GoPro Karma Drone with Hero 5 Black 4K UHD Camera Review
GoPro has finally entered the UAV drone market and quite honestly the move into this new level from the company has long been expected by both consumers and tech watchers. After all, GoPro’s earlier and more recent lines of 4K action cameras are some of the most popular photo/video devices of their kind in all the major drones being sold today so it’s only natural that the company finally gets around to actually also building its own UAVs as well.
With that, GoPro finally unveiled their first ever Karma 4K-capable compact UAV earlier in 2016 after a solid two years of hinting and online speculation about an eventual release of just such a product. Now that the new UAV is actually here and being sold on the consumer market, the question remains: just how good is the Karma drone? Does it match up to the hype GoPro built around it and more importantly, does it live up to the quality we’ve already seen with GoPro’s admittedly great lines of Hero cameras?
We note here that the version we're reviewing here, with GoPro Hero 5 camera included as part of the drone package, retails right now on Amazon.com for $1,099.00. Since GoPro's new Hero 6 4K UHD camera is now available (as of September, 2017), you might prefer going for a more basic Karma Drone itself and buying a Hero 6 4K UHD action camera instead of the Hero 5. It retails for $499.99 (the Hero 6) but offers considerably better overall recording performance with the particularly notable feature of 4K video at 60FPS, 2.7K video at 120FPS and 1080p recording at a whopping 240FPS.
First and foremost, the Karma comes with a more streamlined, low-slung body which is rather elongated or oblong in its basic form and while it’s debatable if this design is more streamlined than that of the boxier DJI Phantom 4 or Phantom 3, it does create a more easily storable drone in our view. This applies especially to folding back the Karma’s rotor arms so that the whole drone and its accessories can fit into the cool and highly portable internally padded hard-shell box which comes with the UAV. Inside this box also fit extra rotors for this drone and GoPro’s rather cool looking and very nicely built clamshell controller, which comes with its own built-in navigation display with touch functionality.
We particularly liked the clamshell controller for these two reasons and definitely consider it to be one of the best or maybe even THE best UAV drone controller we’ve yet run across on the market. Its foldable design allows the drone controller to be more easily stored and to more easily stay clean while being stored or moved. Furthermore, Its simple layout, recessed joystick controls and two simple main buttons for landing, takeoff and stopping or starting make the process of flying the Karma as a complete novice so easy that it’s almost like playing video games instead of moving a drone through the sky. We also noticed that the Karma controller comes with no protruding connection signal antenna yet despite this the little quadracopter seems to have no trouble staying in touch with the controllers under any normal flight conditions as long as it’s flying within range and more or less within line of sight with the controller.
Another excellent aspect of the clamshell controller is its built-in 720p live video streaming and touch navigation display. Most of DJI’s drones and many other rival drones come with controllers without live video displays of any kind and instead depend on users connecting their smartphones via USB for touch control and video feed via controller but the 900 nit 5 inch screen of the Karma nicely gets rid of this need and allows you to keep your phone or tablet safely in your pocket.
Finally as far as physical features of the Karma go, we love the handheld camera stick which comes included with this UAV. GoPro has made the same 3-axis gimbal which allows for such silky smooth in-flight video removable and attachable to this external “Karma Grip” handheld stabilizer that comes as part of even the basic Karma drone package. Considering that rival DJI actually sells their own version of the same device as an accessory for action cameras, GoPro’s giveaway of the Karma Grip with its drone is an arguably generous bonus to buyers. The Karma Grip is pretty simple at that. The drone camera can be locked into place in the gimbal, the gimbal locks into place on the Karma Grip and the grip allows for locking into place of the gimbal either in a fixed direction without shaking or in an unlocked position which allows for smooth guided rotation of the camera/gimbal as you walk around or run.
