Introduction

It’s a great time to be a drone buyer. Just over a year ago, DJI launched the Mavic Air 2, a model released with several significant milestones. In particular, it was the first Mavic drone to offer 4K/60p video, 48MP still images, and a 1/2″-type camera sensor – bigger than the smartphone-sized sensors found on most consumer models to that point.

Less than a year after the Mavic Air 2 hit the market, DJI released its successor, the Air 2S. Its build is almost identical, but includes some notable differences: primarily the addition of a larger 1″-type sensor that many users had hoped for. In fact, the Air 2S includes several significant improvements relative to its predecessor.

However, if you check any drone forum, you’ll discover many people still talking about buying a Mavic Air 2, which DJI continues to sell. That’s because the Mavic Air 2 still offers a lot of value, and for many hobbyists, the $200 difference in price is a determining factor. Which one is right for you? We’ll break down the differences so you can make the most informed choice possible.

Physical and performance differences

As you can see from the chart below, there are no significant differences in the size or weight. The two models’ respective Fly More combos, with three total batteries, can easily fit into the small shoulder bag, about the size of a small purse, that comes with the combo.

Mavic Air 2 Air 2S
Size (folded) 180 x 97 x 84mm 180 x 97 x 77mm
Weight 570g 595g

The most visible differences between the two models can be seen in the photo above: the Air 2S (left) includes upward-facing obstacle avoidance sensors and a larger camera with a 1″-type sensor.

Both models perform similarly when it comes to performance, with the Air 2S having a maximum speed of 68.4 km/h (42.5 mph) in Sport mode compared to the Air 2’s 68 km/h. Perhaps it’s the extra weight on the Air 2S, but the older Mavic Air 2 delivers three additional minutes of battery life, for a total of 34 minutes. The good news for those looking to upgrade: the Air 2S uses the same batteries as the Mavic Air 2.

Camera

Cameras on DJI’s mid-level drones have improved a lot in recent years, and both the Mavic Air 2 and Air 2S are a step up from the small smartphone-sized sensors found on earlier models. When it comes to these two drones, the tradeoff is really between resolution and absolute image quality.

The camera on the Mavic 2 Air utilizes a 1/2″ Quad Bayer sensor. It can capture images at either 12MP or 48MP and has a 24mm equivalent lens with a fixed F2.8 aperture. In contrast, the Air 2S is built around a larger 1″-type CMOS sensor with 20MP resolution and has a 22mm equivalent lens with a fixed F2.8 aperture. Note that in both cases, a fixed aperture lens means you’ll need to rely more on ND filters to control exposure, particularly when shooting video, compared to a drone with an adjustable aperture.

It’s worth noting that the Air 2S is DJI’s first mid-level consumer drone to feature a 1″-type sensor. It will also provide more stabilized footage since it uses the RockSteady EIS stabilizing technology first introduced on DJI’s FPV drone, in addition to its 3-axis gimbal.

Video capabilities

The Mavic Air 2 was the first drone in the Mavic series to offer 4K/60p video, which it captures at 120 Mbps using the H.265 codec. The Air 2S goes a bit further by shooting 4K/60p at 150 Mbps, though it’s not a huge difference. What’s more impressive is the Air 2S’ ability to capture 5.4K/30p video using the full width of the sensor, a significant upgrade for video shooters.

The Mavic Air 2 also offers the ability to shoot 8K hyperlapse sequences, thanks to its 48MP sensor. However, the utility of hyperlapses at 8K resolution is debatable (and will challenge most computers). In contrast, the Air 2S offers a hyperlapse feature, but it’s limited to 4K. However, it adds the ability to digitally zoom in on subjects up to 4x when recording 4K/30p or 2.7K/60p and up to 8x at lower resolutions.

Another big difference is support for 10-bit capture. The Mavic Air 2 can record HDR video, but it’s limited to 8-bit, and the drone doesn’t include a Log gamma profile. The Air 2S, on the other hand, includes 10-bit D-Log and 10-bit HLG capture.

Photo capabilities

As we noted on a previous slide, the choice between these models may come down to whether you put more value on resolution or sensor size. The Mavic Air 2 captures resolutions up to 48MP, whereas the larger sensor in the Air 2S captures 20MP.

Both support HDR photo, JPEG and Raw capture, and DJI’s Hyperlight technology, which combines photos like a smartphone for less noise. Both also include DJI’s Scene Recognition, an algorithm that helps identify common elements in photos such as snow, blue skies, or sunsets and adjusts the exposure accordingly for an optimal image.

Both drones are capable of spherical, horizontal and vertical panoramas. The Air 2S, with DJI’s RockSteady EIS technology, also makes high-quality night shots possible by allowing up to 8 seconds of exposure time.

One personal observation I’ve made is that the color profile on the Air 2S feels more pleasing than the Mavic Air 2 and other models in its class.

Video transmission

The Air 2S is equipped with DJI’s latest OcuSync 3.0 technology, rebranded as ‘O3’. With 4 antennas, the drone claims a range of 12 km (7.46 miles). The Mavic Air 2, comparatively, has OcuSync 2.0, which gives it a range of 10 km (6.2 miles). Both are robust systems for video transmission, and each lets you stream 1080p video from the drone during flight.

