Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

DJI recently released the DJI Avata. It’s DJI’s second ready-to-fly first-person-view drone. The Avata is designed for both beginners and experienced FPV pilots who prefer to fly through a window. From someone who has flown FPV drones for years, here is our review of DJI’s Avata.

For those who have never flown FPV, it’s the closest thing to being a bird. It provides unparalleled drone control and had a steep learning curve until recently.

The Avata is the only FPV drone that I could hand off to a complete novice and have that person confidently fly around a room, out the window, and back within a minute of instructions. The 4k footage that results is stunning and buttery smooth.

If DJI’s goal was to “bring the excitement of flying an FPV drone to a wider audience,” they have done so admirably.

DJI kindly provided me with the Pro-view combo for this review. The bundle includes two boxes: one for the Avata and one for the Motion Combo, which includes the Goggles 2 and the motion controller remote. A spare battery was also sent to me. The kit, as reviewed, would cost $1,517. Not cheap, but if you’re starting from scratch, you get a lot of bang for your buck.

dji avata open box
The main components of the Pro-View Combo. AVATA, DJI Goggles 2, and motion controller

Fortunately, I was in Europe when I received the Avata, so I was able to put it through its paces and research local regulations. My first stop, Paris, allowed me to become acquainted with all of the components.

The Avata

The Avata came in its own box, complete with a flight battery, single battery charger, two spare props, a prop screwdriver, and instructions. It would cost $629 if purchased separately. If you already have a compatible remote and goggles, this isn’t a bad option.

The drone has a tough exoskeleton that protects the props, camera, and electronics. At 162g, the battery contributes significantly to the system’s weight. I appreciate how simple it is to insert the battery into the frame – no more fidgeting with velcro straps and unsightly slippery connectors. It was a breeze to charge the battery. The flexible power cable connected quickly to the single charger, and the battery was fully charged in about four hours.

The take-off weight is a substantial 410g. If this is your first drone, you must register it in order to comply with FAA rules and regulations for drones weighing more than 249g.

The camera has a 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor with a “effective” resolution of 48MP and a 155-degree field of view. The video resolution reaches 4K at 60 frames per second, and all camera settings are accessible via the menu on the goggles or the DJI fly app.

DJI Goggles 2

The Motion Combo box included the new DJI Goggles 2. They came with a battery, screen protector, headband, USB C power cable, and a USB C OTG cable for connecting to your Apple or Android device to register and set up your drone.

dji goggles 2 screen shot
Screen grab of the DJI Assistant 2 installation.

The Goggles 2 are much smaller than previous versions and, unlike their predecessor, have foldable antennas and a screen protector, making them much easier to store.

The amazing 1080p 100fps view from crystal clear micro OLED screens with adjustable diopters is my favourite feature. This is a game changer for anyone who wears glasses with a -8.0D to +2.0D range. The view is breathtaking. Small fittings for custom prescriptions are also included in the kit. As DJI points out, the goggles do not support astigmatism correction, so they may not be suitable for everyone. But, for me, they hit the sweet spot of 50+.

I’ve been using DJI’s FPV/ Fatshark analogue and HD goggles for a long time, and after looking through these, anything less than 1080p is going to be difficult to look at. I believe the transition from the V1 FPV goggles to the Goggles 2 is as dramatic as the transition from analogue to HD. That’s how good the view is.

After 18 minutes of flight, they get a little hot on your face. I wish there had been a small fan in there. I also thought the foam on top was a little thin for my head.

Head-tracking is also available on the Goggles 2. This and other functions are activated via a small touchpad on the right side of the goggles. Swipe down and select the gyroscope-looking icon to enable head tracking. When turned on, the drone will turn left and right wherever you look. The camera will also move up and down. The sensation is strange and will take some getting used to. You must also move the motion controller and re-center your head during the process. Nonetheless, it appears to be a good option for people like me who tend to pretzel themselves while flying.

Is the motion controller any good?

Finally, the motion controller remote is included in this box of goodies. I must admit that when I first saw this thing, I was not impressed.

Was I ever wrong! This tiny controller completely changes the game. It comes with a lanyard and is similar in design to traditional VR or game console remotes. It has familiar buttons all over the top and sides.

The motion controller’s emergency brake function is one of my favourite features. It brings the drone to a halt. For the first time, I was surprised to see the frame swing 90 degrees into my field of view. It works differently than quickly releasing the throttle, which is an excellent way to boost confidence when you’re getting ahead of yourself. Instead, the emergency brake button allows you to take a breather, reorient yourself, and, if necessary, return your drone to its take-off location.

