When it comes to big drone names, none are more synonymous with quality than DJI. Then…
Back in May of 2017 (which can feel like eons in a high tech field like that of quadcopters), DJI released the Spark drone. It was on the small side, measuring just over 5.5 inches square. That makes it a “mini”, but not a “micro” or a “nano”, machine. It was popular and performed well. It was soon retired, but the predecessor the Mavic Mini has caused some debate on the DJI Spark vs Mavic Mini.
The Mavic mini may be one of the best drones for the price on the market today. We recommend it for drone roof inspections.
History of DJI Spark vs Mavic Mini
Then in November of 2019, DJI produced the Spark’s replacement, the Mavic Mini. As the model name implies, it too was a mini quad, but it’s measurements overall (almost 8 inches by just over 6 inches) made it larger than the Spark. Even though it looks bigger, the Mavic Mini manages to weigh less than the Spark. This is an important fact that we’ll come back to later.
The DJI Spark is no longer in production, but you can still (as of this writing) find it from various vendors, even in brand new condition. And if you don’t mind a used model, you can certainly get one at bargain prices if you look around a bit.
Which Should You Choose?
The question, of course, is this: Which mini drone should you get – the Spark or the newer Mavic Mini? We’ll attempt to guide your decision in what follows by comparing and contrasting these two DJI drones. We’ll look at their important specs and features so you can decide which model is best for why you want to fly a mini quadcopter.
If you’re in a hurry and just want to check the pricing and availability of each of these drones, you can click the links just below. Otherwise, you can keep scrolling and reading to find out all the details that should make your final choice easier.
DJI Mavic Mini
Speed, Flight Time, and Taking Pictures – The Big Three
The “big three” – speed, flight time, and the ability to take pictures – used to be the “big two”. Earlier mini quadcopters didn’t always come with the picture- or movie-taking capabilities. These days, most quality machines give you all three features to think about.
Let’s take a look at each of these components and compare the DJI Spark vs Mavic Mini.
How Fast Can These Drones Fly?
To get an accurate idea of how fast the Spark and the Mavic Mini can fly, we need to delve briefly into the related idea of modes. Each of these machines is capable of flying in any of several modes, for example, Sport Mode, Auto Landing Mode, Positioning Mode, or Cinesmooth Mode. Some of these modes only apply to the Spark, others to the Mavic Mini.
The best mode for comparisons is Sport Mode, which is the one you would use when racing or whenever you want to move as quickly as possible. There are 3 movements that we have stats for – maximum ascent, descent, and (general) speed. Ascent speed for the Spark is 3 meters per second; for the Mavic Mini it’s 4m/s. Descent speed is the same for both at 3m/s. Overall max speed is virtually the same – for the Spark it’s 31 mph, while for the Mavic Mini it’s just over 29 mph. (DJI actually gives specs for the Spark as 31 mph and the Mini as 13m/s. I think they might intend these to be equivalent. In any case, they’re very close.) If you’re not actually racing with your drone, these differences probably don’t matter.
It’s worth mentioning that the Mavic Mini is significantly slower in Positioning Mode (8m/s) and even slower in Cinesmooth Mode (4m/s). And that makes sense. You don’t want to be moving as quickly when trying to accurately position or when taking quality videos with your copter.
How Long Can These Drones Stay Aloft?
This feature is difficult to compare based on the specs that DJI gives. The Mavic Mini lists two different sizes of batteries – a 2400mAh and an 1100mAh. We’ll assume that they used the larger one, which should last longer, when computing flight times. The times that they came up with were measured in windless conditions – something you’re rarely going to encounter – so take the following numbers with a big grain of salt.
The Spark could stay in the air for 16 minutes while traveling at 20kph (about 12.4 mph). The Mavic Mini lasted 30 minutes at 14kph (about 8.7 mph). So, while it appears that the Mini can stay aloft almost twice as long as the Spark, that’s deceiving because it was tested at a slower speed. And both tests were done quite far below the max speed of roughly 30 mph. (Sorry, we don’t have these quads in hand to do similar tests for you.)
Another factor that plays a part here is the weight of each machine. The Spark weighs 300g; the Mavic Mini weighs only 249g. A lighter machine should be able to go farther on an equivalent battery simply due to physics. If that 249 number seems unusual to you, let us assure you that it’s not. It has a lot to do with our next point – getting a license to fly your drone.
Do You Need a License to Fly These Drones?
The current rules are that you need a license to fly a drone that weighs 250g or more. Does that 249g weight make more sense now? So you would need a license for the Spark, but not for the Mavic Mini.
Getting and paying for a license isn’t all that difficult, but if you’d rather avoid that hassle, you can stop looking at the Spark right now and go out and get a Mavic Mini instead.
What Kind of Pictures Can These Drones Take?
When you mention pictures and drones these days, you can normally think of both stills and movies. Both of these drones can provide you with both styles of image capture. The photo and video capabilities of the cameras are nearly identical, but we’ll show you the differences shortly. The main item to look at here is the gimbal, the gizmo that holds the camera in place under the quadcopter.
The gimbal on the Spark has just 2 directions (axes) in which it can move, giving you pitch and roll. The Mini’s gimbal adds a third option, giving you tilt (pitch), roll, and pan. Significant numbers for comparison purposes are only provided for pitch/tilt. The Spark has a decent range, going from -85 degrees to zero degrees. The Mavic ranges from -90 degrees to zero degrees by default, but you can extend that “upper” range to a positive 20 degrees. DJI gives Mavic roll numbers of -35 to 35 degrees for roll and -20 to 20 degrees for pan.
