less attention would be needed. Of course, it would have to have all the pro specs we require as a business.
At the time my choices that fit our needs were the DJI Mavic Pro 2 and the Autel Evo Pro 6k, both excellent folding drones with decent-sized footprints. I didn’t want to go with either of those, however, as they both were sporting aging technology.
The Air 2, although also the right size for my needs, didn’t have the specs that I was looking for. Then there was the announcement about the Air 2S. After looking at the specs and a few YouTube vids, I went out on launch week and purchased the Air 2S from a local BestBuy and it was the best drone-related business decision I could have made in 2021.
Note: As you’ll see in this review, I’ll be looking at the Air 2S from the perspective of an active user, forgoing most of the technical verbiage and specs, and focusing more on the user experience.
Air 2S pricing
As of the writing of this review, there are a few different pricing structures in place, for all types of budgets.
The packages and pricing in USD are as follows:
- DJI Air 2S w/ Standard Controller and Battery (Base Package): $999.00
- DJI Air 2S w/ Fly More Combo: $1,299.00
- DJI Air 2S Flymore w/RC Pro Controller or Smart Controller: $1,749.00
I opted for the Fly More Combo, as that was the only other available package at the time of my purchase, outside the standard base package. As a business that shoots a fair bit of aerial footage, having more than one battery is a must and the Fly More combo includes 3.
As far as hobbyists go, I would always encourage individuals, if the funds are available, to purchase the Fly More versions of DJI drones, so you don’t have to buy more batteries in the future.
What’s interesting about this particular Fly More combo, and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, is that, unlike previous DJI Drone combos, a set of DJI branded ND Filters are included in the box. I do not recall this being an option in previous DJI Fly More combos.
For those that shoot a lot of videos in sunny conditions, ND filters are a must. ND filters help in achieving the 180-degree rule which is needed to achieve realistic motion blur in video footage. More on that soon.
What’s included in the Air 2S Fly More Combo
I’m sure we have all seen images of what is included; however, I’ll list the included items below:
- Air 2S Drone
- RC-N1 Remote Controller
- 3 Intelligent Flight Batteries
- ND filters w/case (4, 8, 16, 32)
- Extra Pair of removable Thumbsticks
- Flight Battery Attachment to charge 2 USB devices
- Battery Charger
- AC Power Cable
- Battery Charging Hub
- 4 Extra Pairs of Low-Noise Propellers
- Gimbal Protector
- USB C Cable (to charge the RC)
- USB C to USB C, Lightning, and Micro cables for the RC
- DJI Combo Bag
When you handle each individual item, there is no question that they are well made and not cheap or flimsy whatsoever, although the low-noise propellers are quite thin. Everything is well built.
Is the Air 2S Fly More Combo worth it?
One of the first things you might think is: are the included extras in the Fly More Combo worth $300 over the base package price of $999? I’d say, for many, the answer would be yes.
Just 2 OEM DJI Intelligent Flight Batteries for the Air2S will run you approximately $230 before tax. Throw in 4 ND filters (the DJI set sells online for $70), the carrying bag, and the other odds and ends, you’re saving a little bit of money.
Of course, if you don’t want the bag, shoot video much, or care about the 180-degree rule, then simply buying the standard kit and grabbing 2 batteries might work well for you.
The Fly More Combo bag
Normally, as soon as I get a new drone, I purchase a hardcase. I’ve done this for 5 drones prior and will continue doing so. However, with the carry bag that came with the Air 2S Fly More Combo, I didn’t immediately run out and get a hard case. The reason is: The included bag is actually quite usable.
When I first opened the bag, contemplating how I’d get everything included in the drone box in there, I was surprised how much can fit in the bag. For my first few test runs of the drone (I never just jump right in and use our newly acquired drones for work), I transported it using the included bag.
For giggles I put everything I could think of that came with the drone in the bag, including the power adaptor and cable, ALL the props, the extra sticks, and the essentials. They all fit perfectly. The bag is capable of carrying every single thing that came in the DJI box.
Outside of portability, the bag was nice to carry around. It has an adjustable sling cross-shoulder design, so the fellas won’t feel like they are carrying a drone pocketbook or purse.
Aside from the large interior with a built-in divider of sorts, there is also a front pocket with a zipper. I used that area for the extra sticks, small cords, and multiport USB battery charging attachment.
The bag also appears to be weather-proof to some degree, however, I haven’t taken it into the extreme elements to test it. The roughest place I have been with it is the pristine white sand beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast and the saltwater spray and fine sand did nothing to it.