I quickly registered and logged in after downloading the DJI Fly app to my mobile device. I also had to update all of the components and download the DJI Assistant 2 to my computer.

DJI Assistant 2 (Consumer Drones Series)

Unlike most Mac apps, the DJI Assistant 2 requires a few steps to install. After you launch the app, go to the Apple menu, System Preferences, Security and Privacy, and then General. You’ll need to unlock the panel there. After that, you should see the option to allow the system to install the app. But that isn’t the end of it. Returning to the installer will bring up your terminal window. Enter your password here, hit return, and restart your computer. You should be good to go after that.

dji assistant 2 install
Screen grab of the DJI Assistant 2 installation.

Another strange quirk I discovered was that you must connect the supplied USB-C OTG cable and appropriate USB adapter to your computer. Using a regular USB-C cable directly to the Mac did not allow the app to connect.

The ease of use of the DJI Avata and the first flight

I tried the Avata indoors after updating and binding all of the components and taking a quick look at where I could fly outdoors in Paris (nowhere I could see) on the DJI app.

The motors roared to life with a double tap on the motion controller’s sole red button. The Avata rose straight up as if on rails with one long press. Tilting the motion controller to the left or right rotates the drone. I could see the camera lowering and raising itself when I pitched the motion controller forward and back, but the drone remained perfectly still. Everything became crystal clear once I put on the goggles.

There is a small white circle visible in the goggles. The drone will go wherever that circle is. When you tilt the motion controller, the circle moves smoothly across your field of view, which is a huge help in determining where you are going. With my newfound confidence, I handed the drone over to a friend who had never flown with goggles before. He, like me, was astounded by how simple it was to fly indoors. Next, I invited a couple of neighbours over, and each one eagerly took a supervised turn.

Outdoors and indoors

To put the drone to the test outside, I went to my brother George’s art studio and home, which are about an hour outside of Paris. It’s in a small village near open farmland, making it an ideal location for testing drones both outdoors and in a much more interesting indoor environment.

I was able to fly the Avata right up to the ceiling support beams, out the window, into the courtyard, into the adjacent building through the door, through another window, and back again. I found it easier to fly slowly and smoothly with the motion controller than with my comparable-sized Cinewhoop and GoPro.

dji avata image inside
Screen grab of Georges Moquay’s Art studio.

I could test how low and fast I could race over the ground by flying the drone over open farmland. I was racing 10 inches above the ground at 30 mph after a quick click on the motion controller switched from Normal to Sport mode. I was astounded by how well this thing hugs the ground! Going at any speed feels faster because you’re so close to the ground. It’s thrilling. The downward collision sensors play a significant role in this. They’re incredible, like having a protective bubble that keeps you from collapsing.

dji avata full speed

Climbing, on the other hand, felt much slower than on my previous FPV rigs. It felt more like a smooth plane at full speed in S mode. At full speed, this drone is an absolute screamer, as in LOUD. I can only imagine how loud this thing would be when climbing at nearly 60 mph in manual mode. At the same time, we were flying a Mini 3 Pro, which is almost silent in comparison.

I did have some issues.

DJI Avata durability

The Avata, unlike the original DJI FPV Drone, has survived. The Avata can take a hit and keep flying thanks to its tough yet flexible propeller guard/ducted fan configuration. During my testing, I had two notable incidents in which the drone crashed hard enough to shut down the engines.

The first occurred during a hand-off when the drone came too close to a wall of foliage and crashed to the ground from about 12 feet with no damage.

dji avata wear and tear
A close-up of the Avata after hitting a lone rock at full speed and cartwheeling across a plowed field.

The second scene was a little more dramatic. The Avata was flying ridiculously low to the ground in S mode at full speed, about 30 mph, when it collided with a lone rock and cartwheeled across the field. I didn’t want to try turtle mode until I checked for damage. Turtle mode is activated via the goggles menu. The only damage I could see after retrieval and dusting off was a tiny crack on the front left propeller guard. All of the propellers left a small mark on the inside of the propeller guard but were otherwise undamaged.

I returned the Avata to the ground, restarted it, and flew again without incident.

Range

DJI claims that in interference-free outdoor environments, the Avata will travel up to 10 km or 6.2 miles in the United States, FCC, 2 km or 1.2 miles in Europe, EU, and 6 km or 3.7 miles in China, SRRC. This could be true in the middle of nowhere, with no power lines or cell phone towers nearby. However, I discovered that the environment and its interference, such as concrete buildings and deep canyons, have a significant impact on how far you can fly. When connected to the DJI Fly app, the Avata automatically adjusts regions.

