DJI Mini 3 vs. Mavic Air 2 (Which is Better)
Thanks for checking out my article on which I think is better, the DJI Mini 3, or the DJI Mavic Air 2.
I am a huge fan of the DJI Air series. I owned and loved the original, oddly designed DJI Mavic Air and continue to love and use the subsequent models, all the way to the newest iteration, the DJI Air 3.
Likewise, after the release of the Mini 3 Pro, along with the Mini 3 and Mini 4 Pro, I became a huge fan of DJI’s Mini drone lineup and own all of these as well.
Because I am such a fan of both the DJI Air and DJI Mini series of drones, I thought I’d share my choice between both for this year.
We have to remember that “better or best” is subjective. What’s the better option for one drone owner might not be the best for another.
In this article, we’ll examine the differences between the DJI Mavic Air 2 and the DJI Mini 3, who might benefit from either model, and why the DJI Mini 3 would be my better choice over the DJI Air 2 for casual and recreational flyers.
If you are in the market for a new recreational DJI drone, this article should prove to be helpful.
DJI Mini 3
The DJI Mini 3, released in December of 2022, is a few years newer than the Mavic Air 2 and hits that under 250 g sweet spot.
For those familiar with flying DJI Mini drones, the Mini 3 handles similarly.
Like the Mini 2, Mini 2 SE, and even the Mavic Air 2, the Mini 3 runs on the OcuSync 2.0 video transmission system, which, although two iterations behind the OcuSync 4.0 of today, still works capably in many situations.
New to the previously released Mini 3 Pro, the Mini 3 also benefits from two different batteries. After having used these options, it is difficult to go back to just one type of battery with only 30 minutes of flight time.
The Mini 3 benefits from:
- Vertical shooting to upload content immediately to social media
- The option to shoot 48 MP RAW photos, which are perfect for in-depth photo editing
- 4k 30 FPS video for making high-resolution memories
- 51 minutes of flight time on Plus version batteries to keep you in the air longer
» MORE: DJI Mini 3 – Beginner’s Guide
DJI Mavic Air 2
The DJI Mavic Air 2 was released back in 2020, making it almost four years old at the time of this article’s publishing. In drone years, that’s almost a lifetime. Still, the Mavic Air 2 has aged well.
The Mavic Air 2 was an important step in the progression of the Mavic Air series. It not only moved away from the toy-like design of the original Mavic Air, but in doing so, it also laid the foundation for the solid, much-loved Mavic Air sub-genre.
Not only did the Mavic Air series get a redesign with the Air 2, but the remote controller also received a much-needed update.
The Mavic Air 2 moved away from the familiar remote controller, which at the time placed cellphones at the bottom of the controller. Using the then-new DJI RC-N1, cellphones were (and still are) at the top of the controller, making it easier and more comfortable to fly.
The four-year-old DJI Mavic Air 2 offers:
- Three-way obstacle avoidance sensing, which, when used correctly, aids in safer flight maneuvers
- APAS 3.0 which enables the Mavic Air 2 to successfully navigate around, under, and over obstacles
- Three different tracking modes: ActiveTrack 3.0, Point of Interest 3.0, and Spotlight 2.0, for getting the best automated shots of subjects
- 34 minutes of battery life, which for years was standard in the drone industry
Because the Mini 3 and Mavic Air 2 are so different in many ways, while having great features, the verdict was a little difficult to come to.
As it stands, if buying a drone for recreational purposes, the Mini 3 would be my choice.
The Mini 3 is a great all-around drone for beginners and enthusiasts. Weighing under 250 g is also a very big deal for many, as we’ll discuss further.
While, yes, the Mavic Air 2 does have much of the relevant tech we have all grown to love and expect in today’s drones, the Mavic Air 2 is also 4 years old. It is aging well, but, for many, newer is more comfortable in terms of longevity.
For this quick verdict, when considering a new solely recreational drone, the following are most important to me:
- Image quality
- Flight time
If someone is looking to get a relatively inexpensive drone that doesn’t need to be registered and also takes decent to very good pictures, then the Mini 3 is the better of the two drones, in my opinion.
