The DJI Air 3 is one of the most important drones we expect in 2023.
If you’re new to drones, DJI’s naming system can be confusing. However, the latest models help somewhat to clear up the confusion.
You have Mavic drones at the very top, Air models in the middle and then the Minis at the bottom – the ones we think most people are buying. They are relatively affordable. The mid-child Air range has had the least amount of love lately. Perhaps it’s time for the DJI Air 3 to enter the picture.
But what could or should it offer? We’ve dug into the wider DJI drone range and technology currently available to manufacturers to discover the features we want, and the features that are the most viable additions to a drone expected this year. But let’s start with some release date and cost estimates.
DJI Air 3 price and availability
The DJI Air 3 will be a successor to the DJI Air 2S. That drone was launched in April 2021 and itself succeeded the DJI Air 2 from April 2020. This suggests that the DJI Air Air 3 could arrive around April 2023. It’s no surprise that a 2022 release was missed given the component shortages and myriad other issues facing manufacturers today.
However, an image of the release schedule recently posted by DealsDrone suggests that The Air 3 may be released a little later, in May 2023. It also suggests that April will bring the DJI Inspire 3 instead. Inspire is DJI’s line of pro-cinematography drones – the Inspire 2 was released years ago, in 2016.
We can also see the cost of the Air series rising as there isn’t a huge price gap between the mid-range Air 2S (from $999 / £899 / AU$1,699) and the ‘affordable’ DJI Mini 3 Pro (from $ 759 / £709 / €1,119).
New Micro Four Thirds sensor
The DJI Mini 3 and Mini 3 Pro saw fairly large sensors introduced into DJI’s smallest drones. Will a 1-inch sensor be enough if the much cheaper models already have 1/1.3-inch chips?
We say no. The next step up is an MFT sensor – as seen in the DJI Mavic 3 Classic. The Sony IMX383 chip used in the Air 2S is also five years old, and there aren’t many newer successors apart from the Sony IMX989, which is “built for smartphones”.
The Micro Four-Thirds Sony IMX472 chip is best suited for the job, and it’s arguably the sensor used in the DJI Mavic 3 Classic. That information does not appear to be available at this time.
A larger sensor means better low-light performance, greater dynamic range and less noise. Sony’s IMX472 chip is a 20 megapixel MFT sensor with 3.3 micron pixels and was announced in 2021. It’s much newer than the sensor in the Air 2S. It also has some pretty eyebrow-raising capabilities.
Enhanced 120 fps 4K (or 5K) video
One of these skills is a 120fps readout mode at 12-bit color depth, using the full 5280 x 3956 pixels of the sensor. Will an Air 3 have the 120fps 5K mode this suggests? That would be nice. However, it would be noticeably better than the fairly recent Mavic 3 Classic which offers 120fps 4K and 5.1K at 50fps.
But if you dig into the Sony IMX472’s documentation, you’ll notice that it might be easier for the drone to capture 120fps at 5K than at 4K. It doesn’t have a native drive mode suitable for 4K capture, which – while we’re not software engineers – could certainly give DJI a headache.
Extended transmission range
An upgrade of the transmission standards for the DJI Air 3 won’t take us that far. The Air 2S uses Ocusync 3.0, and an Air 3 certainly thanks to an increase to Ocusync 3.0+.
This will give you extra range if you live in the correct country – US, in fact – of up to 9.32 miles / 15 km. It also unlocks a 1080p, 60fps preview image when viewing live footage with a DJI remote controller with a screen.
The DJI Air 2S only gets a preview image of 1080p, 30fps up to 12km thanks to the lower bandwidth of O3.0.
Faster loading times
Drone fans always need spare batteries. But fast charging really does lower the volume of battery headaches in our experience.
The battery of the DJI Air 2S can be charged at up to 38W, while the newer Mavic models support 65W. Faster charging could potentially reduce the Air 3’s charging time from around 95 minutes to closer to an hour, or even less.
Improved flight time
DJI has managed to achieve quite an impressive increase in flight time over the past 12 months with its drones weighing less than 250 grams.
An upgrade from Mini 2 to Mini 3 takes you from 31 minutes of flight time to 38 minutes. That’s a 22% increase from just a 9% increase in battery capacity. And that suggests there are some pretty significant efficiency savings to be found inside.
We’d like to see an equally healthy increase in the jump from DJI Air 2S to Air 3. A reasonable, if perhaps a little over-optimistic goal would be 40 minutes. While 36 minutes seems more likely, this is still a “what we want” list.
Better obstacle sensors
The DJI Air 2S has forward, backward, downward and upward sensors. However, something the Air system has never had before is a true omnidirectional sensor system – additional left and right “lateral” sensors – that the DJI Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Classic offer.
Such object detection enables more dynamic forms of motion automation. And if it’s in a wider range of drones like the DJI Air 3, it would justify DJI putting more work into developing such modes.
There’s still plenty of room for the Mavic 3 Classic to hold the upper hand here too. The sensor cameras on the DJI Air 2S have a much narrower field of view than those on the Mavic. And where the Mavic uses binoculars with two cameras in each direction, the Air 2S uses a time-of-flight sensor to judge its distance from the ground.
We don’t think the left/right object detection in the DJI Air 3 is an unreasonable expectation, although it won’t be much of an upgrade unless there are new or improved automation modes.
We’ve outlined both optimistic and realistic expectations in a future DJI Air 3, let’s see if DJI plays it safe or pushes the boat out. Either way, it’s the last model in the range to be updated, and the new name will complete a separate lineup of DJI drones for 2023.