is it worth the upgrade to DJI’s newer drone?

DJI gave us Christmas in July when it announced the new DJI Air 3 drone on July 25. The drone is the next edition of the DJI Air line, which was last updated in April 2021 with the launch of the DJI Air 2S. And the Air 2S in itself is an updated version of the DJI Mavic Air 2, which launched in June 2020. So in a battle between the DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S, which is better?

To be clear, the DJI Air 2S is now far cheaper than the DJI Air 3. The Air 2S starts at $799 (which is a relatively recent price reduction from the previous $999 price tag), while the DJI Air 3 starts at $1,099 (but realistically will cost you $1,549 assuming you splurge for the DJI Air 3 Fly More Combo with DJI RC 2 controller). Unsurprisingly, the DJI Air 3 is a “better” drone. But is it worth the additional cost? If you already have a DJI Air 2 or Air 2S drone, should you upgrade?

This guide to the DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S will illuminate what exactly has been improved in this newest Air model and help you decide if you should spring for the newest camera drone from DJI.

Sally French The Drone Girl DJI Air 3 July 2023
The DJI Air 3 is the newer version of the old DJI Air 2S drone. So how much better is it?

Comparing price and key specs on the DJI Air 3 and Air 2S

At $799 for the Air 2S versus $1,099 for the Air 3, you’ll save roughly 27% (that’s $300) by opting for the model that’s one generation older. So if deciding between the DJI Air 2S vs. Air 3, you’ll have to consider whether the DJI Air 3 drone specs are really worth the higher price.

Here’s a rundown of how the DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2 drones compare against each other:

DJI Air 3 DJI Air 2S
Starting Price $1,099 $799 (reduced from ($999)
Takeoff Weight 720 grams 595 grams
Onboard camera(s) Two cameras (Wide-angle camera and Medium tele camera) One camera
Photo resolution 48 MP 20 MP
Video Resolution 4K/60fps HDR videos 5.4K/30fps, 4K/60fps (with cropping, without HDR), 1080p/120fps (Slow Motion only
supports up to 1080p resolution.)
Sensor 1/1.3″ CMOS (wide-angle)
1/1.3″ CMOS (medium tele)
Aperture f/1.7 (wide-angle)
f/2.8 (medium tele)
Pixel Size 2.4 μm 2.4 μm
Obstacle Avoidance Tech APAS 5.0 APAS 4.0
Obstacle sensors Omnidirectional binocular vision system, supplemented with an infrared sensor at the bottom of the aircraft Forward, backward, upward & downward obstacle sensing
Max Flight Time 46 minutes 31 minutes
Transmission System O4 O3

So what do all these things mean in actuality? Here’s a deeper dive into the DJI Mini 3 vs. Mini 3 Pro drones:

DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S camera: Air 3 stands out with nighttime shots

Or shall we say cameras, plural. With the DJI Air 3 comes with not one but two cameras. They are:

  • A 1/1.3-inch CMOS wide-angle camera
    • 24mm format equivalent
    • F1.7 aperture
  • A 1/1.3-inch CMOS 3x medium tele camera (can achieve 3x optical zoom)
    • 70mm format equivalent
    • F2.8 aperture

Having two cameras elevates the Air 3 closer to the level of higher-end DJI drones like the DJI Mavic 3 Pro (which costs more than $2,000), giving photographers access to two different looks (zoom and wide angle) without having to take down the drone to change lenses, as is the case on other drones like the DJI Inspire 3.

Meanwhile, the DJI Air 2S has the one camera, which has a 1” sensor offering 20-megapixel photos and 5.4K video. For what it’s worth, the DJI Air 2S offered a giant improvement over the cameras on its predecessors upon launch, claiming the title of first drone of its size capable of capturing 20-megapixel still images or video in 5.4K. 

But 1″ on the Air 2S still can’t beat 1/1.3-inch CMOS on the Air 3. With that comes 48 MP photos on the Air 3 versus 20 MP on the Air 2S.

You’ll see the greatest impact of larger sensor size when it comes to shooting in dark environments, such as at night, with the Air 3 providing noticeably better image quality particularly during low-light shots.

And it’s not just sensor size, but also design. The DJI Air 2S has an old generation of back illuminated sensor, while the Air 3 innovates with a new generation of stacked sensor.

