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Hands-on with the DJI Air 3: The perfect all-rounder drone

Want a drone that'll do it all? The new DJI Air 3 is as close to an all-rounder as you'll get.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
DJI Air 3 drone.

DJI Air 3 drone.

Katherine Betteridge/ZDNET

There are junk toy drones, the enthusiast drones, the workhorse prosumer drones, and the heavy professional drones. While you can get great photos and videos from an enthusiast drone such as the DJI Mini 3, if you want a pro-grade drone, you usually have to part with the big bucks.

DJI's newest addition to its drone lineup -- the Air 3 -- changes that and does a fantastic job of straddling the enthusiast and prosumer line at a more reasonable price. 

Also: The best drones: Which flying camera is right for you?

With the Air 3, you get two cameras, all-round obstacle avoidance, and dual-camera array, as well as a promise of 43 minutes of battery life.

But does it deliver? 

View at DJI

DJI Air 3 specs

  • Takeoff Weight: 720 g
  • Dimensions: Folded (without propellers): 207×100.5×91.1 mm/Unfolded (without propellers): 258.8 × 326 × 105.8mm
  • Max Ascent Speed: 10 m/s
  • Max Descent Speed: 10 m/s
  • Max Horizontal Speed (at sea level, no wind): 21 m/s (limited to 19 m/s in EU regions)
  • Max Flight Time: 46 minutes
  • Wide-Angle Camera Lens: 82°, 24 mm equivalent, f/1.7, focus from 1 m to ∞
  • Wide-Angle Camera Sensor: 1/1.3 inch CMOS, 48 megapixels, 1-3x digital zoom
  • Medium Tele Camera Lens: 35°, 70mm equivalent, f/2.8, focus from 3m to ∞
  • Medium Tele Camera Sensor: 1/1.3 inch CMOS, 48 megapixels, 3-9x digital zoom
  • Max Video Resolution: 4K: 3840 × 2160@24/25/30/48/50/60/100 fps
  • Obstacle Sensors: Forward, backward, left, right, and upwards 

The good

I've flown a lot of drones of all shapes and sizes, and most of that flight time has been with DJI aircraft. Big drones, small drones, and the drones in between. If DJI makes it, I've flown it. Recently, we've seen DJI release the Mini 3 and Mini 3 Pro, and the Mavic 3 Pro at the other. The middle ground between these drones was previously occupied by the aging Air 2S, which was released back in April of 2021.

DJI drones have changed and improved a lot since the release of the Air 2S, and the new Air 3 benefits from all these incremental changes.

Also: Mavic 3 Pro: Hands-on with the best drone for content creators

Two of the biggest changes are the dual camera array -- adding a x3 medium tele camera to the existing wide-angle camera -- and omnidirectional obstacle sensing to prevent you from plowing your drone into a wall, free, or lamppost. 

The camera output is what I've come to expect from DJI -- excellent. It's easy to forget that DJI isn't just a drone company, it's also a camera company, and this puts it leagues ahead of the competition.  

Closeup of dual camera array on the DJI Air 3

The DJI Air 3 has a dual camera array.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

During my tests, the absence of neutral density (ND) filters on the provided media unit proved to be a minor hindrance. ND filters function like sunglasses for the camera, enabling better control of lighting. This is crucial for capturing video in bright conditions, as ND filters are vital for more precise shot adjustments because neither camera on the Air 3 have aperture control (a feature similar to an eye's iris and how that expands and contracts to let in more or less light).

This lack of ND filters meant I found myself in a position where I couldn't go for my usual cinematic settings of 24 frames per second at a shutter speed of 1/50 of a second because that would have been too bright. The only option is to keep shortening the shutter time (the amount of time the shutter is open and letting in light) to compensate. 

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For a lot of filming applications, this is a workable solution, but it does lack the cinematic motion blur that I like, especially when I'm flying close to the subject. If you're buying this for videography, get a set of ND filters. Grab the Fly More Combo kit that comes with ND filters, or get yourself quality third-party filters that are likely to hit the market soon from manufacturers such as Polar Pro, Freewell, or PGYTech.

Improvise, adapt, overcome.

But still, despite the limitations, the output was still incredible.

Closeup of the rear omnidirectional obstacle sensors on the Air 3.

Rear omnidirectional obstacle sensors on the Air 3.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The omnidirectional obstacle sensing is a feature that could help save your drone from damage or destruction. While I'd never rely on these sensors, and always keep an eye on where the drone is and its surroundings, it's a super handy feature that makes flying safer. 

The Air 3 avoiding obstacles

The omnidirectional obstacle sensing built into the Air 3 easily detected and avoided these trees.

Katherine Betteridge/ZDNET

The Air 3 does a good job of picking up and avoiding things like humans, walls, and trees. It's also good at detecting rogue branches, but it can be blind to twigs -- and a tiny twig in the propellers is all it takes to bring a drone down.

The Air 3 detecting obstacles

The Air 3 detecting obstacles -- and danger -- all around it.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

But sometimes, you have to disable the obstacle avoidance sensors to allow you to get closer to things. 

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This is done by flipping the drone into "Sport" mode, but because the Air 3 allows you to control the maximum speed in all modes, and bring it down as low as 1 meter per second, you still get amazing control over the drone.

Person flying the drone between two trees.

Obstacle avoidance turned off so I can fly the drone between two trees.

Katherine Betteridge/ZDNET

However, any time you do this, there are risks. As careful as I was, I lightly clipped a propellor against a twig. The drone is so stable that I didn't notice this in-flight, but I noticed it during a pre-flight check. 

Hand holding a damaged propellor

Damaged propellor spotted during a pre-flight check.

