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DJI Spark – owner review in 2018

DJI Spark owner review in 2018

DJI Spark owner review in 2018

This article is part of a DJI drones review series, coming as a owner experience, after having and playing most of the DJI consumer drones like Spark, Mavic Pro and Mavic Air. I am not affiliate with DJI neither with any local retailers and this is only based on my time spent with this birds.

Is DJI Spark still a worth buying drone in 2018?

Drone description

Spark was, until recently, the smallest DJI drone, an amazing piece of technology from the DJI Consumer category at a decent price. That until the first half of 2018 when Tello was released as the tiniest and cheapest flying bird from DJI.

Spark is a fun mini drone with all of DJI’s signature technologies, an excellent tool for photographers and non professional filmmakers which can take stabilized 1080p video and 4k still images.

Selling packages and combos

DJI Spark is available in three combos with 5 colors available. You can buy the drone only, Fly more combo or Fly more combo & Dji Goggles. While the single package comes with only one battery and no remote controller, the Fly More Combo packages brings:

DJI Spark Fly More Combo - package content

DJI Spark Fly More Combo – package content

Buying the Fly More Combo packages will definitely make your life easier. The spare intelligent battery gives an extra 15 minutes of flying time, while you can charge other using the hub.

DJI Spark – best offer on Amazon

Honestly, I bought the single version and I wish that I didn’t. After one month I ended buying all accessories individually and that cost me way much. Flying DJI Spark without remote controller  is like driving a car only in the first gear, a very poor experience overall.

DJI Spark remote controller

DJI Spark remote controller

The good news comes after almost two years after release, when DJI added the possibility to control Spark using non DJI WiFi Gamepad controllers. This did not improved the range comparing with phone only, but having physical controls dramatically improved overall experience.

DJI Spark Remote Controller (RC) – best price on Amazon (12% DISCOUNT)

Dimensions and weights

DJI Spark weights 300g at takeoff, and despite it has been released few years ago, its still one of the most popular drone under 500g. The weight is a very important factor, especially in some European countries where drones under 500g don’t need to be registered.

Registration fees can be very high in countries where drones do not enter under a specific drone legislation, but rather under generic no pilot aircrafts. This category which includes military drones and other remote controlled crafts.

Unlike the bigger brother (Mavic Pro) and the newest Mavic Air, Spark doesn’t have collapsible arms. The entire aircraft body, including flying arms, is built in a single piece from a very strong material, designed to resist accidents.

Even so, Spark is still a very light and easy to transport aircraft. The diagonal without propellers mounted, measures only 170 mm, allowing it to fit easily into a bag pocket.

Both regular and fly more combo packages come with a transportation box made from a soft foam. The box do not increase the size by much and also is very resistant at shocks.

Sensing and avoiding obstacles systems

In its price category, DJI Spark has probably the most complex avoiding and sensing system.

DJI Spark sensors and obstacle avoiding system

DJI Spark sensors and obstacle avoiding system

The front side of the aircraft is equipped with a three dimensional infrared scanning system which creates a 3D map in real time and prevents frontal accidents. Same system is used to recognize face and hand gestures while aircraft is in Gestures mode.

DJI Spark frontal 3D sensors

DJI Spark frontal 3D sensors

On the bottom there is more sensing hardware, part of the Vision system which allows Spark to softly land into your palm. A secondary stereoscopic camera and two proximity sensors make ensure safe landings and also keep the Spark level when there is no GPS signal.

I found that palm landing feature is not always accurate. Sometimes Spark just doesn’t want to descend even when my palm is perfectly aligned under it.

DJI Spark bottom Vision system

DJI Spark bottom Vision system

Flight time

The Spark Intelligent Flight Battery has a capacity of 1480 mAh and a voltage of 11.4 V. DJI declares that one battery fully charged enables 16 minutes of fly time, but reality is quite different.

DJI Spark Intelligent Battery

DJI Spark Intelligent Battery

I had more than 50 flights with Spark and my best record in the air was 12 minutes. I found that on very cold weather (-5 to 5 Celsius) the battery lifetime is even shorter, somewhere between 8 and 10 minutes.

In order to get the most from a single charge you need to:

DJI Spark Intelligent Battery – best price on Amazon (10% DISCOUNT)

Range

Being one of the cheapest from its category, DJI Spark uses WiFi 2.4Ghz and 5.8Ghz to communicate between remote controller and the aircraft, instead of OcuSync or LightBridge, better communication systems used by Mavic or Inspire.

As most drones made by DJI, Spark also has different power plans for radio modules according by location. While in some areas the FCC mode allow radio modules to produce stronger and powerful signal, in Europe CE mode reduce the radio strength in order to comply with legislation.

This can be translated as:

Official numbers in papers are 1.2 miles (2 km) in FCC and 0.3 miles (500 m) in CE. In reality, with no range extenders, in open wide fields you can achieve more in FCC, but less in CE. From my experience, the CE mode is extremely bad, making Spark almost unusable because of very bad video feedback. In CE mode I had problems even at 50 m away and 20 m altitude.

How to improve range

The good part is that even you are from Europe there are many ways to switch to FCC mode without affecting firmware.

