Droneflyers.com received a review model of the DJI Spark Camera Drone before the official launch. We therefore have had a few months to put the model through its paces and determine the pros and cons of this ultra-portable quadcopter. Note that we have our initial review in this article as well as a number of Spark videos at our youtube channel. These may answer many of your questions, however the below is a summary of our thoughts at the present time. We will present most of the benefits and features in the beginning of the article and list out the major “cons” (what it doesn’t do, etc.) at the end.
What is Spark and who is it for?
The DJI Spark is the first mass-market ultra-portable drone that still has most of the features of the larger and heavier models. These include a camera gimbal, front and bottom sensors, dual GPS, FPV, an advanced App and an array of photographic and other options. Up until the Spark, the closest model to this ideal was the Parrot BeBop 2 – which has many of the above features, but lacks a gimbal (mechanical camera stabilizer) – instead using Electronic Image Stabilization to remove vibrations and other unwanted movement from the video(s). Most experts will agree that the mechanical (Spark) camera gimbal results in better overall video than EIS.
The DJI Spark is available with or without an option R/C controller. When purchased without the R/C controller, the range is limited and the model must be controlled using “virtual sticks” which are on the screen. Those who have no experience with either virtual or real “sticks” will likely need a lot of practice (and reading) to become familiar with operating the Spark via Mobile Device. Still, in our opinion, the Spark represents a truly useable camera drone/mobile device combo….something that we feel is lacking with most earlier models.
Adding the R/C controller makes the Spark a much more capable device – extending the range, the control “feel” and other options enough to make it a totally different experience. The R/C controller also features a “Sport” mode – which turns the normally tame Spark into a racer/FPV model that you’ll enjoy flying around the local fields. It can also integrate with the DJI Googles – giving you the full FPV experience (our DJI goggle review is here).
The Spark would, in our opinion, suit a majority (perhaps 75%) of consumer drone shoppers as their only drone. The portability, features and options would cover most aspects of hobby and ametuer use – and also serve as a fine platform for basic Aerial Photography and Video for Real Estate and some inspection uses. For the other 25% of drone users, the Spark may represent a good “backup” or “stealth” model to add to their toolkit. It may come in handy when conditions, travel and other situations make it more difficult to use larger models.
It should be noted that the DJI is not built or marketed as a low-end model. It is a sophisticated aerial platform and will require both study and practice to get the most out of it.
Not (yet) for Everyone
DJI has marketed the Spark hoping to capture a new breed of consumers – those who formerly have never owned a drone and who may be tempted by the size, intelligent flight modes (selfies, etc.) and mid-range price. While Spark certainly has the flexibility and features to satisfy, the “ease of setup and use” quotient is not yet at the point where I would feel confident buying one for my dad or even my wife (who is inexperienced in R/C and mechanical devices). Over the years I have joked with my wife that she is the true test of whether or not a consumer device is really ready for the masses…that is, she is probably typical of the “average” consumer who buys a smart phone, tablet or computer. The current status of Spark is probably closer to that of wireless programmable web cameras, thermostats and other home automation systems…that is, someone who is patient, semi-technical and capable of following instructions will be able to set it up and operate it.
The good news is that many “ease of use” features are in software – and DJI software tends to lag behind their hardware. This means that the true promise of Spark will likely get closer to being fulfilled as firmware and app updates are released.
As A Camera Drone – Pros and Cons
The still pictures from Spark are quite good. They are 12MP (4,000 wide by 3,000 high) which is the same approx. resolution of Phantom 3 and 4 models (with the exception of the 20MP Phantom 4 Pro). As of this writing (August, 2017) the still pictures are jpg only – no RAW format is available.
Video is also of decent quality – our sample roll on youtube has various scenes for your further study. HD (1080) is the highest video resolution available on Spark. The Spark uses a 2-Axis gimbal and also is not as wind resistant as heavier models, so expect to do some video editing in order to discard shots that may show some vibrations (due to small size/weight of Spark combined with wind and/or operator aggressiveness). Note that proper use of ND Filters and UV/Polarizing can help when shooting in bright conditions. Polar Pro has created lightweight ND filter sets for The DJI Spark.
Range and Flight time may come into consideration with the Spark Camera Drone. As discussed earlier in this article, range is vastly extended when using the R/C Controller. As an example, note the two still pictures below (click to enlarge – then click again for even larger). The picture of the house shows approx. the max. range of the Spark using a mobile device (notice I am in the backyard controlling Spark). The larger landscape pics of the Bay in Rhode Island is taken using the R/C Controller.
