First Impressions of Spark: Unboxing a Game-Changing Drone

DJI Spark – Overview, Set Up, Indoor Flight

INTRODUCTION

As the manager of a popular YouTube channel about drones, I look at a lot of different drones. Toy drones that flip. FPV drones that race. Photography drones. Selfie drones. Even drones that drop stuff from the air. Those are all fun, but after a while, they start to blend. Don’t get me wrong, even after several years of flying, and I’m still amazed at the technology that allows us to fly these things safely and with relatively little training. But every so often, a new drone comes along that shakes up the game — a drone that pushes the boundaries of what UAV technology can do. I believe that Spark $499from DJI may well be one of those game changers!

KEY FEATURES

First of all, coming in at 143 mm x 143 mm x 55 mm, Spark is mini. If you thought the Mavic or Breeze were small, then Spark will reset your expectations.

And while a new  mini drone is cool, the fact that this one is bursting with DJI’s signature technologies is the real accomplishment here. Of course, it has the usual things, brushless motors, GPS, and rock-solid stabilization. But what sets it apart are the features you would not expect to find on a quadcopter this small. The first is a 2-axis mechanical gimbal. Hubsan and Yuneec make some beautiful camera drones in a small form factor, but they rely on digital image stabilization, which, honestly speaking is not great. A mechanical gimbal in a drone this size is mind-blowing! I’m still amazed that the Mavic has such a stable gimbal, but Spark takes miniaturization to a new level. Now granted, Spark is a 2-axis gimbal, and larger quads often have a 3-axis gimbal, but to most people, the resulting video quality is very similar. But more about the camera later.

The next feature that is ground-breaking for a little quad is the array of sensors on Spark. It has obstacle avoidance, indoor positioning as well as interactive sensors that respond to gestures from the pilot.That’s right. You wave your palm in a particular direction or other gestures, and the drone reads your movements and follows your command. I’m not going to dive too deep into Gesture Control in this article other than to say that it’s a fresh, immersive experience. Just amazing features in a drone this size.

Finally, it comes with an updated version of the DJI GO 4 app. This version is similar to the previous versions but now supports Spark. Personally, I have not gone deep enough into the new DJI GO 4 app to know if there are significant differences. However, the biggest thing is that it immediately recognizes Spark and gives you the controls you need to fly right from your mobile device.

For the controls, like its DJI predecessors, you can fly Spark with your mobile device or Spark’s dedicated remote controller, of which the former is only currently available. Honestly, I’m not a usually a big fan of using a phone or tablet to fly, but Spark is a good flight experience with mobile devices. The lag between the app and the drone that I have seen with other drones is gone. Spark reacts quickly to the virtual controls and other than not having real sticks or buttons to push, the flight experience is pretty similar.

FLYING SPARK

Spark is very easy to fly. The GPS and ground positioning work flawlessly and give you a real sense of security when you need to stop. You let go of the virtual sticks, and the thing hovers steadily in place, even with a high wind. One thing to keep in mind is that Spark is flat to the ground, meaning that if you are trying to take off or land in grass, you might damage your propellers or motors. I highly recommend taking off from concrete or using Spark’s foam case as a takeoff platform. Of course, if you are a more experienced pilot, you can always take off and land from the palm of your hand.

Though Spark is supposed to clock 16 minutes of flight time, my flights have all been closer to 14 minutes. The aircraft always handles well in the wind, although with the prop guards on, it had to angle itself quite a bit to hold in place when the wind was strong.

PHOTOS AND VIDEOS

Spark has a 12 MP 1/2.3 in CMOS camera that captures video and still images. It has a wide field of view but does not suffer from the “fisheye” look that other wide angle action cameras often have. Live transmission to your mobile device only has a tiny delay and the image is very clear. As I mentioned earlier, the mechanical gimbal is 2-axis while the gimbals on more expensive drones tend to be 3-axis. From my perspective, I didn’t experience any shakiness, jello effect, or other problems with the 2-axis gimbal. The footage I have shot so far is smooth and sharp. Spark’s camera shoots full 30 fps HD video at 1920 x 1080 pixels. If you are not a professional videographer, this should not be an issue. I am a professional videographer and I still use 1080 HD much more than I use 4K. But if 4K is a requirement for you, then you might consider the Mavic, Phantom, or Inspire series.

CONCLUSION

DJI’s new revolutionary mini drone is still very new, so I haven’t seen everything it can or can’t do. But so far, so good. I am impressed. To me, Spark is quite obviously a consumer market drone but with the ability to capture high-quality video and images from unique, and most importantly, spontaneous angles. It’s an accessible drone my mother or grandmother could fly and comes in five different colors (I got lime green).

Price point wise at $499 USD, it’s certainly not cheap, but it’s affordable enough to get your very first drone. The tagline is apt — Seize The Moment — because Spark is powerful, intelligent, and portable, all the things you need to capture your aerial creativity on the fly (oh, see what I did there?).

My hope is that Spark will seize the imaginations of thousands around the world, taking their new and existing drone hobbies to new Spark heights!

Kelly Shores
Kelly Shores lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and two children. He runs a video production company called Sparksight. Kelly is an avid mountain biker and photographer who loves to document his adventures with family and friends. Kelly also enjoys FPV racing as well as building and fixing drones. He runs the popular You Tube channel Ready Set Drone and is contantly amazed by the rapid pace of techonology in the drone industry.