To finish off on the things we most like about the Karma, we now come down to its in-flight and shooting features, both of which we’ll go into further detail on below. The Karma is basically a superb little UAV drone. Its 20 minute flight time isn’t quite as long as we’d like but it’s more than enough for most uses and the battery can in any case be recharged within an hour, or alternatively you can simply bring along extra battery cells, which will fit into the Karma case along with the drone. Flying the Karma is a piece of cake and the little drone feels wonderfully sleek and agile in the sky, with no difficulty controlling it even in mild to moderate windy conditions. The controller is, as we’d said, easy to get used to and the footage captured by the Karma looks as great as you’d expect 4K video to look from one of GoPro’s Hero 5 or 6 action cameras, both of which are available for the Karma and completely compatible with this drone.
4.7 - 4 Reviews
GoPro has done a pretty good job of designing and developing the Karma Drone and given the time it took the company to finally release this UAV to market, we really shouldn’t expect much less in terms of overall quality. As such, the Karma is pretty robust overall and we’d definitely say that it doesn’t come with too many negative aspects to its build. However, a couple of minor annoying things are worth commenting on.
First of all while the Karma’s controls via joystick are definitely easy to use even for complete novices and designed for a minimal risk of accidental crashing, we consider them to be a bit slow on the responsiveness. Flicking the joysticks so that the drone moves from hover mode to a skyward flight or so that it stops mid-flight or maneuvers in one direction or another causes a slight but notable slowness of response. This is actually a good thing in some ways since it keeps the drone from shooting off too quickly if guided badly by accident but on the other hand more experienced navigators who want extremely quick maneuverability will almost certainly find it annoying.
Moving along, the Karma is capable of flying to a height of over 14,400 feet but GoPro has deactivated this distance by default and capped it at a measly 400 feet due to legal and safety issues. Yes, it’s something their legal team probably considers to be vital given government regulations on UAV drones but if you’re buying a cool drone that’s been built to fly at up to 14,500 feet, than that’s the distance you’d like to see it reach right out of the box and without hassle if needed. On the other hand, the drone can achieve a lateral range of 9,800 feet as long as it stays within its proscribed altitude of 400 feet so this should be good enough for many casual users.
Moving along, while the Karma is quite fast with its maximum speed of 35 miles per hour, the 20 minute flight time of the drone doesn’t quite feel long enough and things get even worse if the drone is pushed to move at higher speeds more consistently, which means an even lower flight time of just 15 minutes that we think is simply too low. Thus if you want something a bit more robust for air time, the Karma is beaten by rival drones like the Phantom 4 from DJI or the same competitor brand’s new compact MAVIC Pro drone, which is actually similar to the Karma in basic shape and size.
Finally, GoPro has decided to not include an obstacle avoidance feature or an auto-follow autonomous flight mode in the Karma. The absence of both of these might be a deal breaker for some users and quite honestly, the obstacle avoidance in particular can be damn useful in certain key moments when flying through more complex and tighter spaces. There was no reason to avoid adding it in on GoPro’s part, especially considering the not so highly competitive price of the Karma. The lack of auto-follow is not as big of a deal but it’s something we definitely like to see in UAVs when it comes to aerial selfies.
We should also note that while the most basic and affordable Karma drone package is priced decently at $799, it doesn’t include any GoPro Hero camera options which are available and still rather pricey. So don’t think you’ll get your hands on a new Karma for less than $1000 with camera included.
Overall, we love the GoPro Karma and consider it to be one great piece of relatively compact UAV technology from a company known for the quality of its action cameras in drone video recording. The Karma has a couple of minor flaws which in our view make it slightly inferior to some rival drones from Yuneec or DJI but it’s still a superb choice for newbie users who want a wonderfully easy-to-use UAV.
4.7 - 4 Reviews
• Max Ascent/Descent speed: 16.4 feet per second/ 9.8 feet per second
• Vertical/ Horizontal Hover accuracy: + or – 3.9 feet/ + or – 3.3 feet
• Max altitude: 14,500 feet (but capped by default at 400 feet)
• Flight time: 20 minutes but variable depending on conditions
• Flight control: clamshell controller with built-in 5 inch LCD touchscreen, can also be controlled via GoPro Passenger App
for Android 4.1 and iOS 9 OS.
