DJI doesn’t particularly need an introduction. Their Phantom series brought drone video to the average Joe, while the Mavic Pro brought it closer to the tech and vloggers communities. Now, the DJI Spark aims to bring it to everybody. This tiny wonder goes places no toy drone could hope to go and really packs the tech of its older siblings into a tiny package.
Specs of the DJI Spark
The DJI Spark is not much more than palm-sized, and I don’t have particularly big hands. Weighing in at 300 grams (little more than half a pound), you’d think it wouldn’t be up to much, but as I live close to the sea, most of my flights have been in high winds. The DJI Spark has coped admirably, especially considering its petite frame.
Toy drones for practice
Let me give you a little of my drone background. I’ve wanted a drone for ages, but with my history of new gear accidents, added to seeing some of my friends destroy really expensive drones, I avoided getting a good one. Instead, I bought loads of toy drones and learned to fly them. While my agenda was always to get a proper drone, flying toy drones is a lot of fun. Best of all, the price means you’re not afraid of crashing them. I found this a great way to get comfortable with flying.
Let’s look at the rest of the DJI Spark’s specs. It has a 12MP JPEG only stills mode, with video capabilities limited to 1080p 30fps video. This camera sits on a 2-axis gimbal, which, while not in the league of the 3-axis capabilities of bigger drones, works quite well in practice.
The field of view is 25mm equivalent and looks great. The battery is an intelligent type and has its own firmware independent of the drone itself. Charge time is quick, and as well as the dedicated charger, there’s a micro USB port on the drone that can be used to charge the battery. That’s handy when you’re out and have a power bank at the ready.
DJI Spark Options
The DJI Spark comes as a standalone device, flown via the DJI Go 4 app for $499 and as the Fly More kit combo with a controller, spare battery, prop guards, 3 battery charger and a bag for $699. Don’t waste your money on the basic version. Get the kit. Why?
Well, flight time is quoted at 16 minutes, but it’s less in practice. You’ll need the extra battery after your first flight because you’ll want to fly more! But the main reason is the controller. With just the phone, you’re limited to using an ad hoc phone Wi-Fi network to control the Spark. This is a meager 30m radius. You’ll run out of fun really quickly.
Now for the crucial question. How does it fly? After flying toy drones for a while, I’m well used to how the controls work. My left hand has throttle and spin, with the right doing forward/back and left/right. It becomes natural quickly. Because the DJI Spark uses GPS for positioning, as soon as you stop flying, the drone stops moving. It’s locked solidly in place.
I began using the Beginner mode from the phone only and moved to the controller once I was comfortable. Beginner mode reduces both the distance and speed the Spark can travel. It’s perfect for learning the ropes.
There’s one thing I will stress. Compared to toy drones, the Spark almost flies itself. It makes me regret not getting a proper drone sooner. However, those toy drones did give me more confidence in flying. If you’ve been holding out and just want a drone with a quality camera for basic photography, this is the one for you.
Are there any issues with the DJI Spark? Yes. I’m happy enough to use JPEG and there are exposure controls available, but there is one thing that I’m not happy about, sharpening issues. In-camera sharpening on the files is horrible. I’m sure they would print fine, but looking at the files at 100%, it’s just horrible. There’s no way to turn it down either. Obviously, DNG would be better, but that’s a selling point of the Mavic Pro.
The flight time for the Spark is quite low in comparison to its older siblings. It’s quite long compared to toy drones though and comparing battery sizes, it’s not a wonder. For the size of the drone, the flight time is acceptable.
The DJI Go 4 app is easy to use and contains all the information you need while flying. High wind warnings, along with information on the home point and general flying information show on the screen as you fly. Height, distance and velocity show on the bottom of the screen. There’s a compass in the bottom left. Always check the direction the drone is facing before take off so you can align the drone if it goes out of visual range.
The big selling point in DJI’s advertising is Gesture Control. To use this, you power it on (single tap, then long hold on the power button), then tap twice. If the sensors pick you up, the props will start to rotate and the Spark will take off.
A series of gestures control the device and placing your hand under it will make it land on your palm. Does it work? Yes, it does. Is it a gimmick? Yep, it’s fun, but only up to a point. Flying with the controller is the only way to go. You get bored with the Jedi palm control rather quickly, though most people find it really impressive.
In the center of the controller is a button marked sport. This removes the handbrake and turns the Spark into a fun monster. It isn’t immediately obvious that you don’t need the app to fly the Spark. Turn on the controller, then turn on the Spark. Once connected you can fly the Spark directly from the controller with Sport mode on.
I found that it wouldn’t fly for me without Sport mode on. Aim the two joysticks in and down to start the propellors, then throttle to take off. Enjoy! It’s fast and furious, but watch out with braking as it needs room to stop or reverse even.
The DJI Spark is a great starter drone with a usable camera. It’s fun to use and easy to fly. If you need 4K and DNG, don’t even look at it, go for the Mavic Pro. If these aren’t an issue, you’ll love the Spark, but save yourself some pain and get the kit version.
- Small size.
- Stable even in high winds.
- Good mix of control options.
- Beginner mode useful for learning to fly, as is the in-app Flight Academy.
- Fun. It’s just loads of fun, especially in controller only Sport mode.
- Controller flying is great.
- JPEG only, with terrible sharpening.
- 1080p with only 30fps. Obviously, a tactic to upsell to one of the big brothers.
- Low flight time; acceptable, but still a con.
- Needs controller for best use, but the kit is a great value.