Category Archives for "Mavic Air"

Reviews or tutorials on the Mavic Air

Best Camera Settings for Photos with the DJI Mavic Air

MAVIC AIR CAMERA

What I mean by "best settings"

My "best settings" may be different from yours.

Some people like photos with a lot of saturation. Others prefer to have the colors muted. You might like cooler shades while I prefer warmer tones. 

In the end, "best" comes down to personal preference.

This tutorial will help you understand what each setting does and how it will affect your images. You can then choose the settings to produce the results you want

Your Mavic Air must be on and connected

Many of the camera settings can only be changed if your aircraft and Controller are powered up and connected to the DJI GO4 app. In fact, some menu options only appear when everything is powered up and connected. 

Once you get the settings dialed in to your liking, they won't change much from flight to flight.

How to access the settings

First, toggle between settings for still photos and video by tapping the little icon above the shutter release button. The icon will switch between a DSLR camera and a video camera. Another indicator is the color of the shutter release button. For photo settings it is white. For video settings it will be red. 

Once you have selected the type of setting you want to adjust, tap the three horizontal lines with circles just below the shutter release button.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

You will see three icons at the top of the settings panel. From left to right they are Camera Settings, Photo Settings and Miscellaneous Settings. 

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Click on any of the settings below to go directly to that section of this article. Use the back button on your browser to come back to this spot.

Camera Settings (Looks like a lens diaphragm)
     Auto or Manual
     ISO
     Shutter speed
     Exposure compensation


Photo Settings (Looks like a camera)
    Photo type
     Image Size
     Image Format
     White Balance
     Style
     Color

Misc. Settings (Looks like a gear)
     Histogram
     Smart Arm LEDs
     Over Exposure Warning
     Video Caption
     Grid
     Anti-flicker
     File Index Mode
     Storage Location

     Save Unstitched Pano Photos
     Format SD Card
     Format Internal Storage
     Reset Camera Settings

Camera Settings


Mavic Air Camera Settings

Auto or Manual

Select Auto and your camera will set the exposure it thinks is best. It does a very good job most of the time. If it's off a little bit, you can use the EV slider to make small adjustments. If you want full control over the exposure, select Manual (M)

Mavic Air Camera Settings

ISO (Only adjustable in Manual mode)

The ISO setting determines how sensitive the camera's sensor is to light. The lower the number, the lower the sensitivity. Since most of your flying will probably done during daylight hours, you can usually leave this at 100. You can increase the ISO if you are flying in low light. Just be aware that the higher you raise it, the more digital noise you will get in your images. To change the ISO, tap on the slider and move right or left. 

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Shutter Speed (Only adjustable in Manual mode)

This setting determines how long the internal shutter is open and allows light to reach the sensor. Low (or slow) shutter speeds allow you to get a correct exposure when you are shooting in low light. If you are in bright sunlight, you will need to use a High (or fast) shutter speed to let in less light. Fast shutter speeds have the added benefit of freezing action.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

EV (Exposure Compensation)

If you are in Auto mode and don't agree with the exposure the camera is suggesting, you can tap the plus or minus buttons to fine-tune the exposure a bit. 

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Photo Settings


Mavic Air Camera Settings

Pho​​​​to type

The first item under the photo settings is the type of photo you want to shoot. Tap "Photo" and  you will see a list of the options available.

Mavic Air Camera Setings

Single Shot Press the shutter release button and the camera shoots one picture.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

HDR (High Dynamic Range) If you are shooting a scene that has very bright areas as well as deep shadows, HDR might be a good option. With HDR selected, the camera will take three images when you press the shutter release button. One will be underexposed, one overexposed and the third "properly" exposed. It will then combine the three images into one JPEG that will preserve details in the brightest areas while as the shadows. 

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Multiple If you are trying to capture peak action with a fast moving subject, Multiple mode will fire a rapid burst of photos each time you press the shutter release button. You can set the number of images captured to 3, 5 or 7. It's the same as what is commonly called motor drive on still traditional cameras. If you are shooting a lot of images or are shooting in RAW format, you might fill up the buffer and have to wait a couple of seconds for the image files to be written to the memory card.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) This is basically a manual version of HDR. When you press the shutter, the camera will take either three or five shots at various exposures. However, unlike the HDR option, in AEB the images are shot in the RAW format and are not combined into a final JPEG. You will need to take the images into post-processing software like Adobe Lightroom and combine them yourself. It's more work, but you will end up with a better image in the end.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Timed Shot This setting allows you to shoot images that you can assemble into a time lapse movie. Select the interval between shots (between 2 and 60 seconds) and press the shutter release. The camera will take a picture, count down the interval, take another picture, count down the interval . . . you get the idea. When you're ready to stop taking photos, press the shutter release button a second time. If you are shooting in RAW format, the smallest interval available will be 5 seconds. That's because the larger file size of the the RAW images takes longer for the Mavic Air to process.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Pano There are four different types of panoramic shots available: Sphere, 180, Vertical and Horizontal. Make your selection, press the shutter button and your Mavic Air capture a series of overlapping images automatically. It will then stitch them together into a single panoramic image. It's quite amazing, actually and it does a very good job.

Mavic Air Camera Settings
Mavic Air Camera Settings


Sphere

Mavic Air Camera Settings

180

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Horizontal

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Vertical

If you want to take it up a notch, you have the option to save the individual photos that make up the pano. You can take them into another application (like Adobe Lightroom) and stitch the pano yourself. The advantage of this is you will end up with a higher quality image. 

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Image Size

It's actually the image ratio, not size. Select either 4:3 (the same as traditional 35mm film) or 16:9 which is commonly known as wide-screen. Purely personal preference here. Try both and see which you like best. 

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Image Format

The Mavic Air has two format choices when shooting still photos: RAW or JPEG. Or you can have the best of both worlds and have it save every image in both RAW and JPEG formats.

