Just a few months after I had finally saved up and got my DJI Air 2S, DJI released another drone, the Air 3, which is all the hype now.
Since it’s a direct upgrade from the Air 2S, people who own it now wonder if the Air 2S has become obsolete and if they should upgrade or stick with their older drone.
Those looking to get a new drone now have one more model to consider.
So, DJI Air 3 vs. Air 2S, which one is better?
The DJI Air 3 is the better drone. It has a longer flight time, a dual camera system, more intelligent flight modes, a longer range, and improved flight features. However, the Air 2S is still a great drone and worth keeping if you already have one.
Keep reading to learn more about which drone is better and who each model is made for.
DJI Air 2S overview
DJI Air 2S Fly More Combo
Drone with 3-Axis Gimbal Camera, 5.4K Video, 1-Inch CMOS Sensor, 4 Directions of Obstacle Sensing, 31-Min Flight Time, Max 7.5-Mile Video Transmission, MasterShots, Gray
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08/17/2023 12:36 pm GMT
Released in November 2021, the DJI Air 2S has been one of the most affordable consumer drones for quite some time.
It struck a balance for anyone looking for a good camera for content creation or professional work without spending too much.
The main features that make the Air 2S stand out include:
- 1-inch CMOS Sensor – Compared to the previous Mavic Air 2 and the latest releases, such as the Mini 3 Pro, the Air 2S has a larger sensor that performs better in low-light conditions.
- Four-way obstacle avoidance – At the time of its release, four-way obstacle avoidance was a great improvement since it allowed this drone to be used in more applications.
- Intelligent Flight Modes – The Air 2S has several Intelligent Flight Modes that allow users to easily create cinematic content. These include ActiveTrack, SpotLight, Point of Interest, Quickshots, Mastershots, Panorama, and Hyperlapse.
- Extended flight time – The 31-minute flight time is also not that bad. You can get enough footage with one battery or use the two extra batteries included in the combo if you want more footage.
- 5.4K video resolution – The 5.4K video resolution in the Air 2S is one of a kind, allowing you to get some of the best-looking footage on a relatively budget drone.
- Range – The Air 2S comes with the OcuSync 3.0, which allows it to fly up to 7.5 miles from the controller, giving you excellent transmission for short-range flight.
DJI Air 3 overview
Released on July 25, 2023, the Air 3 is the latest consumer drone release from DJI at the time of this writing.
Since it’s branded “Air,” it looks like a direct upgrade to the Air 2S. As such, it improves on many features of the Air 2S.
The main features of the Air 3 include the following:
- A larger sensor – The Air 3 comes with a 1/1.3-inch sensor. Does this larger sensor make any difference in the quality of the footage you get? We will discuss that in detail.
- Two cameras – The Air 3 has not one but two cameras, a feature we have only seen in the Mavic 3. These cameras include the wide-angle lens and the medium telephoto camera, which come with different apertures (f1.7 and f2.8, respectively).
- Improved transmission – The Air 3 introduces OcuSync 4.0, which promises a range of up to 12 miles.
- Omnidirectional obstacle avoidance – The Air 3 is the first Air drone to feature 360-degree obstacle avoidance, opening up more possibilities of things you can do with your drone.
- Additional flight modes – Besides the flight modes like ActiveTrack, Point of Interest, and SpotLight, DJI also adds two extra and handy flight modes, Cruise Control and Waypoints. Cruise Control lets the drone fly autonomously at the same speed you were flying at. This makes it easier to take your shot, especially when you must get to a far location. On the other hand, the Waypoint feature allows you to pre-program a flight plan, and the drone will fly through it.
- Improved ActiveTrack – The Air 3 comes with ActiveTrack 5.0, an improvement from Air 2S’s ActiveTrack 4.0. The newer version allows the drone to track the subject in eight different directions and switch between the directions when in flight, and the upgraded APAS system helps smooth the flight while avoiding obstacles.
- Extended flight time – The Air 3’s flight time has been extended to 46 minutes, which is quite impressive since now it lasts as long as the Mavic 3 Series, giving you even more time to record your footage.
- Night Mode – The Air 3 has a dedicated Night Mode that allows you to take better night shots than with a drone lacking this feature.
- Vertical Camera Orientation – The Air 3 allows you to get footage that you can post directly to social media, though this feature works differently from what we have seen in the Mini 3 Pro.
- Upgraded controller – The Air 3 also comes with the DJI RC 2, which is an upgraded version of the DJI RC. In the controllers section, I will discuss its features and how it compares to the DJI RC. If you don’t mind using your smartphone to control the drone, you can also get the Air 3 with the RC-N2, an upgrade from the RC-N1 that has been around for a while in the Mini, Air, and Mavic drones.
DJI Air 3 vs. DJI Air 2S – Which is the better drone?
