DJI Mavic Air vs. DJI Spark
The new DJI Mavic Air is the latest drone from DJI. After the upmarket Mavic Pro and the smaller Spark, the Mavic Air comes as a best of both worlds kind of a solution. Despite the small size, the Mavic Air does come with a lot of new features. Let’s take a more in-depth look at both of them.
The first and the most obvious point of difference is the video resolution. And the Mavic Air shoots 4K videos and 12-megapixel stills. This is in comparison to only full HD videos and 12-megapixel stills on the DJI Spark.
The lack of 4K abilities does put the Spark on the backfoot when compared to the Mavic Air. But then the two drones are not aimed at the same target users. The relatively cheaper Spark with its limited features is aimed at first-time drone pilots. This drone is mainly designed for personal use and not for commercial flights where a client assigns you.
If you are shooting vacations and picnic or a day at the beach and if you are only going to share these clips on social media or watch them on your phone and laptop you will probably not miss the absence of 4K. The Mavic Air, despite its shortcomings, is designed for the enthusiastic flyer.
Stabilization – Which one produces the more stable videos?
The DJI Mavic Air comes with a 3-axis gimbal-stabilized camera system. The older Spark came with a 2-axis stabilized gimbal camera. The Mavic Air is more stable in the air compared to the DJI Spark and creates very smooth video recordings. Speaking of the gimbal, the gimbal cover on the Mavic Air is a one-piece slide unit. The one on the spark is a two-step patch that is, well, a tag more cumbersome to slide open.
The DJI Spark is already quite small. The Mavic Air, once folded as shown in the picture below is even smaller in size and therefore very easy to transport.
Plus, you now have the option to take off the metal controller joysticks and tuck them away inside the drone. By doing so, you now have one less reason to worry about. No more metal switches getting caught in your bag. Finally, the whole thing folds down easily. You wouldn’t even feel it is in your backpack.
The charging unit has been redesigned too. The side panels of the charging unit flip down allowing you to charge up to four batteries at a time.
But when it comes down to the question of bulk, the foldability of the Mavic Air makes it more convenient. It has been pretty nicely designed. Practically designed if I may add. Even the controller, as I have mentioned before, comes with detachable joysticks. And that’s where the Mavic Air is the better drone. Then, of course, you add all the features and the refinement to it.
There has been some talk that the Mavic Air and the Spark are about the size of a smartphone. While the size is indeed small, the thickness and the shape are nowhere near that of a smartphone. Unless you own a massive phablet, there is no way that the sizes are comparable.
Overall, the size differences between the Spark and the Mavic Air are not that much. But when it comes to foldability and transporting it in a bag the Mavic Air is the better choice because of its ergonomic design.
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Smartphone as the Control Display
Just like the Mavic Pro, you can attach your smartphone on to the controller to work as your controller display. This is for both the Mavic Air and the Spark. The actual pairing process requires a set of steps, and I am not going to repeat them here. But it can take several minutes depending on how proficient you are with these set-up instructions.
The phone connects via Wi-Fi and allows you to have a POV perspective of what the Mavic Air sees. The same way you also link your DJI Spark to a smartphone and that way you can get to see what the drone sees in a POV perspective.
The Mavic Air’s controller has better range compared to that of the DJI Spark. But honestly, none is better than the Mavic Pro which is more stable so far as connectivity is concerned. The Mavic Air is stated to be having a range of about 4 Km. In reality, however, the precision range of control is much less. And the accuracy of the control as well as how smooth the continuous video feed will also depend on interferences and the type of interferences. You start to have problems at a range of 2.5 KM, even with a clear line of sight.
Thankfully, the drone is programmed to return to home (the point where it took off), if it detects a loss in signal from the controller or low battery. The Spark has the same features too. During the return to home maneuver, the Mavic Air will continue to use its visual sensors and avoid any obstacles if there are any.
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The Mavic Air has a top speed of 43 mph when flown in the Sports Mode. The DJI Spark, on the other hand, can fly at a top speed of 31 mph in the sports mode. The Mavic Air feels the more nimble of the two in the air.
Stability in the Air and Strong Winds
For a majority of drone photographers, the ability to shoot steady footages and blur-free photos are more important than the ability to fly their drones at escape velocity. And in that regard, the Mavic Air wins hands-down against the DJI Spark. It is more stable. If you expect strong winds, the Mavic Air is the better bet among the two.
Also related to the topic of stability, the DJI Spark tend to experience some major wobbling, especially when flying in strong winds. It also has another perennial problem. It continually captures a crooked horizon line, something that requires a bit of post-processing magic to recover. This is not the case with the Mavic Air. Its 3-axis gimbal has better stability, and it manages to keep the horizon line straight throughout the length of the clip.
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The Mavic Air has a maximum flight time of 21 minutes with a freshly charged battery. That on the DJI Spark is only 16 mins. Some users have reported a lesser flight time though. If you are shoot videos for a living, then the extra few minutes of flight time does make a lot of difference in the final scheme of things.
