DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S: is it worth the upgrade?

DJI gave us Christmas in July when it announced the new DJI Air 3 drone on July 25. The drone is the next edition of the DJI Air line, which was last updated in April 2021 with the launch of the DJI Air 2S. And the Air 2S in itself is an updated version of the DJI Mavic Air 2, which launched in June 2020. So in a battle between the DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S, which is better?

To be clear, the DJI Air 2S is now far cheaper than the DJI Air 3. The Air 2S starts at $799 (which is a relatively recent price reduction from the previous $999 price tag), while the DJI Air 3 starts at $1,099 (but realistically will cost you $1,549 assuming you splurge for the DJI Air 3 Fly More Combo with DJI RC 2 controller). Unsurprisingly, the DJI Air 3 is a “better” drone. But is it worth the additional cost? If you already have a DJI Air 2 or Air 2S drone, should you upgrade?

This guide to the DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S will illuminate what exactly has been improved in this newest Air model and help you decide if you should spring for the newest camera drone from DJI.

The DJI Air 3 is the newer version of the old DJI Air 2S drone. So how much better is it?

Comparing price and key specs on the DJI Air 3 and Air 2S

At $799 for the Air 2S versus $1,099 for the Air 3, you’ll save roughly 27% (that’s $300) by opting for the model that’s one generation older. So if deciding between the DJI Air 2S vs. Air 3, you’ll have to consider whether the DJI Air 3 drone specs are worth the higher price.

Here’s a rundown of how the DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2 drones compare against each other:

DJI Air 3DJI Air 2S
Starting Price$1,099$799 (reduced from ($999)
Takeoff Weight720 grams595 grams
Onboard camera(s)Two cameras (Wide-angle camera and Medium tele camera)One camera
Photo resolution48 MP20 MP
Video Resolution4K/60fps HDR videos5.4K/30fps, 4K/60fps (with cropping, without HDR), 1080p/120fps (Slow Motion only
supports up to 1080p resolution.)
Sensor1/1.3″ CMOS (wide-angle)
1/1.3″ CMOS (medium tele)
1″ CMOS
Aperturef/1.7 (wide-angle)
f/2.8 (medium tele)
f/2.8
Pixel Size2.4 μm2.4 μm
Obstacle Avoidance TechAPAS 5.0APAS 4.0
Obstacle sensorsOmnidirectional binocular vision system, supplemented with an infrared sensor at the bottom of the aircraftForward, backward, upward & downward obstacle sensing
Max Flight Time46 minutes31 minutes
Transmission SystemO4O3

So what do all these things mean in actuality? Here’s a deeper dive into the DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S drones:

DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S camera: Air 3 stands out with nighttime shots

Or shall we say cameras, plural. The DJI Air 3 comes with not one but two cameras. They are:

  • A 1/1.3-inch CMOS wide-angle camera
    • 24mm format equivalent
    • F1.7 aperture
  • A 1/1.3-inch CMOS 3x medium tele camera (can achieve 3x optical zoom)
    • 70mm format equivalent
    • F2.8 aperture

Having two cameras elevates the Air 3 closer to the level of higher-end DJI drones like the DJI Mavic 3 Pro (which costs more than $2,000), giving photographers access to two different looks (zoom and wide angle) without having to take down the drone to change lenses, as is the case on other drones like the DJI Inspire 3.

Meanwhile, the DJI Air 2S has one camera, which has a 1” sensor offering 20-megapixel photos and 5.4K video. The DJI Air 2S offered a giant improvement over the cameras on its predecessors upon launch, claiming the title of the first drone of its size capable of capturing 20-megapixel still images or video in 5.4K. 

Another innovation with the Air 3 versus Air 2S is improved sensor design. The DJI Air 2S has an old generation of back-illuminated sensors, while the Air 3 innovates with a new generation of stacked sensors. The Air 3 also stands out when shooting in dark environments, such as at night, with the Air 3 providing noticeably better image quality, particularly during low-light shots.

Note that the Air 2S does have a zoom feature that was new at the time, albeit still limited. It has a digital zoom that supports 4X zoom at 4K 30fps, 6X at 2.7K 30fps, 4X at 2.7K 60fps, 6X at 1080P 60fps and 8X at 1080P 30fps.

Annoyingly to both drones, you’re stuck with a fixed aperture. More serious photographers will still be far better off with the Hasselblad camera on the Mavic 3, which has an aperture range from f/2.8 to f/11.

Related read: DJI Air 3 review: the most powerful new addition to Air Series yet

Some new shooting modes on the DJI Air 3

While this shouldn’t weigh too heavily on your decision of which of the two drones to go with, the DJI Air 3 does offer some new shooting modes. One stand out is the fact that the Air 3 is the first drone of the Air Series to support 2.7K vertical video shooting (9:16). For folks who shoot footage primarily for Instagram Reels and TikTok, this makes it easier to film footage for the format it was intended.

DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S aircraft: Air 3 is far more powerful

It’s impossible to not notice the many, many ways that the Air 3 is a far more powerful aircraft than the Air2S. Among them:

Battery life on the DJI Air 3 drone has been improved by 48%, now offering 46 minutes of flight time.

Better battery life. It’s tough to ignore the 46 minutes of flight time you can get in one go on the DJI Air 3. That’s up from a measly 31 minutes on the Air 2S. That’s a nearly 50% increase in battery life.

All that boosted power does have one downfall, the Air 3 is physically larger than the Air 2S.

While the Air 2S is 180 mm long while folded, the Air 3 is 207 mm long. And when unfolded, the Air 2S is 263 mm wide, but the Air 3 is 326 mm wide. The Air 3 is also heavier, coming in at 720 grams while the Air2S is just 595 grams. A 125-gram difference may seem small, but it’s significant for ultra-light travelers and photographers needing agility in action sports or nature. Every gram counts in these scenarios.