Now that we have a brief idea of each drone’s main features, let’s look at how these two drone models compare based on the main factors one should look for in a drone.
The Air 3 and the Air 2S feature the same foldable design, but the Air 3 has a smoother and sturdier overall build. The Air 3 is also heavier, weighing 720 grams, compared to the Air 2S’s 595 grams.
One design aspect that DJI changed is the battery charging hub.
Unlike the Air 2S’s charging hub, which is open and you place the batteries on top, the Air 3’s hub is more of a compartment that you can also use to store the batteries when traveling.
The batteries are also secured; you must release them by pressing a latch. The battery in the Air 3 also goes to the back, not the top, like in the Air 2S.
If you have used or studied the Air 2S, you will realize that some people had issues with placing the battery at the top, where sometimes it would not fit properly. The newer battery placement in the Air 3 is more convenient.
Pricing and availability
The Air 2S is the cheaper drone, going for $999 for the basic package and $1,299 for the Fly More Combo, where you get two extra batteries, a bag, a charging hub, ND filters, and other accessories to use with your drone.
While there are cheaper drones, the Air 2S is worth the price due to the highlighted features.
On the other hand, the Air 3 costs $1,099 for the basic package and the RC-N2 controller. There are two Fly More Combos; one with the RC-N2 that costs $1,349, and one with the DJI RC 2 controller that costs $1,549.
Both drones are available both on DJI’s website and e-commerce platforms.
However, since the Air 3 is an upgrade from the Air 2S, we are unsure if the Air 2S will be discontinued later. If you own an Air 2S, let’s say you’re safe for now.
Photos and videos are the main reasons you would get either of these drones, right? As such, it would do you justice if we went beyond the features on paper to discuss what you get from both drones to help make a better decision.
Both drones offer excellent photo and video capabilities, but you will need to know a few nuances to get a drone that aligns with your creative vision.
When it was released, the Air 2S set a new standard with the 1-inch CMOS sensor, which was larger than that on some of the drones in its price range at that time.
The 20MP photos and 5.4K video at 30 fps and D-Log capabilities ensure you still get crisp footage good enough for professional jobs.
While it is limited in zooming capability, which is only available in video, there is still a lot that you could do with the Air 2S.
You can also shoot in JPEG or RAW, but you should always go for RAW if you want more editing flexibility.
The Air 3 takes photography and recording a notch higher with the dual camera system that allows it to see from two perspectives; this allows you to take different shots of the same subject in one take and compare them later to pick the best.
The photo quality is also increased to 48MP, allowing you to take even better still photos, panoramas, and hyperlapses than the Air 2S.
The larger sensor also allows more light in, making this drone perfect for low-light conditions.
But this shouldn’t be a deal breaker, since it’s possible to get high-quality footage even from a smaller sensor with the various imaging and editing software technologies available.
What sets the Air 3 apart from the Air 2S regarding low-light conditions is the Night Mode, which automatically increases the ISO and reduces the noise, allowing you to take better photos and videos than you would with the Air 2S.
The 3X zoom in the medium tele camera is also more flexible than the Air 2S’s 4X zoom, which doesn’t work when shooting in 10-bit or 120 fps.
With a 3X zoom, it’s possible to make the viewer feel closer to the subject without flying the drone too close.
The vertical camera orientation capability is another significant feature that would make one go for the Air 3.
We first saw this feature executed well in the Mini 3 Pro, where you can change the camera’s orientation from landscape to portrait, so you will not have to crop the footage when posting on social media.
However, the Air 3’s camera doesn’t really change its orientation.
What happens is that the cameras crop the footage into a 4:3 screen size, making the footage ready to view on a smartphone without having to crop. However, the footage taken with the vertical shooting capability is limited to 2.7K.
And lastly, even though the Air 3’s footage quality is limited to 4k at 100fps, it’s still possible to get good footage or even better than the Air 2S due to the HDR and HLG capabilities which provide even more detail.
The Air 3 and the Air 2S have various flight features that make their operations smoother. Let’s see how they compare in this aspect.
The Air 2S is part of an era of drones that were more stable in flight and easier to control than drones like the Phantoms.
The four-way obstacle sensing was also a great addition since its predecessor, the Air 2, only had three-way obstacle sensing and avoidance systems.
When flying in areas with few obstacles, you can fly the drone autonomously as you take care of taking the shots. However, make sure the obstacles don’t appear on its side.
The Air 2S also comes with very functional ActiveTrack, SpotLight, and Point of Interest flight modes, which make it possible to take a wide range of shots autonomously.
With a flight time of up to 31 minutes, you can get all the shots you need in one or two flights as long as you plan them well.
The O3 transmission is also quite capable, ensuring strong communication between the drone and the controller, even in areas with some interference.
If the drone loses connection to the controller, there are safety measures where you can set the drone to either hover, return to the takeoff point, or land.