If you shoot in RAW, all 12 million pixels captured by your sensor are preserved in a 25.5 MB image file. When you transfer the files to your computer and look at them on your display they are going to look dull and washed out. But after you tweak them a bit in your favorite post-processing software they will look amazing. Since you have every bit of data captured, you get to make creative decisions about how you want the final image to look. Need to see more details in the shadows? No problem. Want to add some contrast or cut back some highlights? You can do that. You have total control over the end result.

If you select  JPEG, your Mavic Air is going to make some decisions about how your photo should look. Depending on your settings, it will adjust the sharpening, contrast and saturation. It will then do some fancy math, compress the image, discard unnecessary information and leave you with a file between 5 MP and 8 MP. Your images will look brighter and more natural right out of the camera. But since a lot of data has been discarded, your options for post-processing are very limited. 

Mavic Air Camera Settings

White Balance

Having the white balance set correctly will prevent a color cast in your photos. Auto is the default and does a good job most of the time. But I recommend selecting either Sunny or Cloudy depending on weather. If you are shooting indoors, you will need to pick Auto, Incandescent or Fluorescent.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Style

This is where you can configure the sharpness (Triangle), contrast (Circle) , and saturation (Square) of your images or videos. Each of these settings can be set in a range of -3 to +3. 

Changing this setting only makes a difference if you are shooting in JPEG format or if you are shooting video. If you are shooting in RAW, you will control the sharpness, contrast and saturation of your images in post processing. 

So what's the best setting? The one that gives you an image you like. I found that a custom style of +1 -1 0 gives me good results in most situations. To set a custom style, tap on the Custom option, Next, tap on the setting you want to adjust and use the plus and minus buttons. 

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Color

I'm not sure why this even shows up as an option for photos because you can only change it for video. So "Normal" it is.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Misc. Settings


Mavic Air Camera Settings

Histogram

The Histogram is a graph of brightness of the scene. Personally, I find it gets in the way. I prefer to turn on the Over Exposure Warning to get a quick warning that I need to adjust the exposure. 

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Smart Arm LEDs

This will automatically turn the front LEDs off when you take a photos or video. Since they are so close to the camera, there is a chance they could create a bit of a color cast in your photos. There's really no downside to having them turn off automatically when you shoot. 

Mavic Air Camera Settings
Mavic Air Camera Settings

Over Exposure Warning

If you turn this feature on, areas of your image that are going to be overexposed will be overlaid with what are called Zebra stripes. As you adjust your exposure, you will see the stripes disappear. Some people find it distracting, but I find it helpful in most situations. If part of your image is overexposed, there is really nothing you can do in post-processing to bring back the detail.  

Mavic Air Camera Settings
Mavic Air Camera Settings

Video Caption

This obviously applies to video, so you can ignore it if you are shooting still photos. 

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Grid

This is a composition aid for lining things up according to the "Rule of Thirds." I leave it off most of the time because I've been taking pictures for a long time and pretty much have a grid burned into my brain. If you're new to photography, using a grid is a big help.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Anti-flicker

This is really only necessary to worry about if you are shooting video indoors. Since we're dealing with still photos here, you can ignore it. 

Mavic Air Camera Settings

File Index Mode

Your Mavic Air names your files automatically using the format "DJI_" followed by sequential numbers. If you want the numbers to start over at 0001 every time you format your memory card, select "Reset." If you want to avoid the confusion of having a bunch of files with the same name, select "Continuous" and you won't get any duplicate names for a long time.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Storage Location

You have two options: Internal or SD Card. Take your pick. The default is SD Card.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Save Unstitched Pano Photos

When you shoot a Pano, the DJI Go4 app will automatically stitch all the photos together into one image then delete the individual images. If you want to save the individual images, turn this option on. When you are ready to pull the images off your memory card or the internal storage, they will be in a folder all by themselves called "Panorama." You can download them to your computer and use the application of your choice to stitch them into a panorama.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Format SD Card or Internal Storage

If you want to clear old photos and video off your card or internal storage to free up space, tap the appropriate option here. You will get this warning before it erases the images just in case you hit the wrong button.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Reset Camera Settings

If you have changed a bunch of settings and want to start all over, tap this button and everything will go back to factory defaults.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

Four “Must Have” Accessories for the DJI Mavic Air

Mavic Air Accessories
Mavic air controller

Memory Cards and Case

Memory cards

The Mavic Air comes with 8GB of internal storage for photos and video. That sounds like a lot, but it will fill up more quickly than you might think. It was designed primarily as a backup for those times you go out to fly and forget to bring an external memory card. You will want to pick up one or more Micro SD cards to make sure you never run out of storage before you run out of battery life.

Cards come in sizes ranging from 16GB to 256GB. Some people like to get the biggest card they can so they don't have to transfer their files very often. I like to use smaller cards and transfer the images as soon as I get back from flying. If I have photos and video from my last four or five flights stored on one card, I run the risk of losing them all if something happens to the card. What can happen to a card? You can take it out and lose it. It can get corrupted for no apparent reason. You can lose your drone in an unfortunate crash. You get the idea.

I use 32GB cards and change them every time I change batteries when I'm out flying. Since I typically fly long enough to drain three batteries, I will have three cards at the end of my session. Even if I drop my drone in a lake on my last flight, I still have two cards safely tucked away.

To keep track of those cards (trust me, they are really easy to lose) I use a case. The one I have is made by Pelican. I keep empty cards on the left side and cards with images or video on the right side. It holds plenty of cards but is very thin and compact. 

