I don’t remember the last time I was so excited about buying something that wasn’t a plane ticket! I’ve wanted a drone for a while and after deciding against buying one of the cheap pocket drones, I opted for the DJI Spark…which is still tiny…but amazing. I was worried that as a newbie pilot I would be awful at flying it but it was fairly easy to pick up!
I paid $449 (+tax) for the basic package which included the drone, a USB cable, 1 battery, a carry box and 1 spare set of propellors. It DOESN’T come with an SD card, but it uses the same as the GoPro so I had plenty of spares. The next package up was $699 but included a shoulder bag, a remote control, a second battery, a battery charger and propellor guards. As a newbie I went for the cheaper package because I was worried I wouldn’t get the hang of it, struggle to find places to fly it etc.
Here’s my first impressions.
Without a controller, the drone is operated and flown through an app on a smartphone or tablet. TYPICALLY my iPhone is too old (5C…but it works with the 5S) and so is my iPod (generation 5…it works with the 6th gen which I’m actually getting for Christmas). Some pilots like to use tablets for the bigger screen but I actually like the fact I can control it with something small. The only problem I might come up against is just how high it can go, it gets a bigger range with the controller. This was the highest I could get it to go using just a phone…
Along with being small, my second requirement was that I wanted a drone that could take shots looking directly down. The gimbal on the Spark is awesome. The gimbal helps to stabilise the image as well as allowing you to film from several perspectives. The first time I flew it, it was in 20mph winds, which is about as high as they recommend, I didn’t go to the full height (because I was scared it would blow away) but the footage came out perfect (if you ignore my jolty controlling, something I’m sure I’ll get used to)!
I managed to try out a couple of the video modes. The ‘Dronie’ mode (aka selfie video mode) is one that you see used in a lot of drone videos. The drone flies directly upwards and backwards at a diagonal, away from the subject. It reaches the set distance and then automatically flies back ‘home’. I found it a little tricky to get it to actually work…and then was worried it would just keep flying and flying on to the next town! It doesn’t come with a proper instruction manual and even the downloadable version doesn’t have step by step instructions.
A really fun mode is the Gesture Control mode, I honestly felt like Harry Potter. This mode works without even using a controller or a phone! By double clicking the power button while holding it in front of you, it recognises YOU as the controller. It takes off straight from your hand and will then follow you or your hand wherever you move it. You can wave at it to make it fly away, tell it to record (yet to try that), take a photo (did that by mistake), beckon it to come back to you AND THEN make it land in the palm of your hand! It felt like my little pet that was actually alive!
The down side.
The battery life. It lasts around 10 – 15 minutes which doesn’t give a lot of time to practise all of the modes. The most annoying thing is for some reason it takes 4 HOURS to charge it back up. The manual says it should take 1 hour 20…it’s certainly not that for me.
It’s also partly my Christmas and birthday present so I’ve only been given it temporarily to make sure everything works before my 15 day return time is up! It also can’t fly below freezing (0C/32F) which wipes out most of December – February in Iowa, hence trialling it while the weather is still warm enough!
Should I have bought the ‘Fly More’ package?
The only things I really wish that I had, is the spare battery ($49) and the battery charging hub ($69) as it’s supposed to charge the batteries quicker than when they are charged while on the drone, plus you can charge 2 at once. At the moment I’m happy with the height and distance…I’d get scared if it was too far away from me, so for now I’m in no hurry to buy a remote control.
In the USA, if the drone weighs above 0.55lbs (250grams), you have to register with the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority). Currently I’m registered for recreational while I’m practising and using it for visuals, it costs $5 and I had to write my FAA number somewhere on my drone (mine is in the battery compartment). I plan to eventually use it for commercial once I get better. This costs $15 PLUS I’d need to go and take a test to become an official pilot for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) which costs $150 and needs updating every few years.
Don’t do what I did and switch it on before making a note of the WIFI code because then you’ll have to switch it off to take the battery out…wasting valuable battery life!! ALSO calibrate the sensors and do the firmware update before you even leave the house. You’ll have to recharge it again before taking it on a flight (unless you have a fully charged 2nd battery). I connected the drone to my laptop to do the updates.
Make a note of the surfaces around you. So far I’ve only taken off and landed on hard surfaces such as paths. Some people carry a mini landing pad around with them.
I went with DJI because they seemed to have the best information when it comes to ‘no fly zones’. They have an advanced flight planning map on their website, where you can see all the places you can’t fly or need permission to then ‘unlock’ the zone. It seems that some brands don’t allow the unlocking feature. (For example, you can’t fly near airports or in National Parks.)
Want to buy a Spark yourself?
(The following links are affiliates)
DJI Spark, Alpine White $449 – $648
SanDisk Extreme 32GB MicroSDHC UHS-I Card with Adapter – $24.75 (I always use the extreme for my GoPro and now my drone)
Have you ever thought about buying a drone?
Disclosure: Please note some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking. It comes at no extra cost to you but it helps me with the running of this site! As always, opinions are my own.