• Transmitter Frequency: 2.400 GHz
• Connectivity: 1 x USB type A female slot for mobile device interface, 1 x MicroUSB female for firmware updates, 1 x
• Camera: 3-axis Gimbal mounted 12 megapixel video/photo GoPro Hero 5 Black or Hero 5 Session camera
• Camera Resolution: up to 4K ultra HD at 3840 x 2160 for video and up to 12 megapixels for photos
• Gimbal: 3-axis (pitch, roll, yaw) also can be detached for included Karma Grip shooting stick
• Weight: 2.2 lbs (with battery and propellers)
• Dimensions: 23.2 inches diagonal from prop tip to prop tip
4.7 - 4 Reviews
The Karma looks awesome. Most of the smaller consumer market drones being sold today by all major brands look pretty decent or downright cool but even among its rivals from Yuneec, DJI, Autel and others,, the Karma is one slick looking little aerial machine. If anything, we’d say it’s one of the nicer looking quadracopters on sale today and we certainly prefer its appearance to the boxier, cubic look which has been popularized by DJI with its Phantom drones and later by other brands which imitated the DJI Phantom UAV build.
Body shape aside, the Karma also comes with a pretty cool black and white color blend along its body and is reasonably light-weight at just over 2 lbs. Also, its propeller arms can be folded back along one side of the drone body or they can simply be removed for storage or replacement. As for the landing gear, it too is removable in case of damage (unlikely) and for regular storage, the landing components fold up into the underside of the drone body.
As we said earlier, the Karma drone comes with an elongated and more flattened body design than the boxy DJI Phantom drones. This also means that it comes with a front facing camera that’s mounted to the “nose” of the drone and which offers a range motion of 90 degrees up and down. For side to side viewing angle expansion, the whole drone has to be rotated in either direction in the air. This camera stabilizer can also be removed for attachment to the include Karma Grip stick and it most easily takes two of GoPro’s 4K action cameras, the Hero 5 Black or the Hero 5 Session. Since we didn’t test it with the GoPro Hero 4 shooters, we can’t say if the Karma works with them as easily, though it is compatible with the Hero 4 shooters as well according to GoPro.
Finally, there are colored light below each of the propeller arms. The front arms come with green lights and the rear arms with red lights for easy identification of which end of the drone is which during both night and day-time flight.
Setting up the Karma drone right out of the box is pretty straightforward. The Karma’s in-flight battery needs to be fully charged (about an hour) and so do the controller batteries and the Karma Grip battery if you’re going to be using the joystick. Additionally, if you bought the drone package which comes with one of GoPro’s Hero cameras, the camera may need charging as well before flight. Once all of these are ready, the gimbal can be attached to the drone’s nose and the propeller rotors can be attached to the drone arms. With that done, the controller should be activated and the drone along with it through the controller’s start/stop button and you’re good to go. The Karma’s live 720p video feed can also be viewed through the downloadable GoPro Passenger app for Android and iOS but this only need apply if you want another user to view the live feed as you fly the drone and watch its life stream from the controller display itself.
The Karma drones doesn’t come with a mountable action camera of any kind in its most basic form. However, there are two additional packages which do come with either the GoPro Hero 5 Black or Hero 5 Session cameras (depending on which, check our pricing section for more details) and the Karma is also compatible with GoPro’s Hero 4 action cameras. Thus, the specific camera specs of this UAV will depend on the camera you install into it. You can check these specs out here in our reviews of the Hero Black 4K action camera and our overview of the two Hero 5 action cameras.
