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DJI Air 3 review | CNN Underscored

DJI’s latest drone, the Air 3, boasts a 46-minute battery life, two cameras complete with 9x zoom and improved flying smarts to prevent crashing into stuff.

Pricing for the Air 3 starts at $1,099 for the drone and a smartphone-powered controller, or you can opt for the $1,349 Fly More Combo that adds extra accessories and two additional batteries to, well, fly more. Finally, there’s another Fly More Combo that’s priced at $1,549 but comes with a controller that features a built-in 5.5-inch display and extended transmission range. That’s the kit that DJI sent me to test, and it’s downright fantastic.

I’ve been using the Air 3 for a while now, and it’s easily one of my favorite drones yet —  but it can be a little intimidating.

If you’re a serious drone enthusiast looking to invest in a long-lasting model with tons of great features, the DJI Air 3 is worth the splurge.

It’s incredibly fun — and safe — to fly

I own and have flown several DJI drones over the last few years. Each one of them has some level of safety features, such as various levels of obstacle avoidance or ADS-B technology to alert you to any aircraft in the area.

The DJI Air 3 is the most advanced DJI drone I’ve flown when it comes to obstacle avoidance, thanks to its Omnidirectional Obstacle Sensing technology. This allows it to look for and automatically avoid obstacles in its flight path in every direction, thanks to various sensors placed on the drone itself.

Using the RC-N2 controller, you’re able to tell the drone exactly what you want it to do when it detects an obstacle in its path. You can have it bypass the object, avoid it, or brake and allow you to navigate around the item.

Think of Omnidirectional Obstacle Sensing and avoidance features as a very basic automated version of flying a drone. I tried a few times to fly the drone into a light pole, my shed and other random items, and each time the Air 3 either stopped completely or adjusted its flight path to go up and over (in the case of the shed) or around the item.

This is a big deal, especially for new pilots who don’t have a ton of confidence in their piloting skills. And it makes flying the Air 3 fun, because you’re not having to overanalyze everything around you at all times (although you should still be cautious).

I didn’t experiment with the Air 3’s new ActiveTrack 5.0 feature, which allows the drone to lock onto and follow a subject such as a person on a bike or a car. Its ability to safely and confidently follow someone is surely boosted by its new obstacle-sensing smarts.

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Flying a drone can be incredibly fun, but each flight inevitably comes to an end due to one factor: battery life. With the Air 3, however, DJI has boosted battery life to a potential 46 minutes of flight time, or 42 minutes of hovering time.

That’s a 50% increase of flight and hover time compared to the Air 2S, which offered 31 minutes and 30 minutes, respectively.

That means if you opt for the DJI Air 3 Fly More Combo, which comes with a total of three batteries, you have a potential of 2 hours and 18 minutes of flight time in the bag with you at all times. That’s a ton of uninterrupted time in the air, and a feature that’s sure to help you get the shots you want without having to wait for the batteries to recharge.

It also makes it possible to take extra long HyperLapse shots. I was able to routinely put the Air 3 up and set it to record for 25 minutes or longer. I haven’t been able to do that with any of DJI’s drones in the past.

I did a hover test on a calm day and was able to squeeze out 37 minutes of flight time, with an estimated 3 minutes left on the controller, before the Air 3 was forced to land. That’s 40 minutes of hovering time, which is in line with DJI’s own estimates.

Jason Cipriani/CNN Underscored


Outside of short battery life, another problem I’ve often encountered when flying a drone after taking a picture or two is not being sure of what to do. Like the rest of DJI’s lineup, the Air 3 has pre-built flight and shot modes like QuickShot, for taking shots like a dronie (aka a drone selfie) with just a tap, or MasterShot, which instantly combines several different shots into one video.

Adding to the Air 3’s software features is the fact that it has not one but two cameras on it, both of which take 48-megapixel photos. There’s the standard wide-angle camera and a 3x telephoto camera. The additional lens gives you more creative options when framing your shots, and it also enables the ability to zoom in — up to 9x in total — on a subject. I’ll be honest, there were times when I was messing around with the different zoom levels that I felt a bit like a spy.

Both cameras are also capable of recording 4K video. If you’re someone who needs social-friendly vertical video, you capture 2.7K or 1080p video in 9:16 orientation.

I’m fond of using the HyperLapse feature to create a timelapse shot as the drone is either stationary or moving on a predetermined flight path. I took a bunch of them when testing the Air 3, including some at night, and they turned out great.

Other photos and videos I captured with the Air 3 also look great. There is plenty of color saturation and clarity in the shots when taken at their default zoom levels. When taking a photo or video at 9x digital zoom, you’re naturally going to lose some quality.

Jason Cipriani/CNN Underscored

Even though I spent a lot of time using some of the preprogrammed flight modes to capture shots, I often found myself somewhat frozen during flights trying to figure out which camera was the right one for the shot. Do I use the more traditional wide-angle camera, or do I opt for the 3x telephoto? I’d waste a few minutes before each shot going back and forth between the two, trying to figure it out.

Indeed, that’s one of the key selling points of the Air 3, along with long battery life and improved transmission. But it was something that I found distracting and took away from the overall experience at times, which is something I didn’t expect at all going into my time testing the Air 3.

If you’re someone who just wants a drone to fly around and take photos or record video without giving it much thought, then you can totally ignore the telephoto lens and forget about switching between the two. Then when you’re more comfortable with the drone, and perhaps you want to get more creative, you can start adjusting your shots.

Just don’t overthink it.

When it comes to storing your epic photos and videos, you have a couple of options. You can opt to use the Air 3’s 8GB of internal storage, or you can add a microSD card with up to 512GB of extra storage. You’re definitely going to want to add more storage to the Air 3, as the internal storage can easily be filled up with video after a single flight, maybe two.

I’d love to see DJI increase the base storage inside all of its drones, but especially in higher-end models like the Air 3. Increasing it to something like 32GB gives users who either didn’t know they’d need a microSD card on their first voyage, or those who left the card in their computer at home (yes, it’s happened to me), extra space that’s very much needed.

Granted, you can easily offload video wirelessly to your phone or the DJI RC 2 controller (which needs a microSD card of its own beyond 14GB or so of content), but that requires using up precious battery on the controller, phone and drone.

Jason Cipriani/CNN Underscored

The DJI Air 3 is a lot of drone, and it costs a lot of money. You get a tremendous amount of flight time with a single battery, but it’s tripled with the Fly More Combo. When you add in the RC 2 controller with a built-in screen, the $1,549 price tag can be a lot to stomach, but for drone pilots who are looking for the best experience, it’s worth the investment. If you’re just starting out and looking for a drone that’s still going to be fun to fly and capture high-quality photos, the $469 DJI Mini 3 or even the $999 DJI Air 2S are worthy picks.

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Written by Townreels

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