I also encountered a brownout while attempting to test the range of the drone. That’s when the video feed from the goggles abruptly stops, leaving you with nothing but static or blue screens.

I was speeding down a dirt road with open farmland to my left and a row of trees to my right when the video abruptly cut out well before the expected mile range. Fortunately, I simply let go of the trigger, and the drone came to a stop and hovered there. I spun it back toward me and slowly returned until the video recovered and I could resume normal flight. Unfortunately, my spotter informed me that I had gotten too close to the high-tension tower hidden behind the trees.

Traveling with the Avata

The entire kit, including the battery, is surprisingly small. I could easily fit the drone, goggles, and motion controller in my photo bag, leaving room for a full-size camera, lenses, and gear with no extra protection — nothing to unscrew or pack specially. Simply drop it in and go.

dji avata image
Screen grab of standard 4K footage on auto mode from Avata.

Going through airport security is much easier now that there is no need for bags within bags. With the screen protector on the goggles, it was simple to grab the three components from my camera bag during a thorough security screening, lay them out on the security tray, and pull the entire package back in. You’ll appreciate this if you’ve ever gone through security with carefully packed custom gear.

I took the Avata with me because I was going to Venice, Italy. When I arrived at our Airbnb, I launched the DJI fly app and discovered that there were no approved flying sites nearby. I asked the local cops where I could fly my palm-sized drone, and they told me flatly that I couldn’t fly it anywhere outside. I was very excited to film the inside of our apartment.

Switzerland is up next! There, I was fortunate enough to fly the Avata through the mountains and woods. The views were breathtaking, and flying through the trees and up and down the trails was pure magic. This setup is much easier to manage than a standard FPV drone. I didn’t have to fuss with strapping on a battery, the battery plug, or the GoPro, and I can fly for more than ten minutes.

dji avata photo 2
Avata standard 4K footage captured in auto mode.

The view from the new goggles is breathtaking. Flying through the trees with the new motion controller was so easy that I quickly handed the drone over to my friend and spotter who had driven me there. Despite his lack of experience, he had no trouble slaloming between trees 10 inches off the ground. Leaves looked especially cool being blown in the path of the fast-moving Avata.

dji avata image 3
Avata standard 4K footage captured in auto mode.

Back in Italy, my host drove me down to a valley near a lake. A half mile away, there was a small marina and an abandoned parking structure. It was a breeze to take the Avata out of my camera bag. In less than three minutes, I was up and running. Flying over water between the boat masts was incredible with the new 1080p video feed goggles. Every line, pole, cable, cord, and wire in my path was visible. Once inside the abandoned parking structure, I could see the video break up a little, but nothing dramatic happened after passing through a bunch of reinforced concrete pillars. I simply let go of the throttle, and the Avata came to a complete stop with no drifting. I had another thrilling ten minutes of darting in and out of the garage. I also returned home with 20% of my battery capacity remaining.

Back in Paris, I attempted to find another location to test the drone and ended up at the police station. More specifically, I was fortunate to be given a tour of a police motorcycle garage and its rich history of motorcycles and public service. I encouraged some of the officers to try out the goggles and, with permission, flew around the garage and through the building trusses with ease. Going behind a concrete pillar at the far end of the room caused Avata’s ground sensors to lose reference. I let go of the trigger and glided through the trouble spot with ease. Keep in mind the dark and low-light areas you will be flying in, as well as the limitations of your equipment’s sensors.

At this point, you should probably be flying in M mode and unleashing the full power of this drone with the Remote DJI FPV Drone Remote controller 2, which will cost you an additional $179.

Is the Avata worth it?

Let’s start with the price. This Pro-view combo, as reviewed, costs a whopping $1,517. Yes, that may appear to be a steep price. Consider that a similarly equipped CineWhoop kit, ready to use with a GoPro, would cost more than $1,700. And it won’t have GPS or downward-facing collision sensors, nor will it fly as long, be as simple to use, or provide buttery smooth footage right out of the box.

You can get much lighter frames that will allow you to travel faster and farther. Kits with higher image quality will be more expensive. There are also less expensive kits available for those just starting out with FPV. You will gain additional and very valuable flying, soldering, fine-tuning, and video post-processing skills with these. There are numerous online resources to help you get started. However, if you’re starting from scratch and want a ready-to-go, out-of-the-box, minimal set-up option, this combination is difficult to beat.