Plus, an extra set of batteries and the handy charging option gets your Mavic Air in the air after a quick change of batteries. On the other hand, you can charge the Mavic Spark batteries using a USB cable, which is very handy. But the longer flight time per charge means the Mavic Air wins this round too.
One more issue that needs mentioning is the reliability of the battery compartment and the way the battery on both the DJI Spark and the Mavic Air connects. The battery connection on the Spark is a bit flimsy. There have been reports where the small two hinges on either side of the battery compartment of the Spark have not appropriately locked resulting in the battery coming off in mid-flight and leading to the Spark becoming a flying brick. This is a dangerous situation to work with.
On the other hand, the battery compartment on the Mavic Air fastens securely. Two red marks on either side indicate whether or not the battery compartment is locked-in properly. If the red markers are visible, that means the battery compartment is not properly locked.
The Mavic Air does not have the proper D-Log profile but what it does have is the D-CineLike shooting option. This does give you some extra advantages when it comes to processing and color grading your footages afterward. The Spark, on the other hand, has no options for color grading and there are no RAW options either.
The Mavic Air has some seriously improved obstacle detection system in place. It features a series of new technologies including the Visual Inertial Odometry (VIO) and Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems (APAS) to identify obstacles in front of it and maneuver around them. It works by combining what all the onboard cameras and sensors see and sense to avoid any obstacles in front of it.
The thing works extremely well for large blunt objects like humans for example. But it surprisingly also works for finer and thinner obstacles like tree branches as well. As the drone pilot, you will not have to do anything except turn on APAS (not ASAP) before you expect some rough flying and the drone pretty much does everything else. It flies past obstacles more times than none. This makes the obstacle avoidance system on the Mavic Air better than the one on the Spark. On the rare occasion, it would stop dead in its tracks if it finds no way to maneuver.
That said, the obstacle detection system seems not to be working when you are using one of the quick shot modes, especially the Circle or the Helix modes when the drone is moving sideways with the camera pointed towards a subject at the center.
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One area where the Mavic Air scores over the Spark as well as the Mavic Pro is that the built-in lens is focus-free. This means it can simply point and start recording without having to wait to lock focus at any time. It saves vital seconds and missed opportunities.
Still, on the subject of focusing, the Mavic Air comes with an interesting and highly effective Active Track mode. This mode does a nice job of following the focused subject from the front, the back as well as sideways.
The Mavic Air has a refined gesture control mechanism which ensures that you have a more practical utility of the feature than what we saw with the Spark. The Spark also has a gesture control feature built into it. However, it never really took off in the sense users faced a lot of problems when they tried using it for different maneuvers. On the Mavic Air, the system works better than it did on the Spark.
Now, you can control basic movements, take selfies and make it fetch your newspaper. Okay, I was exaggerating. But still, realistically speaking, gesture control and Smart Capture has to go through several generations of upgradations before you can start considering it as really useful, like the way it was intended for use.
Catching the Drone while Landing
One thing that a lot of portable drone owners like to do or at least show off at some point is how ‘tame’ their drone is. This they attempt by catching the drone in flight or while it is attempting a landing. Sometimes even at the peril of shredding their 10 fingers to more than 10 fingers. While the Mavic Pro is certainly not easy to catch as there is a fair amount of resistance when you attempt to catch it, the Spark is easier to land in hand.
Comparatively, the Mavic Air is the easiest to catch while landing. Both the Spark and the Mavic Air being lighter than the Pro and with less resistance makes things easier.
With the Mavic Air all you have to do is just grab hold of the battery latch from below and turn the whole thing on its side and the motors will switch-off. The Spark comes with a palm landing feature which works pretty well. So they each have their advantage (the Spark and the Air).
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Most users will love the Quick Shot Mode on the Mavic Air. We have already seen a few on the Spark that was launched last year. But the Mavic Air has a few new cool quick shot modes. The Asteroid is particularly interesting.
That said the Quick Shots are not the primary USP for which you should be choosing the Mavic Air over anything else that you might be considering. Just like any new tech, the reliability factor as well is a significant factor. In the case of the Mavic Air, not all the quick shot modes tend to work as expected 100% of the times.
One of the nice features built into the Mavic Air is the built-in 360 ˚ panorama mode. It can capture this in-camera without the need to install any third party software.
Drones and the problem of sharp, shrill sound of the moving blades are unavoidable. Different compact drones have different noise signatures. Most are within a range of few decibels of each other. The DJI Spark is slightly quieter than the Mavic Air.
The Mavic Air is no Mavic Pro, and therefore there are some differences between the pro model and this one. One such difference is the absence of OcuSync.
Comparing the New DJI Mavic Air to the DJI Mavic Pro
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Then there are the apparent differences in the price. The DJI Spark is the cheapest of the three portable models costs just a shade under $400. That includes the cost of a dedicated controller.
We strongly recommend getting the dedicated controller as flying it with an app and with your phone is difficult. It will be like driving a sports car but with the steering of a regular hatchback. A bit unnerving.
The Mavic Air, on the other hand, costs a lot more, more than double of the DJI Spark. Regarding price, the Spark has the advantage. But if you are looking for a more reliable drone and you have the extra cash, then go for the Mavic Air.
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