Just when you thought you had finally settled on the travel-friendly drone to save up for—one that hit all the notes of portability, high-quality footage, and not totally breaking the bank—another challenger appears. Today, French drone manufacturer Parrot announced the Anafi, a lightweight (0.7 pounds), zippy (34 mph), and relatively affordable ($699.99) drone that folds into a slender, packable, and, transportable rectangle. New drones are seemingly released every other day, so what’s the big deal, you ask? The Anafi is the first real challenger to DJI’s dominance over the entire consumer drone market, and in this case especially the beginner-level Spark and the intermediate Mavic Air. But should you rush to pre-order the Anafi today, over the aforementioned competitors? Well, it depends…
The Parrot team, I was told at an unveiling of the product today in New York, took design cues from insects and it shows: The camera sits unobstructed at the front of the drone, giving it the ability to look and shoot in any direction, including upwards, something rarely found on drones. Its two front foldable legs are shorter than the rear two, like a dragonfly, providing for a well-oriented center of gravity and greater stability when hovering. Its propellors are noticeably lighter-weight than competitors, and their tear-dropped shape and translucence add an extra insectoid touch. The whole thing folds down to the size of a portable umbrella; the remote, a refreshingly minimalist device, also folds up for easy transport. And did we mention how light it is? The fact that it’s well under a pound means you’ll hardly notice it in your backpack. It’s extra-impressive when you consider what Parrot was able to pack into such a featherweight.
So, are we talking pro-level, perfectly stable pans of a sunset as seen from 100 feet in the air? Or noisy, choppy video that has all the novelty of aerial photography without the quality? Based on previews of images and footage taken on the Anafi and on the drone’s specs, it firmly falls in the former category, but with some caveats to keep in mind. The good stuff? The camera is mounted on a three-axis gimbal, has a flight time of 25 minutes, and shoots 4K HDR video and RAW photos from a 21-megapixel Sony sensor. Because of its light weight, the Anafi safe to fly, including indoors, because any damage it’ll do to you, your friends, or your belongings, are going to be minimal in the case of a crash. It’s also remarkably quiet—around nine decibels less annoying than its competitors, according to Parrot (while I wasn’t able to emphatically prove the numbers during the demo, it was markedly less loud than other drones in its price range when hovering in a conference room).
It can shoot 1080p slow motion and comes with an array of smart flight modes, including the expected (Orbit, which circles a subject, and Follow Me, which tracks it) and the novel (one mode has the camera zooming in while the drone backs up, creating a trippy, Vertigo-like cinematic effect). It connects to your controller (or phone) via Wi-Fi with some connectivity enhancements under the hood that make a dropped singal less likely (a problem we encountered occasionally with the Anafi’s predecessor, the BeBop 2). The fact that it doesn’t come with a proscribed charger—it can be charged up via USB-C using your computer or phone charger—is a plus, too. One more thing you don’t have to pack.
The not so good? To get extra-geeky for a second, one of those gimbal axes, that is the various directions it can turn to stabilize your shot, is achieved through digital processing instead of the mechanical gimbal, unlike the real three-axis gimbal of the Mavic Air. That means if you’re tilting the drone, versus just moving it up up, down, forwards, or backwards, you might not get the same smoothness of shots. Additionally, while you probably won’t be facing a lawsuit if you barrel into someone with the Anafi, you might have a broken drone on your hands: The Anafi is notably missing obstacle avoidance sensors, commonplace in many other drones rolling off assembly lines these days, that prevent you from flying straight into a tree trunk
But, overall the Anafi could hit a sweet-spot for a certain traveler just beginning to rev up their drone photography game, and looking to save a little money. It’s a full hundred dollars cheaper than the DJI Mavic Air, its main competitor, and a better quality photography and video device than the $499 DJI Spark, while being just as easy to fly. If nothing else, it’s proof that there is probably a drone out there for everyone—and if there isn’t, just wait a couple of months.