If you want to know more about memory cards for your Mavic Air, take a look at this tutorial

Landing Pad

Mavic Air Accessories

In addition to being small, the Mavic Air also sits close to the ground. That's not a problem if you have a clean, solid spot to use for takeoffs and landings. But if you want to take off from a grassy area you are going to run the risk of turning your Mavic Air into a lawnmower. If your takeoff spot has any dirt or sand, it is going to get whipped up by the props and could get sucked into the ventilation ports on the sides of the Mavic Air. 


A landing pad always gives you a dirt-free, dry, safe place to take off and land. They come in various sizes and fold up very compactly. They are also very light weight. I don't use one every time I fly, but I've always got one tucked away in my flight bag just in case I need it.

Tablet Holder

Mavic Air Accessories

The controller for the Mavic Air has folding arms that swing down and hold your phone when you fly. But if you like to use a table to fly, most are not going to fit. The solution is to use a tablet holder. The base of the holder fits easily into the arms of the controller. You then disconnect the short cable that usually connects the controller to your device. Now grab a regular charging cable for your phone or tablet. Plug the USB connector on the cable into the USB port on the back of the controller. Plug the other end of the cable into your device. 

Mavic Air Accessories

I typically use the holder even if I am using a phone instead of a tablet. My phone fits easily in the swing out arms on the controller, but the edge of the arm covers up part of the home button at the bottom of the screen. The holder, however, doesn't block the button and I can access it if I need to while I'm flying.

ND/Polarizer Filters

Polar Pro ND Filter

Your Mavic Air takes great photos and video. Put one of these PolarPro ND/Polarizer filters on the front of your lens and your Mavic Air will take even better photos and video.


Using a Neutral Density filter will decrease the amount of light that gets to the camera's sensor. So when you shoot video on a bright, sunny day you will be able to use a slow enough shutter speed to have a slight bit of motion blur in each frame. This blur will result in smoother, more natural video.

Using a Polarizer filter on your still photos and video will enhance the color and saturation of your images as well as cut through glare coming off water or glass. You can see the dramatic difference in the two photos below.

PolarPro ND Filter

Without filter

PolarPro ND Filter

With filter

To use a filter on the Mavic Air, you have to first unscrew the bezel that is on the front of the camera. The first time you do it it is a little nerve wracking because it is screwed on pretty tight from the factory. If you have trouble, try putting a small rubber band around the bezel to help you get a better grip on it. 

Polar Pro ND Filters

Once the bezel is off, just screw the filter on in its place. If you are using a Polarizer filter just remember that the outer ring is designed to rotate and will continue to spin even after the filter is firmly attached. 

Polar Pro ND Filter

Unless you need to shoot in a low light situation, it's fine to just leave a filter on your lens all the time. 

Everything You Need to Know About Memory Cards for Your DJI Mavic Air

Memory cards
Memory cards

Can I just use the built-in memory in the Mavic Air instead of a memory card?

Yep, you sure can. The only drawback is the capacity. It's not really a problem for still photos, but it's pretty limiting if you are shooting video. The 8GB of internal storage will hold:
     2,047 JPEG images
     341 RAW  images
     11:13 of 4K video at 30 frames per second
     32:19 of 1080P video at 30 frames per second
     11:13 of 1080P video at 120 fps (Slow motion)

What size card is best?

It's purely personal preference. Some people like to shoot with a big card, say 64GB or 128GB, so they don't have to download their images very often. For me, that is putting too many eggs in one basket. If something happens to that card (I lose it, it fails for some reason, I erase it accidentally) I have just lost everything. I prefer to shoot with 16GB or 32GB cards and spread out the risk. If I am out shooting and have images on smaller cards it is highly unlikely that something will happen to all of them. Plus, the smaller cards ar cheaper. A 16GB card will give you:

     3,833 JPEG images
     638 RAW images
     21:04 4K/30
     1:00:41 1080P/30
     21:04 1080P/120

Do I need a super fast card?

For still photos pretty much any card available today will be fast enough. For 4K video, you want to make sure you get one that is UHC 3 with a Video Speed Class rating of at least 30. Those numbers refer to the speed at which information is written to the card by your Mavic Air and from the card to your computer. 


Your Mavic Air Mavic can write to the memory card at 12.5 MB/s. A UHC 3 card can handle a minimum of 30MB/s, so you have a lot of headroom. A card like the SanDisk Extreme Pro advertises transfer rates of up to 100MB/s. That won't make any difference in writing video to the card, but it will be faster when you transfer the files to your computer. But we're talking seconds faster, not minutes.

Memory card

What's the best brand of card to get?

I have not had issues with any brand I have used. I tend to use SanDisk because they are widely available and reasonably priced.

Where does the Micro SD card go on the Mavic Air?

On the back of the Mavic Air, right above the status light, there is a little door that flips down. When you open it you will see a tiny slot on the right side. Insert the Micro SD card into the slot with the contacts on the card facing up. Now push it in all the way. It's a really tight fit because there is so little room. To remove the card, push on it with your fingernail then release. It will spring out a bit and you can try to pull it out the rest of the way. I can't get my fingers in that little space to grab it, so I use a pair of tweezers. 

Mavic Air insert SD card

How do I tell my Mavic Air where to store the images I shoot?

Tap the Camera Settings icon on the right side of your screen (the three horizontal lines with circles located under the shutter button). Now tap the gear icon at the top right then scroll down. Tap on Storage Location and select the either Internal Storage or Micro SD card.

Mavic Air Storage Location

How do I get the images and video onto my computer?

You have two options:


Use a card reader
Take the card out of the Mavic Air and insert it into a card reader that is connected to your computer. It will show up as an external drive. You can then just grab the files you want and drag them into a folder on your computer.


Use the USB to USB-C cable that comes with the Mavic Air

Open the door on the back of the Mavic Air and plug the USB-C end of the cable into the port to the left of the card slot. Now plug the other end of the cable into a USB port on your computer. Two external drives will show up on your computer. One is for the internal storage on the Mavic Air and the other is for the Micro SD card. If you don't have a card installed, only the internal storage will appear. Given how hard it is to get the Micro SD card out of the drone, this might be the easiest way to transfer the files.

