Parrot’s new HDR camera drone is a shot across DJI’s bow

It’s been a while since Parrot released a new consumer-level drone, but today, June 6, at a press conference in New York City, the company pulled the curtain back on a new addition to its fleet: a high-end, folding quadcopter named Anafi.

Whereas Parrot’s earlier drones were more on the toyish side of the spectrum, and were arguably more focused on fun flying than capturing video, Anafi is purpose-built for aerial photography and videography. As such, it’s outfitted with all the requisite bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from UAVs in this category — including a camera that shoots 4K video and 21-megapixel stills, range of over two miles, a 25-minute max flight time, auto-follow functionality, and a folding form factor that makes it easy to transport.

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If that sounds somewhat milquetoast and standard-issue, it’s because it is. You can already buy drones with the aforementioned capabilities, but Parrot is well aware of this fact — so it equipped Anafi with a handful of innovative features and functions that help it stand out from the rest of the pack. Here’s a quick rundown.

Raising the bar with HDR

The first and most notable of these is Anafi’s ability to shoot high dynamic range (HDR) video. We’ll spare you the gory technical details of how it works and why it’s a big deal, but in a nutshell, this means that this drone can capture video at multiple different exposure levels simultaneously, and blend all those exposures together to create a single shot that has outrageously good contrast.

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As far as we can tell, Anafi is the first consumer-level drone on the market with HDR video capabilities, which is a pretty big deal. Even some of the best drones you can buy right now tend to have trouble with high-contrast scenes, and HDR could help mitigate that issue — which gives Parrot a leg up on competitors like DJI and Yuneec.

Tilt and whirl

Second, Anafi is eqiupped with a 3-axis gimbal stabilizer that has 180 degrees of tilt freedom. In other words, not only can this drone look straight down, it can also look straight up. This feature presumably gives you a broader range of creative freedom while you shoot, and allows you to capture footage from above or below your subject. Shooting like this simply isn’t possible on the vast majority of today’s camera drones, as they almost always carry their cameras below the hull, or inside nose-mounted stabilizers with limited upward motion.

Zoom, zoom, zoom

Another uncommon feature that Anafi boasts is lossless digital zoom — something that’s notably absent from just about every other drone in the sub-$1,000 category. Parrot’s shooter can zoom up to 1.4x in 4K and 2.8x in 1080p without distorting image quality in any way. Functionally, this allows you to get closer to your subject without actually flying closer — which could come in handy for, say, wildlife shots where you risk scaring away the animals if you buzz your drone too close (although it’s worth mentioning that Anafi also happens to be relatively quiet for a quadcopter).

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Aside from that, Anafi’s lossless zoom also enables an awesome shooting trick that, until now, was rather difficult to achieve with a flying camera: the dolly zoom (also known as the vertigo zoom or Hitchcock zoom). You’ve probably seen this before in movies. It’s the shot where the central subject remains the same size while the background zooms in and out, creating a vertigo-inducing visual effect. Parrot’s setup automates the process so you can take dolly zoom shots at the press of a button.

Sprinkles on top, and a competitive price

There’s also a handful of small, thoughtful design elements that help round out the package — things like a launch-from-hand function, 3D mapping software, a USB-C battery that can also be used as a smartphone charger, and the ability to fly Anafi with or without a controller.

The best feature, however, is the price. You can pre-order Anafi today for the comparatively-low-but-admittedly-still-kinda-high price of $700 — which puts it squarely in competition with DJI’s infamous Mavic drones. Whether or not Anafi can stand toe to toe with the Mavic Air has yet to be seen, but if you’re curious, be sure to circle back later this month to check out our in-depth review.

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