DJI Spark vs the Mavic Air - Which one is right for you?
This post was updated on: Tuesday, November 1, 2019
News Flash: DJI Spark has a better, cheaper successor. It's called Mavic Mini. To check how it stacks up, click here.
The Drone Craze that has been experienced lately continues to inspire fresh Drone technology, with companies striving to produce smarter and safer drones. The single most important drone innovation currently is to find the ideal application of “sense and avoid” technology to apply in UAV drones.
Having had the opportunity to test different models of drones available in the market today, I must say that DJI is an industry leader when it comes to producing portable camera drones. This was evident when the introduced the Mavic Pro in 2016; a hit with drone enthusiasts that garnered positive reviews for its amazing features.
This was followed by the launch of the more compact and highly-portable Spark the next year, which also caused a stir with the many new features it offered despite having a small frame. And the reception was no different when their latest quadcopter, the Mavic Air, came out last year; boasting more improved features than its predecessors. This is thanks to an extra year of technological advancements.
But given the range of choices for portable camera drones that DJI is offering, you might be wondering how the quadcopters stack up against each other. In this article, I will pit the DJI Spark against the Mavic Air as far as performance, design, usability, and other features are concerned. In the end, I’ll try to establish which one between the two is the better acquisition.
Spark vs Mavic Air vs Mavic 2 Pro Comparison Table
DJI Mavic Air
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
4 km (2.4 miles)
8 km (5 miles)
There is a range of variations in the design between the Spark and Mavic Air. The Spark is obviously smaller with dimensions of 143x143x55mm and a weight of 300g. Unlike the Mavic Air, its arms are not foldable, meaning that you need to exercise caution not to damage the propellers when carrying it in a backpack.
On the other hand, the Mavic Air is 130g heavier than the Spark and measures 168 x 184 x 64 mm. But since you can fold the four arms, it appears more compact when folded and makes it easier and safer to carry in a rucksack.
Furthermore, you have the option to remove the metal controller joysticks on the Air and tuck them away in the bag. This gives you one less reason to worry about when carrying the drone.
As far as aesthetics is concerned, the Mavic Air color choices are limited to Alpine White, Flame Red, and Onyx Black. This is in contrast to the Spark, which can be purchased in Sunrise Yellow, Sky Blue, Meadow Green, Alpine White, Lava Red.
The Mavic Air has an edge over the Spark because it’s just as portable and safer to carry, but if you’re into colors, you might want to go with the Spark.
The Mavic Air has a controller range of 4km, which is twice as much what you get from the Spark. It can also climb to maximum ceiling height of 5,000 meters above sea level whereas its counterpart will only go as high as 4,000 meters.
Despite the specified range on these drones, the two tend to experience connection issues when flying further away from the controller. The video feed may be interrupted as a result. This is unlike the more connectivity stable Mavic Pro.
Thankfully, both drones have the “return to home” feature which enables them to return to the point of take-off whenever there is a loss of signal. During this maneuver, the Air continues to utilize its visual sensors to steer clear of any obstacles on the way.
Clearly, the Mavic Air has a greater range both horizontally and vertically; it has the upper hand on this.
Despite the extra weight and sensors, the Mavic Air can stay in flight for a maximum of 21 minutes with a fully charged battery. This is a considerable improvement from the 16 minutes that the Spark offers on a full battery; although some users have claimed shorter flight times.
The five extra minutes may not seem like a lot but if you are shooting videos, you don’t get any great ideas until you are a couple of minutes into the flight. This means the extra minutes can make a huge difference in the final scheme of things.
Because of the longer flight time per charge, the Mavic Air takes this round as well.
In sport mode, the DJI Spark can move at a speed of 31mph while the Mavic will reach speeds over 40mph. However, in standard flight mode (whether you are using a controller or not), the Spark can only reach 7mph with the obstacle avoidance turned on. Once you turn off this feature, the Spark can reach 13mph.
This is still a far cry from the 20mph that the Mavic Air will get to, even when obstacle avoidance is turned on. Unfortunately, both drones have a limited range of motion, meaning they can’t go at full speed without the camera tilting sideways or downward. For example, the camera on the Spark will start facing downward when you fly it at speeds beyond 20mph.
The Mavic Air is clearly more agile in the air between the two. It also happens to me foldable, which makes it as easy to transport as the Spark, which is significantly smaller.
The Spark maxes out its video recording at full HD resolution, while the Air can record videos at 4K resolution at 30fps, with a maximum bitrate of 100Mbps. It can further shoot slow motion 1080p videos at 120fps.
When it comes to still photography, the performance between the two evens out as far as resolution goes. They both have ½.3” sensors and can shoot up to 12-megapixel still. Both are also fitted with f/2.6 aperture lenses. The Mavic Air has an advanced HDR mode nevertheless.
The optics on the Mavic Air have massively been updated. It provides you with video recording that can rival some consumer drones at a higher price range. For this, it gets the nod over the Spark.
Features and Control
Both the Mavic Air and the Spark come with an obstacle avoidance system that prevents them from colliding with buildings or tress. The Spark can detect objects ahead that are up to 5 meters away with the aid of its front-facing sensors.