Mavic Air USB_C Cable

How do I format the SD card or internal storage?

Once you have your images and video files on your computer and have a second copy backed up to another location, you can go ahead and format the internal storage or Micro SD card. Formatting will erase the files and free up space for your next flight. To do that, tap the Camera Settings icon on the right side of your screen (the three horizontal lines with circles located under the shutter button). Now tap the gear icon at the top right then scroll down. Now select either Format SD Card or Format Internal Storage. 

Mavic Air Format SD Card

One last tip: Get a case to store your SD cards

I can tell you from personal experience that Micro SD cards are easy to lose. One of the best accessories I purchased is the SD card case that is pictured at the top of this page. It's made by Pelican. It's small enough to slip into my flight bag easily and is very sturdy. I can keep empty cards on the left and full ones on the right. I'll never lose a card again!

Top Five Reasons to Buy a DJI Mavic Air

Mavic Air landing gear
Mavic Air

If you are thinking about buying a drone, here are the top five reasons to buy a DJI Mavic Air. It's small, has rear collision avoidance sensors, it's smart, takes amazing photos and video, and is really easy to fly.

1. The size

Mavic Air and Diet Coke

No surprise that this is the top reason. If you have had other drones in the past I guarantee you are going to do a double-take the first time you hold a Mavic Air in your hands. It is strikingly small and light. If you are getting ready to go out to a scenic spot you will never have that "Do I want to lug my drone with me?" dilema again. You can take this drone anywhere without thinking twice. 

2. Rear collision avoidance sensors

Mavic Air rear sensors

An unscientific study of YouTube drone crash videos shows that a lot of crashes happen while flying your drone backwards. It's just really hard to judge how far away you are from things when your drone is in the air. One second you are looking at your screen thinking what an amazing shot you are getting as you pull back at full speed. The next second you are looking at leaves getting chopped to bits by your props.


DJI added collision avoidance sensors on the back of the Mavic Air that should greatly cut down the number of drones hanging from tree branches around the world. They're not perfect so you still need to pay attention to what's behind you. Also, they are no help whatsoever if you are flying sideways, which is another common feature of YouTube crash videos. The bottom line is don't get mesmerized by what you see on the screen and forget to look up and check on where your drone is in relation to its surroundings.

3. APAS

Mavic air controller

APAS stands for Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems. With previous DJI drones, when the obstacle avoidance sensors detected an obstacle, the drone would stop and hover. That's good because your drone will live to fly another day. But the scary smart engineers at DJI weren't satisfied with having the Mavic Air just slam on the brakes when it detects an obstacle. With APAS enabled, your Mavic Air will autonomously fly over or around objects in it's way instead of just stopping and waiting for you to do something.


It doesn't work every time. Occasionally, the Mavic Air will just stop. I suspect wires will still be a problem since sensors historically have a hard time seeing them. But it's still a great feature that will no doubt get even better with time.

4. The camera

Mavic Air Camera

Yes, it's small. But it's really good. Like the camera on the Mavic Pro, it is attached to a 3-axis gimbal. Unlike the camera on the Mavic Pro, it is tucked back into the body of the drone (as opposed to hanging off the front) a bit so it is protected a bit. The one-piece gimbal cover slides on and off very easily.


The specs for this camera are similar to the one on the Mavic Pro. The biggest difference is the fact that you can shoot 4K 30fps video at 100Mps (as opposed to 60 Mbps for the Mavic Pro). The ability to capture more information should result in higher quality video. The Mavic Air can also shoot slow motion video at 120 frames per second. That's pretty sweet.

5. Easy to fly

Mavic Air in flight

Several factors combine to make the Mavic Air easy to fly:

  • It's small and easy to transport.
  • It takes less than two minutes to go from taking it out of the case to getting it up in the air.
  • The obstacle avoidance sensors and the APAS system make it harder to crash which means you can relax and have fun flying.
  • It's really fast and responsive

You might also like these articles

Setting Up Your New DJI Mavic Air   Everything you need to know to get your new Mavic Air ready for it's first flight.

Your First Flight With Your DJI Mavic Air  Tips and tricks to help you have a successful first flight.


Review of PolarPro ND Filters for DJI Mavic Air

Polar Pro ND Filter
Polar Pro ND Filter

Your Options

PolarPro has just released several sets of Neutral Density filters for the DJI Mavic Air. Just like their filters for other drones, they offer a variety of options:

The Standard Series
These are the entry level filters. They are ND only and are made with HD glass.

Cinema Series Shutter Collection
The next step up. These filters are made with what PolarPro calls "Production Grade Glass." They have an 8-layer coating on both sides of the filter.

Cinema Series Vivid Collection
These filters also have the Production Grade Glass with the coatings, but add a rotating polarizer element to help cut glare and enhance colors. ​

All three series are available in sets that includes ND 4, ND8 and ND16 filters. Six filter sets that include straight neutral density filters as well as combination ND/Polarizer filters are also available. If you really need to block the light, ND32 and ND64 filters are also available.

Polar Pro ND Filters

Installing the Filter

These filters screw to the front of the camera on the Mavic Air. But in order to get access to the threads, you first have to unscrew the existing lens bezel. The first time you take it off it is nerve-wracking. It is on there really tight from the factory. Be careful to hold the gimbal firmly when you twist the bezel off. If you can't get a good grip on it, you might try wrapping a rubber band around it. Once the bezel is off, just screw on one of the ND filters on in its place. If you are using one of the ND/PL filters, remember that the outer ring will continue to rotate after the filter is screwed in all the way. 

Polar Pro ND Filters
Polar Pro ND Filter

Do they make a difference?

