DJI Air 3 Photography Review – How Good is the Photo Quality?

For photography, the DJI Air 3 takes a different approach compared to the previous Air 2s. It chooses versatility and functionality rather than sheer image quality. It is supplied with a smaller 1/1.3″ sensor, but it offers a very useful second telephoto lens and a host of new handy features

Other related articles you may find interesting:

I have done in-depth articles about photography with the different DJI prosumer drones:

This article contains plenty of photos taken with the Air 3 in the different modes that can be downloaded as JPEG files

If You Prefer To Watch This As a Video

The Predecessor: the Air 2S

When DJI officially announced the specs of the Air 3 everyone was expecting an improved version of the Air 2s, but the new model takes a different direction

Front view of the DJI Air 2s
Front view of the DJI Air 2s

The Air 2S is a favorite of many enthusiasts and a benchmark in terms of video and photo quality

Thanks to the 1” sensor and the true 20 MP photo resolution this model in terms of still image quality is second only to the mighty Mavic 3 in DJI’s prosumer line, with extreme detail and very balanced colors

The only real downside was the battery life of only about 26 minutes, simply not enough for today’s standards. Not a deal breaker for photography, but it makes life very hard when shooting hyperlapses

DJI Air 3: Photography Specs

Wide angle camera
Sensor size1/1.3″
Field of view82° (24mm)
Aperturef 1.7
Resolution12 MP
Telephoto camera
Sensor size1/1.3
Field of view35° (70mm)
Aperturef 2.8
Resolution12 MP
Weight720 grams
Max Vertical speed10 m/s
Max Horizal speed24 m/s
Wind speed resistance12 m/s
Max flight time46 minutes
Source: DJI website
DJI Air 3, frontal view
DJI Air 3, frontal view

The Air 3 has a smaller sensor of 1/1.3”, the same size as the one of the Mini 3 Pro, with a real photo resolution of 12MP, a field of view equivalent to 24mm, and a very wide aperture of f1.7, basically the same photo specs as the Mini 3 Pro

I am not going to analyze the specs for the video, as I will make a specific separate analysis of footage quality with this model 

This new model offers an array of very powerful features, some of them unexpected. Battery life is a whopping 46 minutes, at least on paper, which is a hyperlapser’s dream

It is much more powerful than the Mini 3 Pro in terms of wind resistance and speed

Signal transmission, the only real weak point of the Mini 3 Pro, has apparently been massively improved

DJI Air 3, lateral view
DJI Air 3, lateral view

The Air 3 even offers features like omnidirectional obstacle avoidance and Waypoint mode for video, functionalities that so far were exclusive to the flagship model of the prosumer line

These features only marginally apply to photography so that I will analyze them in depth in specific videos

So the Air 3 is designed as a very versatile drone, a bit like a Mini 3 Pro on steroids, instead of a competitor of the Air 2s

The dual Lens system of the Air 3

But the big unexpected new feature is the dual lens system, so far seen only on the recent Mavic 3

DJI Air 3, dual lens system
DJI Air 3, dual lens system

Besides the usual wide-angle lens, the Air 3 is also supplied with a 70mm equivalent moderate telephoto lens for a zoom factor of approximately 3x, with an aperture of 2.8 and the same sensor size of 1/1.3”

When I started using drones for videography and photography, about ten years ago, the image quality was much lower compared to ground-based DSLR cameras, but what I missed the most was the ability to swap lenses with different focal lengths

The choice of the two focal lengths in the Air 3 is precisely what the doctor ordered

The main lens at 24mm is the traditional wide-angle view of most drones, while the 70mm is the perfect length to reach targets we cannot otherwise reach due to regulations, for close-up cityscapes, for filming wildlife without disturbing, or for spying on the neighbors (just kidding)

It is also a perfect length to compress the different layers of a scene to obtain a different perfective or for a parallax effect

Photo Modes of the Air 3

The photo modes available are the same as the Mini 3 Pro:

  • Single photo
  • The so-called 48MP mode
  • Automatic Exposure Bracketing (3 or 5 images)
  • Burst
  • Timed shots
Photo menu of the DJI Air 3
Photo menu of the DJI Air 3

“48 MP” Mode

But the 48MP mode is not in the Photo menu it can be accessed in the Camera tab of the Settings

The 48 MP mode in the Air 3 can be accessed in the Camera tab of Settings
The 48 MP mode in the Air 3 can be accessed in the Camera tab of Settings

This mode can now be applied not only to single photos, but also to AEB and apparently also to Panorama and Hyperlapses, but I will analyze these modes in specific articles