What are the Main Differences?
We’ll look at the Mini 3 first.
- Size and Weight: Whereas the larger size of the Mavic Air 2 is a plus (as we’ll soon see), the size of the Mini 3 is something to be appreciated by many. The Mini 3 is small enough to put in a small bag. With the Mini 3 weighing less than 250 g, that means that, in the United States, it does not have to be registered.
- Larger Camera Sensor: Compared to the 1/2″ sensor on the Mavic Air 2, the Mini 3’s larger 1/1.3″ is not only larger but also takes better low-light photos, with its stacked sensor, than the Mavic Air 2.
- Vertical Shooting: As a nod to the original Mavic Pro of 2016, the camera on the Mini 3 physically and fully rotates 90 degrees. This allows the Mini 3 to shoot portrait-mode photos and videos and post them to social media without the need for post-process cropping.
- Battery Options: The Mini 3 Pro was the first to use two battery options of different sizes, Standard and Plus. The Mini 3 benefits from this. The Standard battery option has manufacturers’ reported flight times of 38 minutes while keeping the Mini 3 under the 250 g threshold. The heavier Plus option takes the weight of the Mini 3 over 250 g but produces 53 minutes of flight time.
Now, looking at the Mavic Air 2, we see it has some stand-out features as well.
- Size and Weight: The Mavic Air 2 weighs 570 g, more than double the weight of the Mini 3. With this extra weight, the Mavic Air 2 is a fair bit more stable in the air than the Mini 3, although they are both Level 5 wind-resistant drones.
- Tri-directional Vision Sensors: This is a feature lacking in the Mini 3, but plays a major part for the Mavic Air 2. The Mavic Air 2 has front, rear, and bottom sensors, all attributing to the Mavic Air 2’s safety features.
- Intelligent Tracking Modes: As follow-me modes are a highly desirable function currently in the drone world, the Mavic Air 2 having them for 4 years now is a great thing, allowing for many of the popular modes found in the newer drones like its successor, the Air 3.
- D-Cinelike Color Profile: While not a 10-bit color profile, the Mavic Air 2 does have the flatter D-Cinelike video color profile, which is perfect for those wanting to color grade their video footage.
DJI Mini 3
For those who like the form factor of the previously released Mini 3 Pro, the Mini 3 retains the look of the Mini 3 Pro, and it handles equally as well.
Shared by both the Mini 3 Pro and the Mini 3 is the same 1/1.3 camera that is equipped on the DJI Air 3 and likewise used as the Mavic 3 Pro’s medium tele camera.
The Mini 3 can shoot 48 MP photos using the same quad-bayer technology found in those more expensive drones, although there is still some debate surrounding the effectiveness and overall resolutions achieved by this technology.
Additionally, the Mini 3 is capable of shooting 4k 30fps videos, something that has not been seen previously in standard, non-Pro versions of the Mini line.
Looking at the physical camera, we see that, in addition to the new 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor, the camera can physically rotate vertically. This was something introduced with the original release of the Mini 3 Pro and looks to be a feature we will continue to see in subsequent Mini models, as it is also on the Mini 4 Pro.
Of course, another standout feature of the Mini 3 is its outstanding battery life.
Currently, as of the writing of this article, the Mini 3 has the longest battery life found in a consumer DJI drone. We’ll be looking at this a little closer shortly.
DJI Mavic Air 2
When the Mavic Air 2 was released, it was a fair bit ahead of its time.
Compared to its predecessor, the Mavic Air, the Mavic Air 2 was, and is, simply head and shoulders above the original iteration of the Mavic Air.
The Mavic Air 2 was released with much of the tech that drone owners now take for granted.
One of these would be 48 MP photos. This was unheard of at the time, especially from such a small image sensor. Even back then, though, many were not convinced that the Quad Bayer 48 MP photos were truly sharper than the 12 MP photos the camera natively produced.
In line with the camera, the video coming from the Mavic Air 2 was really good, benefitting from two video color profiles: Normal and D-Cinelike.
Although not 8-bit color, it is nice that the Mavic Air 2 can still cater to those wanting to take their video color grading up a notch or two using the flat D-Cinelike profile.