Absolutely! The two images below show the dramatic difference. The first was taken with no filter. The second was shot with an ND8/PL Cinema Series Vivid Collection filter. The difference is due to the polarization cutting through the glare. These images are straight out of the camera with no post-processing (other than cropping and re-sizing) in Photoshop or Lightroom.

PolarPro ND Filter
PolarPro ND Filter

Conclusion

All PolarPro filters are constructed of aluminum which makes them extremely lightweight (.59 grams each). I have not had any problems with gimbal balance or movement with the filters installed. The aluminum construction also makes them very durable. In fact, they come with a lifetime warranty. 

The filters come with a hard plastic case which fits easily in the case that comes with the Mavic Air Fly More Combo. There is a foam insert inside the case that holds the filters very securely but still allows them to be removed easily. 

Your First Flight With Your DJI Mavic Air

Mavic Air in flight

It's time to take your first flight. If you haven't already read my tutorial on Setting Up Your New DJI Mavic Air Drone, I recommend you do that before reading this one. It walks you through everything you need to do to get your new drone ready to fly.


Now that you have your Mavic Air set up, let's get it up in the air!

Before You Leave Your House

Check the ​weather

If you haven't already downloaded the UAV Forecast app, do it before you head out to fly. This app will show you wind speed at various altitudes as well as things like magnetic interference. If there are any conditions that are not good for flying, don't fly. I know you're anxious to try out your new Mavic Air, but don't fly if the weather is not good. Seriously. Just wait. 

​Make sure you have everything

I can tell you from personal experience it's no fun to drive to a location to fly and discover you left something important sitting at home. Don't assume everything is in your bag and just grab it as you head out the door. Check it before you leave.

     Mavic Air

     Batteries (Fully charged)

     Controller (Fully charged)

     Phone or tablet (Fully charged)

     Cable to connect phone to controller

     Memory card(s)

     Landing pad (If you use one)

     ND Filters (If you use them)

Mavic Air Flight Case

When You Arrive at Your Flying Location

Pick a location that has plenty of open space without trees and wires. You want to be able to relax and enjoy this first flight without constantly having to worry about hitting something. Also, try to find someplace where there are not a lot of people around. Having people ask you a bunch of questions about your drone while you're flying can be very distracting. 


I highly recommend using a printed Pre-flight Checklist every time you fly. It's very easy to get in a hurry to get your drone up and forget something. Most times it will be an inconvenience like forgetting to take off the gimbal cover or shooting a bunch of photos with the wrong camera settings. But other times it could be more serious. Not having your Return to Home altitude set high enough to avoid obstacles or not having good GPS satellite connection. Going through a checklist saves you time in the end and can help prevent a costly mistake. You can download the one I use. It's sized to fit on 4" x 6" paper, so you can easily print a copy and keep it in your bag with your drone.


Now this looks like a long list of things to do before you fly, but it won't take any more than two hours to complete. Totally kidding. I just did it and timed it at just over two minutes.Trust me, it's worth the time.

​​​​1. Check airspace advisories and restrictions

Open AirMap on your phone and check to make sure you are not in a restricted airspace. If you are flying recreationally you may need to contact nearby airports or heliports to advise them that you are getting ready to fly. AirMap usually provides phone numbers for these facilities.

​​​​2. Inspect your props

Unfold the arms, starting with the rear ones, and fold down the landing gear legs located on the front legs. Now inspect the props to make sure they do not have any cracks or nicks. You also want to make sure they are locked into place. 

3. Remove the gimbal cover

Pinch the little tabs on end of the gimbal cover and slide it towards the front of the drone until it slides off. 

​​​4. Verify that the battery is fully seated

If you look at the sides of the battery on the Mavic Air and see any red, that means its not fully seated in the battery compartment. Press down on the battery until you hear it click and you no longer see the red indicators. 

Mavin Air battery

Don't take off if you see this red indicator on either side of your battery. 

5. Powe​r everything up

Launch the DJI GO 4 app on your phone or tablet

Power up controller by pressing then pressing and holding the power button in the top right corner.

Power up Mavic Air by pressing then pressing and holding the power button on the battery for a couple of seconds.

6. Position antennas on the controller

Unfold the antennas on the controller and rotate them so they are parallel to each other and at a 45 degree angle to the controller.

7. Calibrate the compass

The odds are about 95% that you are going to need to calibrate the Mavic Air's compass. If you see a "calibrate" button on the screen, tap on it and follow the directions to do the calibration dance. 

8. Verify GPS lock

In a perfect world, you want to lock onto at least six satellites. If your Mavic Air can't lock onto the GPS satellites, it is possible to fly in what is known as ATTI mode, but it will require you to work the control sticks a lot more to maintain position. Until you get some flying experience, wait until you see the green stripe at the top that verifies you are in GPS mode.

Ready to fly
9. Verify Return to Home Settings

Your Mavic Air has a Return to Home failsafe built in that will cause it to return to the Home point in the event of signal loss or critically low battery. You want to make sure you have the Return to Home altitude set high enough that the aircraft will clear any obstacles on its way back to the take-off point. I have a tutorial on the Return to Home settings I would encourage you to read. It was written for the Mavic Pro, but the information applies to all DJI drones. Return to Home is a wonderful feature that can save you a world of hurt. But if can also cause you a world of hurt if you don't understand how it works. Read the tutorial and you'll understand what I mean.


Open the settings by tapping the three dots in the top right corner of your screen. Then tap the first icon in the column on the left and to open the Main Controller Settings. You will see the current Return-to-Home Altitude setting in the box on the right. Even if you have your preferences set to show measurements in the Imperial system, this one is always in meters. If you want to change the setting, just tap on the box and enter a new number. 


This would be the perfect time to enable Beginner Mode if you are new to flying. It will limit your altitude and distance as well as make the control sticks a little less responsive to prevent you from overreacting and crashing into something. I highly recommend it until you get comfortable flying. 

