Parrot Anafi Drone Field Test Review: Best Drone for Travel Photography?

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I don’t do a lot of tech reviews, but when I do them, it’s after thorough real-world testing in the field. Most tech reviewers take a product out the day they get it, do some stuff in their backyard or a public park, and then review based on those limited tests. That’s not me.

I received a version of the Parrot Anafi Drone for testing back in August, and since then I’ve flown the drone in four countries and three continents: United States, Spain, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

This review of the Parrot Anafi Drone is also—first and foremost—based on being a travel photographer, not a drone photographer. My biggest concern is how well it performs in the field, how well it travels, and the end product (photo and video quality). I am on the road for the better part of every year, so I am always on the hunt for the best travel drone. Hence why I was immediately keen to field test the Anafi on the road, assessing its travel performance compared to my past drone experience, as well as comparing the Anafi versus the DJI Mavic series—a market leader.

Aerial Image of Katahdin Woods, Maine
Aerial image of Katahdin Woods, Maine using the Parrot Anafi Drone.

Overview

The Anafi was not my first drone experience; Parrot previously sent me a Bebop 2 Drone. After using the Bebop 2 a bit, I concluded it wasn’t the a great travel drone—it wasn’t something I could readily integrate into my travel photography routine. The drone’s arms didn’t fold, the propellers didn’t retract, and the camera had no gimbal. The drone itself wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t travel-friendly. To use it while traveling would have required me to carry a separate bag with me every time, and I just wasn’t willing to do that.

I sent Parrot a long list of my suggestions for what I would like to see in a drone, and then sort of forgot about it.

Fast forward to the summer of 2018. I’m in Europe and I see reports announcing Parrot’s new drone, the Anafi—a foldable quadcopter drone with a 4K HDR camera. Although I have no idea if the designers read my suggestions based on the Bepop 2, this new travel drone checked off almost every single one of my desires: It was lightweight, compact, and affordable.

I was intrigued. Up until now, DJI has been the leader in portable, travel-friendly drones. The Parrot Anafi Drone seemed like a shot right across the bow of DJI.

Getting Started

Aerial view of the Roman Circus in Merida, Spain
Aerial view of the Roman Circus in Merida, Spain.

Getting started with the Parrot Anafi Drone was extremely intuitive. I didn’t bother to read the manual, nor was it really necessary. The controller works with your smartphone, so the first step is downloading the FreeFlight 6 app which is available for both iPhone and Android. The app is free, and you can purchase some add-ons separately for $0.99 each—the add-ons are not essential to the functioning of the drone.

The controller connects to your smartphone via a cable or wirelessly, but I highly recommend using the cable—it works much more consistently. You can also use your smartphone to control the drone without the controller, but you won’t have as much range and control of the drone will be more difficult without hardware controllers (aka joysticks).

Trave Drone Photography Tip: As with most new tech products, you’ll need to install a firmware update for the drone and the controller first thing after you connect to it. Make sure you do this right away. When I took the drone out in Sri Lanka, I had to install a firmware update out in the field, which delayed me launching the drone by quite a bit. I should have checked this in my room the night before, which would have avoided the problem. Likewise, months later, I had to similarly update the firmware when I took the drone out in the Maine woods for a field test. Some software updates have added really important functionality, so I always connect your Anafi to your controller at least once before you take it out.

Travel and Portability

Cinnamon Ellaidhoo Resort, Maldives
Views of the Cinnamon Ellaidhoo Resort, Maldives—I had the lightest and most compact travel drone of the handful of other drone photographers on the beach that day.

Portability is among the most important things for me when testing and using a new drone for travel. We live in a world where a smartphone can take a pretty good photo, so I’m confident most drones offer an adequate camera at this point (more on the Anafi’s camera below). However, not all drones are easy to travel with—as I mentioned, portability was my key issue with my previous Parrot drones. The small lightweight form of the DJI Mavic series is precisely what made those drones so popular with travelers and drone aficionados.

The Parrot Anafi Drone proves a worthy competitor to other similar travel drones on the market. I’ve been extremely pleased with how easy it is to travel with this drone. The drone itself, plus the extra blades and USB-C cable, all fit easily in the small zippered case that comes with the drone, which is the size and shape of a long pencil case that you might have used in school.

The Anafi easily fits alongside my current photography gear in my camera bag—it slips into a space that I would otherwise use for a longer camera lens. The controller also easily fits into one of the compartments in my camera bag.

Parrot Anafi vs DJI Mavic Series

When I was in the Maldives, I visited a remote island with other bloggers who all had drones. In fact, three others were traveling with me and they each had different versions of the DJI Mavic with them (Mavic Pro, Mavic Air, and Mavic 2 Pro). All of them were carrying their drone in a completely separate case from their main gear. I was the only one able to carry my drone in my camera bag. Parrot does sell a separate carrying case, but it is totally unnecessary.

