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?
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?
At just 320g, the 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 24.4cm 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° upwards for a perspective that currently no other drone can achieve. It 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.
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
ANY CONSUMER DRONE WORTH ITS SALT MUST INTEGRATE SEAMLESSLY WITH AN ANDROID AND iOS PHONES, AND THE ANAFI DOES IT SUPERBLY.
more than the Mavic Air. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a 25% 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 new 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.
UP 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. This is something you will almost certainly miss if you’re using the Anafi’s autonomous modes in crowded areas. Once airborne, it’s 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.
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. 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. The Anafi’s camera also features 2.8x lossless zoom recording in Full HD, or 1.4x zoom in 4K, which works amazingly well with no discernible loss in image quality.
However, 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.
Like the Mavic Air, the Anafi also provides a host of automated flight modes, including Boomerang, Orbit and Dolly Zoom — use the latter to recreate Alfred Hitchcock’s famous Vertigo effect, where 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. 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.
Further flight mode options include Hyperlapse and Slow-Motion. However, functions such as Follow Me and Touch&Fly 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.
The 180° tilt gimbal is unheard of on this type of consumer drone, and should lead to some stunningly unusual angles.
The arms fold into the body for transport, making it fairly long but only as wide as its thickest point here. It’s also super-portable and sized for small backpacks.