DJI is a Chinese tech company that focuses on drones. After more than a decade in the business, DJI has established a solid reputation for flying cameras and other imaging equipment at both consumer and professional levels. The entry devices discussed here still reach into the $400+ range, so it is important to know what that expenditure gets you.
In 2017, DJI released the Spark as it’s cheapest model. It featured impressive attributes in terms of flying and imaging. The 12 megapixel camera was capable of shooting 1080p video at 30fps. The camera was stabilised by two gimbals. The unit also had a 3D camera for automatic crash avoidance and hand-gesture control. The latter permitted flying and photography features by making hand signals that were detected by the 3D camera. With the smartphone controller, the drone could fly up to 1.2 miles away and flights could last up to 16 minutes.
The Spark’s combination of innovative features and pro-level dependability made it an excellent choice for someone just starting out, but also interested in repeated use over time and high-quality results. As much as the Spark was a beloved best-seller, it has now been discontinued after barely two years. While this may be bad news for the ecosystem of accessory manufacturers, the replacement, DJI’s Mavic Mini, is destined to obtain the same love from the next generation of drone buyers.
The Mavic Mini is a stylistic departure from the Spark with its collapsible architecture. This may explain why it is not called Spark II. The Mavic line features the Air ($919), the Pro Platinum ($1,149) and the Mavic 2 ($1,729). The latter has Hasselblad image quality, which explains the significant step-up in price. Putting the Mavic Mini in this crowd emphasizes its pro-level lineage. That may be the same lineage that the Spark shared, but now there is no mistaking this product as a hobbyist machine. With all its accessories (case, propeller guards, remote control, charging cable, etc.) the Mavic Mini outfit comes in at $499 ($399 for just the basic drone).
Is there enough improvement to justify ditching your Spark for the new model?
That question is harder to answer than one might think. Maximum altitude is actually down in the newer model: 3km vs 4km for the Spark. As you might expect, flight time is up (by 2x!), and camera stability is increased to a three gimbal system. Photo and video exposure ISO are unchanged, but video clarity is up to 2.7Kp at 30fps (compared to 1080p for the Spark).
Of particular note is the weight. Spark gets it all done for 300g, but Mavic Mini slims down to 249g. These are both incredibly light-weight devices, but the reason for weight loss may relate to a change in drone regulation. In the United States, any aircraft (including a drone) over .55 pounds must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. .55 pounds equals just over 249 grams. That means that if you are a new Spark pilot, you have to register your 300g craft. No such requirement currently exists for the Mavic Mini.
The Mavic mini is a worthy successor across the board, but there may not be enough to justify replacing a perfectly good Spark. Just make sure you watch out for the FAA.