Like most drone makers, Parrot hopes to dethrone DJI as the top purveyor of commercial drones in the world.
But, with the new Parrot Anafi foldable drone (named after a Grecian island) could be the first to actually meet DJI’s most popular models on even footing.
In downtown Manhattan, we had the chance to try out the newly unveiled drone at a private event. Pricier than our current favorite Parrot drone, the Bebop 2, the Anafi justifies its higher cost with a powerful and versatile 4K camera for HDR video and 21MP photos.
Plus, its longer-than-average flight time beats out our favorite drone, the DJI Mavic Air, by several minutes.
We have first-hand impressions of the areas where Anafi soars above the competition, and others where it hovers aimlessly as DJI and others surpass it.
Price and availability
The Parrot Anafi price is $699 / £649 (about AU$910), slightly above the $549 / £439 / AU$649 that the Bebop 2 sold for at release.
Currently, you can pre-order the Anafi at Parrot.com directly, or from Amazon or Best Buy for the same price. Amazon and Parrot will ship the drone on July 1 and July 2, respectively, so theoretically Amazon will get the drone to you a day earlier.
Robotics engineers love to build insectoid-inspired robot bodies, but the Parrot Anafi is the first instance we’ve seen of an insect-inspired drone.
Parrot CEO Henri Seydoux detailed at the launch event how the company studied insects like bees to figure out the best place to insert the camera for maximum visibility.
In the end, Parrot chose to place the 4K camera where an insect’s head would go, which places it far enough away from the rotors (or wings) that these will never enter the camera’s view, no matter what angle you point it.
This allowed Parrot’s team to put its camera on a 3-axis gimbal with 180 degrees of vertical range. While your drone hovers in place, you can point your camera directly upwards or directly downwards using the controller triggers.
Most drones can film directly downwards, so this kind of upwards visibility is unique. Anafi’s design will help filmmakers and adventurers get better shots of objects without having to be directly above or in front of them.
Once you’re done flying for the day, your drone folds down into a cylinder, about the size of a skinny Amazon Echo Plus or tall water bottle – 9.6 x 2.6 x 2.5 in (24 x 6 x 7 cm) in all.
Inside of its “Cocoon” carrying case, as the engineers jokingly called it, your drone bug can be easily transported in any bag, but it’s slightly too large to comfortably fit in your hand or any pants pocket.
Still, it only weighs 320g (0.7 lbs / 11.3 oz), much lighter than the Mavic Air’s 430g and just above the DJI Spark’s 300g.
During Parrot's launch presentation, up to four drones flew around the room at once, and the buzzing truly wasn’t that noticeable compared to the noise of the crowd.
Camera and battery life
Parrot’s swiveling bug-head camera comes with the specs and features necessary for drone owners to add some Hollywood zest to their amateur films.
The 4K Cinema Camera can shoot up to a 4096 x 2160 resolution at 24 frames per second; 4K UHD at 3840 x 2160 and up to 30fps; or 1080p mode up to 60 fps.
For photographers, you can shoot up to 21MP (5344 x 4016) in JPEG or RAW format.
Overall, Anafi can achieve a max bitrate of 100 Mbps, so your microSD card will need to hit that level of speed to take full advantage of the 4K settings.
Parrot's engineers informed us that it has no internal memory outside of the microSD slot, so you’ll need to pick your storage and speed wisely.
On paper, the Anafi can fly for up to 25 minutes in factory settings, compared to the Mavic Air’s 21 minutes (we’ll see how this number shapes up in the real world during our full review, however).
After 20 minutes of 4K filming, you’ll fill up a 16GB SD card, so that flight time should enable you to film a decent amount of footage before you recharge.
With a standard USB-C slot, the Anafi will recharge using any matching charger you have on hand, such as your iPhone USB-C cord. Seydoux said that recharging Anafi to 100% using an iPhone cord takes about 1.5 hours, while slower cords will take upwards of 2.5 hours.
That compares unfavorably next to the Mavic Air’s 55 minutes to fully recharge. We’d recommend purchasing spare batteries, but we don’t know much about the batteries Anafi uses, except that each spare will cost $99 apiece (about £73 / AU$130).
