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The DJI Air 2S is exactly what many drone enthusiasts have been asking for: a consumerdrone with a 1"-type camera sensor that's budget-friendly. Does it live up to the hype? In our opinion, yes.
DJI has officially entered the FPV (first-person-view) drone market. Typically, remote pilots interested in the type of immersive flight experience FPV drones provide, including the ability to maneuver through tight spaces and in close proximity to objects, all while performing aerobatics such as flips and rolls, had to also master an entirely different set of skills.
Soldering, understanding how to configure an RC controller specifically for a drone, learning how frequencies work, and installing the right motors are just a few disciplines a would-be FPV pilot must undertake to create a safe and effective FPV flight system.
Some people who delight in these challenges will always enjoy the process of building, but DJI is betting many more people will want to cross over to FPV with an intuitive solution, and its FPV drone is ready to fly right out of the box for $1299. As an added bonus, the system is equipped with GPS, obstacle avoidance sensors, and a Return To Home feature – ensuring that beginners will be less likely to crash or lose their drone.
DJI tells us it set out to create a cinematic FPV drone and combined elements of its Mavic series with the features and functionalities of traditional FPV drones. Is this a product that will appeal to a broader audience, especially beginners? Or, are there downsides that would make some users look at more traditional drone models?
We had the opportunity to test DJI's new FPV drone, so read on to discover if this is your ideal introduction to the world of FPV.
|The DJI FPV drone in flight. (Courtesy of Nick Smith at Beeline Multimedia)|
Here is a basic comparison chart to get an idea of the difference between a traditional FPV drone and what DJI offers.
|Traditional FPV drones||DJI FPV|
|Flight modes||Angle, Horizon, Acro||Normal, Sport, Manual|
|Obstacle avoidance||None||4 stereoscopic sensors + an auxiliary light|
|Camera||Customizable||Built-in 4K/60p with 150º FOV and RockSteady EIS|
|Assembly||Requires in-depth knowledge of parts, radio frequencies, ESCs, motors, assembly, soldering||Already assembled and ready to fly right out of the box|
|Flight assistance||None||Return To Home, Emergency Brake and Hover|
|Auto-stabilization||None||Available for 'N' and 'S' modes|
|Flight time||3 - 10 minutes||Up to 20 minutes|
|Battery type||Lithium Polymer (LiPo)||Intelligent Flight|
|Transmission||Analog, short-range, lower quality||Live digital video feed at 810/120p, low-latency|
I tested the DJI Standard FPV Combo ($1,299), which includes the drone, FPV Goggles V2, and the remote controller 2. As usual, DJI offers an additional 'Fly More' combo that includes two extra batteries and a 3-battery charging hub for $299.
The goggles, which are 202x126x110mm with all four antennas attached, activate with the help of an 1800 mAh 9V battery that’s connected by a USB-C power cable. Lasting an estimated 110 minutes between charges, it’s light enough that it can hang down by your side while in operation. Still, I typically put the battery in the pocket of a coat I was wearing as an extra measure to ensure the battery didn’t get disconnected.
DJI’s FPV drone features a new OcuSync 3.0 transmission system. It boasts a 10 km (6.2 mile) range, dual-frequencies, a 50 Mbps bitrate, and three options for first-person-viewing – a Low-latency HD mode for near-real-time feed and clear image, Smooth mode for higher frame rates and decreased latency, and Audience mode. The latter option allows others wearing V2 goggles to join in and view your real-time feed.
The FPV drone will also operate on DJI’s Fly app, introduced in 2019 for the Mavic Mini. It's cleaner and more pared down for a superior user experience. The app is still in beta and wasn’t available for testing with the FPV drone. Nevertheless, I activated all of the drone’s features through drop-down menu items in the goggles.
The joystick-type button on the top lower-right-hand corner will guide the pilot through numerous settings and features for both the remote and camera. The goggles receive up to 810/60p video transmission in high-quality mode and less than 28 milliseconds of latency, or 120 fps in low-latency mode.
