PAR­ROT ANAFI

Par­rot’s new launch is the first drone to cause a stir in the DJI teacup, but does it have the right level of pol­ish to take the lead?

Australian T3 - - CONTENTS -

Ah, DJI. You’ve had a good run, but Par­rot has come along with a drone that looks set to blow the Mavic Air out of the sky. Or is it? Find out whether the Anafi re­ally is a DJI-killer

Many brands have tried and failed to take on DJI’s rock-steady fleet of pre­mium cam­era drones. Paris-based Par­rot pretty much started the whole con­sumer drone trend when it launched the pop­u­lar AR Drone way back in 2010, so it’s no sur­prise that Par­rot is the one to now come clos­est to knock­ing DJI out of the sky with the in­sec­toid Anafi. It’s roughly $200 cheaper than its near­est DJI ri­val, the Mavic Air, yet boasts al­most as much ground-break­ing tech in a sim­i­larly portable pack­age. Is this too good to be true?

Lighter than (Mavic) Air

At just 320g the Par­rot Anafi is now one of the light­est cam­era-equipped drones on the mar­ket, and that’s a ma­jor ben­e­fit should it ever fall out of the sky, since it’s less likely to sus­tain ma­jor dam­age... In the­ory, any­way.

Fold the Anafi’s four arms and it col­lapses down for easy trans­port. How­ever, its 244mm length when col­lapsed makes it im­pos­si­ble to pop in a pocket. Just as well, then, that it comes in a slim trans­port case that snugly fits into a small back­pack.

De­spite look­ing like a gi­ant mos­quito, the Anafi was ac­tu­ally

in­spired by the bee. In place of a head, the drone has its three-axis gim­bal and cam­era mounted di­rectly in front of its body. Cru­cially, this means the pro­pel­lers will never ap­pear in shot when the drone is mov­ing for­wards at high speed. It also means the cam­era can be pointed 90 de­grees up­wards for a per­spec­tive that cur­rently no other drone can achieve. We’re used to aerial shots, but this can ac­tu­ally shoot you from below.

When placed side by side with the DJI Mavic Air, the Anafi looks much more toy-like and, un­flat­ter­ingly, in­sect-es­que. How­ever, once in the air it takes on the fa­mil­iar drone form we’ve all come to know.

Cruise con­trol

Be­ing able to charge your drone’s bat­tery via USB-C should be con­sid­ered a ma­jor plus, given that we now all have ac­cess to portable power­banks. How­ever, in this in­stance it’s com­pletely spoiled by the woe­fully long charg­ing times. With the right USB Power De­liv­ery adapter it’s not too bad at 105 min­utes, but use some­thing akin to a phone charger and you’re look­ing at three hours.

On the plus side, the bat­tery pro­vides up to 25 min­utes of fly­ing time, which is five min­utes more than the Mavic Air. That’s doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a 25 per cent boost in flight time; it could get you that killer shot you were aim­ing for. Spare bat­ter­ies cost about $130.

The hand con­troller is built like a brick out­house and feels a lot heav­ier than the drone it­self. It’s too bulky for a pocket, and looks pretty sparse on the but­ton front. Aside from the ‘take off’ and oblig­a­tory ‘re­turn to home’ but­tons, the con­troller comes with two in­dex fin­ger but­tons on the rear: one for tak­ing im­ages and video, and the other for re­set­ting the gim­bal and op­tics. Plus, there’s two rocker arms for gim­bal tilt and cam­era zoom. The phone cra­dle will ac­com­mo­date any­thing up to an iPhone Plus.

Any con­sumer drone worth its salt must in­te­grate seam­lessly with an An­droid or iOS, and the Anafi does it su­perbly. The new Par­rot FreeF­light 6 app is well de­signed and re­ally easy to fol­low. Granted it doesn’t al­low for as many cam­era, flight and gim­bal tweaks as the DJI Go 4 app, but it’s suit­able for first-time users. The HD im­age qual­ity stream­ing from drone to phone is im­pres­sive, though we did ex­pe­ri­ence a few vis­ual glitches and some pretty poor lag from time to time (not repli­cated in footage recorded to mi­croSD card, of course).

Up in the air

So it looks the biz on the ground, but how does it fare in the air? Flight per­for­mance is very good, though it’s still not as con­fi­dence-in­spir­ing as the Mavic Air. For a start, the Anafi doesn’t have any ob­sta­cle avoid­ance. There­fore it loses quite a few points to the clever Mavic Air – ob­sta­cle avoid­ance is some­thing you will al­most cer­tainly miss if you’re us­ing the Anafi’s au­tonomous modes in crowded ar­eas.

Once air­borne the Anafi is easy to con­trol and very sta­ble, even in a stiff breeze. Both the Wi-Fi and GPS con­nec­tiv­ity are solid, and the drone boasts an ex­cel­lent 4km range limit

for con­trol. How­ever, you should keep in mind that drone flight reg­u­la­tions state that no drone should be flown fur­ther than line of sight (visit casa. gov.au for more in­for­ma­tion).

