Taking To The Sky (With DJI Spark) 

Project Ultra heads to the Lake District for a weekend on the fells and tries out the latest mini drone from DJI 

At Project Ultra, we’ve never been afraid of a selfie. In fact, some days you could well find us balancing a phone on a gate post and running up and down in front of a sunrise just so we can hash tag the hell out of the picture later in the day and make you feel bad for staying in bed 🤣. Having seen some incredible footage from the guys at Mountain Fuel, our eyes were opened to the amazing possibilities of capturing epic running footage using a drone. At the time, this felt like a step too far for us. The equipment is expensive and it looks like a lot to carry on a run.  Even when DJI released the very impressive looking Mavic Pro (which was previously their most compact drone and a serious bit of camera kit) it still looked too big to just stick in your pack and forget about when out running.

Then something changed our mind: DJI released the Spark. Not only is it less than half the price of the Mavic,  it’s also half the size. Whist the video quality and functionality doesn’t quite compete (the 1080p camera and 2 axis gimbal are a step down from the Mavic’s 4k camera and 2 axis gimbal), the Spark’s appeal – at least on the face of it – is that it’s light (300g), compact and easy to use and still does everything you would need for creating footage suitable for social media and YouTube. So we took the plunge and bought one. 

After a limited amount of use on a weekend in the Lakes, we managed to capture a small amount of footage worthy of a video. Here’s the result:

So,  what was it like to use… 

First Impressions 

Well, unless you’ve flown a drone before, the whole process is quite intimidating. Once you’ve connected the device to your phone (which is relatively straightforward with the Spark) and those propellers kick in to take flight for the first time, you quickly realise that this is not a toy.  The Spark may be small but it’s powerful and a really impressive piece of kit once it’s airborne.  

There are 3 options for controlling the Spark: (1) gesture control; (2) a smartphone; or (3) the separately purchased controller. For this trip we kept things simple and used our phone. This meant that the flight range was limited to 100 metres but it saved carrying a controller when running and provided more functions than the fun but limited gesture controls.  Everything we have read suggests that the controller is a sensible purchase (it extends the range to over 1 mile and reduces a number of connectivity issues, as well as making it easier to fly) so we look forward to trying this in the future. 

The weather was less than ideal and, particularly as a newby flyer, we didn’t fancy risking the Spark on a wet and windy Lakeland peak. Therefore, despite some epic runs around the Newlands Horseshoe, the Coledale Horseshoe and Skiddaw, the footage we got was limited to the foothills of Grisedale Pike and to a short run we took up Latrigg. Those were the moments of calm that gave us an ideal window to test the drone without risking it crashing off the side of a cliff and also without disturbing people who were out enjoying the relative peace and quiet of the fells. 

Having used it only a couple of times before this trip, we had just about mastered the art of taking off, landing and using the Active Track function (where you draw a square around yourself on the screen of your phone and the drone will track you). We therefore took full advantage of our limited knowledge and the results are shown in the video.  Getting the footage off the drone and into the DJI app was really easy and we used a third party app to edit the video, finding the DJI app a little limited in options. 

Having suspected that stopping to launch a drone would massively slow us down, we were impressed by how quickly it set up and how the auto functions created some great footage with little to no skill on our part.  Whilst experienced users of drones would no doubt prefer the more expensive and feature packed models on the market, we are primarily heading out to run and don’t really have the patience to learn how to make the most of that extra functionality or the wallets to justify it. The Spark does therefore feel like a good option for us.  On the flip side, as easy as it is to use, it still isn’t as straightforward or subtle as simply setting up a phone or GoPro for a quick shot.  It takes a bit more thought, a little bit more time to prepare and, if you want to be considerate to those around you enjoying the fells (or,  if like us, you are a bit self conscious and just want to get a quick shot without being noticed!) a loud buzzing camera flying above your head probably isn’t the ideal approach. 

Its very early days and we have a lot still to learn about the Spark.  We will do a review once we have given it a thorough testing. For now, though, we are just really excited by the potential of a cool device that takes good footage and pictures without the need for a gate post!  

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