Video and photographers

The photographers and video creators I’ve shown this drone to have been blown away by its ease of use, video transmission quality, and immersive flying experience.

DJI Avata image 4
Avata standard 4K footage captured in auto mode.

They’ve flown other videography and photography drones, such as the Mavic and Phantom, with their phones and tablets, but never with goggles. They were afraid of breaking something. They have always avoided FPV-type drones due to the steep learning curve and lack of experience in both flying and replacing components.

This tiny palm-sized drone is a different story, thanks to advanced downward sensors, propeller guards, and a ridiculously simple-to-use motion controller. Shots that were once the pride of seasoned FPV pilots are now within reach. Prepare to see stunning footage from this drone on social media as long as it’s shot in D-Cinelike. The resulting video, when set to standard colour mode with auto iso, blows out the whites and crushes the blacks a little too much for my taste.

Will it be able to replace larger, more sophisticated rigs used in professional settings? Yes, if you used GoPro-style footage in your production. Especially in the hands of professional FPV pilots and FPV cinematographers who want to go places that only this drone can fly. However, in demanding production environments, that small sensor will not be able to replace larger, more capable, and far more expensive rigs. With ideal lighting conditions, it’s a great way for the rest of us common mortals to get absolutely stunning footage quickly.

dji avata image
Avata standard 4K footage captured in auto mode.

DJI virtual flight simulator

After installing and registering the app on your iOS/Android device, you can use it on its own or connect it to your goggles using your remote or motion controller. The app includes tutorials and a simulator to teach you about all aspects of your system. In theory, the simulator will teach you valuable flying skills.

In reality, the experience was NOTHING like flying a regular drone. I’m not referring to the simulation’s video quality, which I believe is invaluable for newcomers; rather, I found the controls to be much smoother and more responsive in the real world. In the simulator, I couldn’t get around a building without colliding with it, but in real life, I’m zipping around trees.

I’m confident that the application will be updated and improved quickly. At the moment, I found the experience to be a little buggy and clunky. Everything was fine in the motion controller simulator until it came to switching modes. I kept clicking the button with no effect and had to abandon the motion controller tutorial there.

That being said, if you can zip around the simulator without hitting anything, I’m sure you’d excel in the real world. Just don’t go 60 mph in places where you shouldn’t.

Safety and Remote ID

The DJI fly app includes a wealth of safety-related information and settings. From downloading the most recent updates to restricted flying zones and, hopefully, a lot more flying sites in the near future. You can limit Avata’s maximum altitude and range, as well as other safety features, in the application.

The downward-facing binocular vision and infrared sensors, which work exceptionally well in S and N mode only, keep the drone from collapsing. Keep in mind that it isn’t perfect, and exercise caution when walking on featureless and reflective surfaces such as water and smooth concrete. Keep an eye out for situations where the ambient light changes dramatically. There are no additional collision sensors. If you’re flying 10 inches above the ground and heading for an 11-inch rock, you’ll hit it, bounce, and return for more.

Furthermore, the Avata includes an ADS-B sensor and RID capabilities, which are only available if you connect the goggles to your Android or iOS device and launch the DJI fly app.

According to my understanding, as long as your phone is connected, your drone will be compliant with the new RID rules that go into effect in the United States later this month.

DJI emphasises that you do not need the app to fly, which could be useful indoors and in other areas with poor cell phone reception.

Final thoughts

I had a fantastic time flying the Avata. In my opinion, this is the simplest FPV Drone to set up and fly in minutes, comfortably and confidently, inches from the ground.

It will undoubtedly be my go-to drone when I need to get close to the ground for insanely smooth shots. With the motion controller, both S and N modes are a lot of fun.

It’s a little heavy and loud. I wouldn’t compete with an FPV racing drone, but I wouldn’t mind flying around the track with one.

It will also not replace my sub-249g setup. However, it will take the place of my similarly sized Cinewhoop. It’s more compact, has longer flight times, is a lot more fun to fly, is smoother to fly, and is easier to transport.

If you’ve flown drones before and wanted to try FPV but didn’t think you had the skills, I can’t recommend this drone enough. The ridiculously intuitive motion controller smoothes out shaky hands and allows you to stop on a dime at any time, and downward-facing sensors and GPS give you peace of mind that your drone won’t collide with the ground or drift away. You’ll be able to master epic smooth shots with the Avata in no time.

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