The Spark has a flight time of approx 12 minutes on a single battery. This is well less than other DJI models which offer approx 2X that endurance. This will not be of concern to those taking most still photos and videos, but you must be more aware with Spark than with other DJI Models. Batteries can be charged via standard USB, a feature which adds some flexibility to those taking Spark “off the grid” and using small solar panels and similar methods for charging.
The picture below shows the Spark at well over 2,000 feet distance in an open area (USA):
The Spark is one of the best indoor drones available – the size and stability make it much easier than larger models for indoor pics and vids. Please purchase and use the prop guards for any indoor and/or close-in work.
Full Specs on the Spark – including photo modes, wind resistance, range, etc. can be found at the DJI Spark Specifications Page.
Range – even with the R/C Control – is not as far as the DJI products which use LightBridge or similar technologies. This is because the Spark uses a more standard “wifi” for connection to both the R/C Control and the Spark itself. Also, range will be shorter in many foreign countries…and better in the USA. Being a small drone, the Spark – in most cases – will be flown fairly close to the operator (Line of Sight – LOS – is the law in most places). Range will vary depending on obstacles, other wireless signals and the general lay of the land, but should be plenty for the basic Real Estate, Landscape, Selfie and other uses the Spark is designed for. Pilots looking for a long range Camera Drone should consider the DJI Mavic or one of the newer Phantoms.
DJI Spark Compared to Other Camera Drones
Prospective buyers of the Spark should refrain from comparing it to other models. Spark is new and different and must be looked at as “different” rather than measured against models which were designed with other uses in mind. This should be obvious from the specs and from our suggestions above – but it’s important to drive home this point. At the time of this writing (August, 2017), here are some of the basic <2K consumer drones classified by the main feature(s) and buyers who may want to consider them.
DJI Mavic Pro – is probably the best all-around consumer camera drone for the more serious pilot. The portability and range are best-in-class and the entire setup will delight most drone pilots.
Mavic Pro worldwide at DJI – Mavic Pro Amazon
Note – most buyers would be best spending the extra money for the complete kit (FlyMore) – but those on a strict budget can get by with the basic model since the flight time, even on a single battery, is fairly long.
Phantom 4 Professional – is for those real “prosumer” photographers who want the best possible photographs and video at the consumer price level. The 1″ Sony Sensor and number of photographic options put it head and shoulders above most other consumer camera drones. Note- the Phantom 4 Advanced uses the same camera but lacks some of the Obstacle Avoidance sensors – and is now being sold for a discount price.
Phantom 4 Pro DJI – Phantom 4 Pro Amazon – Phantom 4 Advanced on Sale DJI
Phantom 4 (original model) – could be the best everyday drone for a lot of users who don’t mind the larger size of the Phantom body style. It is the perfect compromise between many of the other models…and the simpler camera (fixed focus) will appeal to the “buy and fly” crowd.
Those on an even tighter budget may consider new, refurb or even used models of the following:
Phantom 3 Pro, Phantom 3 Advanced, Autel X-Star – there are all older models (1-2 years), BUT that means they are proven and mature. Check the DJI Reburb Link and/or Amazon for various new and refurb models of these.
And, at the lowest end, the Phantom 3 Standard can often be had for $350-$450 and represents quite a value for the money. Amazon Link – DJI Refurb Links.
As far as the smaller palm sized and mobile device driven drones, it’s hard to recommend any of them due to various shortcomings – the lack of a gimbal or stabilized video being one of biggest downfalls. The aforementioned Parrot BeBop 2 does have some nice features and the Electronic Image Stabilization (what Parrot uses instead of a gimbal) provides a passable image. At $499 for the “FPV” model, it’s a decent value if it fits your needs.
If you decide the Spark is the right machine for you, you can find it on the DJI site at this link or at Amazon here. Note that when you purchase using our links you are helping to defray the costs of this site – and it doesn’t cost you any more – and we appreciate it!
DJI Spark at DJI Site
DJI Spark at Amazon
Note that current pricing is approx. $499 US for the basic Spark and $699 for the “Flymore” kit which contains the R/C controller, a multi-charger, an extra battery and prop guards.
DJI Spark Still Picture Gallery (pics are downsized to 2500w)
Accessories – Note – most mention of add-ons will be in our Forum Thread where we add info on Spark Regularly…
Here are some photos of the Polar Pro camera filters (ND and others) which we are currently using and testing on our Spark.
These can be purchased at various sites – and in various kit sizes – at this Amazon Link.
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