Beyond all these physical specs, the most exciting new feature Anafi offers is its zoomable camera. You can magnify up to 2.8x in “Lossless” mode for 4K, which means you don’t lose any image resolution when you want to fly a little further away from your subject.
No other drones we’ve reviewed thus far, from DJI or otherwise, have this feature.
One engineer showed us how they coded certain Hollywood camera tricks into the app, such as the dolly zoom, where you fly away from an object while simultaneously zooming in, to dramatic effect.
More conventionally, you can have your drone track you in “Follow Me” mode or “boomerang” around you for a dramatic sweeping shot.
Overall, the livestream of the journalists in the room looked crisp, bright, and life-like. Provided you can master the controls, the Anafi certainly offers an intriguing option for dynamic videos.
Controller and app
Unlike the sleek and light Anafi, Parrot went the opposite route with its foldable yet bulky controller.
Weighing in a 380g (0.8 lbs / 13.4 oz), higher than the actual weight of the drone, the Skycontroller 3 feels heavy in your hands even before you add a smartphone to the scale.
Your phone, which can be either iOS or Android but must be 6 inches or less, sits in a slot above the joystick controls. The left and right sticks control Y/Z axis and X axis movement, respectively.
Your index fingers sit on two triggers that control the camera’s vertical orientation and zoom.
Once you’ve oriented your drone and camera, you’ll use Parrot’s app to choose video or photo mode, then the specific specs you want to use.
Using Parrot’s free app was very intuitive. You tap on an option like “video mode,” and new options will immediately pop up allowing you to customize your camera settings. Or, you can adjust the control sensitivity to make your drone move or swivel faster, or more slowly, based on your preferences.
What’s unclear is whether all of these features will be unlocked for all users. We were disappointed that the Parrot Bebop 2’s “Follow Me” function sat behind a paywall, and it would be unfortunate if some camera tricks advertised today also required more than the initial $700 buy-in.
Ultimately, the controller functioned pretty well (more on that below), but it’s too big to easily transport like the drone.
Hopping into the controls for the first time, we were quickly and intuitively able to grasp how to handle the drone, and successfully avoided crashing into anyone.
We did have some issues with the left joystick, which controlled both rotation and up-and-down motion. Whenever we tried to rotate, we would end up jerking the drone up or down by mistake.
Given our limited time, it was unclear whether we simply needed more practice or if the gimbal controls made it too easy to jerk or slip.
More importantly, we're somewhat worried about the drone's obstacle avoidance capabilities. While we played with the camera, the drone hovered obediently in place, and a fellow journalist jokingly stuck his hand about six inches from the drone. It didn't budge. We also saw one incident where another pilot succeeded in crashing his drone into a wall.
Still, navigating a crowded indoor space would likely be tricky for any drone. Hopefully, during our full review, we'll see the Sony 1/2.4’’ CMOS sensor do a better job of picking up potential threats.
The camera itself, as mentioned above, output some beautiful visuals, though some tearing was in evidence due to a poor Wi-Fi connection.
Thankfully, we never lost control of the Anafi itself: its dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz antennas, which can rotate in any direction to maintain a connection, functioned perfectly.
Parrot claims that the drone can function in up to 50 kph (31 mph) winds and hits speeds of 55 kph (34 mph). The Mavic Pro may trump that speed with a max of 40 mph, but it can only withstand 21 mph winds, making the Anafi potentially more durable.
The Parrot Anafi release date of July arguably can't come soon enough. If drone enthusiasts can be torn away from DJI drones, they'll find a real competitor in Anafi – particularly people who use drones primarily for cinema.
Its customizable, maneuverable camera provides the most powerful specs you'll get for a drone under $1,000, and new gimmicks like dolly zoom will provide plenty of entertaining footage.
If we have one concern, it's how the Anafi will handle outside of a demo room. So far, the controls have mostly held up, and the antennae range appears strong enough to work well.
But, we're concerned about how it will avoid potential collisions, and we need more time testing the finicky joysticks to see how they hold up over a 20-minute flight.
Overall, we think the Anafi will prove popular, but we're looking forward to seeing how it holds up when we put it through its paces.
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