With the release of the top-of-the-line compact drone from DJI, I simply had to make a complete comparison between the Mavic 3 vs DJI Air 2s as, on paper, they are very competitive.
In this article, we'll be comparing the specs, image samples, and my detailed analysis of pretty much every factor that would be of interest to anyone, from a casual vlogger to a professional videographer.
From the specs, we can clearly see the Mavic 3 is better in most ways: faster speed, bigger sensor, better framerate, etc. But they have slightly different form factors and, of course, vastly different prices.
|Features||Mavic 3||Air 2s|
|Sensor size||4/3 CMOS||1'' CMOS|
|Second cam Sensor||1/2'' CMOS||-|
|Pixels||20 mp||20 mp|
|Aperture||f/2.8 to f/11||f/2.8|
|4k FPS||120 fps||50 fps|
|Bitrate||200 Mbps (H.264/H.265)||150 Mbps|
|Battery||46 min||31 min|
|Max Hover||40 minutes||30 minutes|
|Range||FCC: 15 km CE: 8 km||FCC: 12 km CE: 8 km|
|Weight||895 g||595 g|
|Folded Size||221×96×90 mm||180×97×77 mm|
|Unfolded Size||347×283×107 mm||183×253×77 mm|
|Obstacle Sensing||Omnidirectional||Omni w/o lateral|
|Max Speed||75 kph||68.4 kph|
|Max Altitude||6 km||5 km|
|Wind Resistance||43 kph||38.5 kph|
|Temperature||-10° to 40° C (14° to 104° F)||0° to 40° C (32° to 104° F)|
|Internal Storage||Mavic 3: 8 GB Mavic 3 Cine: 1 TB||8 GB|
|Image size||5280×3956||3:2: 5472×3648 16:9: 5472×3078|
|Raw Photos||JPEG / DNG (RAW)||JPEG / DNG (RAW)|
|Battery mAh||5000 mAh||3500 mAh|
|Lipo||LiPo 4S||LiPo 3S|
|App name||DJI Fly||DJI Fly|
|Remote Res||1080p/30fps 1080p/60fps||1080p/30fps|
People interested in getting the best shot possible and having the latest gear might be tempted to upgrade their Air 2s to the new Mavic 3, but is it worth it?
Upgrading from the Air 2s to the Mavic 3 is generally not worth it for most casual and professional users. The main differences worthy of the upgrade are the larger sensor which allows for better low light images, and zoom camera.
Of course, the Mavic 3 is the better drone in most cases, but upgrading the already outstanding Air 2s is usually worth it for cinematography pros who need the absolute best results for movies, advertisements, etc.
I suggest you check out my complete guide with questions answered about the Mavic 3 if you want to find more in depth information besides just specs.
We'll get more in-depth soon, but is the price difference between the Mavic 3 and Air 2s justified?
For most people, buying the Air 2s instead of the Mavic 3 is the better option considering the 2x price difference. The only exceptions are pro cinematographers who can use the adjustable aperture and the extra-large sensor of the M3.
I know I sound quite firm on my point, but paying even more than 2x on a drone for very diminishing returns is not worth it in my book unless of course, you will benefit from the details we're going to talk about in the next part of the article.
There's no doubt this is essential when comparing the two drones, as all the other things seem like gimmicks compared to the actual camera output at the end of the day.
In side-by-side comparisons, even a trained eye can't tell the difference between the final results in most cases. This is even more apparent if you decide to upload the video on youtube, as it will be compressed to the same level anyway.
So let's see more in-depth how the cameras differ and how DJI has improved it on the DJI Mavic 3.
The main point of the upgrade for the Mavic 3 is the huge sensor, and it's also the thing that makes it that much more expensive.
If you're a professional, this is probably the main reason you'd buy this drone instead of the Air 2s.
A larger sensor can take in much more light, which is great for low-light videos and photos and a considerable improvement in noise at dawn, dusk, or even night shots.
It is quite revolutionary that DJI managed to put a sensor you usually find in regular micro four-thirds cameras like a Panasonic Gh5 and compact it into such a small foldable drone.
While both drones have 20 mp, the Mavic 3 ones are larger and can take in more light.
The other unique thing about the Mavic 3 is the secondary smaller Zoom camera on top of the main one.
DJI advertised it to help search flight spots, search and rescue missions, and even get a better view from afar without putting anyone in danger or trespassing.
This camera might have a lot of promise, especially for situations where you need to keep away from certain events or fly above people because of the FAA rules.
It comes with a 7x optical zoom lens, which means you get 7x lossless zoom, but in fact, you can zoom much farther with the 28 x hybrid zoom, which will lose quality, but it's great for seeing things very far away.
This secondary camera comes with a half an inch sensor which is pretty good, even better than some previous drones, so you'll be able to capture some amazing shots with it for sure without compromising image quality at first glance.
The only drawback of this secondary camera, besides adding to the overall price of the drone is that the zoom factor isn't smooth zooming (you can only choose intervals like 1x zoom or 7x zoom), unless you plan on doing hybrid zoom, which can be zoomed in more seamlessly, but with the compromise of pixels.
One feature where the Mavic 3 excels compared to the Air 2s is the ability to change the aperture, which means a lot more control over your focus and is especially useful for proper exposure when using ND filters during the day.
