Well folks, it looks like we have our very first top-tier interloper, and it doesn’t surprise us that it should hail from the Parisienne house of Parrot. After all, Parrot pretty much single-handedly started the whole consumer drone thing when it launched its hugely popular AR Drone way back in 2010. Its follow-up, the Bebop, was equally impressive, but even this lightweight and eminently useable bird simply couldn’t compete against the rise of DJI and its squadron of Phantoms and Mavics. Parrot’s new foldable Anafi is the first drone to cause a stir in the DJI teacup and, while it still doesn’t quite match up to the amazing DJI Mavic Air or Mavic Pro, it’s nevertheless fully deserving of our third place slot above the DJI Spark.

 

Despite looking more like a giant mosquito, the ANAFI (is it pronounced Anáfi, Ánafi or Anaafi?) was apparently inspired by the humble bee. Accordingly, it has its three-axis gimbal and 4K/21 megapixel camera mounted directly in front of the drone, like a bee's head. Well, sort of like a bee's head.

 

This means the props will never appear in shot when the drone is moving forward at high speed. It also means the camera can be pointed 90 degrees upwards for a unique perspective that no other drone offers. 

 

Like the Mavic Air, this drone also collapses for easy transport but it’s not quite as pocketable due to its 244mm length when folded. Still, it comes in a great transport case that’ll easily fit in a small shoulder bag.

 

At just 320 grams, the Anafi is 110g lighter than its nearest competitor, the DJI Mavic Air and that’s a good thing should it ever fall out of the sky, since it is less likely to sustain major damage. Theoretically, at least. 

 

In fact, the hand controller, which is built like a brick shithouse, feels noticeably heavier than the drone it controls, and is certainly bulkier than the titchy Mavic Air controller. However, it's not quite as well equipped. Aside from the ‘take off’ and obligatory ‘return-to-home’ buttons, there are two index finger buttons on the rear – one for taking images and video and the other for resetting the gimbal and optics – plus two rocker arms for gimbal tilt and zoom. Yes, that’s right, the 4K camera is equipped with a lossless digital zoom function; a first in the pantheon of consumer drones. 

 

These days, any drone worth its salt must integrate seamlessly with an Android or iOS phone and this one does it superbly well. The new Parrot FreeFlight 6 app is very well designed and easy to get a handle on. Granted, it doesn’t allow for as many camera, flight and gimbal tweaks as the DJI Go 4 app, but it’s perfectly acceptable 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.

 

So, what’s this baby like to fly? Very good it must be said, though it’s still not quite as confidence inspiring as the Mavic Air. It doesn’t have any obstacle avoidance for a start, losing quite a few points to the Mavic Air in that respect. Nevertheless, it’s easy to control and very stable in flight, even in a stiff breeze. The first firmware version we tested did present a few anomalies – including wi-fi signal and GPS loss – but these have been rectified with the latest update. The drone boasts an excellent 2.4 mile range limit but bear in mind that no drone should ever be flown further than line of sight. It’s the law, dude. On the plus side, the battery provides up to 25 minutes of flying time (five more minutes than the Mavic Air) and that’s a massive bonus.

 

Prop noise is one of the main factors that puts people off flying drones in public spaces – the loud bee-like sound they make always attracts attention, sometimes of the wrong kind. But not this little fella. In fact, the Anafi is so staggeringly quiet you can hardly hear a thing while it’s hovering only a few metres above your head. This is one of the Anafi’s major advantages over other drones. At 33mph, it’s also quite sprightly, but only when in Sport mode.

 

As you’d expect from a modern GPS-equipped drone, the Anafi also features Geo fencing, smart return-to-home and a Find My Drone function that geolocates the drone while it emits a beep.

 

Like the Mavic Air, this drone also provides a host of excellent autonomous piloting modes – Follow Me, Boomerang, SmartDronie, etc – including one amazingly smart feature that uses the camera’s zoom facility to superb effect. It’s called Dolly Zoom and what it does is create Hitchcock’s famous ‘Vertigo’ effect where the subject being shot remains the same size in the frame as the background zooms in behind it. You can create this effect to some degree in post-production editing but it’s still a fantastic feature to have on board.

 

Cameraman is another cool feature that hands flight controls over to the pilot while the camera remains pointed at the main subject. However, the remaining functions like Follow Me and Touch&Fly are locked and require an in-app purchase which is frankly having a laugh. Once you’ve forked out this much, every app-based function should be included in the price and charging a heap extra (about £14.99) will only lose Parrot a lot of friends.

 

Having tested it in the field (literally), both video and photo quality seem on par with the Mavic Air and in low light shooting it’s actually better. It doesn’t offer as high a frame rate as the Mavic Air (30fps in 4K vs the Mavic Air’s 60fps in 2.7K) but the 4K video and 21 megapixel images its 1/2.4-inch Sony CMOS sensor produces are tack sharp, with excellent detail and contrast. The camera also supports HDR (High Density Range) shooting and Adobe DNG/RAW formats for more efficient post-production editing.

 

However, the Anafi controller’s gimbal rocker switch is nothing like as tactile as the Mavic Air’s finger wheel. This makes slow, gentle tilting of the gimbal extremely tricky and I hope that Parrot includes a means to adjust gimbal characteristics in a future update. The gimbal itself (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. I’m not convinced a digital axis is as smooth as an all-mechanical gimbal like that fitted to the Mavic Air, but so far I haven’t noticed anything untoward with the footage I’ve shot.

 

In the grand scheme of things, the Anafi isn’t up to the mark of the DJI Mavic Air, which is still far and away the best drone in the sub-£1,000 price band. However, it’s definitely a better equipped product than the cheaper DJI Spark. Welcome to the fold, Parrot. Let battle commence.

£630, parrot.com

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Parrot Anafi