I’ve bought ND filters for every single camera lens and drone I own. ND filters can be expensive, as you want to ensure you get filters that don’t cause color casting/shifts and all that good stuff.
Many videographers purchase expensive filters from PolarPro and other higher-end filter manufacturers, as does my company, however, for starting off, the included DJI filters work great. I have since purchased higher strength variable ND filters.
As a side note from earlier, for those not aware, ND filters are used in videography to allow the camera’s shutter speed to be twice the framerate the video is being shot in, to get the proper motion blur our eyes are accustomed to seeing. This is the 180-degree rule. If you are shooting at 24 Frames per second, you’d want your shutter speed to be double that, in this case, 1/50 of a second. For 30fps, 1/60, etc., etc.
But how exactly are the ND filters used? ND filters for the Air 2S are easily twist-clipped onto the front of the drone camera and act as sunglasses for the camera. Since the Air2S has a fixed aperture of f2.8, you cannot adjust it to let less light in, stopping down to, for instance, an f11 or something.
So, on a bright day, it’ll be difficult to shoot, say, 24fps with a 1/50 shutter. There will be way too much light coming into the camera’s sensor to keep the footage from being blown out, overexposed.
To keep with the needed settings, you’d put on the appropriate ND filter for the lighting conditions, to let less light in, keeping the footage properly exposed.
Three-battery charging hub
I have mixed feelings about the charging hub. I’ve had various Mavic-line drones in the past and have used a variety of DJI battery hubs.
What I Like
The DJI Air 2 introduced the 3-battery wedge-shaped hub. I like the simplicity of its design. Because it is a flat wedge, one can basically tuck it anywhere when traveling and it is not intrusive.
I have misplaced it a time or two when packing for trips, only to find it slipped in between another piece of equipment. It is also quite sturdy, so I have no reservations about tossing it in a suitcase or wedging it into a free space in its hard case.
What I Don’t Like
The one thing I don’t like about the charging hub is that you can only charge 3 batteries at a time. I understand that the Fly More only comes with 3 batteries.
However, the original Air and the Mavic 2 lines have 4-battery hubs, which, for individuals like myself that might burn through a fair bit of batteries in a shoot, enables one to have more charged batteries on hand, after purchasing the additional 4th battery.
Since I do see myself using the Air 2S for quite a while, I’ll most likely get 3 more batteries and an additional hub, solving the battery shortage.
The flight battery USB attachment
Now, this is a pretty neat and unbelievably useful attachment. If you need to charge an electronic device in a pinch, and you are away from your vehicle with your drone, you can use your Air 2S battery to do so.
As the pictures below show, you simply snap the little attachment onto the bottom connector of the flight battery, then plug a cable or two into the USB ports, then attach those to your device(s).
To start the charge, you would follow the same steps as you would to turn on your drone. Press the battery’s power button once, then press and hold until the battery turns on, as indicated by the solid lights on the battery. That’s it. This is a handy way to charge a device while out in the field.
A second use, and this is what I personally use the attachment for, is to discharge the batteries prior to the 7-day auto discharge if they are at 100% after a job. I do this to ensure that the health of the battery is maintained by storing it at 60%.
You never want to leave your batteries at 100% when sitting for a week, as this will deplete the life of the battery over time.
Air 2S Remote Controller (RC-N1)
Outside of our Phantom 4 Pro+, all the RCs we’ve ever had have been relatively small and not very ergonomic. I didn’t like the prior Mavic 2 and Mavic Air series of controllers, as I don’t like my phone or tablet mounted toward the bottom of the RC.
I really dislike the RC that comes with the original Autel Evo or the Evo II. Those were flimsy and top-heavy, although they do benefit from having integrated screens.
I do, however, really like the fit and finish of the Air 2S remote, which is also the same RC as the Mavic Air 2 and Mini 2.
The controller feels very solid in hand, and slightly resembles the Phantom’s remotes. This is because, unlike the Mavic 2 and Autel remotes, there are no parts of the controller that need to be unfolded to hold onto the drone. The RC has rubberized grips on the back that fit in hand very well.
Another nice addition to the Air 2S controller is that there are no longer rabbit ear antennas that must be flipped up and facing the correct way and all that. The dual-purpose antenna and smartphone holder/mount on the Air 2S remote are ingenious in my opinion and slide up from inside the body of the remote controller.
Having your smartphone on the top of the RC just makes more sense and balances well. Before having purchased a tablet mount, I was using a Samsung Galaxy S20+ phone and it fit without issue.
