DJI wants everyone to be able to fly a drone. At least that’s the message he seems to be sending with the company’s DJI Spark ($ 499), the company’s smallest plane. It is a selfie drone with which you can interact simply by waving your hand. It is also a short-range quadcopter that can be controlled with your smartphone and has functions to relay obstacles and follow patterns. If you add an additional remote control, you get a very powerful bird with a top speed of 50 km / h and a robust range.
Can this be something for everyone? Not exactly. It works well for selfies and quick shots, but the battery life is short, the video editing process is not as easy as promised, and flying with the smartphone is very annoying. If you want a drone but don’t want to worry about how to fly like a pro, you should check out Spark. However, if you want a more versatile and smaller quadcopter and want to learn how to control it manually, DJI Mavic Pro is a stronger, but more expensive option.
Spark ($ 539.00 on Amazon) is small. DJI measures 2.2 x 5.6 x 5.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 10.6 ounces. It weighs less than a can of soda. It’s not foldable, although the propellers must be folded down for easy transport – they don’t need to be taken out for storage, so Spark is always ready to fly. And there are colors. You can get it in alpine white, lava red, meadow green, sky blue and sunrise yellow. As you can see, our test model is the Sunrise Yellow.
Use microSD storage to store photos and videos. A replaceable battery promises 16 minutes of flight time per charge, but in our field tests it was 12 minutes. It’s even better than the six minutes you get with little selfie drones like the Dobby. There is a micro USB connector that allows you to connect Spark to a portable battery or to your laptop to charge the battery. Additional batteries cost $ 49.
The camera has a 1 / 2.3 inch CMOS image sensor, the same type as a typical pocket superzoom and slightly larger than the sensor of an iPhone. The lens is a 25mm f / 2.6 still equivalent that can take 12-megapixel still images and 1080p video at 30 frames per second and 24 Mbps. It cannot be rotated at 24 frames per second for a more cinematic and non-cinematic appearance. is a capacity of 60 fps or 120 fps for taking smoother photos for slow motion playback. It’s not as serious a video tool as other DJI drones like the Mavic Pro ($ 999.00 at DJI) that supports 4K recording and additional frame rate options. A two-axis mechanical gimbal keeps the images stable during flight.
The normal variety of security functions is built into the design. Get GPS / GLONASS satellite positioning to keep you stable when flying outdoors and automatically bring you home when communication is lost or on demand. Forward-facing sensors detect obstacles up to 16 feet away, and Spark is smart enough to change course and fly around it. And it has the Vision Positioning System (VPS), a series of sensors that point downward and hold the plane in place when it flies inward without the help of GPS.
Spark is really stable. It can also be easily held in place indoors without GPS stabilization. I blew a little wind in May and it stayed in gusts of wind, albeit at a relatively low altitude. I hope the DJI drones are solid in the air and that the Spark does not disappoint in any way.
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Spark comes with DJI messages that greatly limit the functionality of its current product line if it is not registered via a DJI Go account. This happens immediately after a court ruling that the FAA is not authorized to charge $ 5 for registration. a drone.
The Spark weighs over 8 ounces, so it would be subject to FAA registration requirements if it was still there. If you see and hold the spark, it’s easy to see that the FAA’s 8-ounce number is a bit silly: the average adult pigeon weighs about 13 ounces, and the FAA has not tried to adjust it , at least not yet.
The FAA not being temporarily registered, DJI intervened. I am fully responsible for the responsible ownership of the drone and I am almost sure that the implementation of the DJI will be a nominal problem for most inexperienced pilots. It’s not impossible to have trouble driving the Spark (not on a crowded city street or in a crowded sports arena), but the reduced size and weight, as well as the limited range when in use of the smartphone as a controller means less worry.
If you vehemently oppose the recording, don’t buy a Spark or DJI drone. There are alternatives: Yuneec Breeze has a design similar to Spark and at the time of publication, you do not need to create an account with Yuneec for full functionality.
You can be careful when equipping a device with fast rotating rotors. I have already been cut by a drone propeller and it is not a pleasant experience. But as long as your fingers don’t reach the colored tip of Spark, you’re safe. A DJI representative said it can be cut if a finger touches the edge of one of the blades, but due to its folding nature, it will not do much damage if the finger slides closer to the center of the post . I haven’t tested it personally, but be careful. If you are planning many manual takeoffs and landings, invest in a number of propeller guards. You add $ 19 to the cost.
The Spark is small enough to fly indoors and its VPS keeps it mobile without the help of GPS. I would not recommend controlling it within small limits, but if you have a large living room or a large room, you can certainly divide it by a few internal antennas. Real estate agents should pay attention to it.