Another key selling point for the Anafi: It’s lighter than any of the Mavic Drones. The Anafi has a flight weight (battery and propellers) of 320 grams, where the Mavic Air comes in at 430 grams, the Mavic Pro at 734 grams, and the Mavic 2 Pro at 907 grams—the Anafi is also much lighter than the new Autel EVO, which weighs 863 grams. The drone’s flight times are comparable to these larger drones though since although the Anafi batteries are smaller, it also needs to lift a much lighter weight. 

In addition to the drone itself being smaller and lighter than anything else on the market, the real kicker is the fact that it doesn’t require you to carry around a power brick. The charging mechanism is a simple USB-C cable. That’s it. The drone comes with a cable, but you can use your own if you want something a bit longer (which is not a bad idea).

As of right now, the Parrot Anafi Drone is the lightest, most portable drone on the market, making it a natural fit for travel drone photography. From a portability standpoint, I’m quite pleased with Anafi. That being said, there is room for improvement in the size and form of the controller. It isn’t a bad controller, but in the future, if they had folding or detachable knobs on the controller, it would make it just that much easier to pack.

Flying the Anafi

Early morning beach shot in the Maldives
Early morning beach shot in the Maldives—the Anafi works as well as a travel drone because it’s more portable than other options on the market and it’s easy to fly, even for beginners.

I’ve flown drones before, I’m not a super experienced pilot, nor is drone travel photography my focus. That being said, the learning curve for flying the Anafi was pretty easy. I was able to do basic things right out of the box, and in little time I was very comfortable at the controls.

As stated above, I got to this point without ever reading the manual. All of the controls are extremely intuitive, and I was able to figure out the basics of how to fly, zoom, and shoot in a matter of minutes.

Once I became comfortable with the Anafi Drone, I began exploring more features in the app, including increasing the speed, setting and loosening the geofencing, and using auto-follow mode—all of this was pretty easy and straightforward.

Parrot Anafi vs DJI Mavic Series

Unlike the Mavic drones, the Anafi does not have collision avoidance. This is probably its biggest downside and something you have to be aware of when flying. That being said, I don’t usually fly through tree branches or anything requiring collision avoidance. I feel that most drone travel photographers like me are mostly using a drone to get height and fresh angles for images that otherwise would be impossible to get from the ground. My flight paths are usually quite simple.

Also, the low weight of the drone is great for traveling, but it can be a hindrance if there is wind. The lighter the drone the more it can be buffeted by wind, and the lower the wind speed will need to be to cause problems. Much of this is just physics, and there isn’t really much that can be done about it. If you want a lightweight drone, the tradeoff is poorer performance in wind. You could compensate by powering through it to a certain extent, but that drains the battery faster, which is another tradeoff.

Noise levels are another thing that should be noted about the Anafi, which is a pro versus the Mavic series. It is quiet. It’s probably one of the quietest drones on the market. I wouldn’t exactly call it stealth mode, but it’s quieter than almost any other drone you can buy. If you fly it straight up, after only a few seconds there is barely any sound. This is really important if you’re flying and don’t want to draw attention to yourself.

One downside is that I seemed to get messages about the drone being out of range far sooner than I should have given its stated range of over two miles. This doesn’t mean that I’ve actually lost contact, only that I get the error message sooner than I would expect.

Camera and Image Quality

Flying at the maximum height of 500 feet (150 meters)
What it looks like flying the Parrot Anafi Drone at the maximum height of 500 feet (150 meters).

Even if a travel drone is compact and lightweight, you still need to take great images or the portability doesn’t really mean anything.
I’m very pleased with the images I’ve gotten from the Anafi, and I feel that the range of features related to capturing quality images are incomparable for the Anafi Drone, the others on the market simply don’t compete in this area.

Parrot Anafi vs DJI Mavic Series

The Anafi camera shoots video in 4K and it takes still photos at 21 megapixels. It also shoots and stores still images as RAW files using the Adobe DNG format. While megapixels aren’t everything, it has a much higher resolution than the 12-megapixel images you get from the DJI Mavic line of drones.

The camera also has an HDR mode and an HDR+ mode which you can activate in the software. The HDR mode is noticeable in the changes to the dynamic range it provides in the images.

The big selling point of the Anafi is the 180-degree vertical camera. It can shoot both straight down, and straight up. The straight up part is what no other drone on the market can currently do. This means you can get shots with the Anafi that are impossible with any other drone. Even if you don’t want to shoot straight up, you can shoot at a degree above horizontal, which is good enough for most travel photographers.

