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More than an update

Sometimes the update of a lower model drone leapfrogs the older, high-end models. That may be the case between the DJI Air 2S and the Mavic 2 Pro.

There’s a long chain of image processing that happens after sensor. And there have been a lot of improvements in image processing since the Mavic 2 Pro was released three years ago, and I think they’ve found their way into the Air 2S.

Sensor

The big news is the one-inch sensor with 5.4k resolution. It’s the same sensor found in the Mavic 2 Pro.

5.4k Detail

One of the first things you’re going to notice when you shoot 5.4K and look at it full screen is the amount of detail that’s in there. There’s no over-sharpened feel to it. This is the most natural and organic-looking drone that I’ve seen to date.

The Air 2S is getting a 1:1 readout of that 5.4K sensor rather than a pixel binned mode as we saw on the old Mavic 2 Pro. This is a giant leap forward in processing speed, and I love the image coming off of this.

Setup

DJI has removed settings such as saturation, contrast, and sharpening. So I hate to dedicate an entire post to it. The good news is they’ve locked everything in the sweet spot.

Best Settings:

  • Color : D-log 
  • Coding Format : h265

best settings for air 2sBest Camera Settings

Center Marker

Enabling the center marker is a simple trick to help when you need a precise, symmetrical shot, or if you’d like the subject perfectly centered.

Advanced Gimbal Settings

The sensitivity of the gimbal is largely preference, but it also requires practice to get smooth and precise movements. The stick sensitivity settings used for the Mavic Air 2 work perfectly with the new model.

advanced gimbal settings for mavic air 2Suggested Advanced Gimbal Settings

Quick Tip

Try flying in Cine Mode (found on the controller) for shots with close foreground. This has lower sensitivity settings that will keep you from flying too quickly, which can be distracting for the viewer.

Recording Options

There are a wide range of resolution and recording options from 5.4K down to 1080P. And they’re easy to access in the new updated DJI Fly menu. All 60fps modes crop the sensor a bit, but the 4k 60 is very sharp. And thanks to the updating processing power, all 4k modes seem to be over-sampled from 5.4k rather than binning the image, so they’re still sharp as well. Beautiful.

22mm Lens

The lens has a 22mm field of view, a bit wider than the 24mm of Air 2 and much wider than the 28mm of the Mavic 2 Pro. But usually, with a wider field of view comes distortion. Many of you know the Mavic 2 Pro had a serious distortion problem, but the Air 2S shows almost zero distortion. So it’s not something you’re going to have to deal with in posts like you did with the Mavic 2 Pro.

Color Grading

The Dlog-M image has decent dynamic range, but it’s very flat out of the camera. Thats why you need to color grade.

I like to use an accurate color preset, called a LUT, to get a base grade going. It’s easier and faster than anything else.

But the colors on the Air 2S don’t look as rich as the Mavic 2 Pro. That’s a shame because the Hasselblad color processing makes the Mavic 2 Pro the king of color. So I went full dork and tested multiple color charts and environments, and used that  SkyGrades with ColorClone that matches the Air 2S to the Mavic 2 Pro.

So now the SkyGrades LUTs have the all the detail of the Air2S with the superior color of the Mavic 2 Pro. It’s the best of both worlds.

The Natural presets give warm, rich color, and the Cinema presets go even further for vibrant, creative color grades.

Ocusync 3 (O3)

Another update is OcuSync 3, which they’re calling O3 now. This is an upgrade from OcuSync 2 in the Air 2 and uses 4 antennas instead of two.

In real-world range tests, I’m able to get 18% further with the Air 2S vs. the Mavic Air 2

Crop Mode Trick

At the time of writing, there is no crop mode for 24fps, so if you like to shoot in crop mode occasionally, try shooting at 4k60p. This will give you a 30% crop, and you can slow down the footage to 80% speed in a 24fps timeline. You may prefer this over cropping 5.4k in post because you’ll be able to see the cropped image in real-time as you’re shooting.

DOWNSIDES OF THE AIR 2S


 

Slow Motion

While the Air 2S has a nice looking 4k 60fps, it’s 1080p 120fps looks pretty soft and aliased. The Air 2 has a better 120fps and 240fps mode, so consider that if you have a specific use for those frame rates.



Fixed Aperture

One of the big downsides to the Air 2S is the 2.8 fixed aperture. It’ll be much more difficult to lock your shutter angle using ND because you won’t be able to make small adjustments. I don’t mind raising the shutter speed with any drone; it’s much more practical. So until we get internal ND (c’mon DJI, let’s see it in Mavic 3 Pro), maintaining your shutter speed is going to require work.

HDR is Gone

The magic of the Mavic Air 2 is that it has HDR capture. It creates two exposures and blends them together to capture higher dynamic range scenes than is possible with single exposure, non-hdr capture.
The Air 2S can’t do this in video mode (yes it has HLG recording, but thats not the same as HDR capture) . HDR capture is based on a new, quad bayer sensor tech. And the newest tech always starts in the smaller sensors. So thats why it’s not in the larger sensor of the Air 2S. Maybe for The Mavic 3 Pro?

