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Look, I know drones are expensive… but some people really want one, but it is hard to justify dropping several hundred dollars on one unless you’re a professional. Last year, every time I would go into a store I would just stare at the drones and try to convince myself that today is the day I would get a drone. But if today is the day you’ve decided to pull the trigger on getting a drone, you might be wondering should you get the DJI Spark, or pay double and get the DJI Mavic Air.
Now remember, this isn’t a full review on either of these drones, I’m just trying to point out the most important differences so I can help you with your purchase decision. If you want to learn more about these drones watch their full reviews. The DJI Spark and the DJI Mavic Air are the two most affordable drones DJI currently has on sale. (not counting the Tello cause thats a toy) The base DJI Mavic Air is currently retailing for $799 and the Base DJI Spark is currently retailing for $399; a $100 discount from its original price of $499. If you want to pick either of these drones up I’ll have links in the description and if you use the links it really helps out the channel. Check them out cause DJI Drone sometimes go on sale so you might get lucky.
First lets talk about what you get with these drones when you get the base package. Both drones come with one battery, charging cables, 2 extra sets of propellers, and a carrying case. Neither one come with an SD card so you have to bring your own. Only the Mavic Air comes included with a controller in the base package, where as with the spark you have to pay extra for a controller. You can either get the fly more combo pack for $599 and get everything you do with the Base DJI Spark package plus an extra battery and extra accessories and the controller, of you can get the controller on its own for $119. And personally I don’t think its worth getting the controller for the spark cause of the Spark’s short flight time of 16 minutes, a max range of 2000 meters with the controller under ideal conditions, and over all the Spark’s camera and flight performance isn’t worth paying upwards of $500. I feel that if you get the Spark you’re better off just flying it with your phone. Its worked just fine for me.
Even though the Spark is smaller than the Air, in its folded state the Mavic Air is much easier to carry around than the Spark. Both drones also come with hardshell carrying cases that protect them from getting crushed in a bag or if you accidentally drop them, but again, the Mavic Air’s case is smaller and more premium than the Spark’s case.
Now lets talk about the hardware, the Spark has a 3D sensing system on the front that helps it detect obstacles that are directly in front of it and sensors on its belly that help it detect obstacles underneath it. And its camera is housed in a 2 axis gimbal that can compensate for pitch and role. And in order to get smooth video on the Spark when turning, DJI uses digital image stabilization. The slightly bigger Mavic Air houses its camera in a 3 axis gimbal that can compensate for pitch, roll, and yaw and video is a little smoother especially when turning. The Mavic Air also has sensors on the front and on its belly that help it detect obstacles in front and underneath it, but it also has sensors on the rear so it can detect obstacles behind it when flying backwards, something the Spark cant do. Although these systems are great and they have prevented crashes on both the Air and the Spark, it is important to keep in mind that you do still run the risk of crashing if you fly from side to side on either of these drones, something I do regularly to get panning shots.
The Mavic Air also has a new feature called Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems or APAS for short. And when this feature is turned on, the Mavic Air will automatically avoid obstacles… all you have to do is tell it to fly forward. And it also works when flying backwards. Granted the Mavic air will drastically slow down when its automatically avoiding these obstacles but its still impressive none the less. But once it detects theres nothing in front of it again it’ll speed back up. This feature makes flying in cramped environments much less stressful.
Now lets talk about the flying dynamics on these drones. Since the Mavic Air is bigger than the Spark and has larger propellers its much more stable to fly especially in windy conditions. Now don’t get me wrong, the Spark does a really good job of compensating for random gusts of winds but if you’re by a river, or at the beach, or in any other area with high winds it is very hard to keep the Spark stable and get decent shots if you’re shooting a specific subject. The larger size of the Mavic Air and the included controller means you’ll be able to fly the Air much faster and much more aggressively than the Spark. When flying the Spark with your phone it has a max ascent speed and max descent speed of 3 meters per second. And when flying the Air with the controller is has a max ascent speed of 4 meters per second and max decent speed of 3 meters per second. And this matters cause it how fast these drones can gain or loss altitude. When controlled with your phone the Spark has a max linear speed of about 13 miles per hours or 5.8 meters per second, where as the Air has a max linear speed of about 20 miles per hour or 9 meter per second when using the controller. But the controller also allows you to unlock sport mode on the Air where you’ll be able to reach a top speed of about 42 miles per hours. But remember your front sensors are tuned off so your on your own. And if you get the controller for the Spark then you’ll be able to get a top speed of about 31 miles per hour with sport mode. And keep in mind, if you decide to fly the Mavic Air with just your phone… control in puts are numbed down a bit.
When flying the Spark with your phone you get a max range of about 100 meters, but keep in mind this is under ideal conditions with direct line of sight and with minimal signal interface of other wifi signals or tall metal structures. If you were to fly the Mavic Air with just your phone you’ll get a max range of about 80 meters under ideal conditions. Ironic I know, I expected the Air to get a slightly longer range over the Spark. But if you fly the Mavic Air with the controller then you can get a range of up 4000 meters but again this is under ideal conditions. In highly populated areas I haven’t come close to this range.