Additionally, the Mavic Air 2 is capable of filming videos in 4k 60 fps, which were resolutions and framerates reserved for DJI’s then top-tiered prosumer drones like the Mavic 2 line and Phantom 4 Pro.
Lastly, one of the biggest things going for the Mavic Air 2, even now, is its three-way obstacle avoidance system. This not only keeps the Mavic Air 2 safer when flying but also enables it to benefit from various tracking modes.
It’s hard to believe that so much technology was actually available four years ago, especially at the price point the Mavic Air 2 was then.
DJI Mavic Air 2 Fly More Combo
The Mavic Air 2 camera drone takes power and portability to the next level. It combines a powerful camera with intelligent shooting modes for stunning results.
Winner: DJI Mini 3
When it comes to comparisons between the camera on the Mini 3 and Mavic Air 2’s camera, the Mini 3 wins out.
In the world of technology, oftentimes, newer is better. This is because, over time, technology gets better and better while also getting smaller and smaller. This trend enables companies to pack more tech in their devices in either the same or even smaller footprint.
Using a stacked sensor with a very large f/1.7 aperture, the Mini 3 is capable of taking impressive low-light photos and even video.
The resulting mixed and low-light photos are far more impressive than those produced by the 1/2″ camera on the Mavic Air 2.
Winner: DJI Mavic Air 2
The Mavic Air 2, while not taking as impressive photos as the Mini 3, does shine in the video department.
A popular resolution and framerate combination many drone owners love is 4k 60 fps, which the Mavic Air 2 is capable of shooting. If you are a fan of slow-ish motion, then 4k60 is the perfect high-resolution option.
In addition to shooting 4k 60 fps, the Mavic Air 2 can also utilize the D-Cinelike color profile.
D-Cinelike is a flat color profile, retaining more dynamic range than the Normal color profile. This lets you get a little more creative when color-grading the Air 2’s video footage.
For those wanting to bring their cinematic vision to life, the video capabilities on the Mavic Air 2 can more than accomplish this.
Winner: DJI Mavic Air 2
Using the EXP settings within the DJI Fly app, both the Mini 3 and Mavic Air 2 fly can be adjusted to fly almost identically.
Where the Mavic 2 Air edges out the Mini 3 performance-wise all boils down to overall speed.
The Mavic Air 2 is faster than the Mini 3.
The Mini 3 can fly in Sport mode at 35.7 mph or 16 m/s, whereas the Mavic Air 2 can fly up to 42.5 mph or 19 m/s in Sport mode.
For some, the difference in top-end speed is not a priority whatsoever. Whereas for others, having a faster top-end means getting the Mavic Air 2 from one location to the next faster to begin filming with the 4k 60 fps camera.
At the end of the day, though, flying any drone at 45 mph is awfully fun!
» MORE: What is the Fastest DJI Drone?
Portability and more
Winner: DJI Mini 3
This is where the Mini 3 wins hands down. There is a lot involved in this, and it may be the single deciding factor why drone owners would pick the Mini 3 over the Mavic Air 2 any day.
The Mini 3 is a sub-250 g drone and can fit in the palm of your hand. This is important for two main reasons.
Firstly, being under 250 g means that the Mini 3 does not need to be registered in the United States if it is being used solely for recreational purposes.
While the cost of registering a drone in the US is only $5, for many, it is not the cost of registration but the governmental reasoning behind registration and wanting to stay anonymous.
Secondly, as the Mini 3 is under 250 g and does not need to be registered, it also does not need to be RID compliant. With the timeframe for RID compliance getting narrower and narrower, this is one less thing for drone owners, new and seasoned alike, to have to worry about.
Additionally, with the Mini 3 being so small and weighing so little, it is the ideal travel and outdoors drone. You can simply toss the Mini 3 in a bag, backpack, or even a pair of loose shorts and be on your way.
When it comes to DJI’s line of Mini drones, I always bring one along in the armrest of my SUV just in case something is interesting to snap when out and about.
Winner: DJI Mini 3
Battery life is another very important aspect of drone ownership, and the Mini 3 wins hands down.