Katherine Betteridge/ZDNET

You should never fly with a damaged propellor as this could catastrophically fail in flight, cause you to lose the drone, potentially cause injury to those around you, and damage to property. 

Fortunately, the propellers are easy to replace.

Hands replacing a propellor.

It only takes seconds to replace a propellor.

Katherine Betteridge/ZDNET

There are a whole host of improvements and tweaks that I love that form part of the Air 3. I've seen some improvements on other DJI drones, while some are new.

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For example, I love that the microSD card is now easily accessible, and I don't need to have tweezers to hand. The case has been tweaked again, and we now have one that's big enough to hold everything without having to struggle to pack things into it or pull stuff out. 


The microSD card accessibility in the Air 3.

The microSD card is easily accessible on the Air 3.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The battery charging case now features clips to hold the batteries in place. This dramatically reduces the risk of the battery being improperly fitted and therefore not charged. This also prevents the batteries from spilling out everywhere in the field, which is a huge improvement on the previous iterations of the charging case by DJI.

Hand holding the battery clips on the battery charging case

The battery clips on the battery charging case are a really nice feature.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The gimbal cover is also one of the nicest, easiest to fit and remove covers to date, removing that latent anxiety that you're going to destroy the camera while trying to protect it.

Closeup of the redesigned gimbal cover

The redesigned gimbal cover is one of the easiest to use to date.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Oh, and now this is a really small but thoughtful touch. Users have in the past complained that the arms rub on the drone's body when folded in and packed away. 

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Now DJI has fitted little rubberized pads to prevent this. 

Closeup of rubberized pads

Little rubberized pads prevent the arms from rubbing on the drone's body when folded down.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The build quality of the drone is also superb. It feels solid in the hand, and while no amount of "feels solid in the hand" is going to help come a crash, it does help prevent damage when handling the drone, removing and refitting batteries and memory cards, and removing and refitting that gimbal cover.

The Air 3 feels solid and robust.

The Air 3 feels solid and robust.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

As for shooting at night, here's a short video and image taken about an hour after sunset. This output has been very lightly edited so give you an idea of what you can expect, and this could be edited and processed a lot more to bring out more detail and add artistic flair.

Night shot with the Air 3, shot about an hour after sunset.

Night shot with the Air 3, shot about an hour after sunset.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The not so good

While my experience with the Air 3 has been overwhelmingly positive, there are a few things that make me frown a little. Some of these are hardware-based and unlikely going to change, while others could be fixed in a future software update.

First, all new drones have odd flight characteristics that are ironed out in subsequent firmware updates. The Air 3 is surprisingly good for general flying, but when it came to precision flying, especially in the vicinity of obstacles, I would sometimes find the drone doing odd things such as doing a lot of corrections to hover or not responding properly to the controller. 

These are small things, and as I've said, I find that these things are fixed quickly once the drones get into the hands of users.

Another annoyance is that switching between the two cameras is slow -- really slow, sometimes taking five seconds. It's very easy to lose a good shot because of this lag.

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I've also noticed an issue with the focus when using the tele camera close to its minimum focus distance. I found that even if I used manual focus and locked it on the spot I wanted, it would drift a little (or perhaps not be set correctly in the first place, or I touched the screen and messed it up), so creators need to be careful here. There are a couple of soft shots in my test video that happened because of this, and they were taken as two separate shots. I'm not sure if this is something that DJI needs to fix because it's a bug, or give us better tools to check if the focus is spot-on because it's operator error.

Whatever the reason, it's annoying.  

Then there's a general lag on the controller. My review unit was shipped with the new DJI RC 2 controller, so I can only hope that future firmware updates will work on resolving this. 

While on the subject of that remote controller, mine feels very plasticky and rattly, and overall the fit and finish feel really cheap compared to the DJI RC Pro controller. But the RC Pro is more expensive, and there are profit margins as well as the price tag to consider.

I also dislike the fact that DJI continues to use the tiniest screw threads possible to connect the sticks to the controller. Sure, this is easy when sitting at your desk in an air-conditioned office, but a pain in the field.

Screwing the sticks onto the controller

Screwing the sticks onto the controller is tricky, and a recipe for losing the sticks when in the wilds.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The bottom line

I owned the Air 3's predecessor -- the Air 2S -- but it's a drone I've not flown in months. It was bigger and bulkier to carry than the Mini 3 Pro, and not as rock solid in the air compared to the Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Pro. I didn't need a drone that sat in between those two drones, especially one that had so many limitations. 

The Air 3 could change that. 

Also: The best drone accessories: Truly useful must-haves

Here is a drone not only with a formidable camera array, but also feels solid and reliable both in the hand and in the air. And it's a drone that's capable of capturing stunning photos and video.

Coming to the price, the Air 3 starts at $1,099, and for that you get the drone and the RC-N2 controller that you have to attach to your smartphone. There's also a Fly More combo kit that comes with more batteries, the ND filters, and the battery holder, and that's $1,349 for the kit that comes with the RC-N2 controller, and $1,549 for the kit and the RC 2 controller.

That's not bad. Not bad at all.

The DJI Air 3 Fly More Combo kit with the RC 2 controller.

What you get in the DJI Air 3 Fly More Combo kit with the RC 2 controller.


DJI is leagues ahead of its competitors, and this drone shows just how far the company has come in a little over two years. 

For those looking for an enthusiast-level drone with prosumer features, you need to look no further. If you're a current Air 2S owner and need to get in closer to your subjects, then the medium telephoto camera will deliver exactly that in a platform that will otherwise feel quite familiar to you, which could make this the perfect upgrade. If you're coming from a DJI Mini drone, then this is going to open up a world of possibilities for you to be even more creative in the sky.

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