Controversial title there isn’t it? Well that’s exactly the question I have struggled with since the announcement of the DJI Mavic Air. Which one should I get the DJI Mavic Pro, or the DJI Mavic Air. The DJI Spark was truthfully never even in the equation.
I should point out straight away I am a drone novice. A first time flyer, with no experience whatsoever. I didn’t know what to expect, whether I would even enjoy flying a drone, or whether I even actually needed one. To be honest I didn’t ‘need’ one, but I had wanted one for quite some time. I was constantly checking out the Phantom series, but I really wanted it to take it whilst out and about on the bike, so the Phantom didn’t really cut it. The anouncement of the Air then made me think this is the one, easy to transport in the top box of the bike, quick to set up, quick to get in the air and user friendly settings for the camera – which is quite nicely spec’d to boot – surely this is the winner.
Then I started doing my research – a lot of research.
I watched video after video on YouTube reviewing the Mavic Pro and the Mavic Air.
One observation that I have is that DJI are absolutely on point with their ‘influencers’. The second that the DJI official announcement had been made the big YouTube Tech Reviewers had the platform absolutely flooded with glowing reviews of the new Mavic Air. It was totally impossible to find objective reviews from product buyers. Now I fully understand that on release genuine purchase reviews are difficult to find but DJI completely flood social media through their ‘influencers’ – as a buyer I want objective and non biased reviews – they were impossible to find. I do believe DJI issue their products out for this reason – objective reviewing – however how likely is it that a reviewer is going to give a bad review on a free product and risk not getting £1000’s of tech delivered to their post box!
There are plenty of objective reviews on the DJI Mavic Pro (and Platinum) – and the summary that I can deduce from the majority these is : Great drone, great camera – when you learn how to set it up properly – makes good videos although you are probably better recording in 2.7K as opposed to 4K, it has an amazing range (4km in the UK), is compact enough to travel easily with and the gimble is horrendously fragile.
From the limited research i could get initially about the DJI Mavic Air I deduced the folowing summary : Great drone, better camera – that requires no settin up, makes better videos as it has a higher bitrate, is even smaller and more compact than the Pro however has a much reduced range especially in the UK, but the new design of the gimble is far superior offering good protection for that very dilicate piece of equipment.
Reading that it seems like a bit of a no brainer – doesn’t it? Surely it is the Mavic Air?
I do a bit more reading and research, I join Facebook groups and hold off on any purchase hoping for genuine user reviews. As Mavic Air models then start to get delivered to real life customers the real lifereviews then start to come in. All is not rosey – in the UK.
Image quality is brilliant, video quality is brilliant, controls and usability are all reviewing well however one huge negative is getting reported – frequently. Range.
The range of the Mavic Air is being touted as an absolute disaster. The Pro (and Platinum) use a system called Occusync – it has a massive range, much more than you can generally legally use in the UK. However the reports coming in from users (especially in the UK) are that the Air has a terrible range (using something called ‘Enhanced Wifi’).
It was sold as having an up to 2km range in Europe and the UK, a much better sounding 4km in areas like the USA. Basically the strength of wifi that governments in Europe allow is half that of the USA, hence the range differences in different areas. It is also determined by GPS so a European drone will automatically switch to the higher allowed power should it be used in America and vice versa.
So how bad is bad? UK users were claiming 50m – 100m, that is a huge difference than the 2km they were buying. Similar figures were coming out of America as well. YouTube and Facebook were full of people claiming that the range was so terrible that they were sending the drone back. Then there were the counter claims – that the range was actually pretty / very good. One video that showed the Air in a very favourable light came froma YouTuber called ‘Ian in London’
This video put my mind at ease and had me back towards the Mavic air – but everywhere else still seemed to be flooded with reports of poor range.
Now such claims need to be weighed up, because if something isn’t right people complain, if it is right they are less likely to be shouting about it – so the internet will always be filled with negatives in comparison to positives.
Still though it was enough to put me off.
