DJI Air 3 - first experiences in photography

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DJI Air 3 in air

As I had already report­ed here, I ordered the new DJI Air 3 direct­ly on its day of release. Mean­while, the new drone has arrived here. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the weath­er was not very good in the past few days, so I had only few test oppor­tu­ni­ties. There­fore, here is a some­what delayed report on my first impres­sion from the per­spec­tive of a photographer.

I have again direct­ly ordered the DJI Air 3 Fly-More-Com­bo*, which includes the drone and the remote con­trol, two addi­tion­al bat­ter­ies, an inge­nious 3-fold charg­ing dock, spare pro­pellers and a shoul­der bag in which every­thing fits togeth­er. To be on the safe side, I also signed up for the Care Refresh pack­age for 1 year, as I have done with all my DJI drones so far. Although I have nev­er had to use this, it gives a cer­tain sense of security.

I do not want to report about the unbox­ing here, there are already count­less videos about it on YouTube. I also expect the rough tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions to be known.

Unpacked, the drone makes a very high-qual­i­ty impres­sion. I already had the pre­de­ces­sor mod­el, the Air 2s. The Air 3 has become sig­nif­i­cant­ly larg­er and heav­ier, which is espe­cial­ly notice­able in direct com­par­i­son with the tiny Mini 3 Pro. The rotor arms fold out fur­ther, and the rotor blades have become even larg­er than on the pre­de­ces­sor. Every­thing seems extra­or­di­nar­i­ly sta­ble, the joints have a good resis­tance when unfold­ing, noth­ing wobbles.

C1 certification

In the EU, the new Air 3 is already cer­ti­fied in the C1 drone class at the time of deliv­ery, as con­firmed by a stick­er on its bot­tom. That still allows it to fly in the Open A1 cat­e­go­ry after Jan­u­ary 1st, 2024, when the new EU drone reg­u­la­tions will come into effect. Open A1 is the cat­e­go­ry with the least restric­tions, where pre­vi­ous­ly only drones under 250 grams were allowed to fly. More infor­ma­tion on drone cat­e­gories and clas­si­fi­ca­tions is avail­able direct­ly from the local avi­a­tion author­i­ty, in Ger­many this is the Luft­fahrt­bun­de­samt (LBA).

To oper­ate the Air 3 in the EU, how­ev­er, you must be in pos­ses­sion of the small EU drone pilot’s license (EU cer­tifi­cate of com­pe­tence) and be reg­is­tered as a drone pilot at your fed­er­al avi­a­tion author­i­ty, in Ger­many the Luft­fahrt­bun­de­samt. Then you are allowed to fly with the DJI Air 3 in the EU drone class C1 even in the vicin­i­ty of peo­ple. Also, the min­i­mum dis­tance of 150 meters from res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial areas no longer has to be main­tained. How­ev­er, unlike with drones weigh­ing less than 250 g, unin­volved per­sons may not be flown over with the Air 3.

Mandatory labeling

The DJI Air 3 must be dou­ble tagged before its first use: 

The UAS oper­a­tor ID received dur­ing reg­is­tra­tion as a UAS oper­a­tor from the avi­a­tion author­i­ty must be leg­i­bly attached to the out­side of the drone. In addi­tion, it now has to be reg­is­tered in the firmware of the Air 3. The drone will then per­ma­nent­ly trans­mit its ID dur­ing oper­a­tion. The oper­a­tor ID has to be added to the DJI Fly app. Drone insur­ance is of course still necessary!

First flight

Because of the bad weath­er, my first use of the drone was delayed a bit. For the first flight, I took the drone back to our local hill, the Desen­berg near War­burg. There I had already test­ed the pre­de­ces­sor mod­el Air 2s for the first time.

As men­tioned sev­er­al times in my pre­vi­ous drone arti­cles, I main­ly use my drones for pho­tog­ra­phy. This was there­fore also the focus of my first tests. In par­tic­u­lar, I was inter­est­ed in the image qual­i­ty of the two cam­eras that are now installed in the Air 3. In addi­tion to the usu­al wide-angle lens, the Air 3 now also fea­tures a light tele­pho­to lens, which is equiv­a­lent to a full-frame 70mm lens in terms of the angle of view.