DJI Go4 settings
10. Check Obstacle Avoidance settings

There may be times you want to turn them the obstacle avoidance sensors, but make sure they're on for your first flight. You paid for them so why not use them? Open the settings by tapping the three dots in the top right corner of your screen. Then tap the second icon from the top to open the Visual Navigation Settings. Make sure Enable Obstacle Avoidance is showing green. 

Enable obstacle avoidance
​​​​11. Set your camera settings

Tap the Camera Settings icon on the right side of your screen (the three horizontal lines with circles located under the shutter button) and set everything up the way you like for this flight. For your first flight, Auto will be perfect. When you're ready to try out some of the more advanced camera settings, check out my tutorial on Best Camera Settings for the DJI Mavic Air.


You also need to set the location for your images and video to be stored. The two choices are the internal storage or the Micro SD Card. I use the card because it stores more, but either one will work just fine. When you're in the camera settings, just tap the gear icon at the top right then scroll down. Tap on Storage Location and select the one you want to use.

Mavic Air Storage Location
12. Take off and Hover

Check the space around you to be sure it's clear of any branches or wires. Now tap the "Take off" icon on the left side of your phone's screen then slide the "Takeoff" slider to the right. The props will spin up and the Mavic Air will ascend to four feet then hover. If you tap the "Precisely record takeoff point" checkbox, your Mavic Air will take off then ascend to about 30 feet before it hovers. Theoretically, if you use the automatic Return to Home feature to land your Mavic Air this feature will improve the landing accuracy. I've not found the precision feature to be any more precise than the regular, so I never use it.


Let the aircraft hover for 20-30 seconds before you start flying to make sure everything is working properly.

Mavic Air auto takeoff
Mavic Air Auto takeoff
13. Verify Home Point

Once you take off, you will hear. "The home point has been updated. Please verify it on the map." If you look at the map in the lower left corner of the screen, you should see the little paper airplane icon (not the official name, but that's what it looks like to me). Make sure it is in the correct spot, because that's where your drone will land if the Return to Home sequence is initiated. You can make the map bigger by tapping on it. Tap it again to make it smaller again.

Take Off!
Mavic Air in flight

Take one last look at the sky to make sure there are no aircraft or big birds in the immediate vicinity. Push the left stick forward and your Mavic Air will start climbing. Pull back on the stick to descend. Pushing it left or right will rotate, or yaw, the aircraft left or right.


Use the right control stick to move the aircraft left, right, forward and backward. 


One very important thing to remember is control stick input is relative to the orientation of the aircraft. The camera is on the front. If your Mavic is facing away from you and you push the right stick forward, it will fly away from you. But, if it is facing you and you push the right stick forward, it will now fly toward you. The same thing applies to right and left movement. Until you get the hang of it, stay in wide open areas where it won't matter if you fly the wrong direction.


Another important thing is to keep looking up. It's easy to get zoned in on looking at the screen as you fly. But it is essential that you maintain situational awareness. You can do that by bringing along someone to serve as a visual observer or you can just be proactive about looking up from the screen frequently.


You are now officially a dronie! I encourage you to fly as much and as often as you can. You want to develop muscle memory and get to the point where you can move the control sticks without having to stop and think about what will happen. The only way to develop that ability is to practice. So get out there and fly safe and fly smart.

Setting Up Your New DJI Mavic Air Drone

mavic Air thumb
Mavic Air

Getting a New Drone is Exciting

When Fed Ex delivered a Mavic Air to my house last week I opened the front door before the driver even had a chance to ring the doorbell. I realize I'm a little boy trapped in a man's body, but I'm guessing Im not the only one. If you are getting a new Mavic Air I bet you're just as excited as I was. But before you take it out to fly there are a few things you need to do to get it set up. This article will give you a heads up and hopefully speed up the process a bit so you won't have to delay your gratification any longer than necessary. 

Step One: Start Charging Everything 

When you get your drone, the batteries and controller will have some charge in them, but not enough to fly. If you do this step first, they can be charging while you take care of other items on the list. You'll still finish everything else before they are fully charged, but at least they'll have a head start.

Charge the Batteries

If you got the Fly More Combo, connect the cord from the AC adaptor to the bottom of the battery hub. Now you can open up the sides of the hub and connect all three batteries. Unfortunately, they don't all charge at once, The one that has the most power charges first, then then the next and finally the one with the least charge to begin with. When a battery is being charged, it's status lights will blink. 

Mavic Air batteries

Charge the Controller

To charge the controller, connect the little USB-C to Micro USB adapter to the end of the USB-C Cable that was included in your package. Then plug the USB end of the cable into one of the two USB ports on the end of the AC adaptor. Connect the other end of the cable into the Micro USB port on the top left corner of the Controller. The status lights will start flashing to let you know it's charging.

Mavic Air USB-C Cable
Mavic Air controller

So your charging station will look like this when everything is plugged in. It's probably going to take at least an hour to get everything up to 100%. That's OK though, you can go ahead to the next step in the setup process.

Mavic Air Charging setup

Step Two: Remove All the Stickers

DJI is very generous with stickers on the Mavic Air. There are stickers on the arms, the battery, the top, the gimbal cover, and the the controller. They are everywhere. They all need to come off. 

Mavic Air stickers

Step Three: Register Your Drone

If you live in the United States, as of December 2017 you are required to register your new Mavic Air with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Despite the fact that you are dealing with a government agency, it is a remarkably easy process and is very inexpensive. Just go to www.faadronezone.faa.gov to complete your registration.

If you have registered drones before and already have an account, go ahead and login. If this is your first drone you need to pick one of the two options available. The language here is a little confusing (it is the government after all) but it's important to pick the correct one.

