Lots of Impressive Features
The Spark is aimed at the dronie crowd, but shares tech from the Mavic such as obstacle detection, dual-band GPS and a visual positioning system that lets it hover in place up to 98 feet (30 m) above the ground — indoors or outside. Also, while the competition relies on electronic image stabilization alone, DJI put the Spark’s full HD video camera on a two-axis motorized gimbal for smooth results without sacrificing image quality. And DJI took its gesture controls to the next level with the drone, too.
While there’s a lot to like, here are a few of our main reasons for recommending the DJI Spark:
- If you’re a novice or intermediate pilot on a budget, the Spark is the perfect option since it comes with many of DJI’s features used with other more expensive systems.
- It’s exceedingly easy to fly. You will be using a standard controller with connectivity to an iPhone, iPad or some other display. Once you’re off the ground, you’ll be navigating a drone with stabilization, obstacle avoidance and a high level of responsiveness.
DJI added obstacle avoidance in the Spark, but it’s not as powerful as what you’ll find on the Phantom 4, or even the Mavic Pro. However, we have seen the obstacle avoidance system protect our Sparks from branches and other obstacles. If you’re a novice, you should also consider using propeller guards. While these will reduce your battery life a bit, they help absorb the blow of whatever you might accidentally run into.
In addition to a 12-megapixel camera that shoots in 1080p at 30 frames per second, the Spark also comes with a two-axis gimbal. This lets the Spark stabilize the camera and cancel out any jarring or shaky movements. We’ve found this feature to be particularly helpful for quick trips where you’re trying to gather some preliminary footage for a longer mission. Most drones in this price category only feature single-axis mechanical stabilization.
The DJI Spark is definitely a smaller drone at 143 x 143 x 55mm and 300 grams (10.6 ounces). It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s a portable unit that can be packed in your luggage, backpack or some other carrying case. Thankfully, the DJI Spark comes in a small foam box that has compartments for four replacement propellers and two extra batteries. In our opinion, the original factory foam storage box is an excellent carrying case for any context. The DJI Spark can be purchased in a host of different colors: Alpine White, Sky Blue, Meadow Green, Lava Red and Sunrise Yellow. Because we own more than 8 Sparks, we purchased two in several colors to help us identify each drone and its respective kit. Keep in mind that ideally you’ll purchase a drone that offers maximum contrast with your surrounding environment.
Unlike most other drones, the DJI Spark has rubber padding on each corner that serve as landing gear. In mos cases, the brick-like design of the Spark keeps the propellers spinning far enough off the ground. We typically throw down a landing pad like this one to ensure the landing surface is flat and free of obstacles.
Handling a Crash (or Two)
We’ve flown many other drones made by other companies and it’s not a stretch to say that DJI’s drones are sturdier than most. Because the Spark is so boxy and relies on a relatively spartan, function-first design, it’s definitely well equipped to handle crashes. With short, rigid arms, no landing legs, and a camera that is relatively protected by its position, there’s not much on this drone that’s likely to break when it crashes. Even after hitting trees, falling from the sky, or crashing into other obstacles, our Sparks typically hold up well. And when the arms crack, we simply glued them and off the Spark goes for its next mission. Yes, you’ll need to keep extra pairs of propellers on hand since you never want to fly with cracked or damaged propellers, but those are inexpensive to replace. Do keep in mind that when landing and taking off, if your Spark’s camera doesn’t have enough clearance, the gimble will stick and you’ll see a gimble error on your controller.
Average fly time and recharge speed
The DJI Spark battery typically lasts for about 16 minutes of flight time with a full charge and optimal flying conditions. When it’s windy or cold, expect your battery life to drop severely; especially when it’s cold. When we fly during the shoulder months, we often see flight times of around 10-12 minutes. During normal flight on a warm, calm day, your drone’s motors, sensors, and processing power will push you down toward 14-15 minutes.
That’s not the full 16 minutes that DJI printed on the box, but it’s still solid and places the Spark ahead of competitors like the Yuneec breeze (11 minutes) and Hover camera Passport (9 minutes).
After you drain your batter, expect to spend about 45 minutes on the charger to bring it back to 100 percent. This will vary depending on how much you drain the battery. If you typically fly until the Spark performs a low-power emergency landing, that’s about how long it’ll take. If you land after the first low battery warning, it will only take about 30-35 minutes.
