DJI Spark


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WHO­EVER COINED THE phrase ‘good things come in small pack­ages’ prob­a­bly didn’t re­alise how true the cliché would be for DJI’s lat­est drone. The quadcopter com­pany has out­done it­self with the new Spark, a pint-sized model that can do pretty much ev­ery­thing its big­ger brothers can — and then some, in some spots. With a main body that’s about the size of a can of soft drink, the Spark can sit com­fort­ably on your palm (and take off and land on it, too, but more on that later) and while that makes it feel a lit­tle more toy-like than its sib­lings, its diminu­tive size be­lies how packed full of fea­tures it is. In fact, de­spite shar­ing many of the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Mavic Pro, it makes the lat­ter look enor­mous. If you’ve been hold­ing off buying a drone be­cause you’re in­tim­i­dated by their size (or their price point), the Spark could be the one that changes your mind.


The DJI Spark has spunk, too. Gone are the days of the bor­ing grey, white and black drones — in­stead, the Spark comes in five bright colours. Plus, weigh­ing in at just 300g — and housed in its own lit­tle hard foam case — the Spark can fit into your back­pack, with all its ex­tras in­cluded.

Un­like the Go­Pro Karma (see is­sue #66, page 18), the Spark’s limbs don’t fold into the body, although the pro­pel­lers do come to­gether to make the en­tire pack­age tiny. The Spark also doesn’t have any land­ing gear — just two lit­tle stubby feet which are per­fect for a palm land­ing.

To make a pint-sized quadcopter, DJI has had to make a few com­pro­mises on per­for­mance. The Spark’s top speed of 50km/h is slower than the Mavic Pro’s 64km/h, and it can’t fly as far as its big­ger brother ei­ther, with a max­i­mum trans­mis­sion dis­tance of just 2km (when us­ing the re­mote con­troller) com­pared to the Mavic Pro’s 6km. There’s a max­i­mum run­time of 16 min­utes from the re­mov­able bat­tery, and the 1080p cam­era and 2-axis gim­bal falls short of the Mavic Pro’s 4K/3-axis combo. De­spite those short­com­ings, the Spark is still whip­pet smart — it not only fea­tures ob­sta­cle avoid­ance, but also comes with ex­tra sen­sors for its in­tel­li­gent flight modes called Quick­Shot, TapFly, Ac­tiveTrack, and Ges­ture.


The Spark has one par­tic­u­lar party trick up its sleeve — it’s in­ter­ac­tive, with the abil­ity to take off and land on your palm and take in­struc­tions from hand ges­tures, mak­ing it easy to un­leash your in­ner Jedi. Hold it at face level, dou­ble-tap the power but­ton and the mini drone can recog­nise the user, take off and hover or move ac­cord­ing to the user’s hand move­ments. Tak­ing a selfie in Ges­tures mode is as easy as hold­ing four fingers around your face like pic­ture frame.

Ges­tures mode doesn’t al­ways work per­fectly, and does take time to get used to. Move too fast and the cam­era has a hard time track­ing you, but go too slow and it can get con­fused as to what a ges­ture means. Ev­ery ges­ture ba­si­cally has to be per­fect for hand con­trol to work seam­lessly and the only way to tell if your hand ges­tures are work­ing is to keep an eye on the front pro­pel­ler lights — green is go. Once ev­ery­thing is in line and you’ve mas­tered the ges­tures, how­ever, it’s ac­tu­ally a lot of fun. In fact, ges­ture con­trol makes it rel­a­tively easy for any­one — begin­ner or pro — to con­trol the Spark. That said, if you do plan on us­ing Ges­tures a lot, we’d rec­om­mend you in­vest in a set of pro­pel­ler guards (avail­able for $29) to keep your fingers from get­ting nicked.