V2 of DJI's remote controller is ergonomically friendly and gives you immediate access to features you’ll need including Return to Home, a gimbal wheel that can pitch the camera upwards and downwards at 90-degree angles, the ability to switch back and forth between flight modes, plus a button to stop the drone and put it in a stable hover if control of the drone is suddenly lost. You can also lock the gimbal at an upward or downward angle.
|The optional motion controller allows you to fly the drone by tilting your hand.|
One note: I did not receive the optional hand motion controller ($199) due to shipping delays. This review will be updated once I've tested it out.
The camera uses a 12MP, 1/2.3” sensor, providing a 150º FOV, and is mounted on a 1-axis gimbal. Capable of capturing stills and video up to either 4K/60p, or 1080p/120p for 4X slow motion, at 120 Mbps, the camera uses an electronic roll axis and RockSteady image stabilization. While it provides smoother imagery than most FPV drones, it's not comparable to the 3-axis mechanical image stabilization offered up in DJI’s other series of photography drones, including the Mavic.
|DJI's FPV drone takes decent photos at times. If you're serious about aerial photography, though, the Mavic 2 Pro is a better investment.|
Remote pilots can capture .JPG and images or .MP4 and .MOV clips all in the same flight. It’s easy to toggle back and forth between these modes. While the photos I captured are decent enough, there were times when the drone was tilted, resulting in photos with crooked horizons. Also, photo resolution is limited to 3840x2160, the same as 4K video. Anyone serious about drone photography will probably want to look at a more-photo-centric model; the FPV drone is fun to fly but is not a replacement for traditional photography drones.
|There's a fair amount of fisheye distortion from the FPV drone's wide lens, though a distortion correction function in the camera menu can be applied.|
I typically enjoy recording aerial videos with the gimbal tilted down. With the wide FOV on the FPV drone, it is likely parts of the propellers will become visible. I also noticed some fisheye effect in some of my clips. To prevent this, you can either tilt the gimbal up as the aircraft moves forward or adjust settings through the goggles. To do this, access Advanced Camera Settings in the Camera menu and select Distortion Correction.
There are four obstacle avoidance sensors on the FPV drone – two in the front of the aircraft and two on the bottom with an auxiliary light that helps with precision movement in low-light environments. Obstacle avoidance sensors only work when the drone is flown in ‘N’ or Normal mode. This mode is suitable for beginners and highly recommended for those flying an FPV drone for the first time.
|An auxiliary light helps with precision in low-light conditions.|
You’ll also be limited to flying to 50 km/h (31 mph) in normal mode. The drone is stabilized the entire time and will slow down if it approaches a forward or downward-facing obstacle. ‘S’ or sport mode disables obstacle avoidance sensors and ups the excitement factor. The drone can travel up to 97 km/h (60 mph) and can perform pitches and rolls at limited angles, all while maintaining altitude and stabilization for the entire flight.
‘M’ or manual mode is reserved for the experts. One may believe, at first, that manual mode can be triggered through the remote with the press of a button. It’s a bit more complicated. Operating a drone in Acro mode is challenging, to say the least. While flipping and rolling a drone looks fun, in reality, it’s easy to get disoriented. DJI anticipated the potential hazard of a first-time user accidentally activating manual mode from the remote controller.
As a result, users can only activate manual mode with a series of steps from the menu options through the goggles. Add in the fact that you can fly up to 140 km/hr (87 mph) in this mode, and it’s easy enough to lose control, even when Emergency Brake and Hover can still be activated.
DJI’s Virtual Flight app simulator was created so pilots could practice FPV maneuvers without a crash risk. Nevertheless, without a lot of flight experience, an accident is still a strong possibility. Practicing in an open space such as a field or park cannot be recommended enough.
Looking at DJI’s FPV drone, the battery is noticeably massive in scale and helps balance out the aircraft. At 2000 mAh, DJI’s Intelligent Flight batteries offer up to 20 minutes of flight time – a huge improvement over typical FPV drones. As a bonus, they’re not the typical LiPos that can catch fire if overcharged or not stored properly.
DJI’s Intelligent Flight batteries offer up to 20 minutes of flight time – a huge improvement over typical FPV drones.
