Spark Hands-on Review: Small, Smart and So Much Fun

The release of DJI’s Spark  is sure to mean a whole new group of people will not only become drone pilots, but also drone photographers. Spark is designed to appeal to the everyday people who want to take amazing video and still images from interesting and unique angles, and share them with friends and family. This is a new audience for DJI, and Spark, with its small form factor and advanced gesture controls, is just the drone to deliver on the promise of the personal flying camera.

KEY FEATURES

It is often said that the best camera is the one you have with you. Spark is designed accompany you on family vacations, trips to the beach with friends, hikes by yourself…you get the point. It is small, portable, and very quick to get into the air. DJI realized that some people might be intimidated by drones and took steps to make Spark very user friendly. It is small and lightweight, which allows you to take off and land from an open palm.

In addition, Spark has safety features that you normally only see on bigger drones. Things like Return to Home, which brings it back to its Home Point via GPS with the touch of a button. Precision hovering and landing ensures that you can always let go of the sticks and hover in place. Not to mention obstacle avoidance, which until now was unheard of in a quadcopter this small. Spark takes the best technology and features of its bigger brothers and puts them into a small, easy to fly, and, dare I say, adorable package.

ADVANCED GESTURE CONTROL

The other big new feature of Spark is the ability to fly and take images using gestures. DJI showed us some of this last year with the Mavic Pro. But Spark takes gesture control to a new level. This allows it to follow instructions and react in different ways depending on what gesture you make. These gestures are simple motions like waving your hand and moving your palm.

Let’s start with PalmLaunch and PalmLand. These two are pretty much what they sound like. You put your palm out flat and rest Spark on it. To launch, the camera should be facing you at eye level so that Spark can recognize your face. DJI calls this facial recognition FaceAware. With Spark turned on, push the power button twice quickly and. When the front LEDs turn red again, you can remove your hand, and Spark will hover just where you left it. Pretty cool! PalmLand is even simpler. You simply put your palm flat under Spark ( and the downward facing cameras will detect your hand and land on it!

My favorite advanced gesture is PalmControl. For this one, you hold your hand up flat at approximately one meter from Spark. Once it detects your hand, Spark’s front lights , and then you can move your palm around slowly and Spark will follow. The first time we tried this, my son said “Look dad, I’m using the Force”. Even though it seems like a simple thing, PalmControl feels like magic!

You can also make Spark follow you. If you are close to the drone (around 1 meter), simply wave your hand back and forth a couple of times. Spark will then fly up and away from you, then start tracking you. If Spark ever loses you, its LEDs will flash yellow. All you have to do is make a “Y” shape with your arms, confirming that you want Spark to keep following. Take a selfie by making a frame with your hands in front of your face. This will initiate a countdown where you will see Spark’s front lights blink for a few seconds, after which it will take a picture of you. This is great because you don’t need to hold your phone or transmitter to make this happen. Gone are the days of the drone selfie with the pilot looking down at his controller!

Finally, while Spark is following you, you can “Beckon” it by putting your hands up into a “Y” shape for two seconds. This will bring Spark down to approximately your eye level and toward you slowly. This is a great option if you want to activate PalmControl again or land in your hand!

 

CONCLUSION

While it takes a bit of practice, the gesture controls are well worth the time to learn. I have been flying RC models for many years and have never experienced the freedom of controlling an aircraft without having to look down at a transmitter in my hands. The feeling is different, but quite amazing.

Of course, all the gestures in the world don’t mean much if your pictures and video don’t look good. But don’t worry, Spark’s camera is solid. It has a two-axis mechanical gimbal for stabilized images, and it shoots full HD 1080P video and 12 mega-pixel still images, which is great quality for social sharing and capturing your adventures. While Spark features amazing technology, it’s not as much about the technology as it is the experience. Spark aims to make the way we use drones more natural and more human.