For still pictures themselves, both copters give you 12MP JPEGs, using a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor. Other specs are similar but slightly different. The table below points them out quite well.
|DJI Drone Model||Spark||Mavic Mini|
|Standard Image Size||3968 x 2976||4000 x 3000|
|Lens Field of View (FOV)||81.9 degrees||83 degrees|
|ISO Range||100 – 1600||100 – 1600|
|Shutter Speed||2 – 1/8000 sec.||4 – 1/8000 sec.|
|File System||FAT32||FAT32 and exFAT|
If you use the Spark camera in Shallow Focus or Panoramic Mode, your image size will be significantly reduced. Also, you can get a wider ISO range on the Mini’s camera in Manual Mode (100 to 3200). Further, we suspect that DJI may have simply rounded up when calculating the image size for the Mavic Mini. Even if they didn’t, the size is basically the same for both cameras.
Panoramic Modes for the Spark include Vertical and Horizontal. In Vertical Mode, you can have the camera take 3 photos in quick succession and then combine them into a (vertical) panorama. In Horizontal Mode, it will take 9 photos in a grid pattern and then combine them into a (horizontal) panorama. You might be able to take such an array of shots on your own, but why bother when you can let the drone do one of the things it’s really good at?
For video capture, both are capable of full high definition (FHD) videos at 1920 x 1080 resolution with a 30p frame rate and each produces MP4 files. The Mavic camera offers additional frame rates ranging from 20p to 60p. It also can give you 2.7K resolution which is 2720 x 1530 with frame rates of 24, 25, and 30p. The Mavic system sends video data faster (bitrate = 40Mbps) than the Spark (24Mbps) meaning it gets the job done faster and (hopefully) with fewer glitches. So in general, the Mavic gives you more options and theoretically better video than the Spark.
Once more we come across some modes, collectively called QuickShot Modes, for the Mavic Mini – Dronie, Circle, and Helix. Dronie is what you might call “normal” video mode. Circle and Helix automatically move the drone in the shapes described by their names – in a circle and in a helix or spiral. Again, you could probably manage this yourself, once you’re good enough, but why not let the preprogrammed drone brain do it for you?
That covers the Big Three virtually completely. You may still have a few questions about other features and specifications. We’ll try to discuss them all below.
What Else Should I Know about the Spark and the Mavic Mini?
Some of the following items we’ve touched on a little above, but we’ll expand on them a little more here.
Size of DJI Spark vs Mavic Mini
The actual size of the Spark is 143 x 143 x 55 millimeters, giving it a diagonal distance without propellers of 170mm. The Mavic Mini, on the other hand, isn’t quite so easy to describe because you can fold it up. When unfolded (i.e. open and ready for flight), it measures 150 x 202 x 55mm and has a 213mm diagonal. It folds down to 140 x 81 x 57mm for storage and transport. When you add props, it measures 245 x 289 x 55mm.
The Spark has propeller guards that cover just over a quarter of the diameter of each propeller on its outer rim. The Mavic has a special 360-degree set of guards that you can attach as needed. There are two relatively large pieces – one for the props on the left side of the drone and another for those on the right. If you’re a good enough pilot and don’t think you need the protection and extra weight of the guards, you can easily remove them.
The Mavic Mini is better at detecting obstacles. It can do so in a range from 0.5 to 10 meters. The Spark can manage to stay out of the way of objects that are from 0.2 to 5 meters away.
For those who live in mile-high country, you should be aware that the Spark has a maximum service ceiling of 13,123 feet (almost 2.5 miles), and the Mini has a max takeoff altitude of 3000m (just under 2 miles). All of these measurements are from sea level.
Windy Conditions, Rain and Temperature
And for those who fly in windy country (virtually everyone, at one time or another), you should note that both of these machines can withstand about 17 to 18 mph winds and still do what you ask of them.
You can operate both copters in weather of virtually any temperature you’re likely to encounter. They can handle temps of 32 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be outside flying my drone in anything outside this temperature range, would you?
Both drones have dual operating frequencies of 2.4 and 5.8 GHz, though due to local restrictions, you may not be allowed to use the 5.8 frequency. You should be able to transmit a signal from the remote to the drone for about 1.2 miles, as long as you have an unobstructed view.
There is a Live View app, available for both iOS and Android, that has a flight tutorial amongst its many features. So if you need some help getting started, DJI tries to cover that for you too.
As far as I can tell, neither of these drones are waterproof, so you’ll want to wait for the rain to stop before taking your quadcopter outside. If you can find a large enough room, like a gym, you can practice indoors to begin with. One perk of doing so is that there’s no wind to contend with! In terms of rain the DJI Spark vs Mavic mini is a draw.
How Much Do These Drone Cost?
As noted at the top, DJI no longer produces the Spark, so you’re not likely to find what you want direct from the manufacturer’s website. However, you can find all sorts of combinations of equipment elsewhere. So, the cost of a Spark will really depend on which offer you’re looking at. In general, you can expect to pay from about $450 to $650.
As of this writing, the Mavic Mini (not to be confused with the Mavic Mini 2) is still available from DJI for $399, or for $499 for a combo version. At first glance, this makes it seem cheaper than the Spark. However, that’s not really comparing apples to apples. The same package from another source (say, the same source from which you find a Spark price) could easily cost more than a Spark. Depending on your source for a Spark, you might be able to negotiate a lower price too.
Conclusion of DJI Spark vs Mavic
In the end, since you’re going to be shelling out several hundred dollars for either one, features and capabilities probably matter more to you than cost. Pick the one that will do what you want, save up some cash, and make your choice. Being a DJI product, you’re not likely to regret it, no matter which one you choose.