Drones are now becoming more affordable and popular nowadays, and since I’ve brought my Dji Spark in September 2017, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about flying it. The perks of having a drone is clear with its bird’s eye views, smooth footage, and the ability to take photos of yourself. Now it isn’t always rainbows and sunshine, here’s the ups and downs:
- 1 Things to know before buying a drone
- 2 Dji Spark Review
- 3 First timer tips for flying drones
- 3.1 Why you should always use a remote
- 3.2 Pairing your remote and drone
- 3.3 Beginner mode
- 3.4 Joystick mode
- 3.5 Taking off doesn’t auto up always
- 3.6 Manual landing always
- 3.7 Satellite & Calibrate
- 3.8 Caching and why I like it
- 3.9 Intelligent mode: perks and quirks
- 3.10 Palm launch without phone or remote
- 3.11 Propeller guards are for indoor
- 3.12 Small delays in photo mode
- 3.13 Get a fast reading SD card
- 3.14 Drag screen to adjust gimbal pitch (make it slowww)
- 3.15 Wind speed
- 3.16 Using OTG cable to connect the phone to remote
Things to know before buying a drone
Buying a drone isn’t quite the same as buying a camera. There are many things to consider aside from the price-tag.
Many countries have now introduced stricter drone laws to combat the ever-increasing number of drones flying around. Depending on where you are based and what you want to use it for, you should check up the laws before you buy it.
For me, Hong Kong has a relaxed regulation in regards to flying drones in the countryside (for now), which is part of the reason why I bought it. But Australia requires licenses for both recreational and commercial drones.
No Fly Zone
While it’s easy to assume that you can fly everywhere until you can’t, it’s important to check whether the location of choice allows drone. For example, Taiwan has strict no-fly zones surrounding Taipei on top of their usual regulation, and they are very active in weeding out rule breakers through content published on Youtube and Facebook. The fine is pretty hefty.
Most common no-fly zones are military zones, airports, and areas near flight paths.
With the Dji App, they would automatically download a no-fly zone, but it’s always worth checking before you leave so you don’t end up carrying it to a place where you can’t fly.
Drone insurance (what’s covered and what’s not)
Dji offer DJI Refresh for about 100 USD, which essentially means that if you crash your drone, you can get a new one at a discounted price. You automatically get a 1-year warranty, but it’s worth noting that it excludes pilot-error situation, which most of the time is the reason for crashing. When I first crashed my drone in Bali, I was like: it’s the wind! But who flew it under windy conditions? Me. So yup, pilot error. You would submit an incident report and they’ll check the black box for flight record to see if it’s pilot error.
Since I’ve only had experience with Dji care in Hong Kong, but it’s a confusing process, to say the least. I had to either report it online and send it to a Hong Kong warehouse and then wait a few weeks, or try to book an appointment at their Flagstore in Causeway Bay. It took me two days and two phone call to find out that you’d pretty much have to book an appointment online when the system refreshes at 5 pm (NOT 12 am as I had assumed). And they always recommend you to get a new one. However, you can still submit it to be fixed and I got a quote in a few days for 1/10th of the price of the drone, I paid and got it back in another few days. But it’s still cheaper than the refresh package plus the price of getting a new drone.
Note: my drone had a problem with one of its motor. If it’s your camera or gimbal that’s broken, fixing it might be more costly.
Third Party Liability Insurance
While I didn’t get an insurance for my drone, getting third-party liability insurance is something that you most definitely should do. What is it? It’s the insurance that will save your butt if your drone crashed and hurt someone and they sue you. It’s the equivalent of car insurance because you never know what might happen when you fly the drone.
Some countries make it mandatory to get e.g. Thailand, France if you want to fly it. I think that’s wise because it’s a danger that would always exist unless you fly exclusively in the middle of nowhere!
I’ve searched high and low on the internet and the best one I’ve found is the British Model Flying Association at 34 pounds a year.
Drone care & storage
When I brought the drone combo that comes with the remote, it came with a bag as well as a foam case for the drone. The former fits the drone and remote but not securely, and the latter doesn’t have room for the remote. I end up buying a smaller case for the drone and a new one for the remote, as well as a joystick guard. There is also an all-in-one case, but I find it easier to fit separately. You don’t really need to joystick guard for the remote with the case, but it’s a good extra precaution.
Your phone needs to be good, too
Flying a drone doesn’t sound like it’s correlated to your phone at first, but it is essential. Even if you want to use to remote, you’d still need your phone and the app to see the camera footage and connect to the drone. If your phone isn’t fast enough or have enough storage, it might be a problem.
Dji Spark Review
Now let’s talk what I like about the Spark and what I don’t. Although it has a relatively long flight range and robust built, its 1080p video footage, small size, and short battery life means that it’s more suited as a selfie drone. But it’s undeniably easy to carry, launch, and land.
Lightweight: its small size means it’s easy to carry around and not a huge bundle
Take off and land on palm: in locations where you can’t find a good take-off and landing spot, it’s great to be able to do it from your palm.
Intelligent mode: some flight presets that you can use to take great footage.
Short battery life: with only 15 minutes of battery and a safety cue at around 13 minutes, you are likely to only get about 10 minutes of flight time considering the setup and calibration time.
You’ll need a case: it’s not a foldable drone and you must have it in a proper case in case of damage.
Alternatively, DJI just released a better model this year with a longer battery life too: the Mavic Air.