Another thing that requires ideal conditions for peak performance is battery life. The Mavic air has an advertised flight time of 21 minutes and the Spark has an advertised flight time of 16 minutes. But factors like cold weather, wind speed and just how aggressively you fly your drone will play into your flight time. And if you fly in sport mode then your battery will drain even faster. In the spring and summer my spark routinely achieved a flight time of 16 minutes and even sometimes 18 minutes but in the NYC winter were temperatures are below 30 I usually get a flight time of 13 minutes. And like I said in my initial review my Mavic Air hasn’t hit that 21 minute flight time. I’ve been averaging about 18 minutes but remember this is with the temperature anywhere between 20 and 40 degrees. I hope to hit that 21 minute mark in the spring and summer. And charging these batteries is another factor to consider, in order to fully charge the battery on the Spark its going to take 80 minutes if you’re doing it through the micro USB cable and its going to take about 50 minutes to full charge the battery on the Mavic Air with the supplied adaptor.
Ok, lets get into the cameras. Both the Mavic Air and Spark have the same 12 megapixel sensors, but their lenses and aperture are a little different. The Spark has a 2.6 aperture and a field of view of 81.9 degrees and the Air has a 2.8 aperture and field of view of 85 degrees. This means you’ll be able to capture more of a subject with the Air than the spark when they’re looking at the same thing away at the same distance from the same subject. With the Spark you can only shoot video in 1080P 30 frames per second. Which is just fine for social media. Even though the Spark has the same sensor has the Mavic Air, it cant shoot in 4K because DJI use digital image stabilization to compensate for not having a 3 axis gimbal system on the Spark.
Where as on the Mavic Air you can shoot in 4K 30 frames per second, 1080P 60 frames per second, 1080P 30 frames per second, and even capture slow-motion video in 1080P 120 frames per second. And these are just a few of the shooting modes the Mavic Air has to offer. Now the reason you would want to shoot in 4K is because you’ll be able to capture more detail and if you wanted to you could zoom in on subjects in post without losing too much detail. And Personally I like shooting in 1080P 60 Frames per second because it means much smoother video, and if I needed to I can slow down the video a bit and still have it be pretty smooth.
Both of these drones also take pictures and they both have some very useful panorama modes. But only the Mavic Air can take HDR photos. And when you take a panorama the drones will hover in place, rotate and take the necessary pictures and the DJI App will stitch them together on your phone. Both of these drones do a great job of staying stable under windy conditions and the end results are stunning on both drones, but the Mavic Air is able to take the necessary pictures for these panoramas in a fraction of the time it takes the Spark. And speed matters here because you want to be quick to capture a moment or if your drone is hovering for too long its obviously going to drain your precious battery life.
Both of theses drones also have some pretty cool quick shot modes where they will automatically track a subject and they’ll automatically fly themselves and capture some epic video and they both work very well… No problems there. And both other these drones also have gestures controls where they will track you and you can position them by just waving your hands and these gesture controls work very well on the mavic air. There are a few hiccups here and there but the overall experience is great. But the gesture controls on the Spark are very hit or miss. there are times where it will work ok and there are just other times where it just wont work at all. And if you’re in an environment with the slightest wind then you run the risk of crashing the spark when palm launching.
With all of this being said, the DJI Spark is still a great little entry level drone especially at $399. Its very capable, but like I’ve said in past videos its an epic selfie machine. Its great to have when you’re with friends or if you want to record yourself doing something or if you’re a parent its a really easy way to capture some stunning videos of your little one. And the Spark does have some major conveniences over the Mavic Air. First off its built like a tank, my spark has suffered some major crashes that even I’m surprised it survived. Drones are only fun after you’ve gotta over the fact that you basically have 400 or 800 dollars just zipping around in the air that just might not come back. The Spark also charges with a phone charger and a micro USB cable, so if you take the spark to a friends house you can fly it and just ask your friend for a phone charger and come back an hour and half later and do it all over again. With the Mavic air you have to carry around the charging cable with you if you don’t have extra batteries. But most importantly the DJI Spark looks like a toy, which its clearly not. While I was out getting B roll with the Mavic Air and Spark everyone would freak out cause of the Mavic Air, “Oh is that a drone?” “Oh is it going to crash into me” “Oh you can’t fly a drone here” but with the Spark since its so small people don’t care or they just go “Oh cool toy”. If you just want to capture video of yourself or if you just want to get comfortable with flying a drone then the spark is great.
But if you’re a content creator or if you want a more capable drone, then the DJI Mavic Air is more your speed. Flight autonomy 2.0 is a huge game changer which makes flying in cramped areas much less stressful. All of this capability cramped into such a small package is what makes the Mavic Air so amazing. If you’re ok with a 21 minute flight time and a max video recording of 4K 30 frames per second then I would get the Air over the current gen Mavic Pro. The Mavic Air is clearly giving us a preview of the second generation mavic pro that I think will be launched in the next 8 to ten months. I think it will be smaller than the current gen Mavic Pro, have all of the sensors built into the Mavic Air plus sensors off to sides, and I would really like the Mavic Pro 2 to have a 30 minute flight time and be able to shoot in 4K 60 Frames per second and 1080P at 240 Frames per second. Those are the specs I would need the second generation Mavic Pro to have so I would pay a premium over the Mavic Air.