I Climbed Trees for an Hour to Find This Mavic Air 2, and I'd Still Buy It

It might have forced me to commune with nature unexpectedly, but I still want DJI’s new drone: The Mavic Air 2.

I’m a video producer, geeking out over camera equipment is my baselines. Yet it’s not the Mavic Air 2's compact design that allowed me to fit the body inside a crossbody bag, or it’s slightly bigger 1/2-inch Quad Bayer sensor that has me in love. Nor is it because of its slightly longer flight time, which is around 34 minutes, give or take wind conditions, and which flight mode you choose.


It’s because of its autonomous AI.

DJI updated its suite of autonomous AI features for the Air 2. Yet what caught my eye was ActiveTrack 3.0 and Advanced Pilot Assist System 3.0 (APAS for short). The two features are designed to make tracking a subject super easy—no fancy flying required. ActiveTrack locks on to a specific subject, which in previous versions lost its target if it moved behind an object, and APAS maps the drone surroundings for obstacles to avoid in its flight path, supposedly better than its predecessors.

DJI’s updated autonomous AI features in action
Gif: Matthew Reyes

I’ve spent some time with the drone to see just how good those features are, and y’all, these two features combined make for a pretty sweet autonomous drone. I am a little conflicted. AI certainly improves flying but also this is how we got the Terminator. Yet when I put the Air 2 to work, cycling through Downtown Oakland while it followed my lead, it was easy to forget potential future kill bots hunting me in an apocalyptic wasteland and merely be impressed by the Air 2's ability to avoid objects in complex environments. It handled the twists and turns of the city well.I also sped down a long straightaway to see if this bad boy can keep up while avoiding a few and not complex obstacles.

But...I did have a few hiccups during test. Namely the Mavic Air 2 isn’t as clever as I thought it would be; it got stuck in a tree during one of my rides. When I saw the Air 2 fly right into the tree—you can monitor the flight cam on your smartphone—I had to switch to the map on the DJI app and use the location ping to track it down. Unfortunately, the ping isn’t super accurate; it’s something akin to Google Map. So I still had to do some detective work to narrow down the number of trees it could have been stuck in. Once I thought I found the tree the Air 2 was stuck in, I had to leave all the rest of my equipment, including my stupidly expensive bike, on the ground and climb through trees for 20 minutes. Bless it be it was the right tree. It could have taken much longer.

This can happen to anyone—and I can bet you cash money that it has in the history of drone flying. But the Air 2 not noticing an object that’s in its line of sight occurred on a few occasions ONLY in a certain mode. I could tell you more, but it’s very cinematic and I worked really hard on the video above, so check it out and also some sweet drone shots of me mashing on my fixie, bruh.


Even with this mishap, I still want the Mavic Air 2, especially when I’m out on the field as a video producer. Having this thing in my repertoire would be a godsend if I’m on a solo shoot, which is increasingly common right now. If you’re not in the business of making videos its a little harder to justify the Mavic Air 2's $800 price tag when the adorable and more affordable $400 Mavic Mini exists. Yet if you’re looking for cinematic shots and don’t have the time to learn how to fly the Mavic Air 2 is just smart enough to probably make it worth it.

Video producer @ Gizmodo & Kotaku.

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Jerry Callo, Esq., Trump U. School of Law '89

For those claiming the video demonstrates recklessness or violation of laws/regs: I am a commercial drone pilot and lawyer. I just watched the whole thing a couple of times. While there were a few shots that came close to flying DIRECTLY over people or moving vehicles (which is what is prohibited - there is no 50 meter rule like in some countries), I didn’t see a single shot that provably violated any regulation. I don’t know where the video was taken so I can’t comment on airspace issues or the operator’s authority to fly for commercial purposes, but as far as the flight patterns, there was nothing that I saw that was illegal or violated any US drone reg.