Gesture controls are cool, memorable features that are new to Spark. Let’s talk about it first. Hold Spark in the palm of your hand, the camera shows you with your arm outstretched, and press the power button twice. The camera moves up and down until it snaps onto your face. The headlights flash green and the engines are running. You have to let go to fly. I had a hard time letting go of him the first time I tried, but when he was released, he shot him in the air. On my second try, I released it too soon and it fell to the ground. I had already solved it on the third try: you will feel it when Spark is ready to let go of your hand.
Take a step back and place your palm towards the camera. The headlights turn green when I recognize you. Move your hand to the left and the drone will fly to the left. It’s really cool, this technology is supposed to attract attention. However, the first photo is quite narrow, so we recommend that you enlarge the drone to get better photos.
If the drone is shaking back and forth, it moves back and forth, about 15 feet in each direction, maintains that distance, and continues to follow your movements. It’s a fun way to take a selfie that reveals your surroundings. If you want to take a picture, just take your hands and imitate a frame. Raise your hand when the spark is about to land. It will fly towards you and hover in its place. Put your hand palm up and the drone will land gently. Is very soft.
What if something goes wrong? If you can’t control it and fly with a single gesture, you can wait for the battery to drain and land automatically. Or you can remove it from the air and turn it so that the rotors are perpendicular to the ground. You will leave immediately.
Before using gestures to fly, you need to do an initial setup in the app. There is currently no way to activate Spark to start capturing videos with gestures. This is why you need the app for this.
If Spark is just following your ground movements, gesture controls will do the trick. However, if you want to use some of the integrated video jacks or fly manually with the on-screen controls, the DJI Go 4 app (available for Android and iOS) is a must.
There are four basic types of automatic shooting: Circle, Dronie, Helix and Rocket. The circle and the propeller are similar, the first simply surrounding an object identified in space and the camera remaining fixed on a target at all times. The propeller is similar, but the radius and height increase over time. Using Circle is quite simple. I was able to measure the amount of free space around me and continue to create safe orbits.
I struggled with Helix. The blow pushed the drone further than I thought. It is very easy to stop recording using the app, but you have to watch the drone move and prepare the phone for it. I recommend not using Helix when there are trees nearby. The Spark avoids obstacles, but only at the front, so something can always be encountered during a side flight.
Dronie is similar to the photos you take with gesture controls, starting at close range and pulling up and back to reveal what’s around you, but it continues. The rocket is also a revelation: launch the camera again and pull it up to reveal the surroundings.
There are special photo modes. With the trigger in the DJI Go app, you can easily take a 12 MP image. You can change the shooting mode to access shots with a shallow depth of field and a slow pan speed. The first is attached to a motif and flies about two feet high. Combine multiple images into a 1.6 MP JPG which should blur the background like a wide aperture SLR lens. My attempts to use ended up being very discreet, almost imperceptible, and nothing comparable to what you get with a full screen camera or even in portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus. The image on the bottom left is a standard photo and the image on the right is the same image with the flat effect activated.
Panorama mode is a little more useful for photographers: the drone flies sideways or vertically and combines a wide panorama. These special recordings are only saved on the Spark memory card. They don’t automatically appear in the DJI Go app like other images, which is a strange oversight.
Manual flight with the application is carried out via the control levers on the screen. They behave like physical commands on a special remote control, the left joystick adjusting the height and the yaw and the right joystick moving the drone in space. The experience is quite annoying compared to the use of a real remote control. There is no physical comment on his actions and he will look at the screen more than the drone in flight, his fingers obscuring the view of the camera.
Top speed is also negligible with the smartphone. I saw a maximum of 19 km / h in my flight recordings, with an average movement of around 11 km / h. It is limited to a short-haul flight with a geo-fence of around 100 meters and a maximum ceiling of 50 meters.
I did not fly Spark with the special remote control: DJI had none available for testing at the time of release. Improve the range to 1.2 theoretical miles (although the short battery life means you want to keep the Spark much closer to where you live), increase the standard cruising speed and add a sport mode which moves Air Spark 31 miles an hour, but turn off obstacle avoidance, so be careful.
The remote control will cost $ 149 and comes with Fly More Combo, a set of $ 699 which also includes a propeller guard, additional propellers, a spare battery, a charger that replaces three batteries at once and a case for the transport. Transport. However, if you plan to spend $ 699 on Spark, you should really consider increasing your budget to get $ 999 for Mavic Pro.