Commercial Pilots

If you have taken the FAA exam to get your commercial drone license so you can earn money with your drone (also known as a Part 107 certificate), select the "Fly sUAS under Part 107" option. Just in case you're wondering, sUAS stands for Small Unmanned Aircraft System. The registration cost is $5.00 per drone registered.

Recreational pilots

If you do not have a commercial drone license and plan to fly recreationally, select the "Fly Model Aircraft under Section 336" option. With this option you only need to pay the $5.00 fee one time no matter how many drones you register.

Once you complete the registration process you will get a registration number which you will need to put on your drone in a place where it is clearly visible. You can write it on with a Sharpie. If that seems like you are defacing your beautiful new drone, you can use a label of some sort. Just stick it on one of the folding legs and you'll be all set.

Just be sure you are at the official FAA site (it will have a .gov address). If you do a Google search for "drone registration" the top hits are for sites that do a very good job of making themselves look like the official site, but will charge you a lot more than the FAA. They are basically scams. 

If you want more details about how to register your drone, you can check out a tutorial I have done that will walk you through the process step-by-step.

Drone registration

Step Four: Download Three Essential Apps

Technically, only the first one is absolutely essential. You won't be able to fly your Mavic Air without it. But I consider the other two to be essential as well since I use them every time I fly. The good news is they're all free!

DJI GO 4

This is the app you will use on your phone or tablet to fly your Mavic Air. You can download it for free a the App Store for iOS devices or the Google Play Store for Android devices. Just make sure you download the DJI GO 4 App, not the DJI GO App. That is an older version, though it is still used for the DJI Osmo Mobile gimbal for smartphones.

DJI GO 4 App Icon

UAV Forecast

Obviously, you can stick your head outside and get a pretty good idea if it's OK to fly. But this app will give you information about wind speeds at various altitudes, potential magnetic interference, visibility and more. And it does in a very clear interface. You can get it at the App Store for your iOS devices or the Google Play Store for Android. I have done a tutorial on this app you can take a look at.

UAV Forecast Icon

Airmap

It is really important that you only fly in locations where it is legal. It is absolutely impossible to know if you are in a restricted area without a map showing the boundaries of restricted airspace. There is some geofencing built into the DJI GO 4 app, but it will still let you fly in a lot of places you shouldn't. As soon as you launch Airmap, it will show your location along with any flight restrictions. In some areas of the United States, you can even use Airmap to get instant approval to fly within some restricted areas. You can get it at the App Store for your iOS devices or the Google Play Store for Android. I have done a tutorial on this app that shows you all the features.

Airmap Icon

Step Five: Activate Your Mavic Air

This is where the fun stuff starts. It's time to power up your new baby watch it take its first breath. Well, kind of. It will beep and make some other noises and lights will blink. Pretty exciting stuff in a nerdy kind of way. 

Install a Battery

First, grab a  battery from your charger that has at least a 50% charge. If you press the button on the battery, the status lights will show you how much charge it has. You are looking for at least two lights. Slip the battery into the battery compartment on the bottom of the Mavic air and press down until you hear it click. You shouldn't see any red on the sides by the battery release slides. If you do, press on the battery again until it is firmly seated in place.

Mavic Air batteries
Mavic Air battery

Connect phone or tablet to controller

The controller ships from the factory with the cable to connect an iPhone installed. If you have a different phone, you will need to swap out the cable with one of the others that was included in the box. Unfold the controller's arms and slip your phone into the slots. You can take the control knobs out of their slots under the arms and screw them in if you want, but you don't need them in order to do the activation. You might find it easier to connect the free end of the cable to your phone before you slip it into the controller. 

Mavic Air controller

Power everything up

Now press and release then press and hold the power button on the controller for about a second to power it up. It's a bit like a double click on a mouse, except you hold the second click down for a second or two. There's a certain knack to the timing that you will get eventually. 

Now take the gimbal cover off of the camera on the Mavic Air by pinching the release tabs and sliding the cover toward the front of the aircraft. You're not going to be using the camera just yet, but when the drone powers up the gimbal goes through a series of moves, so the cover needs to be off. Now unfold the arms, starting with the rear ones, and fold down the landing gear legs located on the front legs.

Mavic Air landing gear

To power up the Mavic Air, do the same double press technique as you did on the controller on the button located on the battery. Don't worry, the props are not going to start spinning. There is an internal fan that will kick in a couple on minutes after you power up the aircraft. That's normal. It is designed to create some airflow to keep the electronics cool. 

Launch the DJI GO 4 App

When you launch the GO 4 app, a screen will open telling you you need to activate your Mavic Air. Tap on "Next" and work your way through the next few screens where you will agree to the terms of service, give your aircraft a name, select a Control Mode (stick with Mode 2), and set your measurement system.


You will then be given the option to put your Mavic Air into Beginner Mode. If you are new to flying drones I highly recommend doing this. It limits the speed, altitude, and distance as well as makes the controls a little more forgiving if you push them the wrong way. 


If you already have a DJI account, it will simply add this new drone to it. If you don't have an account, you will set one up. Eventually, you will see a screen with a big Activate button at the bottom. Tap the button and you will be given a chance to purchase DJI Care Refresh. You can learn more about this program on the DJI site. If you are new to drones I would consider getting it. It will provide up to two replacement drones for a nominal price within one year. I find the peace of mind that comes from knowing I won't be out $799 if I have a crash to be worth it. 

Take the DJI Knowledge Quiz

This is something DJI developed in order to promote flight safety. You can skip it for now if you like, but you'll have to take it eventually. There are nine questions and they're all pretty basic. Here's the first one along with the answer. But that's all you get. Any more and it would be cheating.

Mavic Air Setup
Mavic Air Setup

You are now activated!