This means that I now have the focal length range of my pre­ferred 24-70mm lens on my EOS R5 avail­able in the air as well. Here are two first shots with the two lenses:

Desen­berg, DJI Air 3, 24mm, f/1.7, 1/3000, ISO 100
Desen­berg, DJI Air 3, 70mm, f/2.8, 1/1000, ISO 100

As always, I took all the shots shown here in RAW for­mat. The DJI Air 3 allows you to save the images either as a JPG file, as a DNG file or in both for­mats at the same time. This is bet­ter imple­ment­ed than on the Mini 3 Pro, where the JPG files can­not be turned off. Since I don’t need them, I have to delete them there man­u­al­ly every time.

Both images were tak­en with the sen­sors’ high­est res­o­lu­tion of 48 megapix­els. Unlike the small DJI Mini 3 Pro*, the 48-megapix­el mode is now bet­ter inte­grat­ed in the Air 3. It now also works with expo­sure brack­et­ing (but only with 3 shots) and in con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing mode.

I devel­oped both DNG files in my usu­al work­flow in Adobe Light­room Clas­sic 12.4. Due to the rel­a­tive­ly high dynam­ic range, the high­lights were low­ered sig­nif­i­cant­ly (-77) and the shad­ows were raised (+72). Since both cam­eras have iden­ti­cal sen­sors (stacked design, 1/1.3 inch), the col­or repro­duc­tion is iden­ti­cal, which I con­sid­er a big advan­tage. The longer focal length allows new per­spec­tives with a vis­i­ble com­pres­sion of the background.

I con­sid­er the over­all image qual­i­ty of both cam­eras to be very good con­sid­er­ing the small sen­sor size. Here are 200% crops of each of the two shots:

Desen­berg, DJI Air 3, 24mm f/1,7, 200% crop
Desen­berg, DJI Air 3, 70mm f/2.8, 200% crop

Despite ISO 100, a slight noise can be seen in both images at high mag­ni­fi­ca­tion due to the small sen­sor for­mat. Over­all, how­ev­er, I con­sid­er the image qual­i­ty to be very appeal­ing. I also like to use the built-in panora­ma modes of my drones. Here are a few processed panoram­ic images from my first Desen­berg tour:

Desen­berg, 3x3 panora­ma with the DJI Air 3
Desen­berg in back­light, 3x3 panora­ma with DJI Air 3

And to fin­ish the maid­en flight, a small “Lit­tle Plan­et” panora­ma I devel­oped with PTGui from the 33 sin­gle shots in the spher­i­cal panora­ma mode of the Air 3:


Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Air 3 only sup­ports the 24mm cam­era in the 12 megapix­el mode in panora­ma mode. How­ev­er, this already results in a res­o­lu­tion of about 45 megapix­els (8000 x 5632 px) for 3x3 panora­mas, which should cer­tain­ly be suf­fi­cient in most cas­es. If even high­er res­o­lu­tions are desired, the sin­gle images in 48 megapix­el res­o­lu­tion would then have to be cre­at­ed manually.

Comparison with DJI Mini 3 Pro and full-frame camera

Since my Mini 3 Pro also has a 1/1.3 inch sen­sor with 24 mm KB equiv­a­lent focal length, it was only nat­ur­al to com­pare the two cam­eras. Accord­ing to DJI, the new Air 3 uses a new type of sen­sor that is sup­posed to deliv­er bet­ter image qual­i­ty with the same size as the Mini 3 Pro. It is also said to be even bet­ter than the sen­sor on the pre­vi­ous Air 2s cam­era, which was sig­nif­i­cant­ly larg­er at 1 inch.

24mm camera

Once again, I chose the view out of my win­dow as the test motif for bet­ter com­pa­ra­bil­i­ty. The scene may already be famil­iar to some from my ear­li­er com­par­i­son test of the DJI Mini 3 Pro with the DJI Air 2s.

I posi­tioned both drones direct­ly above each oth­er and took both com­par­a­tive images with min­i­mal time delay. Both images were tak­en with the same set­tings (ISO 100, f/1.7, 1/1250) and processed with the same set­tings in Adobe Light­room Clas­sic 12.4:

First, here is the com­plete view of the two photos:

DJI Air 3, f/1.7, 1/1250, ISO 100
DJI Mini 3 Pro, f/1.7, 1/1250, ISO 100

At first glance, the images are not very dif­fer­ent. What is imme­di­ate­ly notice­able is that the image crop of the Air 3 is slight­ly small­er than that of the DJI mini 3 Pro. This is prob­a­bly due to the fact that the Air 3’s DNG file already con­tains a lens pro­file that Light­room auto­mat­i­cal­ly applies, seem­ing­ly crop­ping the image a bit. The DNG file of the Mini 3 Pro lacks this profile.

