PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
We weren't the biggest fans of Parrot's Bebop drones which, like the AR.Drone before it, had fixed cameras and fixed, non-folding bodies.
That meant they were cumbersome to transport, and lacked the gimbal-stabilised footage that looked so good from rivals.
Now, though, the Anafi takes things to a new level where Parrot can (almost) compete with DJI. It even has a few features that the Mavic Air doesn't, such as 4K HDR video, a gimbal that can point upwards and lossless zoom that you can use in-flight.
However, it also has a few drawbacks which might make you choose the Mavic Air instead.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
The Anafi costs £629/US$699. That undercuts the Mavic Air by a good £70/US$70, despite the fact it has dropped in price since it launched.
That includes the drone, one battery, a carry case (for the drone), a controller, a 16GB microSD card and a spare set of propellers.
Spare batteries cost £89.99/US$99.99 each and are available already. Handily they charge via USB-C and can be recharged from a power bank on the move.
FEATURES & DESIGN
This is Parrot's first folding drone, and the mechanism where each leg clicks into place by pulling it outwards from the body is simple and quick.
The fact none of the legs flip over (as they do on the Mavic Air) means the Anafi is a bit bigger and takes up more space. Yet, it's still small enough to pop into your rucksack and still have room for your other gear.
If you don't want to lug the chunky controller around, you can connect your phone to the Anafi's Wi-Fi and fly it using on-screen sticks.
The controller lets you fly further, though, as it isn't restricted by Wi-Fi range. Of course, range is usually limited by local laws, but the Sky Controller 3 at least gives you the confidence of a strong signal both for flying and also the video feed.
It also gives you easy control over the gimbal pitch and zoom - controls which aren't easy to use with the app alone. The internal battery also charges your phone's: you plug in your phone with its USB cable, eliminating the need to use Wi-Fi.
At just 320g, the Anafi is surprisingly light. This is a factor in its 25-minute flight time, which is more than you'll get from a Mavic Air.
If there's a niggle, it's that the microSD tray (a flip-up locking mechanism reminiscent of the SIM tray in old phones) is under the battery, so you have to remove that before you can get to it. There's no storage built-in, so if you forget you card - and you will - there's no way to record video. Footage can be offloaded to your phone via Wi-Fi, but this is mighty slow, especially for 4K clips.
You'll need the FreeFlight 6 app for that, and to fly Anafi. It's much like Parrot's other drone apps, and has the same annoyance that some features such as Follow Me are locked out until you pay the not inconsiderable in-app fee.
Parrot says this is to keep the price of the drone down, but that argument doesn't really hold water. Plus, there's no such paywall in DJI's app.
Flying the Anafi is easy with the Sky Controller 3, especially if you've flown a drone before. There are two modes: Film and Sport. Usefully you can limit how fast and how far the drone can fly. For beginners, a height and distance limit prevents the Anafi getting too far even with errant control.
When filming, limiting the speed it can rotate and move forwards or sideways means you get smoother, more usable footage without having to have such delicate control of the sticks.
A big return to home button in the centre of the Controller adds confidence, but the lack of any obstacle avoidance can make flying a little tense unless you have a wide open space with nothing to hit.
The Mavic Air has front and rear cameras for sensing obstacles, which makes flying it less risky.
We found the video stream over Wi-Fi broke up at less than 100ft (30m) but with the Sky Controller there were no such issues. It's also good quality, with plenty of detail.
Sport mode is there mainly for having fun, and though it isn't quite as quick as the Mavic Air (nor as quick to stop) it certainly has some pace.
Even flying in relatively strong winds, the Anafi remained stable, and didn't drift. But flying at low altitude in confined spaces, it wasn’t quite as steady as we'd have liked.
There's a camera an ultrasonic sensor underneath to prevent hard landings, but with hardly any ground clearance, grass can interfere with the bottom-mounted fan and even prevent take-off.
We'd like to see Parrot introduce warnings for no-fly zones in the app, as it currently recommends using a third-party app to find out whether or not you're allowed to fly in your current location.
The big attraction for any drone intended for aerial photography is a good camera. And thankfully the Anafi has one.
Its 21Mp sensor offers plenty of detail, and allows for 4K video. That's nothing new, but the fact it can shoot HDR video is: the Mavic Air doesn't support it, and neither does anything else at this price.
Parrot is keen to point out that it's also unique in its ability to be pointed upwards as well as down, letting you capture perspectives that you simply can't on any other consumer drone.
Finding those perspectives is easier said than done, though, so it's hardly an essential feature. Yet, it is a differentiator and can make your footage look very different from the top-down shots we're all used to from drones.
The 4K video itself is on a par with the Mavic Air. It's crisp, detailed and very stable. Like DJI's drone, you're limited to 30fps in this mode, but can step down to 25- or even 24fps. Drop to 1080p and you can ramp the frame rate up to 60fps for some slo-mo action, though that's half of the 120fps the Mavic Air can handle.
HDR is a welcome feature, and it noticeably improves dynamic range especially when you're trying to include both ground and sky in the shot.
However, at present, Parrot's implementation is confusing. In the app there's no obvious control to turn it on or off. The HDR symbol appears and disappears from time to time and only works in 4K.
And it's a touch overcooked because footage can be too saturated, instead of looking natural. We're hopeful an app or firmware update will address this. If not, it's a relatively easy fix with some decent video editing software.
Our main criticism is that video is slightly noisy if you look closely, and that's in sunny conditions. Still, most people are unlikely to see this even on a big TV.
Here are a couple of screen grabs from the 4K video to demonstrate the dynamic range on offer:
Thanks to the high-resolution sensor you can losslessly zoom in to 1.4x in 4K and up to 2.8x in 1080p, and there's a setting in the app to choose whether to limit to lossless zoom or let you carry on into digital zoom. Bear in mind that zooming digitally noticeably reduces quality, though.
The 21Mp photos are very good, and you have the option of shooting in JPEG or DNG (RAW) format. There's also the choice of saving the native photo, complete with barrel distortion and the 'small earth' feel or the corrected, cropped version which is probably what you actually want where lines that should be straight are.
It's a shame there are no automatic panorama modes, so you'll have to rotate the gimbal, take your shots and stitch them manually.
If you want to get creative, there are 'SmartDronies', Timelapse and 'CineShots'. These include the zoom effect where the drone flies towards you (or away) and zooms in or out to keep the subject the same size. It's a complex cinematic effect used in films that you can now get in your own videos.
- Flight time: Up to 25 minutes
- Range: 2 miles with controller
- Camera specs: 4K HDR at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps, 21Mp photos in DNG or JPG
- Max speed: 33mph
- Stable flight in winds up to 31mph
- Obstacle avoidance: No
- Weight: 320g