DJI Mavic Air drone

Cool factor 5/5
Usability 4/5
Value for money 4/5

Drones are exciting and daunting in equal parts. On the one hand, it’s a thrill to fly them around; on the other, you do wonder whether you’re meeting basic rules and regulations, despite flying in a "safe" zone.

DJI’s Mavic Air, a mash-up between the earlier Spark and Mavic Pro, offers an ultraportable solution for private use. For a smartphone-sized drone, astonishingly, it is capable of shooting 4K videos and 12MP HDR stills with its three-axis gimbal. It also has obstacle-avoidance technology; on-board storage; a 4km control range, and 10km flight distance.

If that doesn’t grab your attention, perhaps the gesture controls will. The controls, which give the drone more mainstream appeal, work with DJI’s Smart Capture technology. You can make the drone take off and land with your hand; have it follow you around; and make it fly towards or away from you. You can also make a peace sign to signal it to capture a still image, and a frame for video capture.

There are two things you need to be aware of with the Mavic Air: on a single charge you’re more likely to get about 16-18 minutes of flight time than the 21 minutes DJI claims; and it is very loud.

Practise your flying skills in a public park, instead of annoying the neighbours.

If you’ve never flown a drone before, it can be intimidating. DJI has tutorials on its YouTube channel, which was my preferred method of picking up some skills. You could also read the manual or receive a demo from a hobbyist.

Getting into drone photography and videography requires patience. There’s a lot you learn with practice and it’s something you need to factor in, should you decide to purchase one. The unique footage from an unusual perspective is worth it.

But keep the rules in mind. The Hover app, for drone enthusiasts, can make you aware of areas that are "no-fly zones". Drones have to be kept within line of sight, fly no higher than 122m, and hobbyists do not require a licence. If you break any of the rules, you could end up in prison for 10 years or having to pay a R50,000 fine.

The DJI Mavic Air will set you back R13,900.

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