Like the original Mavic Air and Mavic 2, the Air 2S also has removable flight controller sticks.
The face of the RC has the following:
- Return to Home button (RTH)
- Cine, Normal, and Sport mode switch
- Power button (press then long-press-hold to turn on)
- FN (Function) Button which can be customized in a variety of ways
- Camera Button
- 4 LED indicator/status lights
The top of the RC houses the following:
- The slide-out integrated antenna and smartphone holder/mount
- The camera/video trigger button
- Scroll-wheel to adjust the pitch of the camera gimbal
- 2 indented pads to lock the smartphone in
The bottom of the RC has a place to store the 2 removable thumbsticks and the USB-C charging port. Also, the Smartphone to Remote Controller connecting cable is located in the space under the slide-up antenna and is hidden from view when the antenna is down.
Air 2S Drone
Now to the good stuff. For anyone who has owned an Air 2 prior, externally the Air 2S doesn’t look much different, aside from the new upward-facing obstacle avoidance sensors on the front.
If you look closer at the front of the drone, at the camera, THAT’S where the most important change is: THE 1 INCH CAMERA SENSOR. Earlier I talked about needing a drone for our business that had the professional specs we needed, like our retired Phantom 4 Pro. The camera specs on the Air 2S are what I was referring to.
1” CMOS camera sensor
With the introduction of this 1-inch sensor, which was previously reserved for higher-end Prosumer drones like the Phantom 4 Pro and Mavic 2 Pro lines of drones, the Air 2S camera can shoot 20mp images while taking those photos in JPEG and RAW formats, simultaneously.
Shooting in RAW allows you to pull out much more detail in the shadows of your image.
Having a larger sensor is a big deal for those that shoot professionally, as it allows you to capture more light, enabling you to shoot with an increased dynamic range, while keeping the ISO low, thus keeping the noise in the image to a minimum.
Below are a few photos that I took, showing how well the Air 2S camera shoots in various lighting conditions.
With this new camera comes the ability to shoot 5k video. For those that shoot video for a living, having 5k video allows you to shoot in the highest resolution available, while allowing you to crop in a bit in post-processing, without losing much detail at all, if any, depending on how much you crop in. I personally shoot only up to 4k at the moment, but it is nice to know that there is indeed some futureproofing with this camera.
In addition to shooting 5k at up to 30fps, the camera can shoot in 4k up to 60fps and can also shoot slow motion at 120fps in 1080p.
Something else that is exciting is the fact that this camera can also shoot in 10bit. However, this is only when in DLOG or the HDR color mode called HLG. When you are in the “Normal” color profile, you are limited to 8bit.
The reason this is so exciting, for those that either enjoy color grading or do it professionally for clients, is that with 10bit color you have so much more color to work with than 8bit and can manipulate that color a bit more in video editing software before it causes banding and fragmenting.
For the more technical-minded folks: an 8bit image has 16.7 million colors, while a 10bit image can display up to 1.07 billion colors!
Below is a video put together from a few sessions I did over the past year. All of these were shot in 10bit color, with ND filters on for the daytime videos. Some of the footage was done in 1080p to match the ground camera footage for that client’s projects. The majority of the video is shot in 4k.
As I mentioned at the outset of this review, the Air 2S is built very well and solidly. When I took it out of the box, I was initially impressed with the build quality. The legs move firmly with purpose and thud nicely into place when unfolding.
Even the low-noise propellers, while quite thin, feel solid when you unfold them.
One of the things I really like about the build quality is the materials used for the camera. It is no longer plastic, like the Air 2, but instead metal.
Also, gone are the days of the camera gimbal flopping all-around at every movement of the drone while turned off. When you take the gimbal cover off, the camera is a lot more stationary than on most DJI drones, minus the Mavic 3 which is pretty stiff when not turned on.
Likewise, the build quality of the Remote Controller matches the drone in that it is very solid. When holding the controller there is no flexing or creaking and all the buttons have a nice auditory click, while the sticks and camera pitch wheel move smoothly.
Air 2S flight experience
All the above is fine and good IF the drone flies well. I can say this, the Air 2S is my absolute favorite drone to fly, thus far.
When I took the Air 2S out of its box on day one (after charging all the batteries) and took that test flight, I was instantly impressed with how the Air 2S flies. Mind you, I changed none of the settings. I just took the drone up and flew. The drone took off and nailed all my agility tests and felt great doing so.