Anafi Drone Pros and Cons

Pros

  • It’s lightweight. The Anafi is made with carbon fiber and it weighs 320 grams compared to the DJI Mavic Air’s 430 grams. The Mavic Air is 1/3 heavier, which is a pretty significant weight difference. 
  • It’s portability. The carrying case for the drone reminds me of an oversized pencil case. It is longer than it is wide due to how they configured the travel drone’s folding arms. I’ve read some reviews that complained about this and preferred the Mavic Air’s more squat design, however by designing the Anafi to fold in a more longitudinal manner, it avoids a problem the Mavic Air faces with the propeller getting in the field of view of the camera, which is a pretty big design flaw. The Anafi in its carrying case fits perfectly in a lens slot in my camera bag.
  • It has a 180 degree gimbal. The Anafi can shoot straight up or straight down. That means you can literally shoot the underside of a bridge if you fly under it (which I actually did in Spain just to test it). This is the only drone that I know of with this feature. The Anafi gimbal doesn’t support yaw, but that can easily be done by moving the drone. Yaw in the gimbal seems redundant if the drone can replicate the motion. Even if you see no need to shoot straight up in the air, just being able to shoot up at an angle has lots of practical use for travel photography.
  • It’s uncommonly quiet. I was able to test the Anafi head-to-head with travel photographers using a Mavic Air and a Mavic Pro 2 when I was in the Maldives. The Anafi was noticeably quieter. If you’re traveling with a drone, you usually don’t want to bring attention to your drone, so sound levels are important. Other reviewers have measured the sound levels, and they found a 60db vs 80db difference, which is in line with what I’ve experienced.
  • It offers USB-C charging. All you need to charge the Anafi is a USB-C cable. That’s it. That’s a far cry better than DJI drones, which require a bulky power brick to charge. The tradeoff is that the Anafi takes longer to charge. If you charge your drone overnight, and/or carry an extra battery, then the charging time isn’t that big of a deal. I can’t think of many situations where you are charging a battery while you are out in the field. From a travel standpoint, not having a separate charging device more than compensates for a slightly larger controller (see below). That being said, you can get a charge up to about 75% reasonably fast, which is enough for a 15-20 minute flight.

Cons

  • Lack of obstacle avoidance. This is the first thing every single review of the Anafi I’ve read has mentioned. It is true that DJI Mavic series offer obstacle avoidance and the Anafi doesn’t. Given the state of the market, it’s probably something they should have added and something I’m guessing will probably appear in the Anafi 2. That being said, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal for travel photographers. I’m usually don’t using my travel drone in such a way that this feature is necessary. While it would be nice to see in the future, it isn’t a deal breaker for me. There was only one time I really thought it was necessary, and that was flying it through some pretty dense woods.
  • The controller is large. The controller weighs more than the drone and it is a bit bulky. Overall, the controller is intuitive and easy to use, but if they could lop off 1/3 of the weight and volume, it would be a much better experience.
  • Distance warnings are too soon. I receive warnings about losing a signal at distances far shorter than what is advertised. So far I haven’t actually lost the signal and had the drone return, but signal strength does appear to be an issue.
  • Storage and SD Card. The holder for the micro SD card is very fragile and difficult to use. I purchased a card with more storage and replacing the card took some time. I also read reports of the housing unit breaking on people quite easily. My recommendation is to buy a larger card, replace the memory card that comes with the Anafi, and then never touch it again. You can use the USB-C cable that charges the drone to also access the image and video files.

Recommended Future Improvements

The Anafi is a pretty good drone already, however, there are some things that would be nice to see in future versions:

  • Better connectivity. Parrot needs to work on the strength of the wireless signal—it seems very susceptible to interference.
  • Better SD Card Holder. The current way to insert an SD card is extremely fragile. A simple pop-in and pop-out system would be far superior.
  • Removable Sunscreen. The downside to having 180-degrees of freedom for the camera is that sometimes you can get bad lens flare. Having a sun shade you can pop on or off would be a big help.

Review Summary: Best Travel Drone on the Market  

Overall, I’ve been very pleased with the Parrot Anafi Drone . It’s such an enormous leap over the previous Parrot drones it isn’t funny. It has proved itself more than capable as a top travel drone after many hours of flight on three different continents and in a variety of conditions. The image quality is very good, and most importantly, its portability makes it extremely easy to travel with.

It’s simply the most travel-friendly drone on the market today.

I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with future versions of the Anafi, but for now I plan to continue traveling with my Parrot Anafi Drone, capturing great aerial images without weighing down my gear bag.