By Malek Murison
Depending on who you talk to, Chinese manufacturer DJI has a 60-80% share of the drone hardware market.
And they dominate for a reason: DJI’s drones set the standard in terms of price, capability and ease of use. The company’s shadow over the drone space is self-perpetuating, putting competitors from the early days out of the manufacturing business and giving DJI even more revenue to plough into R&D and marketing.
But a few companies have managed to hang in there, while others are only now coming to the fore.
Here are three worth considering in the run-up to the festive season.
French manufacturer Parrot has been around since consumer drone industry day one. In fact, the company arguably released the first ever consumer camera drone – the AR.Drone – back in 2010.
But since then Parrot has struggled to keep pace with DJI. There’s no shame in that, of course. Nobody has managed to compete. But in the past couple of years, things have been changing. Parrot has focused its efforts on creating adaptable drones that are easy to use and ideal for aerial photography.
The results have been interesting: the Disco drone was a miraculous fixed-wing creation without an obvious purpose. The Bebop range has always appeared a little clumsy and toy-like compared to DJI’s more sophisticated models.
But the culmination of years of development came in the summer of 2018 with the Anafi, a foldable, 4k video-shooting drone packed with interesting creative features.
The Anafi’s camera has a Sony IMX230 sensor, an Ambarella video processor and can shoot 21MP photos Shots benefit from 3-axis stabilization and the camera also offers 180 degrees of vertical tilt and up to 2.8X lossless zoom, which means you can fly directly under objects and capture them from below.
We’re not exactly sure what this is for, but it certainly expands the potential shot options for pilots.
The Anafi comes into its own with performance. The Anafi’s “bio-inspired design” includes Parrot’s smart battery technology, which somehow means the Anafi can outlast both the Mavic Air and the Spark with 25 minutes airtime from a single battery.
Parrot have more recently released a range of intelligent, updates flight modes for the Anafi, which include a tracking feature, hyperlapse capabilities and a Dolly Zoom mode. They’ve also started selling an Extended addition, with extra batteries for over an hour of flight time.
Altogether, it’s an impressive little drone. The only drawback is the lack of obstacle avoidance. But for the purists out there that shouldn’t be an issue.
So how much does all of that cost? Well, the Extended package, which includes three batteries, a shoulder bag and more, is retailing at $799.
Since launching in early 2018, the Skydio R1 has captured the imagination of the drone industry. In part that’s because the company’s autonomous system and computer vision technology is way beyond anything else we have seen.
But it’s also because the R1 offers a glimpse into the future of drones: crash-free flight, totally autonomous navigation. In short, a system you can trust to be your aerial cameraman.
But the obvious drawback from all that autonomy is that you don’t get to be behind the controls in the same way. For some pilots this will be a release, meaning they can finally concentrate on the important things while the drone takes care of the flying. For others, it might be removing an enjoyable part of the drone experience.
But Skydio’s customers will obviously be in the former camp: adventure enthusiasts, outdoorsy types who want to be a part of the action, not just capture it on camera.
Speaking of which, the R1’s camera captures 4K at 30fps and 1080p at 30 or 60fps. It’s also got built-in stabilization. Battery life is just 16 minutes, but the drone comes with two batteries included. The R1 has a top speed of 25 mph, which should be enough to keep up with even the most adventurous of outdoor activities.
For that reason, Skydio’s R1 could be a great gift for the mountain-biker, runner, surfer, skier etc in your life. Basically, anyone who wants to capture awesome 4K footage without having to worry about the controls.
In fact, the R1 has a range of ‘skills’ that can be activated with a through clicks in the app. So the drone doesn’t just have to follow you, it can perform complex aerial manoeuvres that even an experienced pilot would find hard to pull off.
As you might expect, the R1 doesn’t come cheap. It’s currently retailing for $1,999.
Yuneec Mantis Q
Yuneec is something of a fading light in the drone industry. But 2018 has had some resurgent moments for DJI’s Chinese competitor.
As well as joining up with the Dronecode open-source initiative and pitching to US Government customers with 3DR, Yuneec released a new consumer drone aimed at the middle tier of the market.
That drone was the Mantis Q, a small, foldable model designed to compete with DJI’s Mavic Air and Spark.
But Yuneec know that to outsell their rivals they have to offer features that are fresh and innovative. And to be fair to them, that’s what they’ve tried to do. For example, the Mantis Q comes with Voice Control. This essentially lets the user issue commands by speaking: take a photo, begin recording, wake up, take-off, return home…that kind of thing. There are also Gesture Control features for hands-free flying.
The Mantis Q’s camera is not to bad at all, either. It can capture still images with a resolution of 4800×2700 (16:9) or 4160×3120 (4:3) pixels and shoot 4K videos at 30fps.
Similar to the Parrot Anafi, there’s also flexibility in the camera’s operation. It can be tilted upwards by 20 degrees or downwards by 90 degrees for extra creative potential. And, just like the other two drones on this list, the Mantis Q has a range of automated, cinematic flight modes, including Journey, Point of Interest and Orbit Me.
The headlines though are arguably found in the Yuneec Mantis Q’s performance. The drone has a huge 33 minute flight time – far outstripping its tiny rivals – a top speed of 44 miles per hour and downward sonar sensors to help with smooth indoor flight.
The Mantis Q is available now for $499.
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