All in all, the qual­i­ty of both cam­eras - at least in the res­o­lu­tion of effec­tive­ly a good 3 megapix­els shown here - can­not be com­plained about. How does it look in the enlarge­ment now?

Picture details

To do this, I again used Adobe Light­room Clas­sic 12.4 to place the images side by side in a great­ly enlarged com­par­i­son view. Below I present the cor­re­spond­ing screen­shots. Here first a sec­tion from the cen­ter of the above image enlarged to 400%:

Com­par­i­son DJI Air 3 vs DJI Mini 3 Pro, 400%.

Over­all, the sharp­ness of the two images is com­pa­ra­ble at first glance. In my opin­ion, how­ev­er, the right image of the Mini 3 Pro shows sig­nif­i­cant­ly more arti­facts. Obvi­ous­ly, a stronger pro­cess­ing and espe­cial­ly sharp­en­ing of the RAW data is already tak­ing place in the drone here. The image looks more dis­turbed, which is espe­cial­ly evi­dent in the gaps between the bricks, where black lines are vis­i­ble that do not belong there. For a bet­ter illus­tra­tion, here some more enlarged sec­tions in comparison:

Com­par­i­son DJI Air 3 vs DJI Mini 3 Pro, 800%.

Over­all, the left image of the Air 3 seems much smoother to me, there are few­er arti­facts to be seen, it looks much more “ana­log”. The dif­fer­ence is even more obvi­ous in the win­dows of the build­ing on the upper right of the frames. Here are two more crops of it in 400% magnification:

Com­par­i­son DJI Air 3 vs DJI Mini 3 Pro, 400%.

Here, espe­cial­ly in the right image of the Mini 3 Pro, you can see dis­tinct black lines in what should be smooth sur­faces of the win­dow frames at the bot­tom left. To show exact­ly what I mean, I have zoomed in the win­dow below even more (1600%):

Com­par­i­son DJI Air 3 vs DJI Mini 3 Pro, 1600%.

Here, the left image of the Air 3 is clear­ly bet­ter. In case some­one thinks that these lines might exist real­ly, I can show an enlarged sec­tion from the same region and from the same shoot­ing posi­tion with my Canon EOS R5, also with 24mm focal length, for direct comparison:

Canon EOS R5, 1600%

And while we are at the com­par­i­son with the full-frame cam­era: Here is a com­par­i­son of the first two drone shots from the cen­ter of the image with the one of my Canon EOS R5 with 24mm as well (always on the right half of the images):

Com­par­i­son DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Canon EOS R5, 400%
Com­par­i­son DJI Air 3 vs Canon EOS R5, 400%

I used the RF 24-105 f/4L lens at 24mm focal length and f/5.6 on my Canon EOS R5. As the image exam­ples show, the shoot­ing qual­i­ty is still much bet­ter with the full-frame cam­era. Indeed, it would be sad if that were not the case.

Of course, the com­par­i­son is very unfair. The Canon lens alone costs more than the DJI Air 3 and weighs as much as the entire drone. If you want to achieve this kind of image qual­i­ty with a drone, you would have to go for the DJI Inspire 3, for exam­ple - but that would be in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent price and weight class. In addi­tion, the sun came out in the com­par­i­son shot with the Canon R5, which also pro­vides much bet­ter con­trasts in the image.

Dynamic range

Sen­sors with a large dynam­ic range can cap­ture details even from dark areas of the image, which can then be extract­ed in post-pro­cess­ing. In Light­room, this is achieved with the “Shad­ows” slider.

To com­pare the new DJI Air 3 with the Mini 3 Pro in this respect, I select­ed a dark crop from the image above at the bot­tom right and set the “Shad­ows” slid­er in Light­room Clas­sic to its max­i­mum val­ue of +100. This results in the fol­low­ing com­par­i­son image at 400% magnification:

Com­par­i­son DJI Air 3 vs DJI Mini 3 Pro, Shad­ows +100, 400%.

The left pic­ture of the Air 3 shows vis­i­bly more details, which is espe­cial­ly vis­i­ble on the bicy­cle and the han­dle of the plas­tic buck­et. How­ev­er, the col­or­ful motif on the blue plas­tic buck­et is not rec­og­niz­able in both pic­tures. Once again, the Mini 3 Pro’s very rough-look­ing arti­facts are notice­able in direct com­par­i­son. The pic­ture of the Air 3 also looks much smoother here.