Prop noise is one of the main fac­tors that puts peo­ple off fly­ing drones in pub­lic spa­ces – the loud buzzing sound they make al­ways at­tracts at­ten­tion, some­times of the wrong kind. But not this lit­tle fella. In fact, the Anafi is so quiet you can hardly hear the drone even when it’s hov­er­ing a few me­tres above you.

This is one of its ma­jor ad­van­tages over other drones. At 55km/h the Anafi is also rather sprightly, but only when kicked into Sport mode.

As you’d ex­pect from a mod­ern GPS-equipped drone, the Anafi also fea­tures Geo-fenc­ing, a smart re­turn-to-home fea­ture, and a Find My Drone func­tion that ge­olo­cates the drone while it emits a beep.

Fly and shoot

Per­haps the big­gest sell­ing point of these types of drones is to cap­ture high-qual­ity video and stills of un­usual an­gles, so it’s ex­cel­lent news that this is where the Anafi re­ally shines bright. Hav­ing tested it in the wild, both video and photo qual­ity seem on a level with the Mavic Air, and in low-light shoot­ing it’s ac­tu­ally bet­ter. The Anafi’s 4K video (you can record in nor­mal 2160p, or the slightly wider Cin­ema 4K for­mat) and 21MP im­ages, pro­duced by the 1/2.4-inch Sony CMOS sen­sor, are pin sharp, pro­vid­ing ex­cel­lent de­tail and rich con­trast. The cam­era also sup­ports HDR video record­ing and can take stills in DNG raw for­mat.

Rare for a con­sumer drone, the Anafi’s cam­era also fea­tures 2.8x loss­less zoom when record­ing in Full HD, or 1.4x zoom in 4K, which works

amaz­ingly well with no dis­cernible loss in im­age qual­ity.

The Anafi’s cam­era gim­bal (the mech­a­nism that holds the cam­era sta­ble no mat­ter what the drone is do­ing) fea­tures two me­chan­i­cal roll and tilt axes and a dig­i­tal panning axis. We’re not con­vinced that a dig­i­tal axis is quite as smooth as an all-me­chan­i­cal gim­bal, such as the one fit­ted to the Mavic Air, but so far we haven’t no­ticed any­thing odd with the footage we’ve shot.

One thing we have ob­served, though, is how the Anafi con­troller’s gim­bal rocker switch is nowhere near as tac­tile as the Mavic Air’s fin­ger wheel. This makes slow, gen­tle tilt­ing of the gim­bal ex­tremely tricky, and we re­ally hope that Par­rot in­cludes a means to ad­just gim­bal char­ac­ter­is­tics in a fu­ture up­date.

The po­si­tion­ing of the cam­era and gim­bal setup at the front works well for get­ting the promised ex­cel­lent video, and al­though we didn’t do any sports that were ex­treme enough to re­quire ac­tion video from below, the fea­ture worked great in our tests. It’s not some­thing you’ll use a lot, but hav­ing it there, just in case, is nice.

Like the Mavic Air, the Anafi also pro­vides a host of au­to­mated flight modes – Boomerang, Fol­low Me (keep read­ing), Or­bit and more – in­clud­ing one amaz­ingly smart fea­ture that uses the cam­era’s zoom fa­cil­ity to su­perb Hol­ly­wood ef­fect...

Hello, Dolly

The ef­fect is called Dolly Zoom and you can use it to re-cre­ate Al­fred Hitch­cock’s fa­mous Ver­tigo ef­fect (also used in Jaws, and other films when some­one re­alises some­thing dra­matic). In essence, Dolly Zoom is when the cam­era moves to­wards some­one while the lens zooms out, keep­ing the sub­ject the same size but al­ter­ing the per­spec­tive of the back­ground. Nor­mally it’s hard to do, but here it’s au­to­mated and looks fan­tas­tic. This cre­ative fea­ture works best when used against a strik­ing back­ground, such as a moun­tain range or an im­pos­ing build­ing.

Cam­era­man is an­other cool mode that hands flight con­trols to the pi­lot while the cam­era re­mains pointed at the sub­ject of the shot. This is a great op­tion to select if you’re shoot­ing a static sub­ject with an up­wards or down­wards mo­tion. Why? The gim­bal will au­to­mat­i­cally tilt at a gen­tler pace than is pos­si­ble us­ing the con­troller’s clunky rocker-arm setup.

Fur­ther flight mode op­tions in­clude Hyper­lapse and Slow-Mo­tion. How­ever, func­tions such as Fol­low Me and Touch&Fly are locked at first and re­quire an in-app pur­chase, which is quite frankly ridicu­lous. Once you’ve forked out this much for the Anafi, ev­ery app-based func­tion should be in­cluded in that price, so charg­ing ex­tra – around $30.99 – re­ally sours the taste of what is oth­er­wise a top-notch cam­era drone.

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The Anafi has a suite of cre­ative cam­era modes, in­clud­ing the Hol­ly­wood favourite Hello Dolly. Hitch­cock would love it

In terms of looks, the Par­rot Anafi can’t hold a can­dle to the stun­ning DJI drones. We’d like one in a dif­fer­ent colour please

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