The bottom of the Air 3 is equipped with binocular lenses and a 3D TOF.

Improved obstacle sensing: There are a few reasons why the DJI Air 3 stands out in the realm of obstacle sense and avoidance (which allows the drone to automatically detect something in its path and navigate a new route around it). For starters, the tech is slightly better (APAS 5.0 vs. APAS 4.0) on the Air 3.

But most notable is that the DJI Air 3 is the first drone in the Air Series to include omnidirectional obstacle sensing. The Air 2S offers four-way directional obstacle sensors. However, now the Air 3 offers awareness in all directions beyond just four.

Better video transmission: The DJI Air 3 offers O4 video transmission while the Air 2S provides O3 video transmission. That entails a maximum transmission distance of 20 km (assuming low interference, such as flying at most beaches), while the Air 2S has a maximum transmission distance of just 12 km.

DJI Air 2S vs Air 3: when is it worth the upgrade?

There are a few types of drone pilots who would especially benefit from the improved tech on the DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S. You should opt for the DJI Air 3 over the DJI Air 2S if you:

Film in low-light environments: Expected improved image quality in dark areas.

Want a zoom camera for still images? For some pilots, zoom is unnecessary since flying the drone closer provides the needed detail. But it’s not always that easy. Concert photographers might not legally be able to fly over crowds. A wedding photographer might want to keep the drone far back to not disrupt the ceremony with noise.

Value long flight times: It’s hard to argue with nearly 50% more flight time on the Air 3. If you only take short flights and have easy access to power so you can recharge, then this might not matter. For those on long flights or without easy recharging options, like during extended hikes with a drone, nearly 50% more battery life is significant.

The DJI Air 2S is better for people who prioritize portability and price.

When is the DJI Air 2S better?

The DJI Air 2S is still a great drone. Up until the launch of the DJI Air 3, I did consider it the best drone for photographers under $1,000. It offers $300 savings, and it’s a more lightweight aircraft. Consider the DJI Air 2S for a lighter drone kit without extra cost.

You’re still looking at an incredible quality drone with a huge sensor. Especially if you already hold the Air 2S and are price conscious, don’t feel like you need to upgrade. But if you’re set on getting a new drone and deciding between the two, you should almost certainly spend the extra $300 for the DJI Air 3. The improved specs justify the nominal price difference.

Buy the DJI Air 2S drone now from:

By the way, check out my fresh DJI Air 3 unboxing video!

Between the DJI Air 2S versus Air 3 drones, which drone do you think is better upon considering the price difference? Leave a comment below!

10 Comments

  • Sky Filming says:

    The Air 3 sensor is smaller isn’t it? Not larger.

  • Paul says:

    Being an owner and user of both an Air2S and a Mini 3 Pro, I can confidently say, that the Air 3 to me is not worth a nickel. It is hobbled together from parts from other models, has a set of very small image sensors (stacked or not), a useless telephoto lens (that caused the original Mavic 3’s early demise) and a longer distance control and flight time – neither of which manifests itself in real life. Also, DJI now reinstated the $999 price for the Air2S.
    Cheers,
    Paul

  • Pat says:

    Nice review. A photo comparison would be a nice addition to this review. Air 2S vs Air 3. As an Air 2S Smart Controller user I see the Air 3 controller a serious downgrade. Shooting in the New Mexico and Arizona desert with 300 plus days of cloudless, often treeless filming a 700 nit controller is just another useless brick to drag along 🙂 Non compatibility with RC Pro and Smart Controller is another no go for me!

  • Pat says:

    Great! Thanks you 🙂

  • tvhorst
    tvhorst says:

    Things to ponder, as I really like the longer flight time of the Air 3. But sadly, that alone isn’t reason enough to purchase the Air 3.

  • mrtimprice
    Tim Price says:

    I own both, and the Air 3 is clearly superior. It was well worth the upgrade. Only complaint I have is the RC’s brightness is a little low. Great review, and other than the sensor typo it’s spot on.

  • Gil says:

    I have both the air 2S and the air 3. Night and day, the extra flight time , as I bever fly back with less than 35%, I get 20 minutes of safe flights on the 2S, yet I get 30-35 minutes 9nthe air 3, this means more range , I can acomplish more before having to return. This alone is worth the upgrade,
    Then the new controller is much better OC 4 has a stronger signal in any situation. Longer range too.
    Then the 70mm lens is spectacular, amazing quality and a perfect focal length. It means I don’t have to get as close to subjects, I an take pictures without flying in prohibited areas, great portraits, closeups.
    Then the speed , 10m/s up and down, it’s faster. Man I felt the power difference right away, what a difference.
    Then the sensor, it has better colors, , less grai on higher ISO, it has a 1.7 focal length the 2S has 2.8 …. I use a smaller ISO with the Air 3 so less grain, better night pictures or in low light situation. The pictures simply look ore vivid and sharper. I don’t care about the downgrade of the 1″ sensor as I get better pictures.
    Then we have the 3 battery charger box, it can take 3 batteries with 35% and fill one with the juice of the others to get 1 more full battery.
    If these are not reasons enough for an upgrade then you are either not using your drone seriously, or you are broke and can’t afford it.
    Oh, and need I mention the omni directional object a oidance sensors? The S2 has no side sensors.
    Sell your S2 and get the air 3. You will not regret it. It’s old technology. The 3S may come out in 6 months,but every year so ething new is out. The RC2 is great, I also bought the RCN2 to use with a big screen tablet, got it cheap….

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