13 September 2020

Parrot Anafi 4K Drone Long Term Review (Part 1)

In a market that is dominated by DJI there are many other drones out there that don't quite get the spotlight time that they deserve. I feel like the Parrot Anafi is one of those drones and that's the reason I've taken the time to create this review.

A little bit of background to start with, I've been flying drones frequently for around five years now and [touch wood] in the countless hours and flights I've never had an accident. I do fly responsibly and take the rare calculated risk considering the safety and privacy of others. Until buying the Parrot Anafi all of my prior drones have been DJI.

Going back to how I started this post, the market is dominated by DJI so you may notice many comparisons to DJI drones and specifically the DJI Mavic Air which this drone competes with. After using the Anafi I sold my DJI Mavic Air.

In addition to the drone itself, inside the box you'll find;
  • Controller - SkyController 3
  • 16GB MicroSD Card
  • USB-A to USB-C Cable
  • Spare Propeller Blades & Tool
  • Carry Case
Two items missing from the box are a wall charger which Parrot simply don't provide, however as you need a mobile phone to use the controller they understand you'll most likely have a USB charger already and they also don't provide a Micro-USB or Lightning to USB-A cable for those using older Android or Apple phones.

I use the drone with an Apple iPhone 11 Pro and purchased a short Anker USB-A to Lightning cable which I think is quite neat.

Let's start on the controller which as you use the drone is the piece of hardware that you'll be interacting with the most. Mounting the phone to the controller is very quick and easy, something I instantly found less hassle than the Mavic Air. It's very similar to that of a game controller I think and feels very natural to use.

On the back of the controller you'll find a USB-C connection which is used for charging and a USB-A connection which you use to connect to your phone. I haven't tried connecting a phone using USB-C to USB-C. The right shoulder button takes a photo on camera mode or starts/stops the video on video mode and the left shoulder button resets the camera position to it's default position... and quickly - I really like this. The left flappy control adjusts the camera angle and the right one zooms. 

Comparing to the Mavic Air - the Anafi does have a lossless zoom feature built in that I don't use much, you can do a digital zoom which goes further. The zoom does allow for some cool affects such as "Dolly Zoom". The other neat feature the Anafi has is that the camera goes up in addition to down - this would be handy for construction inspections, but also allows you to do some amazing sphere photos, more on that later.

The carry case that the Anafi comes with is similar to the one that comes with the Mavic Air in terms of construction and strength. It zips closed and has elastic straps on one side that could be used to secure it to a bag. The carry case with this model does not have space to hold the controller but can hold the USB cable and MicroSD adapter.

As you can see below the Anafi fits into the case with the propellers fitted, it takes minutes to remove from the case and pull out the arms and it's ready to go. The camera/gimbal isn't secured at all and the only protection is a cap over the lens. I used a DJI Phantom 3 for a long time with no protection but felt like the Mavic Air was more protected with one, I'd have liked one on the Anafi too.

The camera on the Anafi is a good one, it'll shoot clear photos using the 21MP camera and will capture video in 4K at 30FPS. I however always favour frame rate over resolution and capture my video in 1080P at 60FPS which, combined with the "Film" shooting mode provides some really smooth footage that is a pleasure to watch. Photos can be captured in RAW (DNG) format on the drone which I've been doing, as a Lightroom user it allows me to get some really good results. The provided 16GB MicroSD card is good enough for a single flight but owners will no doubt wish to upgrade to a higher capacity card, the Anafi favours fast good quality MicroSD cards and the topic is well documented on the Parrot Pilots forum, I fitted a 128GB Sandisk Extreme to mines and it's been perfect.

Note that the Anafi has a two axis gimbal rather than a three axis gimbal that is used on the Mavic Air and I think it shows. When it comes to the camera I'd say the Mavic Air has the edge on both photo and video quality, it's not better enough to make me favour the DJI over the Anafi but it is a better setup and will produce slightly better results.

My second favourite thing I love about the Anafi is that the battery charges from a USB-C charger. At home we have countless devices now that charge via USB-C so after a flight I connect the batteries to a permanent charging unit I have set up and don't have to worry about the proprietary charger. Flight time is almost identical to the Mavic Air at around 20 minutes, maybe a little more if you are comfortable flying at the lower battery levels. When connected to a charger the battery flashes the LED to indicate status, for example two solid lights and the third light flashing indicates charge is between 50% and 75%.

This then brings me onto the thing I like least about the Anafi and that is access to the MicroSD card. This is stored under the battery and uses a very weak clasp to hold it in place, research shows many people have broken and lost this clasp. With the battery connected to the drone you can connect it to your system and transfer the files over USB, it is a little slower if you have large video files but it's the option I've been using and know that the MicroSD connector won't get damaged.

So, what is the Anafi like to fly? If you've used a drone before it'll all feel very familiar. I've been lazy and use the automatic take off/land feature as the button is right there on the controller and it works very well. The controls are typical and can be modified in the FreeFlight 6 app if you prefer another non-standard mode.

I will say that the DJI drones are much more stable in the air compared to the Anafi. Not enough that I'm concerned about the stability of it but if you put them side by side I find that the Mavic Air stays confidently in place where the Anafi may drift slightly on it's own and when doing some manoeuvres like flying sideways or descending quickly it wobbles a bit as it comes down, the DJI just doesn't do that.

As we now wrap up the first part of this review I wanted to share with you the thing I love the most about this drone, which is a huge bug bear of mines with the DJI Mavic Air; the controller has no speaker or alarms within it. If you've done some serious hours of flying with the Mavic Air the low battery or return-to-home (RTH) alarm is something that you and anyone within a mile if you will be aware of also, and there is nothing you can do about it. Not only is the Anafi much quieter in operation, when the battery goes low or you use the RTH function there is no audible alarms - it's almost like Parrot trusts it's users will monitor the drone in use where as DJI intend to alert everyone in the area there may be an issue - fly a Mavic Air in public and the moment you hit your "low battery" threshold everyone in the area will be looking at you.

I'm going to stop there as I'd like to get this out and shared with some people but next week I'll be sharing part two of this review and I think you'll like it. The second part will share my thoughts on things like the software of the drone, the camera modes and flight modes that it offers. Have any questions? Post them below and I'll do my best to answer them!

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