Note that the Air 2S does have a zoom feature that was new at the time, albeit still limited. It has a digital zoom that supports 4X zoom at 4K 30fps, 6X at 2.7K 30fps, 4X at 2.7K 60fps, 6X at 1080P 60fps and 8X at 1080P 30fps. Whats oddly limiting though is that the Air 2S’s zoom only works for videos (so you can’t use it for taking photos).

Related read: DJI Air 3 review: the most powerful new addition to Air Series yet

Some new shooting modes on the DJI Air 3

While this shouldn’t weigh too heavily on your decision of which of the two drones to go with, the DJI Air 3 does offer some new shooting modes. One stand out is the fact that the Air 3 is the first drone of the Air Series to support 2.7K vertical video shooting (9:16). For folks who shoot footage primarily for Instagram Reels and TikTok, this makes it easier to film footage for the format it was intended.

DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S aircraft: Air 3 is far more powerful

It’s impossible to not notice the many, many ways that the Air 3 is a far more powerful aircraft than the Air2S. Among them:

DJI Air 3 vs Air 2S more battery life
Battery life on the DJI Air 3 drone has been improved by 48%, now offering 46 minutes of flight time.

Better battery life: It’s tough to ignore the 46 minutes of flight time you can get in one go on the DJI Air 3, up from a measly 31 minutes on the Air 2S. That’s a nearly 50% increase in battery life.

All that boosted power does have one downfall, the Air 3 is physically larger than the Air 2S.

While the Air 2S is 180 mm long while folded, the Air 3 is 207 mm long. And when unfolded, the Air 2S is 263 mm wide, but the Air 3 is 326 mm wide. The Air 3 is also heavier, coming in at 720 grams while the Air2S is just 595 grams. Sure, a 125 gram different might seem nominal on the surface, but for travelers who value packing ultra-light, or for action sports or nature photographers who need to remain as nimble as possible, every gram can add up.

The bottom of the Air 3 is equipped with binocular lenses and a 3D TOF.

Improved obstacle sensing: There are a few reasons why the DJI Air 3 stands out in the realm of obstacle sense and avoid (which allows the drone to automatically detect something in its path and navigate a new route around it). For starters, the tech is slightly better (APAS 5.0 vs. APAS 4.0) on the Air 3.

But most notably is that the DJI Air 3 is the first drone in the Air Series to include omnidirectional obstacle sensing. The Air 2S offers four-way directional obstacle sensors, but now the Air 3 offers awareness in all directions beyond just four.

Better video transmission: The DJI Air 3 offer O4 video transmission while the Air 2S provides O3 video transmission. That entails a maximum transmission distance of 20 km (assuming low interference, such as flying at most beaches), while the Air 2S has a max transmission distance of just 12 km.

DJI Air 2S vs Air 3: when is it worth the upgrade?

There are a few types of drone pilots who would especially benefit from the improved tech on the DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S. You should opt for the DJI Air 3 over the DJI Air 2S if you:

Film in low-light environments: That larger sensor will improve your image quality in dark areas.

Want a zoom camera for still images: For some pilots, zoom is irrelevant as it’s easy to just fly the drone closer to get the detail you need. But it’s not always that easy. Concert photographers might not legally be able to fly over crowds. A wedding photographer might want to keep the drone far back to not disrupt the ceremony with noise.

Value long flight times: It’s hard to argue with neary 50% more flight time on the Air 3. If you only take short flights and have easy access to power so you can recharge, then this might not matter. But for folks operating long flights, or who don’t have an easy ability to recharge (maybe you’re out on a long hike with your drone), then having close to 50% more battery life is huge.

DJI Air 3 vs Air 2S
The DJI Air 2S is better for people who prioritize portability and price.

When is the DJI Air 2S better?

The DJI Air 2S is still a great drone. Up until the launch of the DJI Air 3, I did consider it the best drone for photographers under $1,000. It offers $300 savings, and it’s a more lightweight aircraft. If you want to lighten the load in your drone kit without lightening your wallet, then the DJI Air 2S may in fact be a better bet.

You’re still looking at an incredible quality drone with a still-powerful sensor. Especially if you already hold the Air 2S and are price conscious, don’t feel like you need to upgrade. But if you’re set on getting a new drone and you’re deciding between the two, then it’s almost for certain that you should spring the $300 more for the DJI Air 3. The price difference is nominal compared to the level of improved specs.

Buy the DJI Air 2S drone now from:

By the way, if you want to see what’s inside the new Air 3 drone, check out my fresh DJI Air 3 unboxing video!

Between the DJI Air 2S versus Air 3 drones, which drone do you think is better upon considering the price difference? Leave a comment below!