DJI's latest drone, the Air 2S, has officially taken flight. And while early reviews seem overwhelmingly positive, one big question about the new flyer remains: Is it that much better than the original Mavic Air 2? To find out, we put the two drones against each other in a head-to-head comparison.
For many pilots, the Mavic Air 2 is a darn near perfect drone. It just checks off so many boxes: power, portability, flight performance. The one qualm some pilots had was that the Mavic Air 2's camera system was in the good-to-great range, but not exceptional.
To some extent, the Air 2S seems designed solely to obliterate that criticism. Whereas the Mavic Air 2 featured a perfectly reasonable 1/2" CMOS sensor capable of shooting up to 4K60 video and 48MP images, the Air 2S boasts a mighty 1" CMOS that can capture 5.4K30 and 4K60 video, as well as 20MP stills.
OK, so the video quality is better, but aren't 48MP images better than 20MP? Not necessarily. The Mavic Air 2 uses a Quad Bayer filter and a method called "pixel-binning" to create those 48MP images. Basically, it combines four different 12MP shots into a single 48MP image. This method has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages you sometimes get with pixel-binning is details get lost when you zoom in. This happened to a certain extent with the Mavic Air 2, depending on the shot. This does not happen with the Air 2S, which doesn't use pixel-binning or Quad Bayer technology. Its 20MP images are 20MP images. And reader, they are good.
In addition to higher resolution video and better stills, the Air 2S's new sensor also supports several advanced imaging features, including the 10-bit D-log color profile and several of DJI's latest capture modes, such as Intelligent HDR and MasterShots.
Once you move past the camera setup, the quality difference between the Mavic Air 2 and the 2S drops off dramatically. As far as flight performance goes: Both are excellent and feature a bevy of features that make flying them a truly awesome experience.
However, for the most part, the Air 2S does get the edge simply because it's newer, so it features the latest technologies DJI has to offer, including OcuSync 3.0, ActiveTrack 4.0, POI 3.0, and so on. It also has marginally better obstacle avoidance, but not to the extent that you would say one drone is significantly better or worse than the other.
In terms of speed, both drones top out at around 42.5 mph in S Mode. However, the Air 2S can fly slightly faster than the Mavic Air 2 in N Mode (33.55 mph vs. 26.84 mph).
One notable area where the Mavic Air 2 is the obvious winner is battery life. Whereas the original Mavic Air 2 offers up to 34 minutes of flight time, the upgraded Air 2S allows only up to 31 minutes. Now, as most any drone pilot will tell you, those are both excellent flight times, but technically the Mavic Air 2 is about 10 percent better.
When the Mavic Air 2 came out, it seemed like a really great deal—especially when you considered how powerful it was and how compact. And those things are still true. The Mavic Air 2 is still a really great drone and a really good value. However, the Air 2S is a significantly better deal.
In terms of dollars and cents, you're paying around $200 more for the Air 2S. The camera upgrade alone is worth more than that. Apart from not having variable aperture, the Air 2S basically has the same camera as the Mavic 2 Pro, a drone that costs in the neighborhood of $600 more.
If it were just the camera, that would be a good deal. But as we mentioned above, the Air 2S comes with a ton of new features and upgraded systems. If we agree that the camera upgrade alone is worth the difference in price, that means all those new features are effectively free. You get a better video transmission system—for free. You get more autonomous functions—for free. Better obstacle avoidance? Yep, also free. The list goes on.
Again, that doesn't mean the Mavic Air 2 isn't good or doesn't provide excellent value. It does. It's just hard to argue that the Air 2S doesn't offer more.
The S Stands for Superior
Well, in the end, it's really not so hard to tell which drone is better. The Air 2S is clearly the more advanced flyer. It has a better camera, more features, and, for my money, I think it's a better value.
Now, does that mean you should run out and get the Air 2S? That's much more of a maybe. If you were already thinking about buying the Mavic Air 2, then yes, I would say go for the Air 2S instead. But if you already own the Mavic Air 2, would I recommend upgrading to Air 2S? That is a much harder question to answer.
Personally, I would probably be more inclined to go for something markedly different, like the DJI FPV. On top of that, I think I would wait to hear if there is a Mavic 3 Pro in the future before making my final decision. Of course, even if you do decide to go ahead and purchase the Air 2S, you won't be disappointed. Regardless of how you think the two drones stack up against each other, there's really no debating that the Air 2S is the best beginner/intermediate drone on the market.
What do you think: Is the Air 2S a significant improvement over the Mavic Air 2? Let us know your opinion in the Comments section, below.