The DJI Air 3 is one of the key drones we expect to see in 2023.
If you’re new to drones, DJI’s naming system can be confusing. However, the latest models have a way to clear up the confusion.
You’ve got the Mavic drones at the top, the Air models in the middle, and then the Minis at the bottom – the ones we think buy the most. They are relatively cheap. The middle child Air range has the least love of the latter. Maybe it’s time for the DJI Air 3 to appear.
But what can, or should, it offer? We’ve dug into DJI’s wider drone range and the technology available to manufacturers today to find out the features we like, and the features that are the most viable additions for a drone due this year. But let’s start with some estimates of release date and cost.
DJI Air 3 price and availability
The DJI Air 3 will be the follow-up to the DJI Air 2S. That drone was launched in April 2021 and is the successor to the DJI Air 2 from April 2020. This suggests that the DJI Air Air 3 may arrive in April 2023. It is not surprising that a 2022 release was missed due to the lack of component and many other issues are facing manufacturers these days.
However, an image of the release schedule posted recently by DealsDrone suggests that the Air 3 could be released later, in May 2023. It also suggests that April will bring the DJI Inspire 3. The Inspire is DJI’s range of pro-cinematography drones – the Inspire 2 was released years ago, back in 2016.
We may also see an increase in the cost of the Air series as there is not a huge price gap between the mid-range Air 2S (from $999 / £899 / AU $1,699) and ‘cheap’ DJI Mini 3 Pro (from $759 / £709 / AU$1,119).
New Micro Four Thirds sensor
The DJI Mini 3 and Mini 3 Pro see reasonably large sensors introduced in DJI’s smallest drone. Would a 1-inch sensor be enough when cheaper models have 1/1.3-inch chips?
We say no. The next step is an MFT sensor – as seen on the DJI Mavic 3 Classic. The Sony IMX383 chip used in the Air 2S is also five years old, and there are not many new successors that prevent the Sony IMX989, which is “made for smartphones”.
The Micro Four-Third Sony IMX472 chip is the most suitable for the job, and it may be the same sensor used in the DJI Mavic 3 Classic. That information does not appear to be available at this time.
A larger sensor will mean better low-light performance, higher dynamic range and less noise. Sony’s IMX472 chip is a 20-megapixel MFT sensor with 3.3-micron pixels, and it was announced in 2021. It’s even newer than the Air 2S sensor. It also has some eyebrow-raising abilities.
Enhanced 120fps 4K (or 5K) video
One of these skills is the readout mode at 120fps in 12-bit color depth, using the entire 5280 x 3956 pixels of the sensor. Does the Air 3 have the 120fps 5K mode it suggests? That would be great. However, it is much better than the recent Mavic 3 Classic which offers 120fps 4K and 5.1K at 50fps.
However, if you dig into the Sony IMX472 documentation you will find that it is easier for the drone to capture 120fps in 5K than 4K. It doesn’t have a native drive mode suitable for 4K capture, which – as we’re not software engineers – will surely cause a headache or two for DJI.
Extended transmission range
An upgrade of the transmission standards for the DJI Air 3 will not see us leave such a feature. The Air 2S uses Ocusync 3.0, and an Air 3 is definitely due for a bump up to Ocusync 3.0+.
This will give you more range if you live in the right country – usually the US – up to 9.32 miles / 15km. It also unlocks a 1080p, 60fps preview image when reviewing the footage live using the DJI remote with screen.
The DJI Air 2S only captures a 1080p, 30fps preview image up to 12km thanks to the low bandwidth of the O3.0.
Faster charging time
Drone enthusiasts always need spare batteries. But fast charging really reduces the number of battery headaches in our experience.
The DJI Air 2S battery can be charged at a maximum of 38W, while the newer Mavic models support 65W. Faster charging can drop the Air 3’s charging time from about 95 minutes to an hour, or less.
Improved flight time
DJI has managed to pull off some impressive flight time increases on its sub 250g drones over the past 12 months.
Upgrading from the Mini 2 to the Mini 3 will take you from 31 minutes of flight time to 38 minutes. That’s a 22% increase, from a 9% increase in battery capacity. And that suggests some significant efficiency savings can be found inside.
We want to see a similar healthy increase in the jump from the DJI Air 2S to the Air 3. A reasonable, if perhaps a little too optimistic, goal is 40 minutes. While 36 minutes seems more likely, it’s a “what we want” list after all.
Better obstacle sensors
The DJI Air 2S has forward, backward, downward and upward sensors. However, one thing the Air system hasn’t got yet is a true omnidirectional sensing system – plus left and right ‘lateral’ sensors – offered by the DJI Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Classic.
Such object sensing allows for more dynamic forms of motion automation. And having it on a wider range of drones, such as the DJI Air 3, means that DJI can reasonably put more work into the development of such modes.
There’s still plenty of room for the Mavic 3 Classic to keep the upper hand here, too. The sensor cameras on the DJI Air 2S have a narrower field of view than the Mavic’s. And where the Mavic uses a binocular, two-camera system in each direction, the Air 2S uses a time of flight sensor to judge distance from the ground.
We think that the DJI Air 3’s left/right object sensing is not an unreasonable expectation, although it may not be that much of an upgrade unless there are new or upgraded automation modes.
We put both optimistic and realistic expectations on the upcoming DJI Air 3, let’s see if DJI plays it safe or rocks the boat. In any case, this is the last model in the range to be updated and its new name will complete the different range of DJI drones for 2023.