So finally here we are – the DJI Mavic Air has been announced and almost immediately people have started wondering “Is it worth it?”. Although this is a personal decision and really comes down to finances and what you’re planning to use the drone for, in this article I’ll be comparing both the DJI Spark and the Mavic Air in an effort to facilitate the buying process for you and answer any questions you might have about those two aircrafts.
So first off, let’s start off with a visual comparison of the features of the two drones:
Last update on 2018-02-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Features & Flying
As you can expect, the newer DJI Mavic Air comes with many improved features and promises to fix the gripes we had with the DJI Spark. Many people actually call the new Mavic Air “Spark 2”, as they consider it to be less of an upgrade to the Mavic line up and more of an upgrade to the Spark.
While I don’t agree completely with that statement, it’s worth mentioning that the Mavic Air tries to fix the gap between the Mavic Pro and the Spark by setting itself in the middle, providing both the extreme portability of the Spark and the power of the Mavic Pro.
Let’s start with the external features of the drones – they are both extremely compact and easy to transport, but the Mavic Air has a foldable design, which allows the 4 legs to fold in and form a shape similar in size to your regular smartphone – when folded, the Mavic Air is just a touch bigger than the iPhone 8 Plus, which is quite fantastic.
On the other hand, the Spark does not fold, but its size is also remarkably small – it can easily fit in your backpack, especially when it’s put into its styrofoam case that comes in the package from DJI.
Next, I want to address the obstacle avoidance sensors. There is just one forward-facing sensor for avoiding obstacles in your way on the DJI Spark, while the newer DJI Mavic Air has 3-way obstacle avoidance technology – front, back and bottom. This is something extremely important as those obstacle avoidance sensors could potentially save your drone from crashing or flying away.
What’s also interesting about the Mavic Air is the inclusion a new technology called Flight Autonomy 2.0. Basically this technology guides the drone between the obstacles, and instead of stopping, the drone “senses” the obstacles and goes around or over them, continuing its flight.
Gesture controls are present in both drones, but the new Mavic Air has an improved control, allowing the aircraft to be a bit more agile and more responsive to your gestures, something that I hope DJI will bring to the Spark as well via a firmware update. Unfortunately palm launch and palm landing are only possible on the DJI Spark, which is a pity since palm launch was one of the most used features on my Spark – being able to fly from anywhere, no matter the surface of the ground is a huge plus for me.
So in terms of features both drones are very capable, but the clear winner is the Mavic Air, with its newer design and technology.
Camera & Range
When talking about the camera capabilities, the Spark definitely falls behind with its Full-HD (1080P) @30fps camera and 12MP still images. And although the 2-axis gimbal of the Spark does not provide bad footage at all, it definitely lacks the smoothness of a 3-axis gimbal, which you can find in the Mavic Air.
However, we get a 2-axis gimbal and a new technology called “UltraSmooth” – this is a technology that removes shake and rolling shutter in your videos, which DJI promises will make your videos a lot smoother and overall much better.
In addition, the Mavic Air has a 4K/30 fps Camera which is also capable of filming at 1080P/120 fps for extra slow and buttery slow-motion shots, as well as 2.7K at 60 frames per second. This is all possible due to the 1/2.3 CMOS sensor and new ISP (Image Signal Processor) which are present in the body of the Mavic Air.
I also want to quickly address something which the Spark is known for – Quickshots. If you’re not familiar, Quickshots are basically a short automated cinematic sequence that the drone performs by itself, allowing for some great cinematic clips that most people cannot perform manually due to their complexity. They were first introduced in the Spark I honestly think they’re amazing. So now, we have the same Quickshots from the Spark transferred to the Mavic Air as well, but we also get 2 more unique ones, called “Boomerang” and “Asteroid”. The newer Quickshots are even more complicated and look quite spectacular in my opinion. So far though, they are Mavic Air exclusive.
Interestingly, the Mavic Air does not use Occusync technology which allows for extra-long transmission range, instead it uses an improved version of the WiFi technology, found in the Spark. So both aircrafts rely on WiFi for their connectivity, but the Mavic Air’s WiFi transmission technology has been massively improved according to DJI.
The range of the Spark is roughly 1.2 miles (2km), and the Air is capable of flying at a maximum distance of 2.5 miles (4km). So even though they both have WiFi technology and not Occusync, the Mavic Air has an improved transmission allowing it to go “the extra mile”.
The remote controllers of both the DJI Spark and the DJI Mavic Air are very very similar in terms of buttons and positioning, with just a couple of small differences.
First off, the remote of the Spark comes with a glossy black area on the top of the upper side of the controller, whereas the Mavic Air’s does not have that. If you’re struggling to tell the difference between the two remote controllers or if you own both drones and you want to quickly distinguish which remote is which, that would be the best way to do so.
Something else that I really like about the new remote’s design is that you can unscrew the sticks of the remote, allowing you to have a completely flat surface so you don’t have to worry about breaking the sticks when travelling with your drone. Until now we’ve had to buy a remote controller stick protector, which basically is a plastic that goes on top of the sticks and keeps them in place when travelling – now we don’t have to do that anymore and it’s nice to see that DJI actually listens to their customers and actually improves the design of the controller to fix the issue. You can store the unscrewed remote sticks inside the remote itself (there are 2 little notches where you can put them), and you also get 2 additional remote sticks in case you lose the original ones.
Battery & Flight time
The battery of the DJI Spark will allow you to fly for a maximum amount of 16 minutes with no wind at a consistent 12.4 mph (20 kph), which I guess is OK from such a little device. After all, I think we were all getting spoiled with 25-30 mins of flying time from the bigger DJI aircrafts so having the same expectations for this little guy has always been unrealistic. Realistically, the Spark flies for around 12-14 minutes, depending on the flight conditions.
The battery of the DJI Mavic Air can hold up to 21 minutes in the air, but realistically you should expect around 17-18 minutes of flight time with each charge, as you never really go down to 0% when flying.
And as far as charging – there’s no wireless charging in any of the drones, but at least you can charge the battery of the Spark via the micro USB slot on the side of the aircraft. The DJI Mavic Air cannot be recharged directly from the aircraft, you have to remove it and charge it individually or you the battery charging hub which can be found in both drones’ FlyMore combo packages.
It has become the norm for DJI to release new products with different colours, and this time is no exception.
For the DJI Spark, you have the following color options:
As for the Mavic Air, you can choose between Arctic White, Onyx Black or Flame Red.
Price and buying options
The price of the Spark depends on the package you select. You can choose between the regular version and the Fly More Combo. Here’s what you get in each of those:
You get everything from the regular package, plus:
2 additional batteries
Battery charging hub
Battery to power bank adaptor
So as you can see, the Mavic Air outperforms the Spark in just about any way, but that comes with a price. At $799 (or $999 for the FlyMore Package), you’re going into “prosumer” territory, where flying a drone is not only for fun – but also for shooting for YouTube, shooting events, short movies, weddings etc.
So it all really gets down to how much you’re willing to spend in order to get a good flying experience. The Spark would be the best option for anyone who has never flown a drone before but is willing to get their feet wet, and not spend a ton of money in the process.
On the other hand, if you’re familiar with flying a drone or you simply require more from your equipment and you plan to shoot 4K, slow-motion clips or large panoramic shots, then the Mavic Air will surely be the better option.
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