The Air 3 introduced omnidirectional obstacle avoidance, the first in an Air drone, making missions impossible or difficult to execute with the Air 2S possible.
This drone also features the newer OcuSync 4.0.
While the OcuSync 3 still works perfectly, the OcuSync 4.0 is an improved version, offering more robust communications between the drone and the controller and better performance in areas with interference. Since it’s still new, we’ll have to wait for more tests to see how it holds up over time.
The additional flight modes are also an excellent addition, making more tasks possible compared to the Air 2S.
While both drones offer excellent performance in various aspects, the Air 3 has the upper hand. It’s faster, more wind-resistant, and flows more smoothly in the air.
The Air 2S is sometimes aggressive, though one gets used to it with time.
The Air 3 also has a convenient faster ascending and descending speed compared to the Air 2S (10 meters per second compared to 6 meters per second).
This higher speed makes getting the drone out of an emergency easier, like when you encounter birds. In such a case, you can quickly climb to a higher altitude to avoid a collision.
Regarding flight time, the Air 3 and Air 2S offer substantial durations catering to different creative needs.
The Air 2S’s 31-minute flight time is adequate for most photography and videography sessions, providing ample time to capture diverse shots and scenes.
On the other hand, the Air 3’s extended 46-minute flight time opens up new possibilities for more intricate and prolonged projects.
Whether documenting long events, conducting extended aerial surveys, or simply indulging in extended flight sessions, the Air 3’s flight time ensures you can capture your vision without interruption.
Both drones use similar controllers, only the versions differ. The Air 2S first came with the RC-N1 controller that works with the O3 transmission.
The RC-N1 is a light and comfortable controller and is perfect if you don’t mind using your screen to stream the footage from the drone.
Later, DJI released the DJI RC, which came with the Mini 3 Pro, the main difference being the built-in screen.
You don’t need a smartphone with this controller since you get the footage directly to the controller. This makes it easy to set up and fly, minimizes interference from the smartphone’s background activities, and offers overall better performance.
The Air 3 comes with newer versions of the RC-N1 and DJI RC, the RC-N2, and the DJI RC 2.
These work similarly and look similar to the previous models; the only difference is that they come with OcuSync 4.0 instead of the O3 system and feature the 2T2R antennas instead of the 1T2R found in the DJI RC.
These upgrades ensure stronger connection and anti-interference capabilities. Unfortunately, the DJI RC 2 is currently not compatible with the Air 2S or any other drone, but we hope this will be made possible in an update.
DJI Air 3 vs. Air 2S – Which drone would I choose?
The Air 3 is clearly the better drone of the two.
The larger sensor, better imaging capabilities, longer flight time, omnidirectional obstacle avoidance, better overall design and flight performance, better performance in low light, and the dual camera system make me more inclined towards it.
But that doesn’t mean that the Air 2S is now out of the picture.
Having used it for some time, I can attest to its affordability, great imaging capabilities, reasonable flight times, and the 5.4K at 30fps is a resolution you will not find even in the Mavic 3 drones.
So, which one should you choose?
If you’re getting your first drone and have the money, saving up and getting the Air 3 would be better.
To get a clear view of the main differences between these drones, below is a comprehensive video.
If you already own the Air 2S, you shouldn’t feel pressured to upgrade to the Air 3.
As mentioned earlier, the Air 2S is still a worthy drone with a wide range of capabilities, and since it has been around for a long time, it has been tried and tested for a wide range of tasks.
You should only upgrade if you need the larger sensor, extra obstacle avoidance, extra flight time, and the additional features that the Air 3 has.
You can also get the Air 3 if you want to future-proof yourself if DJI discontinues the Air 2S.
The Air 2S is also great for anyone on a budget who wants to spend less than $1,000. You can get it now that it’s on offer or even a refurbished drone.
But if you have more than $1,000 and are looking for a better drone, there’s no doubt that the Air 3 now takes first place.
While both drones have internal storage, getting an SD card is crucial since both drones shoot in high resolutions, and the internal storage will not be enough.
Regardless of the drone you choose, below are the best SD cards to pick for them.
Any SD card from a reputable brand that is a UHS-I or can achieve a minimum write speed of 30 Mbps will work with the Air 3, but below are my best picks.
Kingston Canvas Go! Plus
Approved by DJI for use with the DJI Air 3, this SD card is engineered for seamless compatibility. Its high-speed data transfer ensures smooth 4K video recording and rapid file transfers. It comes in various sizes, but getting 64GB or above is advisable.
With a spacious capacity, you can capture more of your aerial adventures without worrying about running out of space.
Other good SD cards to consider for the Air 3 include the following:
We have a dedicated post on the best SD cards for the DJI Air 2S, so I will briefly list the top three picks based on what I have used.