Fly­ing the drone man­u­ally, ei­ther via an app or the re­mote con­trol (which is avail­able

sep­a­rately for $259, or in­cluded as part of the $1,199 Fly More Combo), is just as easy. If you’re a new­bie and not com­fort­able with jump­ing straight into the pi­lot’s seat, you can get some ba­sic flight lessons from the sim­u­la­tor mode built in the DJI Go 4 app. Once you’ve got a hang of it, fly­ing the drone is easy as pie. If you’ve flown a drone be­fore, you prob­a­bly won’t need to use the op­tional Begin­ner Mode, which lim­its the drone’s speed and joy­stick sen­si­tiv­ity. The Spark is the first DJI drone that the com­pany says can be flown in­doors, thanks to the com­bi­na­tion of its smaller size and built-in ob­sta­cle avoid­ance tech. How­ever, we wouldn’t rec­om­mend in­door flight if you’ve got an ex­pen­sive chan­de­lier or small rooms, es­pe­cially given that it’s got no rear-fac­ing sen­sors.

The lit­tle drone is nim­ble in the air, but hov­er­ing takes up quite a bit of power, as does fly­ing the drone in wind, but the Spark has DJI’s stan­dard Re­turn To Home (RTH) fea­ture — where it’ll fly back to its start­ing point — which should en­sure a safe land­ing be­fore the bat­tery com­pletely runs out of juice. In fact, RTH au­to­mat­i­cally kicks in even when the con­nec­tion to the con­troller or your smart­phone is lost — although it won’t work in­doors, as it re­quires a strong GPS sig­nal.

If you find the vir­tual joy­sticks in the app a chal­lenge, the TapFly mode makes things easy. Se­lect­ing TapFly in the app’s In­tel­li­gent Mode brings up the scene (or land­scape) on your screen. Tap a par­tic­u­lar point on the screen and Spark will slowly make its way there. TapFly doesn’t al­ways work in­doors when space is an is­sue, which is per­haps for the best, but in wide open spa­ces, it’s a joy to use. Thanks to ex­tra sen­sors, the Spark can even track a mov­ing ob­ject while dodg­ing ob­sta­cles.

The fi­nal smart-fly­ing fea­ture, Quick­Shot, al­lows you to send the Spark on four pre­pro­grammed flight paths, but it’s im­por­tant to keep in mind that the quadcopter’s Wi-Fi range drops off af­ter 300m hor­i­zon­tally and 150m up ver­ti­cally when us­ing your smart­phone. For some­one just step­ping into the world of aerial pho­tog­ra­phy or video, the Spark is a great place to start. Bal­anced on a dual-axis gim­bal, the cam­era live streams footage to the screen of the re­mote con­troller or your smart­phone at 720p, but video is recorded at Full HD 1080p to a mi­croSD card in­serted di­rectly into the drone it­self. Still images are cap­tured in 12MP (3,968 x 2,976-pixel) res­o­lu­tion and we found them to be sharp with rich colour and con­trast. While the elec­tronic im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion and two-axis gim­bal elim­i­nate most of the vi­bra­tions from flight and wind, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that the Spark is an en­try-level drone — so if you’re into cin­e­matog­ra­phy or pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy, one of DJI’s higher-end of­fer­ings with 4K would ar­guably be a bet­ter op­tion.

But while it may not be the most pow­er­ful drone in the mar­ket, this tiny quadcopter sure makes fly­ing a drone a heck of a lot of fun. DJI clearly wanted to make a drone for the masses and, with a price point of $859 and the Spark’s im­pres­sive ease of use, the com­pany’s def­i­nitely suc­ceeded — with fly­ing (or should that be ‘hov­er­ing’?) colours.


DJI SPARK From $859 CRIT­I­CAL SPECS 12MP (1/2.3-inch) CMOS sen­sor; 1080p @ 30fps video; 2-axis gim­bal; 16 min­utes max flight time; max speed 50km/h; 14.3 x 14.3 x 5.5cm; 300g No heav­ier than a can of soft drink, the Spark can sit com­fort­ably...

Re­move­able bat­ter­ies, avail­able for an ex­tra $69 each, gives Spark some ex­tra flight time.

For a begin­ner, learn­ing to fly the Spark is su­per easy with the Flight Sim­u­la­tor in the DJI Go 4 app.

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