Once you complete the quiz your Mavic Air will be officially activated. On the final screen in the activation process, if you tap the "Academy" button you will find some tutorials by DJI as well as a little flight simulator. To use the flight simulator your drone has to be powered on. But don't worry, when you move your control sticks to take off and fly around, your Mavic Air will stay firmly on the ground. Only the one on screen will respond.

Mavic Air flight simulator

Step Six: Update the Firmware

There is about a 100% chance that you will need to update the firmware on your Mavic Air and the Controller before you take your first flight. It's easy and should take less than ten minutes. First, you need to check to see if you need to do an update. When you launch the GO 4 app, it automatically checks to be sure you are running the latest version of the firmware. 

Check the charge level of the battery and controller. If the battery is below 50%, put it on the charger and grab a new one. If the charger is less than 50% you are going to need to plug it in. Go get a snack and it should be ready to go again by the time you get back.

Make sure your phone is connected to the internet. Connect your phone to the Controller. Power up the Controller and the Mavic Air, then launch the GO 4 app. If you see this screen, just tap "Update Now" and follow all the directions. Assuming you have reasonably fast internet, it won't take longer than five or ten minutes to complete the upgrade. When it's done shut everything down, pack it in your bag and get ready to go flying!

GO 4 app firmware update

Your Mavic Air is now set up and ready to fly!

The hard part is done. Now it's time to have some fun. Before you go out for your first flight you might want to check out my tutorial on Your First Flight With Your New DJI Mavic Air


DJI Mavic Air Unboxing

Mavic Air thumb

Well my new Mavic Air has arrived! I did this quick video to show you what you get with the Fly More Combo. I'm feverishly working on some tutorials and videos about the Mavic Air and will have those posted soon.

Sneak Peek at the new DJI Mavic Air

Mavic Air

Earlier this week at a live event in New York City, DJI unveiled their newest drone, the Mavic Air. It looks amazing and the specs look almost too good to be true for a drone of this size and weight. Mine is on order and I will have a complete review as well as tutorials to help you get the most out of your Mavic Air just as soon as it arrives and I have had time to give it a workout. But in the meantime, here is a look at the features as well as some of my thoughts about what to expect from the Mavic Air.

Where does the Mavic Air fit in the DJI lineup?

By all measures, the Mavic Air sits between the Spark and the Mavic Pro. There are enough differences between the three drones that I don't think the Mavic Air will render either of the older drones obsolete. It's not a "Mavic Killer" or a "Spark Killer" in other words.

Price
Spark ($499 USD)
Mavic Air ($799 USD)
Mavic Pro ($999 USD)
Mavic Pro Platinum ($1,199 USD).

Camera
For a detailed list of camera specs you can take a look at a chart I have put together a comparing the cameras for all of DJI's consumer drones.

Better than the Spark with its 3-axis gimbal and the ability shoot 12 MP RAW stills and 4K video. The camera on the Mavic Air appears to be nearly identical Mavic Pro's with one fairly big difference—it is fixed focus. More on that later.

Features
Flight Modes: Seven flight modes compared to the Spark (5 modes) and the Mavic Pro (13 modes).
Flight Time of 21 minutes is longer than a Spark (16 min) and less than a Mavic Pro (27 min) or Mavic Pro Platinum (30 min).
Top speed of 42.5 mph is faster than both the Spark (31 mph) and Mavic Pro (40 mph).
Three-way collision avoidance with the addition of rear facing sensors. Both the Spark and Mavic lack the rear sensors.
Built-in 8 GB storage. No more packing up when I get to a location because I forgot an SD card!

So just how small is the Mavic Air? 

Really small! If you've ever seen a DJI Spark you know they're small. Well the Mavic Air is just a tiny bit bigger than a Spark! It is roughly the same length and width of an iPhone 8 Plus. And it's extremely light, tipping the scale at just 0.95 pounds as compared 1.6 pounds for a Mavic Pro.

What am I looking forward to on the Mavic Air?

  1. The size and weight, of course. As someone who travels frequently I will be able to slip this in my bag and hardly notice it.
  2. The removable joysticks on the controller. It's a little thing, but it will fit in my bag so much easier.
  3. Rear collision avoidance. As someone who has hung a Mavic Pro in a tree while backing up I'm really looking forward to this feature.
  4. The new FlightAutonomy 2.0 capabilities that will enable the Mavic Air to navigate around obstacles automatically.
  5. The camera and gimbal seem to be protected more than they are on the Mavic Pro.
  6. The increased bitrate (4K at 100Mbps) for video is an improvement over the Mavic Pro.

What am I "waiting to see" about on the Mavic Air?

The things below are't complaints. I'm not being a grumpy old man here. These are things that will be different than what I'm used to. Once I get this baby in my hands they will probably be no big deal. 

There are a couple of Intelligent Flight modes (Course Lock and Point of Interest) I use on the Mavic Pro and Phantom 4 Pro that do not appear to be available on the Mavic Air. Of course, they may be added later with a firmware update. 

Another thing I am wondering about is the fixed focus lens. With the Mavic Pro you can either use autofocus or choose a particular point of focus by tapping on the screen. There are times I want to have creative control over focus. With the Mavic Pro or Phantom 4 Pro, If I want to focus on an object in the foreground and blur the background, all I have to do is tap on the foreground object on the screen. I'm not sure how this will work with a fixed-focus lens. 

One big difference between the Mavic Air and the Mavic Pro is the lack of an LCD screen on the controller. Obviously, I look at the screen of my phone or tablet most of the time I fly. But there have been times when I have lost the video feed and my phone screen went black. It's good to still be able to see vital information about signal strength and flight parameters on the Controller screen when that happens.

I am not thrilled with is the flight time. If it's rated at 21 minutes, real-world times will likely be in the 15-16 minute range. It may not be an issue since I usually get up, get my shots, and get down fairly quickIy.  I'll just have to see how it goes. I did order extra batteries, of course.