Can You Fly DJI Air 3 at Night (Explained)
The DJI Air 3 shoots terrific imagery at night, even though it does not have the larger 1-inch CMOS image sensor of its predecessor the Air 2S.
While much of the Air 3’s low-light capabilities have to do with the wide f/1.7 aperture of the main 24mm camera, the night photos and videos coming from the f/2.8 70mm tele camera are nice as well.
With this being said, can you fly the DJI Air 3 at night?
In the United States, you can fly the Air 3 at night, both recreationally and commercially. The only current requirement is that you affix anti-collision lights that can be seen from a distance of 3 statute miles.
Rules for Flying at Night
Oddly enough, nighttime recreational flights in the United States have always been permitted. The restrictions were imposed on the professional drone pilots. Before April 2021, commercial pilots had to apply for Nighttime Waivers to fly after sunset.
The following basic rules from the FAA apply to both recreational and commercial nighttime flights and must be followed:
The Air 3 must be registered with the FAA. There are two types of registration for all drones weighing over 250 g:
- Recreational: If you are not flying the Air 3 for any type of commercial operations (furtherance of business), you can register the Air 3 for recreational use.
- Part 107: When registered as Part 107, the Air 3 can be flown both recreationally and commercially.
As a side note, when you register your Air 3, RID (Remote ID) compliance is required and included in the registration process.
Regardless if you are flying your Air 3 at night or during the day, in the United States, you are required to have certain certifications to do so:
- Recreational: If you are only flying your Air 3 for recreational purposes, you will need to have taken and passed The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST). The printed TRUST certificate should be on your person when flying.
- Part 107: If you fly both recreationally and commercially, you will need to be Part 107 certified. When out flying (like with the TRUST Cert) you should have your Drone License (FAA Part 107 Certificate) with you. Additionally, you can legally fly at night if you received your Part 107 certificate or completed recurrent training after April 21, 2021.
While many of us have been flying for years and have never been asked to produce a copy of our certifications or licenses when out flying, there may be that one instance where it happens. It’s a good thing to be prepared if it does.
When in Controlled Airspace – LAANC
LAANC stands for Low Altitude Authorization Notification Capability.
This is software used to automate the process of approving or denying drone operator requests to fly in protected Class B, Class C, Class D, and Class E controlled airspace in the United States.
Both Part 107 Commercial Drone Operators and Recreational Flyers can request LAANC authorization.
If you want to fly either recreationally or as an FAA Certified Drone Operator at night in this FAA-controlled airspace, getting LAANC authorization is a requirement.
Once you have LAANC approval, you will have full authorization to fly in the area.
Affiixing anti-collision lights, or drone strobes, to your Air 3 is one of the most important aspects of flying at night, as it accomplishes two very important things:
- ensures the Air 3 is visible to any manned aircraft in the immediate vicinity (up to three miles)
- helps keep VLOS (visual line of sight) between you and the Air 3
The standard orientation lights on most drones, DJI included, are not bright enough to see three miles out. Because of this, the FAA specifically requires drones to be equipped with anti-collision lights that can be seen up to three miles away. More on this later.
Visual Line of Sight (VLOS)
Next to anti-collision lighting, VLOS is a very important consideration when flying at night.
In the United States, it is mandatory to keep your drone within eyesight at all times. Of course, there may be unavoidable times when VLOS is temporarily broken or lost.
When flying at night, the Air 3 has no active vision sensors, as it is too dark for them to work. This means that if you are one to rely on the Air 3 telling you when you are too close to an obstacle or automatically maneuver to avoid it, you could end up crashing into something.
Having an anti-collision light, or multiple, will make the Air 3 that much more visible in nighttime flying conditions.
Generally, when flying at night, even in light-polluted downtown environments, I can see my Air 3 easily up to 1/2 mile out, if need be. As an aside, on my smaller drones, I run anti-collision lights during the day to give them extra visibility.
Air 3 Night Video and Photo Quality
For many, it was felt that the upgraded Air 3 received a downgrade when it came to the size of the camera sensors. The Air 2S had a 1-inch CMOS sensor camera, and the Air 3 has dual 1/1.3-inch, stacked-sensor, back-side illuminated CMOS cameras.
Low-light performance is generally better with larger sensors, such as 1-inch. In the case of the Air 3, not having a one-inch sensor has not handicapped the Air 3 whatsoever.
