If you’re thinking of getting a drone, the DJI Spark should be at the top of your list. It’s the perfect starter drone for beginners thanks to being easy to use, small enough to take anywhere and packed with enough features to rival bigger drones. There’s a lot to pay attention to when flying the Spark, but the learning curve isn’t steep. DJI kindly provided the Spark I used for this review and the experience was impressive!
DJI SPARK // PORTABLE & POWERFUL
Most drones are big and require some effort to setup. The Spark is the opposite. It’s small enough to fit in your hand and doesn’t require any additional setup once you’ve attached the propellers. It’s pretty much ready to fly right out of the box.
The Spark’s four arms have detachable propellers on top, two front LEDS and rear status indicators. The front is dominated by a 3D infrared module, part of the Spark’s 3D Sensing System that scans for obstacles 1-16 feet away and looks for your face when launching the Spark from your hand. A 12MP camera stabilized on a 2-axis gimbal and an “intelligent flight” battery with four rear LED level indicators and multi-function button , make up the body.
Under the battery you’ll find Wi-Fi network information to pair with a smartphone or remote controller. Cleverly tucked behind a rubber flap above the battery is a microSD card slot and microUSB port to transfer media or charge the Spark on the go.
On the bottom of the Spark are circular infrared modules, which along with the camera make up the Vision System that helps keep the Spark steady. These components are protected from the ground by four little rubber feet on the battery and behind the camera.
DJI SPARK // CONNECTING TO THE SPARK
The DJI GO 4 app is the command center for the Spark. It lets you jump right into the Spark’s camera view, review and edit photos and videos, or upload them to SkyPixel, DJI’s version of Instagram for its drones. You can also review flight records, access support channels and more.
Setting up the Spark begins here and takes less than a minute. The Spark turns on by double pressing the button on battery, holding on the second press. Lights will flash, music will play and a lot of air will blow from the Spark. All of this is normal.
Next you need to pair it with a smart phone or remote controller using Wi-Fi. The DJI GO 4 app provides a walkthrough for each pairing, but once you go through the steps a few times you won’t need a walkthrough.
Pairing with a smartphone is good if this is your first time flying a drone. You’ll fly using virtual controls, but at a distance and altitude limited to 328 feet and 164 feet, respectively. Flight speed is also reduced to 9 mph, and 7 mph when obstacle avoidance is on. There’s also a beginners mode that further reduces the flying radius to 100 feet and reduces the speed.
The remote controller unlocks the full potential of the Spark. With the remote you can fly as high as 1640 feet and as far as 1.2 miles. Keep in mind the legal altitude for flying a drone like this in the US is 400 feet. It also has a Sport mode, which increases flight speeds up to 31 MPH. The remote controller features two holding clips for your phone, dedicated video and photo controls and a programmable button.
You can also launch and control the Spark using PalmLaunch and hand gestures. Moving your hand up or down changes the Spark’s altitude and moving side to side changes the orientation. It follows you when moving forward or backwards, and quickly dropping your hand pauses PalmControl.
Wave at the at Spark and it’ll automatically track you. Make a frame with your fingers and it’ll take a selfie for you. Holding your arms in a Y position “beckons” the Spark. To land, simply place your hand under it, and it slowly descends. When it’s firmly in your grasp, the propellers stop.
Getting PalmLaunch to work is a hit or miss, especially in low lighting. However, it’s impressive when it works.
DJI SPARK // HEADS UP DISPLAY
Your phone also doubles as a heads-up display.
The view from the camera fills up the center of the screen. At the top you’ll find status updates, warnings, and icons that give an overview of the flight mode, battery level, GPS and Wi-Fi signal strength. Tapping any of the icons takes you directly to their respective settings.
The left side of the screen has automated features like takeoff, return to home (RTH) and intelligent flight modes. There’s a toggle for virtual joysticks and a map that doubles as a radar when tapped. On the right, you can access camera and video controls and review media. On the bottom of the screen you can see the Spark’s height, distance and velocity while flying.
It’s pretty impressive how much information and the features DJI packs into your screen without overwhelming you.
DJI SPARK // FLIGHT EXPERIENCE
Before flying the Spark, you need to register it with the FAA and activate it through the DI Go 4 app. Be aware of the rules for wherever you plan to fly and the airspace’s classification. The Spark won’t take off it’s in restricted airspace. Also check the weather for the best conditions before heading out to fly.
