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DJI Mavic 3 Classic vs. Air 3 (Which One is Better)

When the DJI Air 3 came out, it quickly became the favorite of many new drone pilots. But does its popularity edge out the Mavic 3 Classic?

We’ve had enough time with both the Air 3 and the Mavic 3 Classic now to see how they stack up.

This article will explain the differences between these two DJI drones. You’ll see why I’ve arrived at my pick – the Air 3 – with plenty of helpful information to inspire your own choice.

You want a reliable drone that can transition seamlessly between your commercial and recreational ventures, a companionable piece of tech designed to facilitate ease of use and produce wow-worthy footage.

I’ve got the info you need so you can shop with confidence, so join me as I reveal which drone comes out on top.

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Brief overview

DJI Mavic 3 Classic

The Mavic 3 Classic is another in a long line of esteemed Mavic 3 drones. It comes on the heels of the original Mavic 3, which was released in late 2021.

The Classic debuted about a year later, in November 2022.

The Classic version might not have the three-camera system of the Mavic 3 Pro, but it boasts a Hasselblad camera and many other exceptional features that make it worth focusing on in its own respect.

There is a reason why DJI declared this drone one of its flagship models and that it got a European C1 certification, the first drone to do so.

What in the world is a European C1 certification, you ask? It means it’s classified as an A1 Open drone under European Union Aviation Safety Agency or EASA rules. It can fly more freely with less risk.

Besides those accolades, the Mavic 3 Classic has many others worth discussing, including:

  • An exceptional Hasselblad camera with a 4/3 CMOS sensor capable of shooting in 5.1K HD video quality and 20 MP single-shot image resolution.
  • A flight time that will make you do a double-take, as it’s advertised to fly for 46 minutes.
  • Top-notch image technology, including Vision Detection Auto Focus Technology, an adjustable aperture, Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution, 10-bit D-Log, and night photography.
  • DJI’s leading APAS 5.0 obstacle detection for safer flights, even for beginners. It’s bolstered by multi-directional visual assistance.
  • Advanced automatic features, such as cruise control, RTH, and Waypoint flights for hands-off flying.

» MORE: DJI Mavic 3 Classic vs. Air 2S (Here’s My Choice)

DJI Air 3

The latest in the line of the Air drones, the Air 3 is the new kid on the block, released fewer than six months ago as of the time of this publication.

It’s no wonder DJI’s tagline for this drone is “double up.” The Air 3 is like a cross between the Mavic 3 Classic and Pro, delivering the best qualities of both in one exceptional drone.

Rather than three cameras, the Air 3 has only two. Although you might feel like it’s not the best choice to reduce the number of cameras, you haven’t even heard about how they work yet.

This dual primary camera system has one 1/1.3-inch CMOS medium tele camera and another 1/1.3-inch CMOS wide-angle camera.

The former can zoom 3x, and both cameras deliver varying focal lengths to improve the dynamism and quality of your images.

Best of all, this drone remains lightweight despite the extra camera!

Let’s review some of its other pertinent functions:

  • 12 to 48 MP image resolution for both cameras, depending on your settings, and 4K video capabilities at 60 frames per second, proving how dedicated DJI is to remaining the leader in drone tech.
  • A flight time that’s just as long as the Mavic 3 Classic, an awesome 46 minutes. That will make it easy to get more tasks done.
  • APAS 5.0 omnidirectional obstacle sensing for beginners to launch safer flights and intermediates to fly with fewer worries.
  • Intelligent Flight Modes to take your drone experience to the top, including advanced RTH, FocusTrack for tracking subjects, automated modes with QuickShots and MasterShots, and 2.7 Vertical Shooting with either camera you like.
  • Compatibility with DJI RC Motion 2, DJI Goggles 2, and DJI Goggles Integra to enjoy an FPV-like experience without needing an FPV drone.

» MORE: Does DJI Air 3 Have Return to Home (Explained)

Quick verdict

How to Fly a DJI Air 3 Drone (With Smart Controller)

The DJI Air 3 is the superior drone. Since the Mavic 3 Classic and Air 3 are similar in many areas, including flight time, obstacle detection, advanced imagery capabilities, and Intelligent Flight Modes, it had to come down to a nose. The Air 3’s medium tele and wide-angle cameras put it a cut above the Mavic 3 Classic’s single-camera system.