First timer tips for flying drones
If you are like me who had never flown a drone before, I’ve written down a bunch of tips as I gain more experience flying it to share. It’ll start with the most basic, beginner tips:
Why you should always use a remote
While you can fly your Dji Spark without a remote, I’d definitely caution against it. Especially since your connection would be dependent on the phone’s WiFi connection. Prior to buying the drone, I did some research on Youtube and there are countless horror tales of people losing connection to their drone on WiFi mode. A remote uses radio signal and it is much, much safer.
Pro tip: clear all apps running on your phone and turn off data to make sure that your phone isn’t ‘distracted’.
Pairing your remote and drone
You’d need to connect your phone and remote via WiFi first. Then when you turn on your drone, long press until you hear it beep. Then follow the instruction on your app to pair it.
When you first use your drone, it would ask you to enable beginner mode. I actually hated it. It didn’t help me get the hang of it at all and only made everything super slow. My advice is to find an ideal location: somewhere open and shielded from wind, to test drive it instead.
You have the choice of several joystick mode, with mode 2 being the default/standard. It’s not hard to use at all once you get around it, though it took me longer than it should. In short, the left joystick is for going up and down and turning its stationary angle. The right is for flying forward, backward, left, and right.
Taking off doesn’t auto up always
Another thing that confused me slightly. When you press the launch button it doesn’t always take off immediately. You’ll need to use the left joystick to rise it up. You can take off with the button on the screen or drag both joysticks outwards and downwards.
Manual landing always
Every time you fly, a home point would be set by GPS and you have the option to ‘return to home location’. While it’s a great function, I would recommend manually landing whenever possible (if your drone is drain of battery it’ll auto return to a home point). Why? Because GPS isn’t 100% reliable. While you are unlikely to have any problem in wide, open area, one of the YouTube videos I watched on my research showed what happened when the GPS was skewed. The drone flew off and never to be seen again. Let this be a cautionary tale!
Satellite & Calibrate
To avoid GPS error, you must calibrate your drone every time you take it to a new location. Your app would usually prompt you to when you start it, and it involves you holding the drone and walking around with it – I call it the drone dance. It allows it to position itself in the right place in relation to the satellites. Which brings me to the next point: don’t fly your drone if there isn’t enough satellite pinpointing it. It’s one of the reasons why my drone crashed in Bali because it lost its positioning. If it’s too low, you’ll get a warning from the app.
Pro tip: reset your home point once you are up in the air to avoid it returning to the wrong point or autolanding wrong.
Caching and why I like it
You can cache your videos and photos on your phone with the HD copy on your drone’s SD card. I think it’s a great function to have, especially since you can download it directly to your phone and use it on social media and whatnot. You can find the option under setting, and you also have the choice to record the audio from your phone. I disabled it because usually nothing is said. Remember to turn on the maximum caching so it doesn’t take up too much space on your phone. I have mine at 2GB. Beyond which the old content will be cleared, but you’ll still have the original on your SD card.
Intelligent mode: perks and quirks
One of Dji Spark’s selling point was its intelligent mode, which is basically some preset drone flight path. They are really good and saves you from piloting it yourself, but before you enable it, it asks you to confirm the risks. As the flight paths are automatic, you need to be sure that there is no obstacle nearby the drone can crash into. So you should be careful when you select it. It’ll ask you for a target to lock into, so if that’s you, make sure you don’t go hiding behind things!
P.S. the drone will return to the starting position once the mode is executed. You can stop it by tapping on the X on the screen and it’ll stop. To pilot it normally, you need to exit the mode altogether.
Palm launch without phone or remote
I’ve only used this function once, but again, you would rely on it tracking you and it’s not 100% safe. While it’s handy, I would caution against using it because if it can’t see you, it won’t do anything. But it might be good for group shots instances where you just need a quick photo.
Propeller guards are for indoor
What do you do with the propeller guards? It isn’t an essential part of the kit, but it’s a must for indoor in case it scratch/hit anything. You can use it outdoors, too, but it isn’t easy to fit anywhere and it drains the battery, so I don’t tend to use it.
Small delays in photo mode
I noticed that when I take photos, there is a slight delay from me pressing the button to the actual photo being taken. It’s not a huge problem and should be expected for remote/radio operated devices, but it’s good to be aware of if you are posing!
Get a fast reading SD card
To make the effect of the above less severe, and to generally improve the functionality, get a fast reading microSD card for your drone! I use an all-in-one case
Drag screen to adjust gimbal pitch (make it slowww)
The Dji Spark smooth footage is in large due to the gimbal on its camera. You can adjust its pitch (aka angle) but holding onto the screen then drag it up or down. You can set the speed of the pitch follow, and it’s better to make it slower because you can always edit it later. Plus, slower means it’s more cinematic.
One of the biggest factors that affect your drone in flight, aside from satellite, is the wind speed. Since Dji Spark is small, I would caution against flying it in high wind condition, not because it can’t handle it, but because it might get blown off and be drained of battery before it can return. It’s not uncommon. So for me, if I notice it’s particularly windy or if the drone was rocked too much when it’s up, I return it right away.
Using OTG cable to connect the phone to remote
This is the number 1 hidden trick that I found: use an OTG cable to connect your phone to your remote instead of WiFi. It increases image transmission stability as you no longer have to get the image from drone to remote via radio then to phone via WiFi. It’s weird that they don’t include it already, but they are not expensive to get. My rig up isn’t even one cable but two, although it’s more advisable to get just one.