After meeting these requirements, you’re in for an impressively smooth and snappy flight with the Spark. It moves, hovers and rotates with surprising precision, especially if you’re using a remote. It’s even steady during occasional wind gusts, but struggles when wind speeds reached 20 MPH or more.
If the Spark senses an obstacle, it slows down and beeps loudly at increasing tempos as it gets closer. When it’s too close, it stops moving in the direction of the obstacle. And if anything goes wrong, the return to home (RTH) feature automatically sends the Spark back to the launch point, or designed home point. Now that’s smart!
DJI SPARK // INTELLIGENT FLIGHT MODES
The best part about flying the Spark (and the biggest reason to get it) is taking interesting pictures and videos. The DJI Go app offers a number of “Intelligent Flight Modes” to do just that. They include QuickShots, ActiveTrack, TapFly, Tripod and the aforementioned Gesture Mode.
There four types of QuickShots: Rocket, Dronie, Circle and Helix. Dronies are short videos that begin up close and slowly reveals more as the Spark flies up and away. Circle prompts the Spark to circle you once and Helix does the same while flying up. Rocket commands the Spark to fly up with the camera locked down on you or a selected subject.
ActiveTrack tracks moving subjects. It automatically tries to identify bikes, cars, people and animals. If it doesn’t you can drag a box around what you want to track. You can track someone at a consistent distance in front or behind them using Trace or from the side using Profile. However, obstacle avoidance is disabled in Profile mode.
TapFly lets you tap and fly to a specific point on a map (Coordinate Mode) or continue flying in the direction you tap on the screen (Direction Mode).
Tripod mode limits the flight speed to 2.2 mph and reduces controller responsiveness for smoother movements. This mode is great for flying low to the ground or slowly over a stream of water.
DJI SPARK // PICTURES & VIDEOS
The Spark’s camera settings include manual controls to change the ISO, shutter speed, exposure, and white balance. There are also different shooting modes like Auto Exposure Bracketing (takes 3 pictures at different exposures to create HDR photos), Burst Shots, Interval Shots, panoramas (Pano), and ShallowFocus, which adds a blurred background to photos that you can edit to your liking.
With the right settings, the Spark’s 12MP camera takes pictures that rival some of the best camera phones out there. They’re sharp, detailed, well exposed, with natural looking colors. They’re also a little low on contrast, but good overall.
The camera isn’t great at dynamic range and struggles in scenes with a lot of contrasting areas (sunsets). However, I was surprised by how much detail it captures that can be brought out with a little editing. These pictures aren’t perfect right out of the camera, but you can easily correct any faults using editing tools.
The Spark also captures impressive videos without much effort. Its videos (1080P, 30FPS HD) are buttery smooth thanks to a 2-axis gimbal that stabilizes the camera during flight. While there are manual controls if you need them, the camera’s auto setting does just fine in the right lighting. Videos look sharp and well exposed with natural colors. They’re good enough to livestream, which you can also do with the Spark via YouTube, Facebook and other platforms.
DJI SPARK // BATTERY LIFE
Alas, we get to the most heartbreaking part of the Spark: battery life. It’s advertised to get roughly 16 min of flight time in windless conditions. I averaged 11-13 minutes of flying before hitting 30% battery life. When the battery gets too low, the Spark will try to return to home. You can cancel its attempt at your own risk.
The Spark’s battery takes about an hour and 20 minutes to fully charge using the included charger. You can also charge the battery using a car charger or computer, but it’ll take a lot longer to complete.
I highly recommend investing in more batteries ($49 each) or the Fly More combo ($150). It includes two extra batteries, a charging hub that charges all three batteries simultaneously, propeller guards, extra propellers, a shoulder bag and a remote controller. Charging via the hub takes 50 minutes for two batteries versus an hour and 20 minutes for one battery using the Spark.
DJI SPARK // BOTTOM LINE
The DJI Spark is more than its “selfie drone” moniker. It offers solid performance and a feature packed flying experience in a small package. The battery life is the Spark’s weakest link. You’ll probably spend more time traveling to a location than flying the Spark. One way to get more flight time is to buy more batteries ($49 each) or invest in the Fly More Combo ($150).
The Spark’s $399 price tag is reasonable and currently includes the remote controller (previously $150), but investing in more batteries or the Fly More Combo quickly adds up. You can save yourself $50 on the Spark bundled with a remote controller by ordering through B&H.
If you travel a lot and love taking pictures or videos, the DJI Spark makes capturing those moments more special. I greatly appreciate DJI for loaning me a Spark to capture some of my own adventures and share this review with you.