When you press the sticks in any direction the drone just jumps to it, immediately. Now, this might be a bit intimidating for new pilots, but this is where good stick control comes in. If you are a veteran, then this is not an issue.
What’s good, though, is that after many updates to the DJI Fly app, you can now go in and change the EXP settings for stick input, dialing back that “get up and go” quite a bit. Also, flying in Cine mode slows things down a fair bit for novice operators.
Something that I really like and appreciate is the descent speed of the drone. When you are bringing the drone down, it doesn’t lollygag. No, when you pull down on the sticks, the Air 2S almost seems to drop out of the sky, while it does this little side-to-side wobble thing. IT IS QUICK.
The reason I like the descent speed moving so fast is that I live in Orlando and fly in and around the city and downtown quite frequently. There are a ton of helicopters and small planes that share the same airspace as Orlando drone operators and being able to descend quickly is a requirement, to yield right of way to passenger aircraft.
Also, I film around a lot of waterways, and predator birds attack drones all the time. Being able to descend quickly after outmaneuvering them by flying straight up is indeed a good thing. I’ve sadly had to do this around ospreys quite a bit lately.
I am an individual that turns off all sensors on my drones because I like to get shots and footage that the sensors would otherwise stop me from getting.
But, for those that do use or rely on sensors, the Air 2S has forward-facing, rear-facing, downward, and upward facing sensors. When enabled, these will come in quite useful when using some of the Air 2S automated flight modes touched on in the DJI Fly app section below.
This is something I normally don’t pay attention to or care about much, as manufacturers put fantastic battery life specs on their drone spec sheets that don’t match up to real-time usage. The Air 2S is rated to get 31 minutes of flight time. In real-world conditions, you will not get that. The batteries are all tested in controlled environments without the variances you’d experience when out and about, like wind and temperature. This is true with all drone manufacturers and not just DJI.
In my experience, as someone who has, as of writing this review, over 190 flights with the Air 2S, I am doing good to get an estimated 25/26 minutes of flight time.
Again, I do fly in Central Florida where it is hot and oftentimes windy, especially now. Additionally, I begin wrapping up my flight on each battery around 30-35% so I’m getting more like 17 minutes or so from each battery by the time the drone lands.
If you follow proper battery care procedures and refrain from flying down to 0%, you will also get quite a bit less flight time from the battery. This is where having the extra batteries from the Fly More combo comes in handy.
Interestingly enough, connectivity is a huge area of concern for me. The reason being, as briefly mentioned in the flight experience section, I fly in Downtown Orlando for clients quite frequently. This means I’m oftentimes getting shots and footage between buildings and in heavily congested wifi traffic and interference areas.
Many, if not most, of my previous drones would experience video disconnects because of said interference. Thankfully I’ve never had the drone disconnect from the RC while flying there, as automatically returning to home around tall buildings, at a 100-foot maximum height clearance in LAANC approved airspace would be quite harrowing, to say the least.
With the new transmission system in the Air 2S (OccuSync 3.0) the maximum transmission signal used in the Air 2 has gone from a little over 6 miles (OccuSync 2.0) to around 8 miles now in the Air 2S.
Of course, if flying within the regulations of the FAA (within visual line of sight), no one needs that far of a transmission distance. However, it is the strength of that system that is a welcomed upgrade.
Using OccuSync 3.0, I have had no type of video interference or disconnects once, whether flying downtown, in residential neighborhoods, or anywhere else.
The DJI Fly App
This won’t be a review of the DJI Fly app, as Droneblog has quite a few very detailed articles on it, however, If you would have asked me how I felt about the new DJI Fly app, at the launch of the Air 2S, I would have said I disliked it immensely, as I liked the original DJI Go app.
Fast forward almost a year later and now I really like the Fly App.
Using the original DJI Go App (Phantom, Mavic 2, Inspire 2, etc.), you had a lot to learn to get everything out of your drone, digging through menu after menu and tab after tab. It felt more like a professional platform.
With the Fly App, DJI has taken a more simplistic approach. An approach that would make flying drones that much more accessible to new flyers. The settings and menu system are very intuitive and easy to get to.
As the Fly App has matured over the past few months, more and more options and changes have occurred in-app. The app is now where I believe both beginners and professionals alike can use it and be comfortable with what is provided.
Some of the top DJI Fly App features include:
- Panorama mode
- Smart Photos
- Point of Interest
- Active Track
- Quickshots: Boomerang, Circle, Rocket, Zipline
As with the vision sensors, I likewise don’t use most, if any, of the intelligent photo or video modes. I don’t like to give full automated control to any of my drones, so I manually capture all the shots that the intelligent flight modes can do.
