At this point, DJI is only trying to outdo itself.
The leader in camera drones announced on Jan. 23, a $799 foldable quadcopter with a 4K-resolution camera that slots nicely into its lineup between the $399 entry-level Spark and $999 Mavic Pro (see table below for UK and Australian prices). The Air is sort of a mashup of the Spark and Pro, but also has new features that you won't find on these older models.
That doesn't necessarily mean it's the best option for you, however. Regardless of price, not everyone interested in getting a drone is going to need the Air's feature set. Likewise, you might want more than the Air offers. To that end, I've broken down the major differences, pros and cons between the three models and why you might go with one over the others.
DJI spec comparison
||Spark||Mavic Air||Mavic Pro|
|Price||$399; AU$649; £449||$799; AU$1,299; £769||$999; AU$1,599; £1,099|
|Dimensions (LWH)||143×143×55 mm||168×83×49 mm (folded); 168×184×64 mm (unfolded)||198×83×83 mm (folded); 305×244×85 mm (unfolded)|
|Camera||12-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch image sensor; f2.6 25mm lens||12-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch image sensor; f2.8 24mm lens||12-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch image sensor; f2.2 28mm lens|
|Video resolution/Max. bitrate||1,920x1,080 (30fps); 24Mbps||3,840x2,160 (30fps); 100Mbps||4,096x2,160 (24fps); 60Mbps|
|Photo resolution (pixels)||3,968x2,976||4,056x3,040||4,000x3,000|
|Formats (video/photo)||MP4 (H.264/MPEG-4 AVC)/JPEG||MP4, MOV (H.264/MPEG-4 AVC)/JPEG, DNG (raw)||MP4, MOV (H.264/MPEG-4 AVC)/JPEG, DNG (raw)|
|Storage||microSD card||microSD card, 8GB internal||microSD card|
|Camera stabilizer||2-axis mechanical gimbal plus electronic stabilization||3-axis mechanical gimbal||3-axis mechanical gimbal|
|Control modes||Gesture, mobile device, remote controller||Gesture, mobile device, remote controller||Mobile device, remote controller|
|Obstacle sensing||Forward||Forward, backward||Forward|
|Max. transmission distance w/controller||1.2 miles (2 km)||2.4 miles (4 km)||4.3 miles (7 km)|
|Max. flight time||16 minutes||21 minutes||27 minutes|
The Spark might come across as more of a toy drone, but it does way more than you might think. For example, it can be completely controlled with hand gestures so you don't need a controller to fly it. Launch it from your palm and then use hand gestures to get it into the position you want for a quick aerial selfie and then land it back in your hand when you're done. It even has obstacle recognition from the front so you don't accidentally crash it into yourself while you're getting those selfies.
With a full HD-resolution camera, its image quality is solid and, perhaps more importantly, easy to edit and share from a mobile device. Speaking of, the palm-sized drone can also be controlled with a mobile device or paired with a remote control for greater range (though the controller will cost you an extra $100).
In light of the Air announcement, its shortcomings are more visible, though. It has a lower resolution camera mounted on a two-axis gimbal that stabilizes for tilt and roll, but not pan, which is handled digitally. Battery life is short at up to 16 minutes, but it's more like 10 to 14 minutes depending on wind and how hard you're pushing it. Also, unless you spend more money for the controller, you're limited by its wireless range that maxes out at 100 meters (328 feet) away and 50 meters (164 feet) high, unobstructed and free of interference. Still, it's likely to be enough camera drone for most people.
Recommended for: Dipping your toes into the world of flying a drone or just getting cool aerial shots without limiting your opportunities to do a bit more down the road.
DJI Mavic Air
The Air is larger than the Spark, but it still folds up small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. Actually, because of the folding design, it's even easier to travel with than the Spark. That goes for the included remote, too, which folds up small and has removable sticks that store in the controller.
Like the Spark, you can control the Air with hand gestures, an iOS or Android device or a controller. But everything from the camera and gimbal to its flight range and battery life is improved. It's better at avoiding obstacles, too, with sensors in front, back and on the bottom that it uses to not only sense obstacles in its path but also fly up and over them.
While it can fly farther and faster than the Spark, its battery life is only slightly better at up to 21 minutes (though based on my early tests, you're looking at more like 18 minutes). Also, while the Spark can be quickly launched and landed and controlled with hand gestures without connecting to a mobile device, the Air needs to be first connected to a phone or tablet to use gesture controls.
Recommended for: Those looking for a drone for more than casual use, but don't quite need the longest possible battery life, extreme range or greater camera control.
DJI Mavic Pro
The Mavic Pro has been around since October 2016, so it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the Spark or Mavic Air. For instance, although you can get the drone's camera to focus and follow you using hand gestures and have it snap pictures, that's pretty much where the gesture controls end. It also only has front obstacle avoidance.
Also, despite folding up into a relatively compact package, it is larger and heavier than the other two. On the other hand, the larger size and weight is partly because of its battery that keeps in the air for up to 27 minutes. It can ascend and descend faster than the Air and it has a far greater transmission range. (If you're willing to spend an additional $100, you can get the Mavic Pro Platinum that increases the battery life to 30 minutes and has quieter motors.)
DJI reserved some more professional camera options for the Mavic Pro as well such as more advanced tracking options, greater ISO range for video and cinema 4K and UHD 4K video resolutions.
Recommended for: Enthusiasts or prosumers who need the best possible range, battery life and camera options in a foldable drone.
: Get some quick flight time indoors or outside.
: New racing quads, selfie drones and a whole lot of folding camera drones at CES.