DJI Mavic AIR vs Mavic Pro & Spark, which one to buy?


DJI is the undisputed king of the sky when it comes to professional drones. No American company, including GoPro and Parrot managed to rule the North American skies the way DJI does.

Now the drone giant is entering the consumer and prosumer airspace, without interception from competitors; GoPro just pulled out of the drone market. Last year DJI shook the world with Spark, a consumer drone that was to the drone market what the iPhone was to the smartphone industry.

I bought both the Mavic Pro and the Spark. I loved them. But, I live in a no-fly zone, thanks to the FAA’s restriction around the Washington DC area. My drones can’t take off outdoors in that zone, so they mostly collect dust (not really, they are neatly packed in expensive cases) at home. They take wings when I am outside the no-fly zone. Since I have increased my focus on YouTube videos, I will start using drones for b-roll footage. That’s where Mavic AIR caught my attention. As someone who has Mavic Pro and Spark, should I upgrade to AIR?

(Order Mavic AIR from B&H)

Did I say upgrade? Aren’t Pro, Spark and AIR different beasts? I have been watching a lot of YouTube videos of ‘experts’ discussing this drone. Though, most YouTubers sound like unpaid advertisers, to keep the companies happy who give them free loaners. I have already pre-ordered my AIR, but I am certainly not going to keep all three.

Which one should I keep? Or, in your case, which one you should buy? If you are planning to buy AIR, there are three possibilities: 1) You want to upgrade your Spark; 2) You want to upgrade your Mavic Pro; 3) This is your first drone.

Body: AIR is smaller than Mavic Pro, but bigger than Spark. However, it can fold just like Mavic Pro, so the overall portability size of AIR is smallest out of the three. The only thing I hated about Spark was the lack of foldability, so despite being a smaller drone, it needed more space than the Mavic Pro. So if you are looking at an ultra-portable drone, then Mavic AIR is a clear winner. It can fit in your pocket.

Winner: AIR > Pro > Spark

Electronics: AIR has more electronics and sensors than both Spark and Pro. It has sensors in the front, back, bottom and sides that keep it from running into walls or things. Like Spark, Mavic Pro only has forward and downward sensors. AIR is a clear winner when it comes to intelligence.

Winner AIR > Pro > Spark

Camera: That’s the most critical part. If you want a drone just for flying, then get Parrot Mambo. But if you are going to invest more than $500 in a drone, it better be better at shooting than the iPhone X. AIR beats both Pro and Spark in this department. Spark is on the lower end as it can’t shoot 4K or RAW. Also, a two-axis gimbal makes it virtually useless for any in-flight movement shots. The real competition is between Pro and AIR.

  • Both feature 3-axis gimbal. In fact, it seems sturdier than that of Pro, which I always fear I would break. I often come across, gimbal overload on my Pro.
  • They both have identical CMOS 1/ 2.3” sensor on the camera. It’s not a full format sensor from Sony A7riii or a MFT from GH5, but for that size and money CMOS is a great sensor. It’s certainly better than iPhone X and Note 8.
  • AIR has effective pixel of 12MP whereas Pro has 12.71. Not a big difference.
  • Pro’s camera is 28mm (35mm equivalent) whereas AIR has 24 mm, which means you get a wider shot on AIR. That said, it’s not a GoPro-like annoying fisheye. It’s a normal wide-angle lens. The only difference is that Pro’s lens is relatively faster at f/2.2 as compared to AIR’s f/2.8. This means theoretically, Pro may be better in low light. Theoretically. That said, it’s not a big difference. I will go with the sensor and lens on AIR any given day.

Winner: AIR = Pro > Spark

Photography: While Spark shoots only JPEG, both AIR and Pro shoot RAW and JPEG. Both support bracketing so you can get 3 or 5 bracketed shots with different exposure to get perfect HDR image. It also supports burst shooting, so you can take up to 7 burst shots. Wow! I can’t wait to get my hands-on AIR footage so I can add dynamic range to it. AIR produces slightly larger images at 4056×3040, as compared to Pro. It can also take 360 panoramic shot. As a photographer, you would love this drone.

Winner: AIR = Pro > Spark

Video format: As much as I love aerial still photography, I am more interested in video when it comes to drones. AIR does a much better job than Pro as it can shoot at 100Mbps bit rate as compared to 60Mbps of Pro. AIR can shoot 4k at max 30p and slow motion 120fps at 1080p. Awesome. Pro can do all of that, plus it as Cinema 4K at 4096x2160p. Does it matter? Depends on how much I really need C4K? I really don’t. May be once in a while if I am capturing a captivating landscape. But it’s not a deal breaker. My GH5 can shoot C4K, I rarely use it as I am moving back to shooting 1080 since 4k takes way too much time for editing. I will move to 4K when 80% of Amazon Prime, Apple TV and Netflix content is in 4k. Hey YouTubers, please stop upscaling your 1080p content to 4k.

Winner: AIR > Pro > Spark

Flight time:  Spark can stay in the air for up to 17 minutes, AIR can fly for around 21 minutes at 25 kph. Pro claims 27 minutes. But in most cases, you have to bring the drone down when only 20% battery is remaining so the actual flight time is less. That said, I am fine with 15 mins in-air time to get footage. I do have extra batteries so I can switch them between shots.

Winner: Spark < AIR < Pro

Distance: AIR has a range of 2.5 miles, Pro has over 4 miles. I am OK with 2.5 miles as I really don’t want to fly my drone out of my sight. I want to ‘see’ where it is and what it’s doing for the safety of others. Yes, Pro has greater range, but I don’t need it. It’s way too small to see in the sky. I need a drone to capture aerial shots of kids or landscape, not to go meet aliens. Also, Pro has radio.

Winner: Spark < AIR < Pro


As you can see, AIR has beaten the Pro in most of the areas that I care about. Just bear in mind, that’s my use-case. Your mileage may vary. The bottom line is pricing. You can purchase the whole bundle of AIR (3 batteries, chargers, case and propeller guard) for $1000 vs $1300 for the Pro bundle. You are spending $300 extra. Is that $300 worth 5 mins of extra battery life and C4K? I don’t think so. If you really care about quality footage and not that much about portability, if you are a professional videographer who shoots weddings and events, and already haul a big gear box, then save that money and put it towards DJI Phantom 4 Pro. In my case, I tend to travel light and keep all of my camera gear in my backpack. I don’t have the luxury of hauling around a Phantom. I see more value in AIR than Pro.

What do you think? What offers more value to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.