This is, however, not as impressive as the Mavic Air which has an obstacle detection system that can reach objects as far as 20 meters. It does this using its backward and forwards dual-camera vision system. In addition, the Air consists of what is known as “Advanced Pilot Assistant System”.
This feature helps you to avoid an obstacle automatically in complex environments that have more impediments. Its FlightAutonomy system has been upgraded to the 2.0 version, meaning it utilizes seven on-board cameras, as well as infrared sensors to create a 3D plan of the surroundings. This ensures that the drone hovers more precisely to offer better flight performance.
The QuickShot video mode is also available on both drones and this offers predefined flight patterns which help to maintain the object in the frame so as to provide you with cinema-like video effects. Yet again, the Mavic Air stands out with more modes- Asteroid and Boomerang
The other staple feature on the DJI which both drones have been programmed with is ActiveTrack. This allows for automatic tracking of a person or item by the drone. According to DJI, the ActiveTrack on the DJI Mavic Air has been updated to automatically detect several subjects and track people who are moving (running and cycling) even more efficiently.
The one extra year that DJI had to develop the Mavic Air gave them enough time to improve on the features on its predecessors. This is why the Air is head and shoulders above the Spark in this category.
In terms of specs the Spark controller is quite similar to the Mavic Air & Pro controllers, although the spark might be lagging behind a bit. They all make use of WiFi to move the drone around but only the Mavic Pro has a telemetry screen.
DJI has, however, made some notable improvements on the Air.
The "Mavic Air Control Sticks are designed to be detachable" and can be placed inside the controller, which makes transportation easier and safer. A feature that's absent in the Spark.
And as I mentioned earlier, the transmission range has been improved to 4km from 2km on the Spark.
In addition, the controller doesn’t need WiFi to connect to your phone. To do this, simply use the cable which plugs into the side of your controller. This ensures that you get a more reliable signal with less lag and interference compared to the Spark.
The Mavic Air controller gets the win with all these updates!
Stability in the Air
The Spark tends to experience some major turbulence, especially when hovering in strong winds. Another perennial problem it faces is that it constantly captures a crooked horizon line, which requires a fair share of post-processing to correct. But this isn’t the case with the Air. Its 3-axis gimbal gives it better stability, enabling it to maintain a straight horizon line throughout the clip.
The Improved stability on the Mavic Air easily makes this a no contest!
The Mavic Air doesn’t feature a proper D-Log profile, although it has the D-CineLike shooting option. The advantage here comes when you want to process and color grade your footage later on. Conversely, the Spark still lags behind on this given that it has no color grading options and neither does it offer RAW options.
The gesture control mechanism on the Mavic Air is more refined, ensuring that you get a more practical utility of this feature than what the Spark offers. There have been concerns from customers of the difficulty experienced while using gestures to control the Spark.
Imagine how ridiculous it looks when keep on gesturing at a drone that is seemingly ignoring you! Generally, it is safe to say that palm-control mechanism performs better on the Mavic Air.
The DJI Spark is the cheapest option among DJI’s portable drone models. It retails at $400 when you buy it alone but the cost jumps to $500 when you buy it with a dedicated controller (which I highly recommend you should do). While using a phone, controlling the Spark on your phone won’t be as effective!
Meanwhile, you’ll have to cough up $800 to get your hands on a new Mavic Air, which is almost double what you paid for the Spark. This is something you’d expect considering all the updated features.
Regarding price, the Spark has a clear advantage, especially when you want to acquire the drone on a budget.
The Spark is a good drone, but I must say its video quality is underwhelming. You won’t be able to notice this if you are a novice but for the avid filmmaker, the results will be very clear. This is especially true when you compare them with what you get from the Mavic Air.
However, one area where the Spark pips the Air is in the color quality. After comparing the footages of the same location that I recorded with both drones, I noticed that the colors on the Spark appeared more realistic. Although unlike the Spark, there is no color grading option.
Field of View
I also realized that the Mavic Air has a wider field of view than the Spark. But you shouldn’t worry too much about the FOV on the spark, it is relatively wide; just less wide than its counterpart.
This is where the benefit of the 4K video recording on the Mavic Air made sense to me. Even with a zoomed field of view on the Spark, there is a huge difference when you are pitting eight million pixels against two million pixels.
Finally, the Mavic Air also allows you to capture your images in JPEG or RAW formats. This gives you the flexibility to process the images to your preference if you don’t like how they look raw.
Aside from the color quality, you can’t deny that overall; the Mavic Air is the clear winner here.
The DJI Spark will make a great acquisition if you are just catching the drone bug and looking to buy on a budget. It has enough features to impress any hobbyist out there. But it may not be enough for an avid drone enthusiast.
This is because all the features that excited us when it was launched can be accessed on the Mavic Air, not to mention that they have all been greatly updated. The unfolding hands also pose a slight challenge when it comes to transporting the Spark.
When you compare all the features in general, you will see that the Mavic Air is the outright winner! It is faster, it stays longer in the air, it has a wider range, it has better camera capabilities, the video quality is also better, not to mention that you get extra features and options that the Spark does not have. The list is endless!
If I were to choose between the two; I wouldn’t mind spending the extra $400 to get myself the DJI Mavic Air. You shouldn't too!
Our Winner: The Mavic Air
Last update on 2019-11-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API