We have come such a long way in what is relatively a short time, though a decade is a long time in the technology world. In that time I’ve reviewed a lot of drones… brands that have come and gone and of course, the O.G – DJI. Their latest offering is a real window into the advanced technology at our fingerprints in this space.

DJI Air 3 drone as seen from above hovering over a beach

In 2014 my Phantom 2 cost under $1,000 – but it didn’t even have a camera. Buy a Go-Pro and then a gimbal you’re adding $660 more, or DJI had one with a camera that took the price close to a place higher than this new DJI Air 3.

And the Phantom would crash into anything the moment you took your eyes off the prize. Trust me, I lost a couple over the years.

Omni-directional obstacle sensing simply stops you flying into things, this doesn’t work in the high-speed flight sport mode, but for your travel pics and landscape shots, that’s no issue.

Obstacles were not my issue today though, as I set out to test distance and get some stunning coastal shots of Wollongong.

After checking the OpenSky (iOS, Android) app to confirm it was a safe and legal place to fly. I waited for sunlight and set off.

The Open Sky app showing a take off location and approval to fly

My motivation was selfish, as off the coast of Port Kembla is the Höegh Jacksonville, the car-carrier which has on board my brand new car. So, why not get closer than shoreline for a photo of the ship?

For a more practical use, imagine being a farmer, with kilometers of fenceline, livestock, dams and buildings to keep track of. At well under 120m you can cover that with ease. The CASA flight restrictions would be problematic for most of that, but with a registration and certainly a licence those things can be overcome – though on private property it really should be made far easier in the red-tape department.

DJI report a distance potential of some 20km here, but you’ll struggle to get it there and back on one battery. For my test we went with the safest option, putting only the drone at risk by flying at 40m above sea-level straight out and back. Because of the horizon I was able to fly at a level that allowed that little black dot to stay in sight, it’s helpful to have a spotter with you on binoculars in this situation, but in reality I don’t see a time when anyone would be flying at these distances.

A flight path shown over water

This little drone that could flew 6,916meters from shore. Yep, just shy of 7km. At that point I was able to be within 100m of the ship, get a great photo using the 3x lens alternative lens on the front and then the alarms went off, with an automatic return to home call.

The Höegh Jacksonville car-carrier as shot from a DJI Air 3 Drone

We panicked, of course. Who wouldn’t. But the DJI Air 3 calmly made it’s way back in the most battery efficient manner possible. It came back with 7 minutes of flight time still available.

When I took off that was 46 minutes. Yes, three quarters of an hour flight time – that’s truely amazing stuff.

The Höegh Jacksonville car-carrier as shot from a DJI Air 3 Drone

I’m now considering Whale Watching options!

Flight time, impressive.

Flight distance, impressive, though I should note, not only is that unlikely to be a flight you’d ever do, it would never get that distance with any obstacles like trees – direct line of sight would be critical, as is visual line of sight for the pilot and or spotter. You simply cannot fly a drone off into the distance without the ability to see it, that’s a strong no-go under CASA’s drone rules.

DJI's advanced remote control

Then we come to images.

Well, video is utterly impressive. Check out this calming 10 minute 4K video (still processing to 4K at the time of publishing) from a fixed position at 120m above the coastline

A better challenge is light.

I was out before sunrise, waiting to pounce – and for perspective, I had my big Sony camera with me trying to get some shots of the dawn light, struggled. But this – first shot I took on the DJI Air 3 – wow.

A stunning sunrise shot of the horizon taken by aç

Honestly, the colours are stunning.

I’m sure a photographer with skill will be able to use it to an even greater extent, with manual settings, ND filters and so much more available.

But for me, it’s the click and shoot quality that blows my mind

A coastline photo looking down to Wollongong and Port Kembla shot on  DJI Air 3 Drone

No matter where you look – of course my favourite is where the ocean meets the land

Waves crashing onto rocks

Then there’s the presence of a 3x Zoom lens. That was half the reason I chose today’s assignment. Under no circumstances did I want to, nor should you, be flying close to things like ships. So with a 3x optical Zoom, I can give the impression I was far closer.

A close up of the dual lens camera on the  DJI Air 3 Drone

Here’s 3x and 1x side by side.

The DJI Air 3 weighs just under 800grams, but is a chunky fella – those sensors really add some bulk, but not weight.

It’s the same sleek foldable design since the original Mavic and it’s literally backpack material or less.

 DJI Air 3 Drone in flight

For me, I wouldn’t fly a drone today using the cable to smartphone setup, these DJI controllers with the built-in screens are impressive, easy to use and do all the firmware updates you need as you need them.

The DJI Advanced controller showing 48 minutes battery lift

You can get the DJI Air 3 with Standard Controller for $1,699, or the Fly More pack which I recommend for $2,349 which comes with the extra batteries but also the advanced controller with built-in screen – if you can stretch it, do it. I’d have regretted having just the one battery today and I think that’s why the Fly More works, and always choose the build-in screen controller.

While it’s expensive, I get that, it’s remarkable how easy they now are to use and that’s what makes drones a must have for those travelling and those with a passion for photography.

 DJI Air 3 Drone hovering above water

Can’t recommend the DJI Air 3 enough, strong and powerful enough to cope with much higher winds than the Mini, and with vastly improved camera capabilities, it’s a winner.

 DJI Air 3 Drone sillouette in the sunrise