Dual Lens System

Another major difference is the presence of the two icons for toggling between the two lenses: the one labeled 1x is for the wide-angle lens and the 3x one is for the telephoto one

Icons to toggle between the two lenses in the DJI Air 3
Icons to toggle between the two lenses in the DJI Air 3

These two icons replace the one for the vertical orientation of the Mini 3 Pro

Automatic Exposure Bracketing

When choosing the AEB mode we have the usual choice between 3 or 5 photos taken at different exposure values with an interval of ⅔ of a stop

I find this mode very useful and I use it practically all the time for two reasons: it makes sure to always have an image perfectly exposed and in some cases better results can be obtained by merging the 5 images to HDR, using programs like Luminar Neo, the one I use. You will find info about Luminar in this article

Air 3 Image Quality

Daylight

Let’s have a look at some images. The light conditions are horrible

DJI Air 3 wide angle lens: East coast of Sicily during the summer
DJI Air 3 wide angle lens: East coast of Sicily during the summer

It is the month of August in Sicily, and during the summer here there is extremely low visibility due to moisture and dirt in the air

DJI Air 3 wide angle lens: East coast of Sicily
DJI Air 3 wide angle lens: East coast of Sicily

We can hardly see the difference between the sea and the sky. I would never shoot photos or video during the summer here but for the purpose of testing these conditions are helpful, as we can see how the camera reacts to the most challenging conditions

In the last month, the region has been ravaged by fires, as you can see

Wide Angle Lens

Images taken in normal daylight with the wide-angle lens are very pleasant (considering the horrible conditions), with well-balanced colors and an organic feel, similar to the ones taken with the Mini 3 Pro

DJI Air 3 wide angle lens: a small village by the sea on the East coast of Sicily
DJI Air 3 wide angle lens: a small village by the sea on the East coast of Sicily

The detail is certainly not the same as the Air 2s, but this was expected due to the smaller sensor and the lower resolution

Telephoto Lens

DJI Air 3 telephoto lens: East coast of Sicily during the summer
DJI Air 3 telephoto lens: East coast of Sicily during the summer

The telephoto lens produces images much darker than the ones taken with the wide-angle lens with the same settings

The difference is about one and a half stops. This is not surprising given the difference in the aperture of the two lenses

It is slightly annoying for users who don’t rely on computer editing, but it helps to shoot 5 bracketed images and then choose a brighter one for the shots taken with the telephoto lens

DJI Air 3 telephoto lens: East coast of Sicily
DJI Air 3 telephoto lens: East coast of Sicily

The quality of the images taken with the telephoto lens is excellent and this is very good news, as it makes it very easy to integrate images taken with the two lenses on the same project

They are maybe even better than the 24mm, with more contrast and slightly more detail, and this is a massive positive surprise

DJI Air 3 telephoto lens: a small village by the sea on the East coast of Sicily
DJI Air 3 telephoto lens: a small village by the sea on the East coast of Sicily

There is a slight inconsistency between the two lenses in the White Balance, as the 70mm lens tends towards a magenta cast, but this is easy to adjust by moving the color slider of your editor toward the green, or by creating a color preset

JPEG Files

The quality of the JPEG photos is excellent and this is good news for users who don’t do any editing

I still prefer to use RAW photos as they contain more info and respond better to post-processing, but the JPEG files have constantly improved in DJI prosumer drones and I find the ones of the Air 3 even better than the ones of the Mini 3 Pro

Top-Down Photos with the Air 3

Wide Angle Lens

DJI Air 3, top-down view of a garden, wide angle lens
DJI Air 3, top-down view of a garden, wide angle lens

By turning the camera towards the ground for top-down shots we take the sky out of the equation to focus on detail and color rendition

The colors are nice and well-balanced, with a good amount of information in the shadows. The detail is certainly not the strong point, but the scene looks very natural

DJI Air 3, top-down view of a village, wide-angle lens
DJI Air 3, top-down view of a village, wide-angle lens

The rendition of the Air 3 is very close to the one of the Mini 3, but obviously, nowhere near the Mavic 3

Telephoto Lens

DJI Air 3, top-down view of a garden, telephoto lens
DJI Air 3, top-down view of a garden, telephoto lens

The same images taken with the telephoto lens are excellent, with more detail and contrast. I am starting to get very, very excited about this lens

DJI Air 3, top-down view of a village, telephoto lens

48MP Mode in the Air 3

Like the Mini 3 Pro, the Air 3 offers a so-called 48MP mode

DJI Air 3 48 MP mode, wide angle lens: East coast of Sicily

There is often some confusion as many users are led to believe that by magic these models have a photo resolution of 48MP and therefore a better photo quality than the Air 2s or even the Mavic 3. This is absolutely wrong