That’s not to take away from the amazing accomplishments of the Classic. This drone is remarkable in many ways, but it doesn’t quite compete on the same level as the Air 3.

However, it’s a good choice as a go-between for the Air 3’s dual-primary camera system and the Mavic 3 Pro’s triple-camera system.

» MORE: DJI Air 3 vs. Mini 3 Pro (Here’s My Choice)

What are the main differences?

While the Mavic 3 Classic and Air 3 are spitting images of one another in many ways, they’re not identical drones by any means.

This section might seem like it’s splitting hairs in its specificity, but that’s only because these drones share so much in common.

Let’s look at those details.

  • Number of cameras: The Mavic 3 Classic cuts it down to only one camera, a Hasselblad. It’s a fantastic camera all across the board, but it’s the only one the Classic has got. By comparison, the Air 3 has two cameras: a 3x medium tele camera that zooms and a wide-angle camera. This expands your photography and videography game compared to using the Mavic 3 Classic.
  • Weight: Both DJI drones require you to register them if using them either commercially or recreationally because they’re well over the 250-gram threshold. The Mavic 3 Classic weighs 895 grams at takeoff, and the Air 3 is 720 grams.
  • Image quality: The two cameras built into the Air 3 produce image quality at 12 to 48 MP. The 12 MP resolution is for simulated long exposure shots, so most footage will come out in the excellent 48 MP. As for the Mavic 3 Classic, it shoots in 20 MP max.
  • Video quality: There’s a small difference in the video resolution between the two DJI drones. The Air 3 has a passable 4K video quality, while it’s 5.1K HD for the Mavic 3 Classic.
  • Sensor size: The sensors are differently sized between these two drones. The Hasselblad camera in the Mavic 3 Classic has a 4/3 sensor versus the 1 1/3-inch sensors for both cameras in the Air 3. Why does knowing the sensor size matter? The larger the sensor, the more light that gets in. That improves the drone’s nighttime and low-light photography capabilities.
  • Zoom: One of the two cameras included with the Air 3 can zoom, but the Mavic 3 Classic’s camera? No such luck. You have focal length options, including VDAF, but that’s not quite the same.

» MORE: DJI Air 3 vs. Mavic 3 (Here’s my Choice)

DJI Mavic 3 Classic

The Mavic 3 Classic, released after the OG Mavic 3 but before the Mavic 3 Pro, further legitimized the legacy of the Mavic line.

Its Hasselblad camera with the 4/3 CMOS sensor is still magical to this day, as its 5.1K HD video is among the best DJI has achieved with its consumer drones.

The Classic also dazzled with its flight time, which is well over what you would expect for a drone of its size and stature.

DJI outdid itself with the Mavic 3 line, and the 46-minute flight time is one consumers want whether using a drone commercially or recreationally.

After all, who wants to curtail their drone adventures because of a dying battery? Certainly not I, and I’m sure not you, either.

It’s especially important to have a drone with a good battery life if you’re using yours professionally, as you need more time to get tasks done.

Let’s go back to the camera, as it’s the crowning achievement of the Mavic 3 Classic if I do say so myself.

I know its 20 MP image quality isn’t the greatest anymore, but it’s certainly passable. It’s not even beginner-level image quality. It’s sufficient for professional projects like news and real estate photography.

Besides, you’ll discover there’s so much more to this Hasselblad camera than its image resolution. The 12-bit RAW images (preferred by most photographers) will be full of depth, color, richness, and detail.

Of course, RAW files can take up a lot of space, and this drone only has 8 gigabytes of storage space, so consider buying an SD or microSD card to make your life easier.

» MORE: DJI Mavic 3 Classic vs. Mini 3 Pro (Here’s My Choice)

The 24-millimeter equivalent focal length and Vision Detection Auto Focus Technology help you home in on a subject.

It’s a good thing, too, considering this camera has no zoom capability. I know I mentioned that in the section prior, but it’s worth reiterating.

What the Mavic 3 Classic does have is HNCS through its L2D-20c lens to calibrate pixels and bring out the most beautiful color palette you perhaps have ever achieved from a drone camera.

