DJI Spark Review

 

DJI is arguably the leading commercial drone producer and they only want one thing; making it possible for everyone to be able to own a drone. The Spark is the company’s smallest drone ever produced. It’s a fun to fly selfie drone that interacts simply by just waving your hand. It gives you the ability to control it with your smartphone, features a forward obstacle avoidance system, and subject tracking capabilities. You also have the option of adding an accessory remote, which makes this drone a tempting buy for most consumers who are looking for something more affordable than other DJI models. We are still putting the Spark through our rigorous testing process but we do have some initial impressions.

DESIGN

The Spark can definitely be considered small. It measures 2.2 by 5.6 by 5.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 10.6 ounces, which is actually less than a can of soda! However, this aircraft is not foldable, but the propellers do fold in making it easy to transport. The color options are great! You can choose from Lava Red, Sky Blue, Alpine White, Meadow Green, and Sunrise Yellow.

It utilizes microSD memory for storage of video and images. The removable battery provides 16 minutes of flight time, which is much better than the 6-8 minutes you get with other selfie drones like the Dobby. It also features a micro USB port, giving you the ability to plug the Spark into your laptop or portable battery pack to recharge its battery.

The camera features a 1/2.3-inch CMOS image sensor, slightly larger than what you’ll find on an iPhone. The lens is a fixed 25mm f/2.6 equivalent, with the ability of capturing 1080p video and 12MP still images. Unfortunately, there’s no support for 4K video or Raw image capture. Keeping your footage stable during flight is a two-axis mechanical gimbal.

This aircraft sports the normal array of safety features you’ve come to expect from DJI. You will get forward-facing sensors that detect obstacles at distance up to 16 feet, and the drone will alter its flight path to go around them. It also features GPS/GLONASS satellite positioning system to make sure it stays steady and to bring it home automatically if the communication is lost. Also, of course, there’s the Vision Positioning System (VPS), which is a downward-facing sensor array that doesn’t utilize the GPS to keep the drone hovering in place when flying indoors.

 

 

REGISTRATION

With the release announcement of the Spark comes on the heels of the news from DJI that it will limit the functionality of its other drones if you don’t register it using a DJI Go account. This news comes after a recent court ruling that determined the FAA doesn’t have the authority to charge you a $5 fee to register a drone.

The Spark is heavier than 8 ounces, so it would have been required to be registered under the FAA registration requirements if they were still in place. When you actually hold the Spark in your hand, you will realize how ridiculous the 8-ounce limit the FAA was using. After all, the average weight of an adult Crow is over 8 ounces and the FAA hasn’t attempted to regulate them yet.

Since the FAA is no longer in the registration business, DJI has take its place. We are hoping that DJI’s registration process won’t be too much of a turnoff for most newbie pilots. Always remember, it’s never impossible to get into trouble while piloting a drone. Never fly in a packed sports arena, a crowded city street, or near an airport without permission. However, since this aircraft is so small in size and weight, along with the short distance control range when using a smartphone, it shouldn’t be much of a problem.

If you feel strongly about not registering a drone, then you probably shouldn’t but the Spark, or any other DJI drone. There are viable alternatives such as the Yuneec Breeze, which is similar to the Spark, and for now, Yuneec doesn’t require registration to get full functionality.

FLIGHT EXPERIENCE

We only had one chance to test out this drone using gesture controls, but that’s the awesome feature that sets it apart from other small aircraft. While most people would shy away from putting something with fast-spinning rotors in their hands, as long as your fingers don’t go into the colored top portion of the aircraft, you should be just fine. According to a DJI representative, if your finger catches the edge of one of the blades, you may cut your finger. I haven’t tested this myself, so be careful. If you plan on performing many hand landings and takeoffs, you may want to invest in a set of propeller guards.

This drone is definitely small enough to fly indoors, and the VPS will keep it hovering in place nicely without the aid of GPS. While we wouldn’t recommend flying in a very small indoor area, you should be find in larger living rooms or similar spaces.

Here’s how the gesture controls work: You hold the Spark in your hand with the camera facing you, at arm’s length, and then quickly tap the power button twice. You will see the camera pan up and down, until it locks onto your face. The front lights will then blink green and the motors will spin up. Let it go and it will take flight. We had to try this process a couple of times to master it, but we quickly got the hang of it.

