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The Karma is GoPro’s first foray into the drone market. Many drones can be purchased with a GoPro or similar derivative camera, so it makes sense for GoPro to design the drone and sell a complete bundle. If you’re not sure why anyone would ever want a drone, checkout these industries drones will revolutionize, or how drones will benefit your life.
Watch our video review below to find out what we think, or read on to enter our giveaway, where you can win a GoPro Karma drone complete with Hero 5 camera!
It’s Raining Drones
GoPro previously launched the Karma in October 2016. A flaw in the battery latch design meant that the drones lost power and quite literally fell out the sky. This embarrassing and dangerous oversight by GoPro meant that a mass product recall was issued for all Karmas. GoPro have redesigned the battery mechanism, and relaunched the drone, but has the damage already been done?
Karma is more than just a flying camera. Not only do you get the drone, but the bundle comes with the Hero 5 action camera, and the karma grip for handheld stabilization.
This review is split into three parts; the drone, the camera, and the stabilizer. While the Karma is primarily a drone, these modular features turn it into a video powerhouse. Let’s get started.
Priced at $1099 with a HERO 5 camera, or $799 without, the Karma is certainly not cheap. If you’ve never flown a drone before, it can be a bit scary to see your investment fly off into the horizon, but advanced GPS, compass, and return to home features ensure you won’t be losing this aircraft anytime soon. If the Karma is too expensive for you, then take a look at our guide to the best drones for all budgets.
The karma has a wingspan of approximately 16 x 12 inches without propellers. It stands only 4.6 inches tall, so while it is quite a large drone, its low profile can be deceptive. Karma’s ace in the hole, however, is its folding arms. Each arm folds in, and the landing gear retracts. This significantly reduces the footprint, and makes it small enough to fit inside the included hard shell backpack.
The battery lasts for 20 minutes, but realistically this is more like 15 minutes of flight time. The battery is solidly designed, and I encountered no significant issues with it. It has a status light, which also serves to indicate the remaining charge. This battery is where the problems originally began.
The battery would pop out the drone at random, which would cause a power loss — not cool if you’re 400ft in the air at the time! GoPro claim to have redesigned the battery latch, and it does feel solid enough. Despite this, you cannot help but wonder if today will be the day your drone free falls all the way down.
The Karma comes with intelligent return to home functionality. At the press of a button the drone will fly home to either you or your take off point. You get some basic control — you can move out the way of trees for example, but as there’s no obstacle avoidance, this is a somewhat risky maneuver. Should your battery get too low, Karma will loudly announce that it is returning home to land.
The final “intelligent” feature of the Karma is auto take off and landing. This is extremely helpful, as these can be the most risky parts of flying.
The Karma is controlled by a large clamshell style controller. This packs in a nice touch screen, along with several analog controls. It’s a bit bulky and old fashioned, but it’s a nice change to so many drones that require your mobile phone.
Once airborne, the Karma is remarkably stable. Even in moderate wind it barely moves, and coupled with the mechanical gimbal, the videos are incredibly smooth. Videos are so smooth in fact, that you’d struggle to tell they were taken on a drone — very impressive.
The gimbal uses brushless motors to counteract any movement from the drone, and it works very well. This gimbal extends out in front of the drone, and this means that the propellers are rarely seen in the footage — something that can be a bit of a problem with other drones.
The Karma is a wonderful drone to fly. It may not be the fastest, cheapest, or even smallest drone around, but it certainly makes up for all that in ease of use and fun factor.
The Karma grip provides a way for you to utilize the gimbal from the drone, only this time on the ground. Simply twist and remove the gimbal and camera, and insert it into the included handle. Once powered up, this stabilizer acts exactly the same as when on the drone. The brushless motors are fast and fairly quiet, and any video you take is wonderfully smooth and dreamy.
Much like a chicken’s head is able to maintain its position in 3D space (check out the Mercedes Benz S Class Advertisement if you don’t know what I’m talking about), the Karma grip is an extraordinary device. Equipped with several controls and buttons to control the camera, there’s only one problem with it: you can’t see what you’re filming.
The various arms, motors and components necessary to make the gimbal work just get in the way. Nearly 50% of the GoPro screen is obscured, so you’re left to point at something and hope you captured it in the frame.
If you’re looking for a standalone gimbal, there are cheaper alternatives, but the fact that this one can be shared across the grip and drone is very unique. I’m not aware of any other products that do this, and it certainly provides a way to reduce the overall cost if you were looking to purchase both of these items independently.
The Hero 5 camera is a great little action camera, but I’m not convinced it’s the best camera for a drone. This one in particular produces excellent results in good weather and lighting, but results are rather bland in shadows or indoors. Unlike previous models, this camera is now waterproof without an external case. This means all the ports and holes have to be sealed with special little doors — some of which have to be removed to install it into the drone. I managed to break one of these doors within about 10 seconds of opening the drone. GoPro were kind enough to send me a replacement, but it’s slightly worrying.
The Hero 5 is capable of filming up to 240 frames per second (FPS), but as the frame rate goes up, the quality goes down. It’s great fun to film in 60FPS and slow things do 40%, but don’t count on this camera for Michael Bay style slow motion style videos. Filming in 240FPS reduces the resolution to 720p, and despite being able to film in 4k, this is limited to 30FPS. Like all GoPro cameras, this can really struggle indoors, especially if there is not a lot of natural light.
If you work with the strengths of the GoPro (tiny size, tough), and film outside in strong light, it’s wonderful. Stray too far outside of its comfort zone and things look start to look bad fast.
Let’s look at some sample shots. The following images are all taken from the videos. This shot looks very good:
No less than 20 seconds later, however, it’s a very different story:
What happened here was a shadow from a cloud. The scene darkened, so the GoPro adjusted things accordingly. You can enable Protune, for finer control over the settings, but it gets to a point where you’re adjusting settings regularly instead of flying!
It’s a similar story for most of the flights. Shots alternate between amazing and lacklustre.
Of course it’s possible to edit these photos and videos, and you can really make them shine this way, but if you don’t know how to do this, you’re out of luck. My advice is to fly on a bright summer’s day — and don’t forget your sunglasses!
Win a GoPro Karma!
Before we deliver a verdict, enter below to win a GoPro Karma for yourself.
The GoPro Karma is a brilliant drone. It’s solid and reliable — so far. The minor inconveniences can be worked around, and fact that you get a camera and stabilizer as well is very cool. It’s not the smallest of drones, as the DJI Mavic Pro absolutely thrashes it in that department, but its slight folding ability certainly help to contribute towards its portability.
If you’re not sure on your flying skills, look at these websites to learn how to pilot a drone.
If you’re spending this much on a drone, you certainly need to consider what features you would like. If you want a tiny drone, or the very best image quality, then look elsewhere. If you want something really easy to fly, with some extra video equipment to boot, then this is the drone for you!