(Pocket-lint) - The first generation Mavic Air and the DJI Spark were the two smallest drones in the company's profuct offering when they first launched. They've since been replaced by the Mini and the Air 2, but if you're looking to get into droning with something small and easy, you could still do worse than picking up one of the older models used.
With DJI having launched the massively popular and very portable Mavic Pro in the second half of 2016 and the palm-sized smaller Spark followed a year later, it was hard to see where the Chinese drone king was going next. Of course, we've now seen the Mavic Mini and Air 2 bring the foldable Mavic design down to Spark size.
DJI Spark vs. DJI Mavic Air: Design
- Mavic Air is foldable, Spark is not
- Spark weighs 300 grams
- Mavic Air weighs 430 grams
- Spark measures 143 x 143 x 55 mm
- Mavic Air measures 168 x 184 x 64 mm unfolded (168 x 83 x 49 mm folded)
There are a number of differences in design between the Spark and Mavic Air, but the most important is undoubtedly the foldable arms. Like the bigger Mavic Pro, you can collapse all four of the arms on the Air, while the small Spark has completely rigid arms.
Due to being foldable, the Mavic Air is far easier to carry around in the side pocket of a rucksack - or stowed away in an inner bag compartment - than the Spark. It's much narrower and thinner than the Spark when folded, but is bigger when unfolded. That said, at 430 grams, it's heavier than the 300 gram Spark.
Colour choices are less varied with the Mavic Air however, with only Alpine White, Onyx Black and Flame Red available at launch. Spark's range is more colourful, with Sky Blue, Lava Red, Meadow Green and Sunrise Yellow available alongside the Alpine White.
DJI Spark vs. DJI Mavic Air: Performance
- Mavic Air 21 min flight time
- Spark 16 min flight time
- 2km range vs. 4km range
It may have a more portable design, thanks to those foldable arms, but that doesn't mean the Mavic Air skimps on performance. In fact, in most measurable ways, the Mavic is superior.
DJI's latest portable drone has an impressive maximum flight time of 21 minutes. That's a notable upgrade on the 16 minutes you got with the Spark. You can fly it further too. Its 4km remote control transmission range means you can fly it twice as far as the Spark, which has a 2km range.
It's a similar story with maximum altitude. Mavic Air's maximum ceiling above sea level is 5,000 metres, while the Spark climbs as high as 4,000 metres and then can't go any further.
As for speed, you guessed it, the Mavic Air's top speed is higher than the Spark's. Mavic Air can get up to speeds of 42mph in Sport Mode. That's 11mph more than the Spark's maximum 31mph. Both devices can fly in winds up to 22mph and stabilise themselves.
DJI Spark vs. DJI Mavic Air: Features and Control
- Enhanced obstacle avoidance on Mavic Air
- ActiveTrack on both
- Two new QuickShot modes on Mavic Air
Both drones feature obstacle avoidance systems to stop you from flying head first into trees, or buildings. DJI Spark can detect obstacles up to five meters away using its front facing sensor system. Yet again here, the Mavic Air outperforms the Spark and offers obstacle detection that can reach up to 20 metres away, using the forward and backward dual camera vision systems.
As a bonus, the Mavic Air also has something called an Advanced Pilot Assistant system that helps you avoid or bypass obstacles automatically in more complex environments with more obstacles. Its FlightAutonomy system is upgraded to version 2.0, which means it uses seven onboard cameras and infrared sensors to build a 3D map of its environment. This enables more precise hovering and better performance in flight.
Both drones feature QuickShot video modes, offering predefined flight patterns that keep the subject in the frame to offer cinematic video effects. As you'd probably already guessed, the Mavic Air has more of them. Two more in fact: one called Asteroid and another called Boomerang.
ActiveTrack is another DJI staple, and is featured on both drones, enabling you to set the drone to automatically track a person or object. On the Mavic Air, DJI says that's it's been improved and can now automatically detect multiple subjects, and is better at keeping a track on people moving quickly (running/cycling).
DJI Spark vs. DJI Mavic Air: Camera
- Spark has 1080p video capture
- Mavic Air shoots 4K at 30fps
- Spark has 12MP stills and f/2.6 aperture
- Mavic Air also with 12MP f/2.6, but with HDR
- 2-axis gimbal vs. 3-axis
As well as a clear upgrade on design and features, the optics are massively improved on the Mavic Air. In fact, it offers video recording and stills that are up to the same level as some of its much more expensive consumer drones.
The Spark maxes out video recording at full HD resolution, while the DJI Mavic Air can record 4K resolution at 30 frames per second, and with a maximum bitrate of 100Mbps. It can also shoot slow motion 1080p video at 120 frames per second.
As for still photography, both are similar as far as resolution goes. They both have 1/2.3" sensors, both capable of shooting up to 12-megapixel stills and both with f/2.6 aperture lenses. The big difference is that the Mavic Air has an advanced HDR mode.
Improved optics aren't the only upgrades made to the camera system. The three axis mechanical gimbal system adds an extra axis, for more stable footage too.
DJI Spark vs. DJI Mavic Air: Price
With them both having launched a few years ago now, neither drone will cost too much if you're happy to go looking for old stock and scour the internet for used versions in good condition.
The Spark is the cheaper of the two usually, but the Air does offer a lot more practicality and shoots better quality video.
DJI Spark vs. DJI Mavic Air: Conclusion
Looking at all the specifications and the features and then comparing prices definitely makes it seem like the Mavic Air is much better value for money than the Spark was when it launched. Considering the Fly More combo with the Spark originally cost £895, while the Mavic Air Fly More combo - despite its much higher performance - was just £949.
You might find there's not a huge amount of difference between the two price-wise anymore and Mavic Air is a vastly better experience for new flyers.