The Mavic 2 pro also had the same adjustable aperture, and I remember how useful it was when I added an ND filter on it to change the aperture and make the image lighter or darker. This way, I didn't always have to get the drone down and change the ND filter if the lighting was different in another shot.
In terms of resolution, both drones are absolute monsters, filming up to 5k, but with important differences in frame rate.
Let's start with a win for the DJI Air 2s first, as the 5k resolution from it is a true 16 /9 aspect ratio, while the Mavic 3 is slightly cropped at the top, giving you some small black bars if you plan to export the video in 16 by 9.
However, the Mavic 3 can shoot 5k in 50 frames per second, which means you can get slow motion at that insane resolution, while the Air 2s are limited to 30.
Even more critical, in my opinion, is the capability of the Mavic 3 to shoot 4k in 120 fps, a feat we usually barely saw in 1080p until very recently. The 60 fps of the Air 2s aren't bad, but you can play much more with that slow-motion quality in many scenarios.
As mentioned before, both drones shoot 20-megapixel photos and come with pretty much the same photo shooting modes, including JPEG and DNG RAW photos in 4k or 5k resolution.
Hasselblad's principles set up the colors of the Mavic 3, so it might be the case that they're more true to life at the end of the day.
The color profile of the Mavic 3 is flatter, but that doesn't necessarily mean the dynamic range is going to be better. Both drones have a very similar dynamic range from my tests, which is also confirmed by actual specs.
The Mavic 3 has 12.8 stops of dynamic range compared with the Air 2s, which has 12.6 stops. However, the difference is so small that it's basically insignificant.
At this point, the range has already become obsolete in most drones; even though the DJI Mavic 3 can make it on paper to 15 km (in FCC), it's not like you'll ever have to make it that far and it's also illegal to go past the line of sight. Hence, anything that makes a robust signal under 1 km is OK most of the time.
But even so, you must admit DJI is making fantastic progress with their transmission technology, and the Mavic 3 is a worthy champion for my Best Long Range Drones list.
The more important change here is the considerably larger battery life of 46 minutes vs the 31 minutes of the Air 2s. While real-life scenarios won't allow for exactly this much, this difference is considerable enough to make a point about it and be super relaxed when shooting anything.
Mavic 3 and Air 2s Intelligent Flight modes are pretty much the same. They both have the MasterShots, which will be available from January of 2022, allowing automatically editing and dubbing the app.
Of course, the drone comes with things like Orbit, follow me, and the regular smart shots we've been used with so far.
The Mavic 3 also has a panorama mode that allows the pictures to be directly processed by the drone. In addition, the QuickTransfer feature lets you store and process materials on your mobile even without linking with the remote controller, which is excellent for people who directly edit on their drone tablet.
The new APAS 5.0 Obstacle avoidance system is supposed to be slightly better than the one in the Air 2s because of a mix of new software and a combo of six fish-eye vision sensors and two wide-angle sensors to make a 360 obstacle avoidance system.
This avoidance system is also used in a unique way in return to home technology. For the first time in the Mavic 3 the drone can take a calculated route for returning home instead of just flying in a straight pattern.
The new Active Track 5.0 is also improved from previous versions, allowing the drone to track the subject while it moves forward, backward, left, right, and diagonally, and fly alongside as well. The more intelligent software and capable cameras can also predict where the subject will be even if it loses focus for a moment.
There's no doubt both drones handle superbly in wind, but the Mavic 3 does have the advantage in really strong gusts, and not only thanks to its weight.
DJI has done wind tunnel testing that shows the Mavic 3 produces 35% less drag than previous mavics. It could be because of the streamlined shape of the arms and body.
In terms of raw wind resistance specs, the Mavic 3 can handle 42 kph winds versus the 38.5 kph of the Air 2s, making quite a difference in harsh weather.
Mavic 3 can also calculate the current environment's wind speed when returning home, which provides more time to fly safely before triggering the return to home before it's actually needed.
While the Air 2s returns home just fine, even stopping if it detects an object, the Mavic 3 does come with the next level in terms of smart return to home.
DJI calls it advanced RTH, and it improves on the previous models by allowing the aircraft to automatically calculate the shortest and most energy-efficient route to land back at the home point while also measuring wind speed.
This also includes avoiding obstacles along the way (including buildings).
We don't have enough data about these two drones yet to say it for sure. Both drones have silent propeller models, but from my experience so far, the bigger the drone, the more decibels it makes. However, the noise itself tends to be more pleasant and lower-pitched.
What if you have the original Mavic Air 2 and want to upgrade to the new Mavic 3, would that be worth it?
Upgrading from the Mavic Air 2 to the Mavic 3 can be a good idea if you plan to make money with your drone, as the camera quality and sensor size has increased dramatically since that model.
The low light difference is even bigger this time since the sensor size of the Air 2 isn't a 1-inch sensor like in the Air 2s.
The choice depends on your budget. If the Mavic 3 is in your budget and you're going to make money with it, go for it as it is clearly the better of the two.
If you're, however, on a tighter budget and would have to grit your teeth a bit to get the Mavic 3, or if you're posting videos on youtube or social media, for sure get the Air 2s, as the difference in image quality won't be noticeable by most people.