With the Mini 3, gone are the days of swapping batteries out every 20 or so minutes (if landing at 25%).
The Mini 3 benefits from the use of the two different capacity batteries that the Mini 3 Pro and Mini 4 Pro use: the Standard 2453 mAh option and the Plus 3850 mAh option.
The Standard option battery has reported flight times of up to 37 minutes. If you are planning on staying under the 250 g weight for the reasons mentioned previously, this is the perfect battery option.
The Plus option has flight times of up to 51 minutes. This is unheard of in a DJI drone and is currently the longest-lasting battery option of any Mini drone.
If using the Plus option battery, beware that the weight of the battery pushes the Mini 3 over the 250 g threshold, which will require the drone to be registered in the United States.
Of course, in all reality, most flyers won’t achieve these flight times due to varying outside forces such as weather. However, the Mini 3 does indeed fly for a very long time. So much so that I often finish flying before the third battery is exhausted.
Remote Controller Compatability
The Mavic Air 2 was released alongside the then-new DJI RC-N1. I’m a diehard fan of the RC-N1 and think it is one of the better-built and better-designed remote controllers on the market. The RC-N1 is also compatible with the Mini 3.
When the all-in-one DJI RC was released, there was a lot of speculation regarding which drones would be able to use it. The Mini 3 is not only compatible with the DJI RC but is included in many combos sold online.
On the other hand, the Mavic Air 2 works with an older DJI all-in-one controller, the DJI Smart Controller. This was the original iteration of DJI’s smart controller and is sadly no longer in production. However, plenty are still being sold online.
If you have an older DJI Smart Controller (not the new DJI RC Pro), you can still benefit from an integrated screened controller for use with the Mavic Air 2.
Current Mini 3 compatible controller list:
Mavic Air 2 compatible controller list:
» MORE: Best Drone Controllers
Winner: DJI Mavic Air 2
This is where the Mavic Air 2 really has an advantage.
The Air 2 has a three-way obstacle avoidance system, with cameras detecting obstacles to the front, rear, and bottom.
With this system in place, the Mavic Air 2 scans the immediate area and plots its way above, below, and around obstacles as you fly, if you have these options toggled on in the DJI Fly app. Of course, we recommend being alert always when flying and not solely depending on the obstacle avoidance system.
Because the Mavic Air 2 has obstacle avoidance on-board, it likewise benefits from many of the follow-me modes that are so popular today, these being:
These three tracking modes do an excellent job of following subjects of your choosing, whether people, vehicles, or watercraft.
Additionally, if traveling and planning on showcasing a particular landmark, POI (point of interest) works quite well.
For those in the market looking at the Mini 3 or Mavic Air 2 and wanting subject tracking, the Air 2 is the drone of choice.
Winner: DJI Mini 3
Between the Mini 3 and Mavic Air 2, the Mini 3 is the least expensive drone currently by $200.
Regarding what is included with each combo, they are almost identical. With the Mini 3, however, you are getting a newer drone for a fair bit less, while also getting less in the video and system safety departments.
If you are on a budget, the Mini 3 is the obvious choice.
At the outset of this article, I mentioned picking the better of the two drones, based strictly on getting up and flying as a recreational flyer.
In this particular case, the Mini 3 is that drone for me.
The Mini 3 is perfect for anyone fairly new to Drone Life with a budget. The Mini 3 is also newer, easy to fly, and extremely portable. These are things recreational flyers oftentimes look for.
Whether looking to throw the Mini 3 in a bag for travel or bring it along for a nature walk or hike, it is plenty capable of taking great pictures in such locales.
For those who would rather not register their drone in the United States, the Mini 3 is the only option for this. The Mavic Air 2 is twice the weight of the Mini 3 and, therefore, must be registered.
Additionally, if you aren’t looking to zip along at 45 mph but are looking to get the most battery life out of any DJI drone on the market, then the Mini 3 fits the bill.
For those who want to film in 4k 60 fps and do so while tracking subjects with the added protection of three-way obstacle avoidance, then the Mavic Air 2 is the perfect option for you.