If you are an Android user:

The simplest way is to use a fake GPS application (Ex.: Floater) and mock a location from USA. Start your Spark while having the fake GPS setup and you will see that it automatically change to FCC mode. You need to do this only once. After that, every time Spark will boot, a popup will appear in application asking you to switch back to CE mode. Just close the popup and continue in FCC.

Also you can find a modded Android version of DJI Go 4 Application called TSS, which tricks your Spark every time to use only the FCC mode. The problem with this application is that it cannot work together with the official DJI Go App installed, in order to install one, you have to uninstall the other.

If you are an Apple user:

Find an Android phone, do the procedure described above, and then keep canceling the popup on your Iphone every time it appears.

Using range extenders

This is another way to increase your range, if FCC is not enough anymore. There are many models, some more expensive than aircraft, but the results can be pretty impressive. There are people claiming more than 6 Km with range extenders in FCC mode, which is way more than default range declared by DJI.

Cheaper range extenders do not amplify the signal generated by remote controller antennas, they rather concentrate the signal in a unidirectional way instead of spreading on a wide area. In this way the signal is stronger on the pointed direction, but almost not available in others. So flying with cheaper range extenders forces you to always point your remote controller where your drone is, otherwise you will loose signal quickly.

DJI Spark directional range extenders

DJI Spark directional range extenders

DJI Spark Range Extenders – best price on Amazon (14% OFF)

Expensive range extenders replace your default remote controller antennas and actually boost the signal using hardware parts. The bad side is that installation requires opening the remote controller (warranty break) and also increase the RC size and weight, making it less transportable.

DJI Spark 4hawks range extenders

DJI Spark 4hawks range extenders

4Hawks Raptor XR Range Extender Antenna For DJI Spark – best price on Amazon (6% OFF)

Camera specifications

DJI Spark features a three axis stabilized camera, only two axis being mechanical stabilized while the yaw axis is digitally stabilized. Digital stabilization is a very complex system which requires allot of processing power and also crops the original image size.

Camera lens has a 25 mm focal length, 81.9 degrees field of view and a fixed aperture at f/2.6 stops, capable to focus everything far than 2 m. The Spark camera has a Sony 1/2.3″ CMOS 12 MP sensor, capable to capture 4K@60fps video, unfortunately bottle-necked by the lack of the third mechanical stabilized axis. ISO is available between 100-1600 in photo mode and 100-3200 in video mode.

DJI Spark camera sensor

DJI Spark camera sensor

The electronic shutter speed can be set between 2-1/8000 s in photography  mode and has a limit of about 1/30 s in video like most of the drones.

In case of the gimbal, Dji engineers lacked inspiration in design process, leaving it so vulnerable to dust and damage. Like on the Mavic Pro, Spark gimbal simply hangs under the 3D sensor in a open space, having nothing to protect it. Because they did not included a gimbal protecting cover like both Mavic Pro and Air have, even simple packaging and transportation can easily harm Spark gimbal.

Video quality

Despite the two axis gimbal, Spark is capable to record a decent 1080p video at 30fps with a max bitrate of 24Mpbs in MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 format. Thanks to both mechanical and digital stabilization, called UltraSmooth technology, the 1080p video is perfectly steady, even in windy weather.

Unfortunately the lack of video options like more fps settings (23.97, 24, 25) or color profiles make it almost impossible to color grade or slow down in post-processing, leaving Spark in amateur tools category. Considering that TV standards in EU is PAL, 30fps footage will play unnaturally and may flicker due to unsynchronized frequency, 30fps being aligned with NTSC format.

Image quality

While the video footage suffers because of digital stabilization, still images shot with Spark are quite impressive. This drone can shoot images in JPEG only. Sadly there is no RAW option with the Spark leaving no space to for post-processing.

Dji Spark has several photography modes:

It can also shoot in pano modes, both horizontal and vertical, but at the time I owned it, there was no automatic stitching like Mavic Air has.

I shoot allot of images with the Spark and I believe that the quality is outstanding for such a little camera. In daylight images are very sharp with almost no noise if you stay at base ISO.

If you want take long exposure photos then you have to be patient and try multiple times. Most times you will get blurry images because of the gimbal which cannot stabilize the yaw axe, but if there is no wind you may be lucky and get a nice shoot.

This sample photos are shoot with DJI Spark. Click to see them in original size:

DJI Spark sample photo

DJI Spark sample photo 1

DJI Spark sample photo

DJI Spark sample photo 2

DJI Spark sample photo

DJI Spark sample photo 3

Features

This little fellow has a bunch of flying modes designed to help you while shooting different scenes:

What I don’t like at Spark

Conclusion

If you can live with this cons, DJI Spark is an amazing piece of technology, an advanced quality machine and a fun toy, and I would recommend it anytime. If you are a professional filmmaker, this is a no go.

DJI Spark is invented for those moments when you really need to stop the time, get a camera in the air in less than 5 minutes and simply start shooting.

If you decide to buy this drone, click on the image bellow to see the best offer (Amazon Choice) fro DJI Spark on Amazon, with the latest promo and DISCOUNTS applied.

I wish you safe flights and amazing shoots. Thank you for your time!

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