Realistically, you would never operate your drone beyond visual line of sight, especially at such a great distance. However, having reliable communication equates to superior transmission between the remote and drone so that it doesn’t lose its connection when objects, such as tall buildings, interfere with the signal.

Intelligent flight modes

The Mavic Air 2 and the Air 2S are loaded with Intelligent Flight Modes that give remote pilots automated cinematic video clips. The biggest difference lies in the fact that the Air 2S gives you an updated version of DJI’s subject tracking system, ActiveTrack 4.0, which gives the Air 2S improved accuracy when tracking subjects.

Both drones have other DJI flight modes, including Point of Interest 3.0, which adds the ability to orbit dynamic objects like people or cars, and Spotlight 2.0, which locks the camera on your subject while you fly the drone.

One of the biggest features touted by DJI on the Air 2S is its new MasterShots mode. Once a subject is selected, the drone will automatically fly various automated QuickShot modes, including Rocket, Circle, Helix, and Asteroid. The app will then stitch together a video (YouTube link) of what it deems the best shots and will even include background music and titles. It records strictly in 1080p to create clips that one can quickly share via social channels. MasterShots is the only new flight mode on the Air 2S that’s not available on the Mavic Air 2.

Safety features

While the bodies of the Mavic Air 2 and the Air 2S are practically identical, there’s one notable difference: the Air 2S has two obstacle avoidance sensors on top of the drone. Both models contain sensors on the front, rear, and bottom of the aircraft. While there aren’t any on the sides, DJI claims that obstacle avoidance sensors on the Air 2S have been upgraded with binocular zooming technology that identifies incoming objects from further distances faster.

Another difference is that the Air 2S gets an updated version of DJI’s Advanced Pilot Assistance System, APAS 4.0, compared to APAS 3.0 on the Mavic Air 2. APAS is designed to detect objects in the drone’s path and automatically map a route around them. Having tested this feature on both drones, I found APAS 4.0 to be more adept at detecting and maneuvering either above, below, or around obstacles. You can see a quick demo here (YouTube link).

Both models include DJI’s ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) technology. It identifies manned aircraft in the area and notifies the remote pilot to either land or yield the right of way.

Remote controllers

The Mavic Air 2 was introduced alongside a newly designed remote, and it’s the same one that ships with the Air 2S (as well as the Mini 2). It’s larger and boxier compared to older controllers in the Mavic series. There’s no integrated display, but a smartphone can be mounted to the top rather than underneath, improving older designs. Remote pilots can toggle between ‘Cine,’ ‘Normal,’ and ‘Sport’ modes, and quickly access the Return-to-Home feature.

Since both models support at least OcuSync 2.0 (‘O3’ in the case of the Air 2S), they’re also compatible with DJI’s SmartController. Some remote pilots will prefer this option at a hefty extra cost of $749 since it contains a 5.5-inch built-in screen that displays everything on the Fly app, and there’s no requirement to connect a smartphone.

Smartphone app

The Mavic Air 2 and Air 2S both operate with DJI’s Fly app. First introduced as a companion to the Mavic Mini, the Fly app has a simpler, pared-down interface that allows users to access most of the drone’s features on the right-hand side of the app’s window.

Since both drones are aimed at casual consumers, it’s a better alternative than the more detailed DJI GO 4 app that powers the Mavic 2 and Phantom series drones.

Accessories

DJI offers Fly More combos for both the Mavic Air 2 and Air 2S. Since both models have a fixed F2.8 aperture, it makes sense that a set of Neutral Density (ND) filters are included with both combos.

The Mavic Air 2 Fly More combo features two additional Intelligent Flight batteries, a set of three ND filters (ND16/64/256), three sets of propellers, a battery charging hub, and a shoulder bag. It retails for $998, or $198 above the drone-only price.

The Air 2S Fly More combo features two additional Intelligent Flight batteries, a set of four ND filters (ND4/8/16/32), three sets of propellers, a battery charging hub, and a shoulder bag. It retails for $1299, a $300 premium over the drone alone.

Since the Air 2S has the same fixed F2.8 aperture as the Mavic Air 2, filmmakers will want to consider DJI’s stronger set of ND filters (ND64/128/256/512), which cost an additional $99, for that model. Neither drone is compatible with DJI’s Goggles yet.

Conclusion

For a casual consumer who wants a lightweight, easy-to-use drone that’s packed with some advanced features, the Mavic Air 2 is a good choice, especially if you’re on a budget and price is a strong determining factor. Those who want to create stunning, professional-looking photos and video clips will be more impressed with the 1″-type CMOS sensor and 5.4K/30p resolution offered by the Air 2S.

Either way, both models are high-quality consumer-grade drones. Professional photographers and videographers who want the additional options offered by DJI’s GO app, a variable aperture lens, or a model that holds up better in challenging weather may want to explore the Mavic 2 series or the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0.

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