It’s so important to have a leg up in the competitive drone market, and HNCS could be yours.

That’s not even all. The Classic’s camera has supersampling for crisper videos, photography color gradations through the 10-bit D-Log, an exceptional dynamic range, and a nighttime mode.

As you probably could have guessed, I could go on all day about the exceptional photography and videography features this drone is capable of.

When you explore their full depths, it doesn’t make you mind nearly as much that the Mavic 3 Classic only has one camera.

So let’s move on, as you can already see how the Hasselblad camera will put you in a more advantageous position as a drone photographer and videographer, whether you’re a professional or a rising social media star.

Its omnidirectional obstacle-sensing system is also A+.

Equipped with DJI’s latest Advanced Pilot Assistance System (APAS 5.0), this drone has a Horizontal Omnidirectional Vision System, a Downward Vision System, an Upward Vision System, and four-way multi-directional visual assistance. 

Additionally, it boasts stabler hovering, advanced RTH, Cruise Control, Waypoints, Panorama, Hyperlapse, QuickShots with four auto modes (Circle, Dronie, Helix, and Rocket), ActiveTrack 5.0, and MasterShots.

These Intelligent Flight Features put the control in your hands.

You can take the kinds of videos that rack up millions of views on YouTube, even if you’ve never flown a DJI drone a day in your life!

DJI Mavic 3 Classic w/built-in 5.5-inch HD display
$1,749.00

Includes:

  • Drone
  • DJI RC remote controller
  • Battery
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03/06/2024 03:42 pm GMT

DJI Air 3

I know I heaped praise on the Mavic 3 Classic, so it’s only fair to give the Air 3 the same kind of attention.

This drone was eagerly anticipated by pilots such as me and seemingly everyone else. People were predicting its release date, and then bam, it hit.

Many of the features of the Mavic 3 Classic are replicated in the Air 3, which goes to show how high-quality the Classic is.

It flies for the same amount of time, it has an equally quality omnidirectional obstacle sensing system with APAS 5.0, and it uses advanced RTH.

But the Air 3 boasts yet more Intelligent Flight Modes, including MasterShots with automated drone movement and the freedom to edit on the go with the effects and music.

It’s like you’re an all-in-one social media-producing machine.

Speaking of social media, the Vertical Shooting option lets you produce footage ready for Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram in 2.7K quality.

Although this quality isn’t the max that the Air 3 can achieve, and although it is low for a drone release in 2023, it still helps you produce content that could go viral.

» MORE: Autel EVO Lite Plus vs DJI Air 3 (Here’s My Favorite)

You don’t have to be a drone expert to use QuickShots, an automated mode that performs reliable flight movements while capturing video.

Point of Interest 2.0 and ActiveTrack 5.0 are awesome features for tracking the subjects you care most about, whether vehicles or people.

Your social media followers will wonder when you became so proficient at drone flight! These features are also great for news footage you can sell and make some cash.

Let’s talk about that camera system, shall we?

The Air 3’s dual camera system includes a medium tele zooming camera with an aperture of f/2.8, a format equivalent of 70 millimeters, and a 2.4 um pixel size.

Its wide-angle camera has an f/1.7 aperture, a format equivalent of 24 millimeters, and a 2.4 um pixel size.

These cameras are the ultimate for sweeping landscape shots or a packed arena for a news event you’re covering. The optical zoom and spatial compression lend you an excellent perspective and enhance your overall quality.

Editor's Choice
DJI Air 3 RC 2 (Fly More Combo)
$1,549.00

DJI Air 3 Fly More Combo with DJI RC 2 (screen remote controller), Drone with Medium Tele & Wide-Angle Dual Primary Cameras for Adults 4K HDR, 46-Min Max Flight Time, 48MP, Two Extra Batteries.

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03/06/2024 03:46 pm GMT

Head-to-head comparison

Camera system

Winner: DJI Air 3

Considering how many incredible image-enhancing features both drones have, the winner here ultimately came down to which had the superior camera. That’s the Air 3.

Its dual camera system has a wider frame of view and incredible zoom capacity. You know I love the Hasselblad camera included with the Mavic 3 Classic. I could practically wax poetic about it.