Nev­er­the­less, this is where the small sen­sors vis­i­bly reach their lim­its when you com­pare their images with a shot from a full-frame sen­sor. Here is a cor­re­spond­ing sec­tion of the shot with the Canon EOS R5 at 24mm:

Canon EOS R5, 400%, Shad­ows +100

This is the area where a larg­er sen­sor real­ly shines. In the shot with the Canon EoS R5, you can rec­og­nize Win­nie the Pooh and Tig­ger on the buck­et, while the two DJI drones just show col­ored noise.

Despite all this, the small cam­eras of the DJI drones do sur­pris­ing­ly well in my opin­ion. I have no hes­i­ta­tion what­so­ev­er in mak­ing large-for­mat prints of the images and have already done so sev­er­al times.

70mm camera

A very wel­come addi­tion to the DJI Air 3 over my Mini 3 Pro is the addi­tion­al sec­ond lens with a full-frame equiv­a­lent focal length of 70mm. Since the Mini 3 Pro has to pass here, I only com­pared it to my Canon EOS R5. On this one, I used the RF 24-105 f/4L lens at 70mm and f/5.6. First of all, the two com­plete frames:

DJI Air 3, 70mm, f/2.8, 1/800, ISO 100
Canon EOS R5, 70mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO 100

I processed both shots again in my usu­al work­flow in Adobe Light­room and addi­tion­al­ly adjust­ed the expo­sure and white bal­ance of the Canon shot slight­ly to that of the DJI Air 3. Except for the dif­fer­ent aspect ratio (DJI Air 3 3:4, Canon EOS R5 2:3), the shots are quite com­pa­ra­ble in gen­er­al appearance.

But now for the details. I start again with 400% enlarged crops from the cen­ter of the image with the clock in the church tower:

DJI Air 3 vs Canon EOS R5, 70mm, 400%

And here is anoth­er 400% crop from the right edge of the picture:

DJI Air 3 vs Canon EOS R5, 70mm, 400%

As expect­ed, the Canon EOS R5 clear­ly wins here. In the right image sec­tions, the full-frme cam­era reveals much more details and also a much bet­ter con­trast between the clock hands and the clock face.

Col­or arti­facts in the clock hands and espe­cial­ly in the foliage of the tree are quite notice­able with the DJI Air 3. In my opin­ion, these are due to the Quad Bay­er design of the 1/1.3 inch sen­sor. It has a nom­i­nal res­o­lu­tion of 48 megapix­els, but the col­or fil­ters always cov­er four sen­sor pix­els at the same time, so that the col­or res­o­lu­tion only cor­re­sponds to that of a 12 megapix­el sen­sor in the clas­sic Bay­er design.

Since the cor­re­spond­ing col­or can­not be deter­mined for each image pix­el, it must be approx­i­mat­ed from the col­or infor­ma­tion of the sur­round­ing sen­sors. This is much more dif­fi­cult with the Quad Bay­er design than with clas­sic Bay­er sen­sors. I explained more about this in an ear­li­er arti­cle about the DJI Mini 3 Pro.


Nev­er­the­less, I am very sat­is­fied with the per­for­mance of the Air 3 and also the Mini 3 Pro. The Air 3 takes even bet­ter pic­tures than the Mini 3 Pro. I hope that the Air 3 will soon also be sup­port­ed by DxO Pho­to­lab and Pur­eRAW. The results from the Mini 3 Pro could slight­ly be improved by using these pro­grams.

I will def­i­nite­ly keep both drones for now, as I think they com­ple­ment each oth­er very well. The advan­tage of the Mini 3 Pro is still its unbeat­able light weight, so you can prac­ti­cal­ly always have it with you.

The Air 3 is a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent ani­mal. It flies faster, fur­ther and longer and also stays much more sta­ble in the air. Dur­ing the above shots at Desen­berg it was very windy, accord­ing to my UAV Fore­cast App (which I can rec­om­mend to every­one) there were gusts of up to 41km/h. Nev­er­the­less, the DJI Air stood like a rock in the waves. I would not have used the Mini 3 Pro in these conditions.

The sec­ond 70mm equiv­a­lent cam­era of the Air 3 is a real gain. I’m already very much look­ing for­ward to find­ing new motifs with it soon dur­ing our upcom­ing vaca­tion in Switzer­land. Then maybe anoth­er arti­cle will fol­low here soon…

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