So who is this drone for?

Price-wise, the Air 2S sits slightly higher than the Mavic Air 2, but below the Mavic 2 Pro. But in image quality, it’s beyond the Mavic 2 Pro in my opinion. I think it’s perfect for the person looking for the highest price to quality ratio in a portable drone.

However, I think if you have a Mavic Air 2 or a Mavic 2 Pro you’re in a good spot and there’s no huge reason to upgrade. The DI Air 2S is still an incremental update that merges both drones together with an extra little kick.

But it’s the best feeling image that I’ve seen out of a drone so far and will cut well with footage from cinema cameras. So if you’re just getting into the market, this one is the one to get for now.

Matt Harris

Matt is the lead filmmaker and educator at The Film Poets.

12 Comments

  • pempa says:

    HI Matt!! I purchased your Cinema Lut for air2s. I have noticed they all give extreme warm to the image except for the cold. What white balance do you recommend when shooting for the luts? also, any tips on exposure for the air 2s?

  • Hey, you need to dial in a proper custom white balance always. Generall 6,000k during high sun and about 8,000k during sunrise and sunset will give nice result. Also, the Cinema LUTs are more creative grades and are designed to be used as such. SkyGrades Natural is a neutral grade and can be blended with the Cinema LUTs as well.

  • Matt I came into your blog searching for creating video for Mavic 2s. I am looking for a drone and had been interested in a Splashdrone 4, due to being waterproof. But reviews and comments, and perceived support have steered me away even though ideally it is probably perfect for my use. Once I abandoned waterproof, the DJI 2s came on radar as a good starting drone. My purpose will be entirely on a boat on the water with a whole lot of focus on a 13 year old grandson who is an avid offshore angler. At least for now… until I learn why I want to do something else with drones. I found your comments interesting even though I can’t follow all of it. I have no idea what a lut is nor why I would want one, but I suspect I’ll figure it out eventually. There is much reference to editing, and even that subject leads to a million editors that all claim perfection. I guess what I need is something that goes through all basics and leads me into drone photography providing the problems, solutions and reasons.
    Any suggestions for a comprehensive source?

  • Hey Richard, don’t get too overwhelmed with things. I’d keep it simple and shoot in Normal color mode, don’t worry about LUTs, and just work on flying and landing. If you launch from a boat it can be really difficult to land because the drone things the ground is moving, but it’s just the water flowing, and it’ll try to lock onto one patch of water. You’ve got to grab it out of the sky as it’s floating over you and it’s pretty difficulty. I’d try the first few times near land so you if you’re unsuccessful you can at least land on the shore. Have fun though, sound’s like the best kind of project to have, family films!

  • Sounds like good advice Matt. Thank you.

  • Davon says:

    Hello, how are you guys exposing your footage? I’ve tried to Ettr but the results with you guys luts are nothing close.

  • Hey Davon, these drones really don’t have enough dynamic range to ETTR. I expose for the highlights first, protecting them. you can use 0EV on the meter as a guide but only if you have a balanced image, say 50% sky and 50% dark ground. Don’t rely on that too much.

  • Jay Phillips says:

    Can you give any advice on how to make the 2s videos more sharp without having to run them through post production filters? I used the Phantom 4 for years and it shot crisp sharp video right out of the can. Even in 1080p. All of the DJI drones I’ve used since then are blurry. You can’t see the details on the trees, they just look like green puffy cotton balls on sticks, and the grass looks like fuzzy green felt. I shoot 4k 30. I have tried using filters. I keep one on at all times to cut back on over exposure, but the settings people say to use with filters are always over exposed or too dark so I end up just using auto. Auto looks better than any manual settings I have found. I have tried using post prod software to sharpen but all that does is exaggerate the compression flicker. Instead of noticing the blurry image now all you see is the picture flicker every second. Not an improvement. Would switching to higher fps or 5k improve sharpness? Thanks for any advice!

  • It depends on the drone you’re using. If it’s the Air 2s, I think the 5k mode is sharpest. The best sharpener IMO is Neat Video, because it knows the noise profile and sharpens around than noise instead over it. Unfortunately that takes a lot of time to render, but I just let it run overnight and it’s good to go. You may also want to play with your sharpening radius if you’er using a sharpening plugin. The proper radius will change depending on your resolution settings. Proper sharpening radios for 1080p is different than 4k or 5k. You want it to be very fine and subtle with 4k or 5k post sharpening.

  • Lynn Pfannenstiel says:

    Can you tell me the file format of these LUTs? Hoping it is .CUBE. I need that for my Movavi video editor. Thanks.

  • Yes .cube format.

  • Jakub says:

    Hi, thank you for the work you are doing, its helping a lot.

    Could I ask you to transfer the gimbal and sticks setting to the “new” version which is under “Expo & Gain”?

    I would appreciate it.

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