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?
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.
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...
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.
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