I do not use Mastershots, Quickshots, Hyperlapses, or Automatic Panoramas.
The modes that I do use for photos are:
- AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing)
- Single shot
My experience with using the standard photo and video modes has been nothing but positive. All the options needed to change things such as Shutter Speed, Resolution, White Balance, Frames Per Second, ISO, etc., are easily accessible from the main live view/camera view of the Flight App.
This makes it easy to focus on your footage, instead of digging through menu after menu causing you to lose said focus and perhaps miss a great shot, or worse yet, lose sight of the Air 2S.
Air 2S accessories I have found useful
Although this is a review of the drone and items necessary to fly the drone, I thought I’d include this section here, as many of these accessories actually enhance the flight and user experience.
Aftermarket gimbal cover
One of the least likable things on the Air 2S for me would be the standard DJI gimbal cover. While the little dome is quite simple to put on and take off, I’ve found on one occasion that I forgot to indeed take it off.
Because the cover is nearly invisible from the view of the top of the drone, I feared more cases of forgetfulness and bought a gimbal cover that slips onto the front of the Air 2S and covers the entire nose, front sensors, and the gimbal.
For an added reminder, I also printed off stickers that say remove gimbal cover. I must say, I have not forgotten to take off the gimbal cover once. I found mine on amazon.com.
Drone strobe lights
Since it is a requirement for drone operators (regardless of if you are a licensed professional or a hobbyist) to maintain a visual line of sight with the drone at all times, I opted to purchase a few strobes from LumeCube (see price on Amazon) and Firehouse Technologies (see price on Amazon).
These strobes are tested and certified to have a 3-mile visibility range. Although I do not fly at night on a regular basis, the strobes do help me see the drone during the daytime.
To maintain the functionality of the drone, I rigged the lights up with Velcro so that all three can be seen from the top and sides of the drone without taking up more than a small footprint on the top of the battery.
I used this location to mount the lights to ensure there is no interference with the GPS module, which is normally mounted towards the nose of most drones.
Tablet mount for the RC & Remote controller cable
Since I use a 7-inch tablet in addition to a Samsung Galaxy S20+ smartphone, a tablet mount was a good thing to get. Because it holds smartphones as well as tablets, I pretty much use it all the time when shooting.
The PGYTECH mount I purchased sits on an articulating ball joint and freely moves (with some effort) so I can get the right angle to view the screen in the harsh and bright Florida sun. (See price on Amazon).
In addition to the mount, I also purchased an 11.8-inch USB C to USB C Remote Controller cable made specifically for the Air 2S RC-N1 Controller. (See price on Amazon).
Variable ND filters
Earlier I spoke about the important role ND Filters play regarding shooting video. I thoroughly like the DJI included ND filters, however, they only go up to an ND32. Since I like to shoot at 30fps with a shutter of 1/60, in extremely bright conditions, oftentimes an ND32 just won’t cut enough light, and I’d rather not have to shoot 60fps at 1/120.
Because of this, I purchased a set of variable filters that range from ND4-32 (because it came with the set) and ND64-512.
When shooting in extreme sunlight, the ND64 level of the variable filter works perfectly. Also, surprisingly the variable filters do not have an odd color cast that must be fixed in post. This is a very good thing.
On normally lit days, when not filming out on Gulf Beaches, I find myself leaving the variable ND4-32 on and just twisting the filter to whatever filter strength works for me. I do this to minimize the eventual damage that might come to the camera, from putting on and taking of filters repeatedly.
One of the things I always purchase for all our drones and ground cameras is a hard case. Although I do like the included Fly More bag, a hard case is a much-needed item when going on shoots.
I purchased the Lykus Titan MA200 and it holds everything the Fly More bag does, in a much neater and organized fashion.
I have had my Air 2S, while in the hard case, fall off the tailgate of my SUV and everything stayed put and protected. If you plan to travel or are out on rugged terrain, I do suggest picking up a hard case. Any brand and make will do.
As can be seen from this review, my time with the Air 2S has been overwhelmingly positive. From the price of the drone to the build quality, to the specs, the Air 2S is quite a capable drone that is easy for a beginner to pick up while having enough pro features that it can be used professionally.
There have been a LOT of discussions lately about whether the Air 2S is the drone to get, almost a year after release, and with the Mavic 3 having been released within the past few months. In my opinion, it is. I believe it is one of the better drones currently out, especially considering the price to impressive specs ratio.