The Air 3, like the Mini 3 Pro and several smartphones, has a Quadbayer sensor, capable of splitting each pixel into four smaller ones, therefore achieving a sort of 48MP resolution

DJI Air 3 48 MP mode, wide angle lens: a small village by the sea on the East coast of Sicily
DJI Air 3 48 MP mode, wide angle lens: a small village by the sea on the East coast of Sicily

The issue is that each pixel is extremely small and cannot collect much light. This technology is still a work in progress that can have some small benefits under specific light conditions, but to state that this model has a photo resolution of 48MP is seriously misleading

DJI Air 3 48 MP mode, telephoto lens: East coast of Sicily
DJI Air 3 48 MP mode, telephoto lens: East coast of Sicily

Also to be noted that the 48 MP images produce extra large files that require plenty of computing resources when inserted in a video timeline

Photos Against the Sun

And now the torture room. Some images against the direction of the sun, the hardest possible test for the lenses

This first one is in the direction of the sun just before sunrise. Not the most extreme HDR, but the difference in luminosity between the sky and the elements on the ground is huge

Wide Angle Lens

DJI Air 3 wide-angle lens: image against the sun before sunrise
DJI Air 3 wide-angle lens: image against the sun before sunrise

The wide-angle lens does an excellent job of reproducing a lot of detail in the shadows

In all these HDR images I have not used masks or Merging to HDR which would yield even better results

DJI Air 3 wide-angle lens: image with the sun on the left edge
DJI Air 3 wide-angle lens: image with the sun on the left edge

In this one, the sun is just out of the left edge of the frame a couple of hours before sunset with the usual horrible summer light conditions. There is plenty of haze and dirt in the air, in real life I could hardly see Mount Etna at all

The 28mm lens does a sensational job: again plenty of detail in the shadows, no chromatic aberrations, and very little loss of detail and saturation in the area near the sun

DJI Air 3 wide-angle lens: image with the sun in the center of the frame
DJI Air 3 wide-angle lens: image with the sun in the center of the frame

This one is the hardest possible situation, against the full uncovered sun. The result is simply astonishing

It is hard to believe how much the technology and the quality of the lens have improved in the last couple of years

Telephoto Lens

DJI Air 3 telephoto lens: image against the sun before sunrise
DJI Air 3 telephoto lens: image against the sun before sunrise

The results with the 70mm lens are also excellent, even though the shadows are slightly darker

DJI Air 3 telephoto lens: image with the sun on the left edge
DJI Air 3 telephoto lens: image with the sun on the left edge

Low Light Photos with the Air 3

Wide Angle Lens

In low-light photography, the Mini 3 Pro has shown astonishing results, due in part to the extreme aperture of f1.7

I was expecting something similar with Air 3, at least with the wide-angle lens. The results are beyond belief

DJI Air 3 wide-angle lens, low light image
DJI Air 3 wide-angle lens, low-light image

I know a lot of you will think that these are not low-light conditions, but believe me, it was very dark, with the last bit of twilight well after sunset and artificial lights

These are situations where previous models of the DJI line used to struggle and we needed to boost the ISO values with a good amount of noise

Telephoto Lens

With the 28mm lens, we can simply forget about noise and ISO, we never need to move it from the base value. We can even expose the image to look like full daylight

DJI Air 3 telephoto lens, low-light image
DJI Air 3 telephoto lens, low-light image

A very similar result is obtained with the 70mm lens, despite the smaller aperture of 2.8   

VicVideoPic

I am Vittorio Caramazza, aka Vicvideopic, the founder of this website and author of all the posts. I am a videographer and photographer contributing to several stock agencies. I am an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and Lightroom. I have 10 years of experience with dron videography and photography. I was struck by drone syndrome in 2013. I have owned and tested in depth the following drones: Phantom 3, Phantom 4, Phantom 4 Pro, Mavic 2 Zoom, Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic Mini, Mini 2, Air 2, Air 2s, Autel Evo Nano Plus, Mavic 3, Mini 3 Pro, Mini 3. My home has turned into a breeding ground for drones. I am the owner of two YouTube channels specializing in Videography and Photography, with a focus on drones My main channel is VicVideopic (in English): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgaBlrFDONJ4BSEUHa2cLKg My other channel is Drone Mitico, the Italian version.: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkeoY8rPPj-fypUKHckTtwQ I am currently based in Sicily (Southern Italy), but I tend to move quite often. After all, this is one of the main benefits of being a digital nomad…

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