Flying Experience and Modes
Just like the company’s Mavic, Phantom, and Inspire drones, the Spark provides a very tight and responsive flying experience. It’s quick, nimble, and impressively stable for a drone of its size. Even in windy conditions, it does a fantastic job of mitigating drift and holding its position. When you let off the control sticks, Spark stops dead in its tracks and stays there until you command it to do otherwise. Usually, smaller drones are squirrelly and unstable, but nothing could be further from the truth in this case.
Another big plus is the Spark’s built-in obstacle avoidance system. This is something you simply won’t find on other portable drones, and it adds to the flying experience in a big way. With a maximum sensing distance of just 16 feet, it’s not nearly as robust as the sense-and-avoid systems built into DJI’s more expensive drones, but it’s still pretty damn decent, and saved us from crashing on more than one occasion. Even if you’re not an experienced pilot, the Spark’s sensing system helps you fly with confidence and vigor.
What really makes Spark special, though, is its wide range of intelligent flight modes. This thing was designed from the ground up to be super easy to fly. In addition to DJI’s standard offerings like TapFly and Active Track, it sports a handful of brand-new modes that allow anybody to capture really good-looking, cinematic footage without any piloting skills whatsoever.
Aside from the standard stuff that’s included in every new DJI drone, the Spark has four new flight options. There’s Rocket (in which the drone will quickly ascend with camera pointing down), Dronie (where it will fly up and backward while staying locked on subject), Circle (orbit while staying locked on), and Helix (orbit outward in a spiral pattern). All of these can be executed with just a few taps on your smartphone, which is pretty cool. Thanks to DJI, you don’t need to be a seasoned drone pilot to capture professional-looking shots.
Perhaps the only downside to the Spark is the fact that it doesn’t have a 4K camera, or the ability to shoot raw photos. The drone’s shooter boasts a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor that can shoot 12 megapixel stills and capture video in 1080p at 30 frames per second. That isn’t necessarily bad, it just isn’t 4K, which is something that a lot of other portable drones offer — including the Yuneec Breeze, Hover Camera Passport, and ZeroTech Dobby.
You don’t need to be a seasoned drone pilot to capture professional-looking shots.
Since DJI was late to the game and had every opportunity to outdo the competition here, it’s puzzling why the company chose not to include a 4K camera. Everything else on the Spark is at the top of its class, so why not the camera? We don’t have any proof, but our theory is that DJI was worried about cannibalizing Mavic Pro sales. The Spark has a very similar set of features and abilities, but costs just half of what the Mavic does, so if DJI gave the Spark a 4K camera, suddenly there wouldn’t be much reason to choose the Mavic anymore.
The lack of 4K is definitely a bummer, but the Spark’s camera does have a bunch of other features that the competition doesn’t, like a two-axis gimbal for stabilizing your video, and a variety of different shooting modes for still photography — like burst shooting and auto exposure bracketing. It also has a new feature called Shallow Focus, which uses the drone’s vision system to blur the background and create an artificial (but convincingly realistic) depth-of-field effect.
All things considered, it’s definitely not a bad camera. It might not have the resolution that other portable selfie drones have, but what it lacks in pixels it (mostly) makes up for with other features.
The Spark is easily one of the best portable drones available right now. Despite the fact that it can’t shoot 4K video like some of its competitors, it outshines the competition in just about every other regard. It’s faster, smarter, can fly for longer periods of time, and is definitely the most reliable in its class — so if you don’t mind shooting in 1080p, this drone would make a fantastic companion on your next adventure.
Are there better options available?
That depends entirely on what you’re after.
If you want high-resolution video, then no. You’d be better off with a Yuneec Breeze or Hover Camera Passport. If you don’t mind dropping a bit more moolah, DJI’s Mavic Pro also offers 4K video in a compact and portable form factor, but it costs $1,000.
If what you’re after is bang for your buck, then go with the Breeze. It’s been around for nearly a year at this point, so its price has dropped from $500 down to under $400 — yet it offers many of the same features that the Spark does.
If you’re a beginner looking for something affordable and fun to fly, then Spark is your best bet. It’s durable, reliable, and has sensors that will help you avoid crashing. It also has upgrade options that allow you to scale up and grow your skills as you progress as a pilot — such as a physical controller that boosts responsiveness and extends the drone’s range up to 1.2 miles. For more thoughts, read up on our favorite drones, favorite cheap drones, and favorite drones for beginners.
How long will it last?
DJI has a pretty solid track record for pushing out regular firmware updates for its drones, and there’s no reason to think Spark would be an exception. Barring any catastrophic crashes, this drone will probably last for upwards of five years.
Should you buy it?
Yes. This is a damn fine little drone, and definitely one of the best in its class.