25 May 2017

DJI Spark: the new entry level consumer drone

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Spark launches out of the hand. Spark launches out of the hand. DJI


A spark of genius? DJI bills its new $499, cellphone-sized Spark drone as “the easy and fun camera drone for everyone.”

Indeed, Spark opens drone stills and video to a wider market while still having professional capabilities.

Priced at $499 (£519, €599) Spark is little larger than a cell phone and weighs only 10.6 ounces (300 grams). Its camera boasts a single 1 /2.3” 12 megapixel image-stabilized CMOS sensor. The addition of a 2-axis mechanical gimbal allows smooth video shots up to 1080p60.

At the product announcement held in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, assembled press saw Spark take off from palm of the operator’s hand where it automatically entered Gesture mode. The drone can then be totally controlled by hand motions, including hand motions to instruct it to shoot a selfie and then return to land in the operator’s hand.

For more complex shooting, Spark can be controlled by an app with four QuickShot intelligent flight modes including Drone, Circle, Rocket and Helix. It incorporates previous DJI innovations including TapFly and Active track.

An optional remote controller enables Sport Mode, with speeds up to 31mph (50kph) and for those looking for a totally immersive flight, it is compatible with DJI Goggles.

It shares flight safety and accuracy features with the higher end DJI craft with 3D sensing and object avoidance. And it can wirelessly transmit 720p video over a mile.

(For the complete list of features, see DJI’s press release over the page.)

But for our discussion, more significant than reciting features and specs is how Spark shifts the focus of the drone market.

DJI strongly pitches Spark as a vehicle for individuals — bloggers, selfie-taking dog walkers, family events and generally just fun things. It brings drones within the reach of the casual user with both positive and negative consequences.

On the positive side, Spark is an easy to fly and safety-laden aircraft that is very accessible to new pilots. Gone are the days of flying your new hobby drone into a tree the first time you take it off.

Spark allows for new modes of individual creative expression, not just through the flight and shooting modes it embodies, but also through an editing app which can create a finished video and then upload it, for example, to social media all without opening a dedicated NLE. The more content creators we have the more we can all benefit from creative endeavours.

It is also worth noting that this drone, which has the promise of huge worldwide sales, arrives the day after a US court overturned the FAA’s drone registration requirements. While no doubt the FAA will appeal the case, the thought of even more remote controlled aircraft in the skies without any ability to track their owners is concerning on a number of levels.

Drones are not toys and drones operated around aircraft invite disaster. Can we restrict a technology because of reckless operators? I suspect that such an argument can be made but refuted. DJI’s safety features will no doubt limit irresponsible use. Still, I am concerned about too easy an access to a technology that may not be fully understood by a broad user base.

The bottom line, though, is that Spark is a powerful, easy to operate, device that will deliver beautiful images and offers unlimited creative possibilities.

Oh, and it comes in 5 colours. Make mine Lava Red...


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Ned Soltz

Ned Soltz is a veteran shooter, editor, consultant, author and industry expert. He is Contributing Editor of DigitalVideo Magazine and is a frequent contributor to numerous print and web publications as well as podcasts. Ned was among the founders of the LA Final Cut Pro User Group (now LA Creative Pro User Group) and is currently president of the New York City user group Mopictive NYC.

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