My mind was made up I was going Mavic Pro. I had no intention of flying 4km away, but range is directly proportionate to signal strength and when you are putting £1000 in the air you want the signal that is telling it your instructions to be as strong as possible. You definitely don’t want to watch as your £1000 flies off into the distance never to be seen again (most insurance policies including DJI’s own Refresh Plan requires the drone to be present to make a claim – so a flyaway = unlucky pal).
It should also be pointed out that although the Mavic Air is meant to fill in the middle ground between between the Spark and the Air the difference between the two isn’t really that great. At the time of writing you can pick up a Pro from £1099 for the Flymore pack – the Air is £949 for the Flymore Pack, and if you were prepared to go for a DJI refurb thn the Pro could actually work out cheaper.
I ordered by Mavic Pro from John Lewis as they were doing it with a 2 year warranty as standard.
Then for some reason I wondered why I never looked at a Spark. Why didn’t I? No idea.
Now I was looking at the Spark and it looked good. OK so it only does 1080p at 30 fps, it only uses wifi and has again a much shallower range, it doesn’t have as much camera control as the Pro, nor the modes of the Air and it has about 13 minutes of flight time, but here is the big kicker for the Spark it is just over £500 for the Flymore Pack. To me the saving of £500 – £600 equates to a lot. It covers next years Isle of Man TT trip as well as another UK / Ireland tour, it could be a return flight to NYC, another camera, a couple of GoPros… it’s a big list of what I could blow £600 on.
Add that to the fact that the reviews were all fairly positive it is clearly small enough to make travel a non issue and it still takes totally acceptable photos and videos it was too much to pass up. My order of the Pro was cancelled and a Spark ordered.
One other point that should be reinforced is – I am a first time drone owner – a first time flyer – I have no experience at all. What was I even thinking promoting myself to a Mavic Pro as a first time drone. I know lots of people do – and fair play to them, for me I was happy to spend half as much for my first attempt. If I take to it, I’ll sell it on and updgrade, I’ll have to take the hit in depreciation. I reckon that hit would be much lower than the hit I would have to take on a Mavic Pro, especially considering a Mavic Pro 2 is anticipated ina round 6 weeks, towards the end of March 2018.
The next day and my DJI Spark was delivered!
So I quickly got it off out of the packaging as it was a glorious winter’s day, however the weather was due to break and I only had a few hours before the sun would set and I really fancied getting this thing out for a flight.
Of course I took a few snaps along the way.
The packaging itself is very high quality, I have heard it described as ‘Apple-esque’ and that describes it perfectly – if you have any Apple tech you will know what this means, if you don’t – sorry for your loss.
All of the above documentation is easily found and downloadable from the DJI Site so handy to get onto your phone as a PDF or similar.
This is the box that the drone comes in. It is a very hard polystyrene material that the drone fits nicely in. Unfortunately it does not fit in the supplied bag. So your entire package for transport consists of this and the supplied bag. It effectively doubles the footprint when carrying all your gear. With this set up a Mavic Pro Flymore in the supplied bag is a more compact setup.
After a battery charge, for each battery, I then carried out a firmware update for both the drone and the controller and found myself with just enough time to take it out for its maiden flight.
I have to say my first flights were nervous. Even only going up to 150 feet feels high. I know proper drone pilots will laugh at that and I have to query why I so worried about the range. I am also very happy with the performance of the Spark – I had it out further than I need for any of my photographs, and if I had have been on the bike I was easily able to fly to a point where the bike and I would have been an irrelvant speck in the photograph.
I may write more about this drone, its pros and cons as I get more used to it, but I will certainly take more photographs with it. You will find them on :
Twitter : https://twitter.com/TomBoyNI
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/tbnicouk/
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/bmwr1200gsa2010/
But to give you a quick preview here are a few I managed on my first flight. Each of these were taken on the Spark in bracketed mode. The images were then combined and tweaked a little using HDRtist. (I like HDR photography – so if it isn’t your thing I apologise).
If you look at the 3rd picture down – this is the view from the ground – taken by iPhone X :