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DJI Mavic Air 2 Release date, specs, price

Image:-DJI Mavic Air 2

DRONE MAKER DJI today announced an update to their popular Mavic Air quadcopter. The Mavic Air 2 is set to cost $799 when it ships late May to US buyers. That's the same price as the previous Mavic Air model, so the drone stays between its more capable Mavic 2 and its smaller, cheaper Mavic Mini as DJI's mid-range option.

The Mavic Air 2 is still quite small but some weight has been put on the new version. DJI says testing and consumer surveys have suggested that most people don't mind lugging a few extra grams in exchange for a significant upgrade in flight time and, presumably, better handling in windy conditions. Even better, DJI claims the Mavic Air 2 can remain aloft for 34 minutes thanks to a new rotor design and other aerodynamic improvements - a big jump from the 21 minutes of flight time on the original Mavic Air.

The big news this update contains is the new larger image sensor on the camera of the drone. The camera from the Mavic Air 2 ships with a half-inch sensor, up from the 1 2/3-inch sensor found in the model before. That should mean better resolution and sharper images, especially since not much has changed in the output specs. The new camera still produces 12-megapixel stills, but now it has a larger sensor to fill that frame in more detail. There's also a new composite image option that combines multiple single shots into a 48-megapixel large image.

There's some exciting news on the video-side. The Mavic Air 2 is the first drone from DJI to offer 4 K video at 60 frames per second and 120 Mbps - previous DJI drones topped at 30 fps when shooting in full 4 K resolution. Slow-motion modes are also available that slow down footage to four times slower than real life (1080p at 120 fps), or eight times slower (1080 at 240 fps). Combine these modes with the more realistic contrast you get with the standard HDR video, and you've significantly improved video capabilities in a sub-$1,000 drone.

DJI's increasing forays into computational photography, which the company calls Smart Photo mode, are in some ways more interesting. Flip on Smart Photo and the Mavic Air 2 will do scene analysis, tap its machine intelligence algorithm and choose between a variety of photo modes automatically. There's a scene recognition mode where the Mavic Air 2 sets the camera to best capture one of a variety of drone photography scenarios you're likely to encounter including blue skies, sunsets, snow, grass, and trees. The exposure is adjusted in each case to optimize the tone and detail.

Hyperlight is dubbed the second Smart Photo mode which handles low-light situations. This is essentially an HDR photography mode specifically optimized for low-light scenes, to be judged by DJI's promo materials. It supposedly cuts noise and creates more detailed pictures. The final smart mode is HDR, which quickly takes seven images, combining each element with a higher dynamic range to make a final image.

A final note about the camera: the camera's shape has changed, so if you have any lenses or other accessories for previous DJI drones, they won't be attached to the Air 2.

If you dig through older videos on YouTube, there's a ton of movies that play like this: unbox new drone, head out, take off, tree gets closer, closer, black screen. Most of us are just not that good at flying and the learning curve can be costly and steep. Fortunately, drone companies have started to automate most of what's hard to pilot a quadcopter, and DJI is no exception.

A few new automated flight tricks have been added to the Air's arsenal. DJI's Active Track has been updated to version 3.0, which brings better subject recognition algorithms and some new 3D mapping tricks to make it easier to track people through a scene automatically, keeping the camera on topic as the drone navigates overhead to stay with them. DJI claims that the Point of Interest mode - which allows you to select an object and fly around it in a large circle while the camera remains pointing to the subject - is better at tracking some of the objects that previous versions have struggled with, such as vehicles or even people.

Spotlight is the most exciting new flight mode, coming from DJI's high-end Inspire drone used by professional photographers and videographers to carry their DSLR cameras into the sky. Similar to the Active Track mode, Spotlight keeps a moving subject pointed at the camera. But while Active Track automates the flight of the drone, for more complex shots the new Spotlight mode allows the human pilot to retain control of the flight path.

Finally, the range of the new Mavic Air 2 has been improved, and it can now, in ideal conditions, wander an impressive six miles away from the pilot. The caveat here is that visual contact with your drone should always be maintained for safety reasons. You won't be able to see the Mavic Air 2 though when it's 2 miles away, let alone 6.

Despite a lack of competitors, DJI keeps putting out new drones and improving its lineup as it progresses. The Mavic Air 2 looks like an impressive update to what was already one of our favorite drones, especially considering several features - the 60 fps 4 K video and 34 minute flight time - even best those found on the more expensive Mavic 2 Pro.