Capturing our attention from the very start, DJI has announced the new Spark compact drone. Hosted in New York we were on-site for the event, a smaller venue but in an iconic location, the Grand Central Station.
Not only were we able to get some hands-on time with Spark, but passers-by could as well. DJI allowed the public to try out the Jedi-like gesture controls for themselves until about 8pm.
DJI prepped for the announcement by painting a picture of a world were a drone can be as portable and easy to use as the phone in your pocket. The DJI Spark offers some of this, with a compact design, light weight and the ability to control with just your hands. Your bare hands!
DJI is making it so you can travel around with a 12MP camera on a flying machine, and just hold it up, tap the power button, and it takes off.
Spark is designed to keep a focus on you. You launch it facing you, it recognizes you as the subject and the remainder of the flight is based on you and your gestures. Gestures include basic flight control, image capture, a fun panning mode and of course, a landing.
There is an optional dedicated remote control and you can use your smartphone to fly. Flying by hand offers the basics, bumping up to your phone adds extra distance, a few more flying modes and an FPV view to fly like a normal drone instead of just for selfies.
The optional full remote control offers the greatest distance of flight. Hand controls are good for about 100 feet, as is the WiFi connection to your smartphone. The dedicated remote will get you out to 1.2 miles.
Jedi palm raise – Hold you hand out to Spark, facing your palm to the drone. Spark will follow your hand. Maintaining a few feet from you, push toward it to fly the drone away from you, side to side and backward all work the same. Slowly turn to the side and Spark will circle around you.
Single-handed wave – Simply give your drone a wave, it will back away from you to about ten feet out. That should be enough to put you entirely in-frame.
Create a box with your fingers – Performing the old gesture of imitating a video camera frame, that is, using your thumbs and index fingers to create a box in front of your face, Spark will give you a second then snap your photo.
Two-handed wave – All done? Two hands waving signals Spark to come home for a landing, when it gets close, hold out one hand, palm up, and the drone will all but come to you.
Quickshot camera modes:
Utilizing the remote or the mobile app on your phone, DJI has created a few simple camera modes and easy editing within the DJI GO 4 app. We’re still working on the dedicated post to explore this in entirety, but for now, Quickshot includes:
Rocket – the camera faces downward and the drone rockets straight up.
Dronie – the camera faces the subject and flies slowly upward as it backs away from the subject.
Circle – the camera keeps a focus on the subject and the drone flies around it in a circle.
Helix – the camera keeps focus on the subject and the drone both flies outward, upward and circles around. Basically, it combines the Dronie and Circle functions.
Once your video is captured, enjoy fast and easy editing. Tap the button in the DJI GO 4 app and your footage will be automatically edited down to as quick and fun video, music included.
Otherwise, you might imagine that we were unable to test the full extent of controls, particularly the 1.2 mile controller range, from within the confines of the netted area in New York’s Grand Central Station. We’ll have to wait on our review unit.
Related reading: DJI Mavic Pro camera review
With a top speed of 31 mph, we were successfully able to move at a walking pace within the safety cage in New York. The busy, indoor venue with plenty of radio interference proved no problems for the drone, which functioned well.
The main purpose of the Spark is to provide stable imagery in rather close quarters. Whether indoors or out, this little drone needs to provide at least smartphone-quality images to be of value. We’ll have to wait to see what it produces, but the camera is similarly spec’d to the Mavic Pro and offers 2-axisd gimbal stabilization.
GPS and GLONAS ensure a solid hover outdoors, a little wind should be tolerable, but the tiny thing may suffer with any appreciable air movement. Indoors, the visioning systems keep the drone in place. Of course, it is often using you as the reference point, so as long as you are standing still, the drone should remain in a stationary hover as well.
The camera gimbal is a different configuration from the Mavic Pro. We are more than pleased with how well the Mavic can handle some wind and fuselage jitter while maintaining a solid image. From what we witnessed at the event, the Spark can hold its own, but we are eager to get our review unit to test this new 2-axis gimbal system.
The camera gimbal tilts up and down, and it twists to stay level when the drone banks sideways. The camera does not turn left or right at all. This should not prove to be a problem, it is simply a tool not provided, a tool that provides an extra bit of finesse to your video shots. Let’s chalk this omission up to being a compromise for the price.
We previously speculated that the DJI Spark should price in at around $300, maybe $400 at most. However, DJI has priced it at $500, $700 for the Fly More combo.
We cannot yet say if the Spark is worth the money. We know it packs a lot of technology into a tiny package – an impressive amount for the size, to be fair. However, there is a stigma here that we are not sure DJI can overcome. The $500 price point is perhaps too steep for the average consumer.
Some may want the benefit of a tripod to their selfie camera. Finding a friend or grabbing something like a GorillaPod to mount a phone is quick and cheap. A selfie stick is another very affordable option, as much as I hate to admit it. Promoting Spark as simply a selfie camera will be tough.
Considering Spark as just a drone. The size of the drone, the max 1080p video resolution and the fact that it does not ship with a controller by default, is a hard sell as well. Going strictly by the spec sheet, we are confident you can get a similar drone for far less money.
It sounds like I am speaking ill of this machine, but this is where I turn it around. We must consider all factors, including that the Spark can connect to the DJI Goggles and has a great set of new software features, we will reserve judgement until we have our review in hand.
For now, $500 is more than we wanted DJI to price the Spark at. We’ll keep an open mind until we experience it in full.
Final thoughts on the DJI Spark
We are thrilled to have been in attendance for the launch event of the new DJI Spark. An exciting little drone if only for its ways to control it. Hand gesture control is very fun. Now, hand gestures are not new, but nearly full control of the craft using gestures is an accomplishment.
The new camera modes with Quickshot are an easy sell as well. One tap and the drone performs one of four great video capture flights. Taking skill out of the equation, great video capture, not to mention fun photos, are available to anyone.
The DJI Spark promises to bring drones out of the hobbyist category and into the mainstream. We know there are other drones like it, with the same promise, but let’s be fair, DJI is a company with backing to make it happen. GoPro managed to make a market for action cameras in the same way we think DJI could now make a market for small, easy to use drones.
What do you think so far, is the DJI Spark inspiring your creativity?