What the Air 3 does have over the Air 2S’ one-inch sensor is newer technology. The Air 2S uses 3-year-old imaging technology, whereas the Air 3 uses the latest and greatest in imagining technology. This technology has been consistently producing great results.
As can be seen through the examples in this article and the YouTube video below, the Air 3 does a great job capturing nighttime photos and videos.
When shooting photos in the standard 12 MP mode, as was done for this article, the ISO limit is raised from 3200 ISO to 6400 ISO. Even pictures taken with higher ISO overall look decently clean.
For video, when shooting in the Normal color profile, the ISO maximum is 6400.
If you are looking to shoot photos at 48 MP, the ISO maximum is capped at 3200 ISO. As it stands currently, the 48 MP photo mode suffers from some “Firmware Adjusted Tweaks.” Many are hoping and waiting to see DJI resolve the Air 3 48 MP woes for good.
When it comes to shooting video footage in DLog-M and HLG, the ISO maximum is only 1600.
Like previous DJI models before it, the Air 3 has a dedicated Night Mode for shooting video. From my experience, the Air 3 performs admirably even in Auto. Considering what settings the Fly App touches, there is relatively low noise, and the footage is smooth.
» MORE: DJI Air 3 for Photography
Accessories for Night Flight
There aren’t many accessories needed to get the Air 3 ready for nighttime flying. The main one would be anti-collision lights. These small and lightweight lights can be easily attached to any drone in a variety of convenient ways.
Anti-collision lights, which can be seen from 3 miles away, are a requirement for nighttime flights. This is because they help pilots in manned aircraft see the drone from a distance and make course corrections, if necessary.
As drone pilots, though, we are legally obligated to yield the right-of-way to any manned aircraft in the area.
It must be noted that there is a difference between drone orientation lights and anti-collision lights.
Drone orientation lights (the blinking red and green ones) are built into the drone and help you easily recognize the front and back of the drone. These lights are not viewable from three statute miles.
Anti-collision lights, on the other hand, are removable and can be seen from three miles away. They can be set, oftentimes, to various blinking patterns, as well as changed to blink red, green, or white.
The FAA requires anti-collision lights to be either red or white. Although some do blink green, the color green cannot be used for anti-collision.
While there are various manufacturers of anti-collision lights, Firehouse and Lumecube are popular options among drone owners. I own both and personally love both. However, I primarily use the SYMIK Drone Strobe Lights, as they are larger 3-in-1 lights that blink either red or white (and Green).
Nighttime RTH (Return to Home)
The Air 3 has a very robust RTH (return to home) function, which can be modified depending on your conditions.
Thankfully, although the vision systems are not available when flying during nighttime, RTH does indeed work during night flights:
- Advanced RTH Optimal (specifically for daylight hours): The Air 3 will use the straightest and most direct route to RTH to save on battery power, increasing the amount of time the Air 3 can fly.
When it is too dark for the Air 3’s vision sensors, the Air 3 will default to a variation of Preset mode, with preset altitude options.
- Advanced RTH Preset (perfect for nighttime RTH): Here, you determine and set the RTH height at which you would like the Air 3 to return. The Air 3 will fly in a straight line directly to the home point.
As we are talking about flying at nighttime, you would want to make sure you know the highest obstacle in the area and set the preset RTH height 20 or 30 feet above the obstacle.
Intelligent Flight Modes at Night
Like the Mavic 3 Pro and Mini 4 Pro, the Air 3 can safely perform many types of intelligent flight patterns with its omnidirectional obstacle avoidance system.
During nighttime flights though, some Focus Track functions are not available, as there will not be sufficient lighting to define and lock onto a subject. Additionally, the vision sensors are unusable at night. With these off, some of the tracking functions that depend on them will not operate.
The Focus Track function that will not work at night time:
Conversely, the following Focus Track functions will work at night but only for static objects. Additionally, obstacle sensing will be off:
- POI (Point of Interest)
Be aware that if using night mode video function to record footage, Spotlight and POI will not be available.
It is suggested by DJI that the following Intelligent Flight Modes not be used at night time:
The following Intelligent Flight Modes can be used as normal, although obstacle avoidance will not be available:
- Hyperlapse – Free, Circle, Courselock, and Waypoints
- Waypoint Flights
- Cruise Control
Regardless of what flight mode you might use, it is always recommended to keep the Air 3 in VLOS and be aware of your surroundings.