A flap under the camera houses ports for a MicroSD card and USB cable should you want to make updates to your drone through your computer. There is also a MicroSD slot located on the goggles. If you lose your FPV drone, you’ll still retain a memory card. This is an incredible new feature for those concerned about losing their imagery in the event of an accident. I hope DJI implements this concept in some way on future models.
In both ‘N’ and ‘S’ modes, DJI’s FPV drone is a great deal of fun to fly. It’s also an incredibly reassuring experience. Besides the Return to Home button, there is a bright white ‘H’ that pops up in the goggle’s viewfinder. It marks where you are relative to your launch point at all times. The system is also equipped with ADS-B technology. During a recent flight, I was immediately notified when a helicopter was nearby and was given ample time to adjust my flight path and altitude.
One downside is that even though this FPV drone is relatively compact, it is quite noisy. It emits a high-pitched squeal that can be heard from several hundred feet away. Flying discreetly is out of the question. During one of my first flights, my daughter joked if it was the drone or ‘the ice fishers on the frozen lake screaming.’ DJI has worked tirelessly on improving ESCs and designing more aerodynamic propellers. Curiously, these updates weren’t applied to the FPV drone.
Anyone hesitating to enter into the world of FPV because they didn’t have the time or patience to learn about all the factors that go into building a capable system will naturally want to try out DJI’s latest release. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, it’s an out-of-the-box product that can be activated almost immediately. When you add in fail-safe features, including GPS, Return to Home, Emergency Brake and Hover, it makes it that much more enticing to dive in.
That being said, there are a few concerns that come to mind. Traditional FPV drones are known for being resilient. Lightweight and constructed out of flexible materials made of carbon fiber, for example, they can crash into objects and require a motor replacement or a bit of soldering. DJI's FPV drone consists of a tough plastic shell that will break with a high enough impact.
|DJI's 'Fly More' combo for the FPV drone includes two extra batteries and a 3-battery charging hub for $299.|
The ability to truly freestyle, fly close to objects, and through narrow spaces is part of what makes FPV flight exhilarating. If you feel like you’re going to significantly damage your drone and ship it off for repair every time it collides with an object, the true joy of flying FPV will be stifled to a degree.
I had the unfortunate experience of crashing my DJI FPV loaner in manual mode, and it needed to be sent back to DJI for repairs. Even if I possessed the skills required to build and repair FPV units, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to do it myself. People who like to customize their builds and tinker likely won’t want to be at the mercy of one manufacturer when it comes to repairs or parts replacement.
Another issue that will bug some purists is the inability to replace or use more than the camera built into DJI’s FPV drone. It isn’t designed to carry an additional payload. Pilots won’t be able to attach a GoPro or OSMO Action camera, for example. The lack of flexibility in the camera is limiting and will be a turn-off for some FPV filmmakers.
I had the unfortunate experience of crashing my DJI FPV loaner in manual mode and it needed to be sent back to DJI for repairs.
Geofencing is another longstanding feature of DJI’s that rubs some people the wrong way. While all pilots need to be safe and compliant, some have switched to other drone brands to avoid and restrictions it brings up altogether. Even if you remain low to the ground, the drone will not take off if the airspace is considered restricted.
What will appeal to almost anyone is the long-range flight this drone offers. FPV is traditionally associated with close range and choppy analog feeds. If you stray too far from your home base, you run the risk of losing connection completely – which is a potential hazard. With DJI’s FPV drone, you can fly much longer distances so long as you remain within visual line of sight.
DJI's FPV drone is certainly going to appeal to those who want to get into this style of flying. Purists who've already built advanced FPV drones that are resilient and carry their preferred camera will likely pass on this one. My main concern is that most remote pilots new to FPV won't truly be prepared to operate in manual mode. While flips and rolls look exciting, it takes a lot of practice and perseverance to get the right feel for it. DJI Care Refresh is available in any event.
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|Bullfight by Jorgen K H Knudsen|
from The “can we travel again soon ?” series - Spain -
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from Alpacas and Llamas
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