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ARCHIE ADAMSEditor-in-Chief of the Handy Home Master
I’ve spent 5 months with this drone now and love it. I firmly believe it is the best drone at its price and gives DJI a run for its money. At $599 or $550 on sale, it just offers so much for a solid experience. But let’s talk a little about how I arrived at this conclusion.
Introducing Parrot Anafi
First, the drone I am talking about is the Parrot Anafi. It’s a French company that has been designing drones for a little while now and seems to be the last remaining competition for DJI that’s offering any form of quality. And you know it scared DJI because as soon as the Parrot Anafi came out, they had to release their own better version of it with the Mavic 2 Pro, but it remains to be more than double the price for similar features.
This is the first drone of this level that allows you to pivot the camera gimbal up and down, and the camera angle to change, to actually look up, and not see the propellers at any point ever. The arms of the drone are spread out enough so that they never get in the way – it’s as simple as that, plus the propellers are somewhat transparent. It also offers a sort of software-based HDR effect. It’s not exactly true HDR, but it’s fairly effective, and depending on the time of day or the style you’re going for, it can be a somewhat nice look.
The footage offer is 4k at 30 frames per second – not 60, but it does offer 60 frames per second if you shoot in 1080p. It has a lot of software-based features that don’t necessarily come straightaway with the camera: things like SmartDronies, flight plans, and stuff like that. I did download these, and they were only a dollar, so I kind of wondered why you have to pay just $1 to unlock these features. It’s pretty weird – they’re not going to make tons of money off of it, but I’m not going to complain either, because it only adds two dollars to the price. It’s just an odd feature too, you know, only charge a little bit extra for something like that. I’m wondering if they’re doing it just to test the waters, to see how important it is to people – whether future drones should feature it or not.
But regardless, you can get them. I did, and I tested them, and some of them are a little odd. The ones that come naturally with the Free Flight 6, which is Parrot’s remote control software for your phone, are excellent and work really, really good, but some of the additional ones can be a little bit tricky; they don’t seem perfect yet.
Features and Behavior
When I was doing some flights in the mountains, naturally, this offered a few advantages and disadvantages. Once I was standing pretty close to a cell tower and had a ton of interference with it. I moved a few hundred feet away, and it got a lot better, but there was still interference. The terrain was also uneven, so some of the features made it seem to want to go down into the mountain because it was not a flat surface. Therefore, it looks like some of the features work better when on flat terrain, as opposed to mountains and hills, but some of the other features like “Follow me” seem to do just fine when they have a specific subject to keep track of.
The “Follow me” works surprisingly good, SmartDronies doesn’t, and there’s a different type of Follow Me-kind-of-feature that I couldn’t get to work correctly. I don’t know if that matters to you, but one of the coolest features, in my opinion, is “Cameraman”, where on the screen of your phone you can highlight the subject of pretty much anything. It could be you, it could be a feature of a building, like a window, and it will track that subject so that when you move the drone around, no matter at what angle you’re moving (provided you don’t go too fast) it’ll track it and then make some really cool shots. And since this drone has the ability to move the camera up and down, it can take the shot at almost any angle, which is fantastic! So that one is a real plus.
Now, you can operate it just with your phone, or you can use the controller that comes with it. The controller is also beautifully crafted. It charges by USB-C, and you can get probably close to five flights on a single controller charge, so that should last you a while. It depends on the conditions, how hard it has to push a signal, and things like that, but it outlasts the battery a few times over for sure.
The battery life of the drone is pretty decent. It says it lasts up to 26 minutes, which for drone batteries you should always take with a grain of salt; that’s because that depends on the weather the conditions, how hard the drone has to fight the weather, and how fast you fly it, so it’s almost never 26 minutes unless it’s just hovering in the air. Still, it is very competitive with everyone else’s drone batteries.
It’s kind of funny because you can turn off the geofencing, which lets you go past the legal limit of 400 feet, but even past that, when you turn that off, it still doesn’t let you get past 500 feet – and that’s 500 feet from wherever it took off. I did the tests on a hill that’s 1,100 feet tall so that I could fly it at 1,500 feet or 1,600 feet, and that’s fine by me.
The max distance I’ve been able to get it to go is about a mile, a mile and a half or so at it’s best. That’s in the best conditions, by the way, which are hard to find. If you’re on a mountain that doesn’t have any radio signals and you have clear open fields ahead of you, you can send it far away. Most of the times I got it to about half a mile, but that shouldn’t concern you too much, because legally, you’re not allowed to fly it past where you can see it. And since it’s a small drone, it’s hard to see it at way shorter distances. For legal reasons, it’s as far as you should take it, but it doesn’t have the furthest distance in the world when it comes to drones of this size. Still, it would definitely take you far enough. It surely beats the Spark, which is the same price.