If you take a step back and place your palm toward the camera, the front lights will go green once it recognizes you. Moving your hand to the left will cause the drone to fly to your left and the same for the right. It’s actually a really cool feature that I think most people will fall in love with. Waving your hand back and forth will cause the aircraft to pull back and up, approximately 15 feet in each direction. This is a neat feature to use if you want to snap a selfie that captures your surroundings. Snapping a picture can be done by simply putting your hands together, mimicking a picture frame. Throwing your hands straight into the air will make the drone start the landing sequences by flying toward you and hovering in place. Then, you just place your hand underneath it, palm up, and the aircraft will land gently in your hand.

If something goes wrong, you will not be able to get control of it if flying using only the gesture feature. You will have to wait for the battery to run out, or if you’re brave, grab it out of the air and twist it so the rotors are perpendicular to the ground, causing them to power off immediately.

Before attempting to use gestures to fly, you are required to go through an initial set up in the app. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to initiate the recording of video footage using gestures, so using the app is required to accomplish that task.

Automated flight modes are available to use via the app – Rocket, Dronie, Circle, and Helix. Using the on-screen controls to fly manually is also an option for pilots. The geofence limit is set at about 327 feet (100 meters), and you can’t fly as fast as you can with the remote control. Using the remote, you can fly at up to 31mph in Sport mode, with a maximum range of 1.2 miles.

The dedicated remote control is similar to the one used with the Mavic Pro. We received word that the remote control will cost $149, but it’s not available to buy just yet. DJI also offers a Fly More Combo that includes propeller guards, extra battery, extra propellers, compact carrying case, and a multi-battery charger.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Being able to fly a drone by simply waving your hand is very cool. We were very pleased to see how well it works and how easy it is. We are definitely looking forward to checking out some of the new automated shot features using a smartphone, and seeing how well the drone flies when using a phone instead of a remote control.

Once we get our eager hands on a Spark for a some real test flying, we’ll be sure to update everyone on video and image quality, real-world battery life, and the automated video editing features. Be sure to check back soon!

 

SPECIFICATIONS

AIRCRAFT VISION SYSTEM CAMERA INTELLIGENT FLIGHT BATTERY
Takeoff Weight: 300 g Velocity Range: ≤22.4 mph (36 kph) at 6.6 ft (2 m) above ground Sensor: 1/2.3" CMOS Effective pixels: 12 MP Capacity: 1480 mAh
Dimensions: 143×143×55 mm Altitude Range: 0-26 ft (0 - 8 m) Lens: FOV 81.9° 25 mm (35 mm format equivalent) f/2.6 (shooting range: 2 m to ∞) Voltage: 11.4 V
Diagonal Distance (propellers excluded): 170 mm Operating Range: 0-98 ft (0 - 30 m) ISO Range: Video: 100-3200 Photo: 100-1600 Max Charging Voltage: 13.05 V
Max Ascent Speed: 9.8 ft/s (3 m/s) in Sport Mode without wind Operating Environment: Detects clearly patterned surfaces with adequate lighting (lux>15) and diffuse reflectivity (>20%) Electronic Shutter Speed: 2-1/8000 s Battery Type: LiPo 3S
Max Descent Speed: 9.8 ft/s (3 m/s) in Auto Landing Mode Image Size: 3968×2976 Energy: 16.87 Wh
Max Speed: 31 mph (50 kph) in Sport Mode without wind Still Photography Modes: Single Shot Burst Shooting: 3 frames Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB): 3 bracketed frames at 0.7 EV bias Interval: 2/3/5/7/10/15/20/30/60 s Net Weight: Approx. 0.2 lbs (95 g)
Max Service Ceiling Above Sea Level: 13,123 feet (4,000 m) Video Resolution: FHD: 1920×1080 30p Charging Temperature Range: 41° to 104° F (5° to 40° C)
Max Flight Time: 16 minutes (no wind at a consistent 12.4 mph (20 kph)) Max Video Bitrate: 24 Mbps
Max Hovering Time: 15 minutes (no wind) Supported File Systems: FAT32
Operating Temperature Range: 32° to 104° F (0° to 40° C) Photo Format: JPEG
Satellite Positioning Systems: GPS/GLONASS Video Format: MP4 (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264)
Hover Accuracy Range: Vertical: +/- 0.1 m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/-0.5 m Horizontal: +/- 0.3 m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/-1.5 m
Transmitter Power (EIRP): 2.4 GHz FCC: 25 dBm; CE: 18 dBm; SRRC: 18 dBm 5.8 GHz FCC: 27 dBm; CE: 14 dBm; SRRC: 27 dBm
Operating Frequency: 2.400 - 2.483 GHz; 5.725 - 5.825 GHz

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