Tough and maneuverable, but difficult to fly indoors and with Goggles 2.
Cinewhoop drones are popular right now because they can dive, twist, and speed through inaccessible areas to produce spectacular footage. DJI has jumped on that trend with the Avatar, an FPV drone that is a far cry from the company’s fast DJI model, also known as the FPV. Instead, the Avatar focuses on agility and has propeller guards that allow it to fly safely around people.
It comes with the new Goggles 2, which are smaller and lighter than the Goggles V2 included with the DJI FPV drone. It is also available with an updated Motion Controller, which allows you to steer the Avata by moving your wrists.
The system, which costs $1,388 with the Goggles 2 and Motion Controller, could help drone users get into the world of FPV and cinewhoop. I enlisted my drone pilot friend Samuel to test it in a variety of challenging scenarios to see how it compares to the FPV and other drones.
The Avata is unlike any other consumer drone from DJI. It has prop guards and a small, 7-inch square by 3.1-inch high body to fly indoors, around people, or in tight spaces. It weighs 410 grammes, which is much lighter than the FPV but slightly heavier than the 249-gram Mini 3 Pro. As a result, it is required to register or obtain a license in Europe, the United States, and many other countries.
The batteries have a flexible connector that is designed to reduce crash damage. DJI claims up to 18 minutes of flight time, but we got around 10-12 minutes on average, and even less if we flew it extremely fast. That’s still good for an FPV drone (most are under 10 minutes), but DJI’s marketing should be more realistic.
The Avata’s battery charges in about 45 minutes, and the $279 Fly-More kit includes two extra batteries and a charger. Samuel stated that if he purchased one for his photography business, he would receive at least six batteries.
I’d also buy the largest microSD cards I could find, because the slot tucked beneath is extremely difficult to access – especially when removing a card. The USB-C port for transfers and charging is also difficult to access. DJI typically excels at these types of features, but these are genuine design flaws. On the plus side, the Avata has 20GB of internal storage that can come in handy in an emergency.
Two time-of-flight sensors beneath can detect and map ground obstacles. However, because the Avata lacks forward-facing sensors, its primary protection is provided by the prop guards and rugged design.
The only way to fly the Avata Pro View Combo is with the DJI Motion Controller. You can also use the FPV Remote Controller 2, but it costs $200 separately.
Also included in that bundle are the new Goggles 2 – not to be confused with the Goggles V2. They’re smaller and lighter than the Goggles V2, and they use micro-LED panels instead of OLED panels, with 1080p resolution for each eye versus 810p on the Goggles V2. The V2 can be used with both the Avata and FPV, but the Goggles 2 are only compatible with the Avata.
The Avata is a lot of fun to fly, but it isn’t as quick as some FPV drones. It tops out at 60 MPH in manual mode, well under the 87 MPH of DJI’s FPV. That’s in manual mode; sport and normal modes are much slower, at 31 and 18 MPH, respectively.
It has incredible maneuverability, allowing you to fly in places where no other drone would go. We carried it around handball players during practice, between our legs, through a small gap in a sign, around a castle rooftop, and indoors with people and fragile items nearby. It’s also difficult. There were several crashes that would have killed an open-prop drone. It can also bounce off a person without harming them.
Given that the Avata may be many people’s first FPV drone, selling it with the Motion Controller is a good idea – but not the only option. DJI should sell it in conjunction with the FPV Controller 2, which provides more precise control for advanced users. You must currently pay an additional $199 to obtain it.
The Motion Controller is simple to use; simply point it in the direction you want to fly and pull the trigger to accelerate. To climb, tilt the controller upward and apply power; to descend, do the opposite. A large button on top hovers it, and a red button allows you to take off and land.
It does, however, have some limitations. Because the Motion Controller cannot transition vertically or fly backwards, landing requires the use of a button. It is also imprecise, especially indoors. In fact, we discovered that without an internal GPS lock, the Avata was sometimes unflyable with the Motion Controller.
The FPV Controller 2 is a better option if you have some experience. It enables you to use manual mode to fly faster, lower to the ground, and zigzag between trees or rooftops. You can fly precisely between rooms, objects, and people inside, just like in some of those cool cinewhoop FPV videos.
Flips, dives, climbs, hairpin turns, rolls, and other tricks are also available in manual mode. Remember that there are no sensor safeguards. While the Avata drone is tough, it is not indestructible and could seriously injure someone at 60 mph. It’s also more unstable, so flying it takes a lot of skill. It’s a lot of fun, though, with the speed and lack of safeguards providing a real adrenaline rush that other drones don’t provide.
The majority of so-called Cinewhoop FPV drones use external cameras such as the GoPro Hero Bones (or simply regular stripped-down GoPros), but the Avata has one built in. It employs the same 1/1.7-inch sensor as the new Action 3 camera, but with 64% more area than the FPV.
Like the Action 3, it has normal, wide and ultra-wide options with up to a 155 degree field of view. In addition to the built-in gimbal and Rock Steady smoothing, it has the Horizon View option to keep things level even if the drone is heavily tilted.
Despite wind or abrupt manoeuvres, the gimbal and RockSteady stabilisation keep video smooth. And, as advertised, the HorizonView option kept things level even when we were slaloming between trees.
It supports 4K video at up to 60 frames per second or 1080p and 2.7K at 120 frames per second with the Goggles V2, but only 100 frames per second with the Goggles 2. It’s not ideal that it’s slower than the headset it comes with, but this is apparently due to the higher resolution. If you ever want to take pictures, the sensor has 48 megapixels.
Image quality is excellent, especially considering the camera’s small size. The video is sharp, and the colours are accurate, if a little oversaturated. It has DJI’s D-Cinelike mode if you need more dynamic range.
With an ISO range of up to 12800 in expanded mode, it’s not bad in low light for shooting cityscapes or well-lit interiors. However, adequate lighting is still required, or the video will become blocky and grainy quickly. If it gets too dark, it’s unfixable in post, so if you’re shooting indoors, make sure you have enough light.
Overall, it’s a very solid camera, though not up to, say, GoPro’s standards. However, the camera is only part of the picture; when combined with the Avata’s small size and maneuverability, it captures shots that other off-the-shelf drones cannot.
To summaries, the Avata is a fun, rugged, and maneuverable little drone that produces great footage, but it has some strange flaws and limitations. If you wear glasses, the Goggles 2 will limit your slow-motion experience. Furthermore, the Motion Controller does not allow for precise FPV flying, and the microSD slot and USB-C port are awkwardly placed.
It’s also fairly pricey. The base drone costs $629, but it costs $1,388 with the Goggles 2 and Motion Controller, plus an additional $279 with the Fly-More kit. If you add the FPV Remote Controller 2, that’s another $199. The FPV included with the Goggles V2 and older Motion Controller costs $1,300.
Even so, there aren’t many ready-to-fly drones that can do what it can. It’s in a class of its own if you want a highly maneuverable and relatively safe Cinewhoop-style drone without building one yourself.