About the Camera
It does have a few different camera filters that you can cycle between. I like to leave it on P Log, which is essential to a lot of people who want to use this for cinematic purposes. It’s a very flat profile that you can record, and then add your own presets or filters, which is really important to people who plan to edit the video. If it’s just for a vacation or just for traveling, there are a few others, like natural light intensity, and one heavily retro Instagram-looking filter. I’m not really a fan of that, but it’s there for you if you don’t really care to manually edit your colors.
As for the camera, the camera is excellent. You can shoot it in DNG, which is a type of RAW. The size of that photo is enormous – it’s like 40 MegaBytes or so. You can edit it in Lightroom, and it’s really good quality. When you shoot in raw, it will go no crop – it’ll go as full as it can, and you can’t zoom. This shouldn’t matter, because the quality is there for you, and then you can edit the video yourself. It does have a little bit of camera distortion, which can be fixed if you have Lightroom and all the Parrot presets, but if you’re relying on camera photography and you want to shoot in RAW, this will be perfect for you. Nonetheless, it also supports your standard JPEG and PNG, and it can shoot in rectilinear if you don’t want to have the hassle of dealing with Lightroom. It has a little bit of something for everyone.
Size and Accessories
Now, the size of the drone is incredible, because of how small and compact it is. Even the case is so tiny and cute. I love the size of this case because it can fit in your backpack really well. With this width and the slimness, it can go at the bottom of a bag and fit just perfectly. Plus it’s a hard case, so you can put things on top of it, as long as you’re careful. It also fits in camera bags well, and it just doesn’t have an awkward shape. Also, it’s like Tetris when you’re dealing with camera bags, where a line piece can be a little more helpful than some weird oblong things. So I, as far as the real estate this takes up in a camera bag, I think I prefer it over DJI.
Still, there’s one problem: the case that it naturally comes with does not include the controller, so the controller you have to put in your bag by itself, and the thumbsticks don’t come off, so you may have some issues banging them up against something. If you buy their plus version, or whatever it’s called – the bonus pack that comes with extra batteries – it also comes with a bigger case that will include a slot for the controller. So that might be a good idea. It’s only around $100 more, and you get a bigger case, an extra battery – if you buy the batteries alone, it’s 100 bucks a piece.
And the total price is still not as much as the Mavic Air!
There are a few ND filters that you can get for this. In fact, I shot a little bit with an ND filter on it. A word to the wise, if you put the ND filter on beforehand when you turn the drone on, when it does all its calibration, it will block some of the effects, and then it’ll tell you that something is blocking the camera. Then you won’t be able to move it, and that’s kind of a pain, so let it do its job, and then apply the ND filter – just so you know.
Speaking of which, this is actually my second Parrot Anafi. With my first one I got about three or four flights, and then there was a camera error, where it said that there was something blocking the camera and it would not allow me to actually control the camera. No matter how many resets I did, they just wouldn’t fix it, and I was kind of annoyed and disappointed. I was hoping that this wasn’t going to be a real issue, but here’s where we get into the part about Parrot’s customer service.
It is fantastic! I called them up, told them about the problem, and they asked for a few screenshots of the camera error message on my phone. I sent just a few, and then they immediately said: “send it back, and we will replace it with a brand new one.” They told me to keep the batteries, the controller, the accessories, and I was expecting to receive only the drone, but they sent me a whole new kit, so I actually got a bonus battery and controller and all that stuff. Also, they were swift and really friendly about it, so overall, their customer service deserves 5 stars out of 5!
I know I’ve heard a lot of people complain about DJI’s customer service and I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s just because of their high demand, but parrot treated me really, really well, so I truly appreciate this. My new drone worked great ever since they sent it to me, I haven’t had any issues with it, so yeah, everything’s been great. They also send you spare props in case you smashed it into something, which I did. The props are pretty easy to replace.
Oh, one more thing, the small USB Type-C cable they send you is a one-foot cable. Also, it isn’t the best quality, so you’re probably going to want to get a spare cord because the one they provide gets kind of loose after a while when you connect it, and then you’ll have problems with not being able to use the controller with your phone. Then you would have to use the screen, and that’s kind of a bummer, so I’d recommend getting a better quality cord so that when this does happen, you won’t have to deal with the problems that I encountered.
The absolute best part of this drone is the price! I got mine for 550, and you can only get a Spark with the controller at that price. And the Spark just doesn’t add up – it has a 2-axis gimbal, it doesn’t shoot 4k, and it doesn’t have all the D-Log and all the camera RAW features. It’s just not really worth it at this price, compared to Anafi.
And think about the fact that they inspired the Mavic 2 to come out with the camera that can go up and down and shoot in HDR and have zoom. Oh, I forgot to mention; this one has a zoom. It’s digital, but it’s still amzoom, so you should be able to do the vertigo effect thing. I forgot what that’s called, and I didn’t manage to get it to work really well, but I know other people have.
All right, enough writing for today. Now I have to climb down this mountain, so wish me luck! I hope this review was as helpful for you as it could be.