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Easy to use
Spark should be easy to use. And it’s … sort of. Make no mistake, it is easy to get the drone up in the air using gesture controls, and the fact that it automatically identifies you and follows your movements after it has been removed from your hand is a big deal more.
The DJI Go 4 application supports the entire current range of the company, from the famous Phantom series to the industrial Matrix family, via a single interface. And it’s not someone who calls “lightly”. If you want to build a fast rocket from the top of a mountain, you need to touch an icon, change the shooting mode, draw a box around it, then press OK to start shooting. There should be an easier and faster way because 12 minutes in the air pass very quickly. In contrast, the similar Yuneec Breeze has an app with large, easy-to-understand icons for each of the automated flight modes on the main screen.
I don’t think DJI should simplify DJI Go 4. Veteran pilots are used to its design and the application takes a long time. But I would like to see a simpler and simpler user interface as an option for Spark owners who want to lift the drone up in the air for a quick shot, then go back without having to dig deep into a few menu screens to succeed.
The app reduces video editing better, but it’s not perfect. For maximum control, you should always copy the files from the memory card to your computer and edit the images yourself. The desktop edition is the way to go if you value the quality: the DJI Go app streams videos at negligible speeds of 5.3 Mbps, while Spark records 1080p30 videos at a much sharper rate of 24 Mbps .
For occasional use, the automatic editor of the Go application does its job. You can run it in full autopilot by stitching a short 30-second video with eight clips and adding music and transitions. The app should recognize and include the most interesting parts of your video, but I found it to be unpredictable. Some very strange recordings ended during the first cut. It is quite easy to change things. If you see a recording you don’t like, you can simply delete it and trim your video or touch it to manually select the video you want to put in its place. If you want to target the application, you can choose the clips suitable for the first automatic cutting.
Remember to copy the video from the Spark microSD card before you start editing. If you watch the app at the start, you will see all of your clips. These are low quality videos that are stored in Spark live streaming to the app. Do not use them because they are blurred and pixelated. To download the full resolution version, access a clip and click the Download Original button when Spark is connected via WiFi.
Sometimes it works well. Sometimes an error message appears, indicating that the clip is not on the card, even if it is. There is another download option in the upper left corner of the editor that allows you to explore Spark’s memory and download video clips by clip. It worked much better for me. However, the copying of the rare 4.3 Mbps video was a bit slow and put pressure on Spark’s battery: I lost 15% of my life after transferring the video for about 10 minutes. Battery life is a big deal and it doesn’t help. If you have a phone with a microSD slot, you can skip this process by simply inserting the card into the phone.
Conclusion: DJI can improve your Go app. Yes, you can move your hand and move the spark in the air. However, setting up recordings and editing videos is not a magic experience.
DJI Spark offers one of the best technical salon tricks I have ever seen. It’s great fun to take your hand off and steer a drone with one hand. But if you go further, some problems become apparent. Spark is said to be the drone for everyone, but I think most users will be disappointed with the battery life, so at least one replacement is an essential accessory. Combined with the rather disappointing experience of manual flight via smartphone, the $ 699 package, which includes an additional battery and a remote control, offers a more attractive purchase, but significantly more expensive.
The DJI Go app is another potential hot spot for beginners. It’s great for advanced users, but I think it leaves a lot to be desired for new flyers who don’t want to dive deep into their user interface. There should be a simplified interface for Spark to facilitate access to multiple automatic shots. Likewise, the video editing experience in the app is disappointing. It’s not as transparent an experience as DJI promises.
Despite my complaints about the battery, the Spark flies more than small drones in 12 minutes and the extra batteries are not too expensive. And although some parameters and details are necessary to configure automatic video, the images themselves are really beautiful. Spark itself is a good choice if you need a short aerial drone but don’t want to deal with the details of manual flight.
Yuneec Breeze is Spark’s closest competitor, selling for $ 50 less and shooting in 4K. We’re still testing it, so we’ll see if the actual video quality guarantees the 4K promise. The Parrot Bebop 2 FPV is also available in this price range: the camera is not as good as the one with the Spark and does not have many automatic recording options, but it does contain a remote control and can fly for about 20 minutes. And of course, there’s our favorite compact drone, the DJI Mavic Pro, for $ 999. You should get it if you take a small quadcopter more seriously. Take the plane and while there is no gesture control, you can avoid obstacles, much longer flight times and stabilized 4K footage, as well as a good number of automated flight modes.
DJI Spark is a $ 500 manageable mass selfie drone that is bothered by short flight times and a potentially more user-friendly app