As incredible as it is – and it is, very – it’s only a single camera. It doesn’t zoom, and it doesn’t have the wide-angle capability of the Air 3’s camera.

Otherwise, that little Hasselblad camera can do so many incredible feats that it’s still a good choice if you don’t have a need for wide-angle photography and zooming.

However, I’m of the mindset that it’s always better to have than have not.

If you’re new to drone work, you never know where and how you’ll have to diversify your career and how these features will come in handy.

That’s true, even if you’re flying a drone for fun or eager to get monetized on YouTube. More features are almost always better!

» MORE: Camera Technology in Drones (Explained)

Performance

Winner: Tie

These drones perform about the same. They weigh within 100 grams of one another, and – wouldn’t you know it – they have the same degree of wind resistance.

Both drones can handle at least 25 miles per hour of wind when I tested them, which isn’t too shabby!

They have top-notch obstacle avoidance thanks to the latest edition of DJI’s APAS, so you won’t have to worry about your drone smashing into anything and everything around it.

Really, these two models are evenly matched when it comes to performance. That should be a deciding factor when you buy a drone.

But worry not.

There are plenty of other factors to come that will impact your choice.

» MORE: How to Fly DJI Air 3 Drone (With DJI RC 2)

Portability

Winner: DJI Air 3

For instance, there’s portability.

Now, neither of these drones is exactly what I would call ultra-portable. They’re quite heavy, but not so much that you’re going to feel dragged down.

At least they fold so you can more easily stow your DJI drone in your bag.

Although maybe traveling with them isn’t as convenient as bringing a Mini drone, it’s still not that much of a hassle with either, and worth your while.

The unparalleled photography and videography capabilities of these two drones are built for adventuring.

If you don’t travel with one of these drones, you’ll wish you had, especially the Air 3.

You can reward yourself for hiking a summit by capturing breathtaking footage from the top, and the zoom function means you can safely take videos and photos without having to get close to your subject.

That’s super important if you want to take viral social media footage of a perilous cliffside!

» MORE: Do I Have to Register My DJI Air 3 (All You Need to Know)

RC compatibility and long-range flights

Winner: DJI Air 3

The Mavic 3 Classic uses the DJI RC-N1, which is compatible with the OG Mavic 3, the Mini 2, the Air 2, and the Air 2S.

It’s a simple controller with a box-like shape and no screen. You will have no choice but to use your smartphone as the screen when operating this DJI remote.

Unsurprisingly, the Air 3 has the better controller due to its newer age: the DJI RC 2. You can leave your phone in your bag or your back pocket, as you won’t need it with this remote.

It has an FHD display with O4 video transmission and an upgraded processor.

The screen is big too, 5.5 inches!

You’ll recall that the Air 3 is also compatible with FPV controllers. If you’ve ever wanted the FPV experience without all the simulator training and learning that flying FPV requires, here is your chance.

The Mavic 3 Classic uses DJI’s O3+ transmission, which can send videos live to your social media or work audience in 1080p quality at 60fps up to 15 kilometers away.

It’s totally passable on its own, but the Air 3 one-ups the Classic with its O4 HD video transmission system.

Although the live video transmission quality doesn’t change, the transmission distance does, as it’s now up to 20 kilometers.

Those extra five kilometers might not be much of a dealbreaker, but the Air 3 has a better transmission system all around.  

» MORE: How Drone Controllers Work (Explained for Beginners)

Battery life

Winner: Tie

The Mavic 3 Classic and Air 3 boast impressively great battery lives of over 45 minutes, at least according to DJI’s advertising.

These drones both logged in over 40 minutes but under the proposed 47 minutes when I tested them.

However, that’s still really great.

It’s longer than many drones can fly and should give you ample time to complete your project before you have to recharge the battery.

Conclusion

The DJI Mavic 3 Classic and Air 3 are two incredible drones in their own right, with many shared features between them.

However, it’s the Air 3’s dual-camera system – one that has 3x zoom and another that supports wide-angle photography and videography – that makes it the winner.

The Air 3 shares many features with the Mavic 3 Classic, yet it carves out enough of its own unique path that it makes me excited for what DJI will do next!

» MORE: Drone Safety Features (All You Need to Know)