GoPro Karma Review – More than a drone
More than a drone
GoPro is an action camera brand. They created the market for action cameras. However, when the action camera market started using drones, they were late in the game. The GoPro Karma is their solution and it is aiming high. This is a sports and action videographer’s camera which meets high expectations. It is also the first drone which revolves around an ecosystem. Only time will tell if the ecosystem built by GoPro will take the market by storm.
The Karma is a portable drone from sports video camera manufacturer GoPro. This is their first entry into the drone video market and expectations are high.
There are several things which sets the Karma apart from other drones. For one, it does not have a camera of its own. It does come with the GoPro Grip, which is a sort of a gimbal and all-around grip for the camera. It is priced at $729.99, and includes the Karma Grip, and the backpack. You would have to supply your own camera, either a Hero 5 Black or a Hero 5 Session.
With a battery life of only 20 minutes, you would have to bring a spare batteries if you like to fly the drone. On the other hand, the real strength of the Karma, is that it is part of a growing GoPro ecosystem. This is akin to the Nikon and Canon DSLR camera ecosystem. There is the camera, and there are accessories you can buy to extend the camera’s capabilities.
GoPro is going at the drone market from a position of strength. They are strong in the sports camera market, and they are not going to let go of that advantage. Instead, what they have is a drone which supports the camera, and extends the video recording capability of its users.
The Karma Grip is an innovation for drones this size. In fact, it is a detachable unit which can be used as a shoulder mount. It has a gimbal which allows for seamless vibration free video. Again, another part of the GoPro ecosystem.
Another approach which they have eschewed altogether is a smartphone app to control the drone. Instead the Karma has a full-featured remote control. It looks like a small clam-shell notebook with a screen. The only fault of this device is that it is that the screen is not bright enough for outdoor conditions. This may cramp the flying of some users because most of the flying will be outdoors.
• Modular design
• Grip can be used independently of the Karma
• Camera does not come with the Karma
• Compact and portable design
• Built around a GoPro system
• No follow mode
• No obstacle avoidance
• No smartphone app controller
GoPro Karma Specification
GoPro Karma performs favorably against competitors in its price range and weight class. It weighs about 1 kg, is 12″ x 16.2″ x 4.6″ in size (operational) and 14.4″ x 8.8″ x 3.5″ when folded. It fits well into its backpack, which also has some additional spaces for batteries.
GoPro Karma will need the battery spaces: there is the battery pack for the drone, the gimbal, and the camera. The drone has a battery life of 20 minutes flying time, and charging takes about an hour. The Karma Grip has a battery life of about 105 minutes, and the remote control can be used for up to 4 hours before it needs to be recharged.
You can watch the video on the remote control, while it is being recorded on board the Hero 5 camera. There is not smartphone app for the control of the Karma. All the controls are through the use of the remote control. There are several preset maneuvers, however, the Karma lacks obstacle avoidance, as well as a follow mode setting. These are glaring omissions, but not necessarily deal breakers. After saying that, it should be noted that the Karma is easy to fly, even for first time drone users.
The Grip is a definite advantage on this drone. First off, you can use it without the drone. You can attach and detach it use it as a shoulder mount. The 3-axis gimbal provides stability even in windy conditions. When unattached from the Karma, it can be used for handheld videos, providing stability even while moving.
Since the camera is not included in the Karma package, the video quality is dependent on whatever camera you use. With 4k video on the Hero 5 Black and Hero 5 Session, the gimbal’s stabilization features shows very well in steady video recording.
GoPro Karma has a range of 1 km, maximum altitude of 4.5km, and a maximum speed of 56kph. Considering that it can only fly for 20 minutes, those are impressive limits. It should be great to have it flying in a drone race, but it was not meant to be for racing. It was designed to be a stable platform for a camera.
This is a bold pitch by GoPro. Their entry to the drone market has been long awaited, and they delivered very well. The pricing was competitive, and along the same lines as those of the leading drone competitors for this type of quadcopter. They brought along a different premise, one where they maintain their camera making strengths, at the same time, it also serves as an indicator to the direction that they want to go.
With the Karma, GoPro signifies that they want a share of the drone market, but it would be coming from their own followers. They intend to get new followers who would appreciate sports videography. With the Karma drone component, they have a platform which is designed around stable videos using their cameras. This approach also underlines their point that they are a sports camera manufacturer first, and the drone is just a component.
In line with the concept of an ecosystem, this is also a big step. For quality drone videos, what they have presented is a cost-effective solution for those who already have the Hero 5 Black and Hero 5 Session. It is expected that they would continue to expand the Karma line to accommodate succeeding cameras. Along this line, expect third party vendors to come up with attachments to the Grip for use with earlier cameras.
By now, it should be obvious that this drone is meant for owners of GoPro cameras.
GoPro Karma is an exciting engineering job. Bottom line is that it does the job, it was intended to do: get GoPro into the drone video market, and own it. It does own the market yet, but it is the start of bigger things.