DJI Spark

Here's our in-depth review of the revolutionary DJI Spark drone

DJI is the last word in consumer drone technology, with the Chinese power-house being almost single-handedly responsible for the latest craze in creative photography and videography... 

The revolutionary DJI Spark drone

The revolutionary DJI Spark drone

The DJI Spark is one of the most advanced drones to date

After releasing its first product seven years ago, a humble flight controller, it now features an impressive line-up that extends to high-end drones, capable of carrying medium-format cameras, down to the extremely capable and amazingly compact Mavic Pro.

Of course, these drones pack in a lot of advanced tech and features and, as such, they don’t come cheap, with the Mavic Pro starting at £1100. However, thanks to a research division made up of 2500 people, it’s managed to fit all of its greatest tech into the tiny 300g package of the palm-sized DJI Spark. Despite its diminutive size, DJI calls this its most advanced drone to date.

Main features

The DJI Spark has been called a ‘selfie drone’ by many, with its size, more reasonable price point and beginner-friendly features fuelling this reputation, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Featuring a 1/2.3in 12MP sensor, with an ISO range of 100-1600 (or 3200 when shooting video) and an electronic shutter speed of 2-1/8000sec, it offers a very similar spec to the more expensive Mavic Pro. It also features other class-leading features, such as a 3m/s maximum ascent and descent speed, 31mph top speed and a theoretical 1.2 miles operating distance with the optional controller, although the law limits height to 120m and distance to line-of-sight.

It also boasts an exceptional level of precision when hovering, offering a minimum +/- 0.1m vertical and +/- 0.3m horizontal accuracy range (giving it exceptional steadiness in-air). DJI’s excellent vision system is also included, allowing for obstacle avoidance at up to 22mph (though there are no side-mounted sensors, so be wary in confined spaces).

A new addition is the 3D sensing system, which is effective at up to 0.2m–5m, allowing hand-gesture control – the piece de resistance of the Spark. Hand gestures allow you to control the Spark with nothing but hand movements, making it follow you, track you and even take photos from the air. It’s very impressive and may be as close to becoming a Jedi as you’ll ever get, so long as you stay within the 5m operating zone.

It offers the ability to connect to a smart device via Wi-Fi for more precise control, which increases the operating distance to 100m and 50m height. This allows you to take advantage of the new QuickShot mode, where you can command the Spark to complete some advanced cinematic manoeuvres for pro-looking footage.

It also packs a 2-axis mechanical gimbal to control pitch and roll shake, which isn’t quite as good as the more expensive Mavic Pro’s 3-axis gimbal, but it still works well. It also offers vibrant Full HD 1080p 30fps video, though you’ll need a Mavic Pro of Phantom 4 Pro for 4K.

Handling & build

The DJI Spark may be one of the smallest enthusiast drones on the market, weighing in at a svelte 300g and measuring 143x143x55mm, but its construction is every bit as sturdy as its more advanced relatives. The fixed propeller supports are robust enough to face the occasional scrape, and the plastics used feel tough and long wearing, with a couple of hairy moments in a corn field leaving no lasting damage.

The props themselves stay attached to the drone, meaning you needn’t fiddle with them every time you scramble for take off. Perhaps one of the biggest USPs for the Spark is the fact that you can put it in its tiny case, leave it in the bottom of a backpack and whip it out at a second’s notice.

Performance

Traditionally, when a company releases a smaller, cheaper product, certain omissions must be made, and while that’s true in part, there are also features which you won’t find in DJI’s more expensive offerings. The full array of hand gestures are responsive (though may take a little getting used to) and offer you an undeniable level of pick-up-and-play fun, which actually disguises some very advanced tech. Making the Spark track your hand as you move from side to side, or having it take off and land on your palm works nearly flawlessly, within the 5m range.

You have the option of using a smartphone or tablet to act as your controller, which allows you to see through the camera and unlocks many features, such as the new ShallowFocus mode, which fakes a shallow depth-of-field in your images. It also offers a world of cinematic possibilities with the QuickShot feature, letting you select options such as Helix, Rocket, Dronie or Circle, each performing an advanced manoeuvre. QuickShot is an extremely impressive feature and we managed results which we would struggle to achieve by relying on our own skill. 

Familiar DJI options return, such as ActiveTrack, where you select a subject and the Spark will diligently follow. Return to Home lets you recall your drone with the press of a button. This feature also kicks in if the battery is running low. Another fan-favourite, TapFly, is here, where the Spark will gauge the depth and distance required to get to the spot you selected and go to it.

The 1080p video looks fantastic, and although it’s not 4K, it serves a purpose for anybody looking to start their drone journey well and footage still looked very smooth, even in high winds. Our favourite video feature is being able to control the pitch of the camera by simply tilting your iPhone (sadly this feature is not yet present on Android devices), as well as using the more traditional controls.

Using a smartphone without the optional remote control will limit your drone’s capability, allowing you an operating distance and height of only 100m and 50m respectively, as well as limiting the top speed to 6.5mph instead of the possible 31mph.

If you’re after the full experience, you’ll need to purchase the remote control (which comes as part of the Fly More pack, with an additional battery and prop guards for an extra £180). Although this is an additional expense, the difference it makes is phenomenal, giving the Spark near-Mavic levels of responsiveness. We would like to see the propeller guards included as standard, considering they’re an important safety feature. 

The fact you can only shoot in JPEG, unlike the Mavic Pro, which allows you to shoot in DNG (RAW) is a bit of a drawback, but the images look great, and you can still shoot in manual exposure mode to fine-tune your settings, as well as use the ShallowFocus and Pano features to get some excellent results.

Verdict

The DJI Spark is a curio – half selfie drone and half tech marvel. It’s extremely capable and handles like a dream, even more so if you invest in the remote control. The footage you can achieve is extremely impressive. So too are the 12MP stills. The hand gestures, though maybe a gimmick, work exceptionally well and the QuickShot feature lets you film like a pro with absolutely no experience.

Of course, the additional cost of the remote control and propeller guards, as well as limited battery life (though still stronger than most competition) do count against it. Overall, this is a great and reasonably-priced option for anybody contemplating taking a tentative first step into drone use, and one we would highly recommend.

Pros

  • Lightweight and compact 
  • Easy to use
  • Obstacle avoidance
  • Relatively cheap
  • Hand gestures
  • QuickShot feature

Cons

  • No 4K video 
  • Short battery life
  • Controller and prop guards cost extra

Specification 

  • Lens: 25mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.6 with an 82º field of vision
  • Effective resolution: 12MP
  • Sensor: 1/2.3in CMOS
  • Controller: Hand gestures or smartphone, remote controller is additional
  • Shutter: 2-1/8000sec
  • ISO: 100-1600 (stills) & 100-3200 (video)
  • Shooting speed: 3fps
  • Video: 1080p Full HD 30fps
  • Positioning: GPS & GLONASS
  • Other features: ActiveTrack, TapFly, ShallowFocus, Pano, QuickShot
  • Battery life: Max 16 minutes flight time, 15 minutes hovering time in still conditions 
  • Card type: SDHC, SDXC
  • Size (WxHxD): 143x143x55mm
  • Weight: 300g
  • Find out more on the DJI website