That said, some of the core capabilities the Karma does deliver with all of its usable cameras except for 4K video with the Hero 4 Silver and most basic Hero 5 Session camera are the following:
• UHD 4K (3840 x 2160): 24p, 25p, 30p, 60fps
• 2.7K (4:3) 30fps, 25fps, 120fps
• 1080p (1920 x 1080): 24p, 25p, 30p, 48p, 50p, 60p and 120p, 240fps
• 720p (1280 x 720): 24p, 25p, 30p, 48p, 50p, 60p, 120p and 240p
• 8 to 12 megapixel still photo shooting capacity depending on specific camera
Essentially however, whichever one of the compatible 4K, GoPro cameras you use with the Karma drone, the quality of video recording will be pretty close to excellent or even excellent across the board, especially when shooting with 4K UHD resolution and in 1080p at high frame rates. The Hero 5 Black camera in particular delivers some truly superb 4K, 2.7K and Full HD video and superb if slightly fish-eyed still photos at 12 megapixels. The Karma drone’s 3-axis gimbal also does a great job of accommodating all of the compatible 4K cameras in a way that provides essentially perfect video and photo stability for maximum sharpness, even in windy conditions or while the drone is moving rapidly with more complex maneuvers. The drone’s internal rotor-induced vibration will be totally undetectable in video caught with any of the GoPro cameras compatible with the Karma.
One other very useful little feature offered by the Hero 5 Black camera in particular is the elimination of the fish-eye effect so common to action cameras to-date. By setting the camera to its linear-view setting in the shooting mode menu on the Karma controller itself, users can shoot some very smooth wide angle but flat aerial shots which smooth out virtually all fish-eye. Furthermore, with the same Hero 5 Black, the 12 megapixel photo sensor that it comes with captures crisp colorful photos with superb exposure handling. This camera’s night time shooting quality is also markedly superior to that of the Hero 4K Black and thus the Karma can deliver some very decent night photos if used with the Hero 5 Black.
Then of course there is also the new 2017 GoPro Hero 6 Black camera which sells for nearly $500 but delivers one much better punch than the Hero 5 Black in terms of overall video recording performance. The Hero 6 can do 4K video at 60FPS, twice the frame rates of the Hero 5 and for 2.7K recording the Hero 6 knocks the ball out of the park compared to its predecessor, with a 120FPS capacity. It also manages 1080p video at a very robust 240FPS while generally delivering improved color, contrast and video quality performance with less fisheye effect than ever before.
What can we say, the GoPro Karma drone flies wonderfully. It’s extremely easy to activate, very easy to handle and aside from the already mentioned slowness in control response that shows itself at times with joystick handling, the Karma drone is really easy to get used to and fly smoothly. It does lack an obstacle avoidance feature, so you have to handle it carefully in areas with plenty of things to smash into and there is no follow-me mode in the Karma, for those of you who want to use the drone as a flying autonomous selfie camera while you’re on the move but GoPro has built a number of cool autonomous flight options into the Karma which include a feature called “auto shot paths”, by which you can set a preset route you’d like the drone to follow while taking smooth professional video of its route. Included in this is the “dronie” path, by which the drone starts recording you from close range and zooms out (facing in the same direction) as it flies up and away. Additionally, there is a “cable cam” feature for having the drone record manually as it flies between two points in space and of course the Karma also comes with an “Orbit” feature which will let the drone circle around an object or recording point while aiming its camera inward. GoPro also gave the Karma an autonomous “Reveal” option for forward flight in which the camera starts off recording downward than slowly raises its lens to cover the horizon. Some of these features could be quite useful for cinematic and documentary video recording.
The controller itself comes with a simple launch button, a return home button, the two joysticks for moving the drone around or rotating it and a couple of dials and buttons along its shoulders for additional recording controls and gimbal rotation. In other words, it’s really easy to get the hang of and particularly so with its built-in display for live video feed of what you’re recording as you fly. GoPro is also releasing an accessory Passenger App for smartphones which allows your friends to control the GoPro gimbal while you fly the drone and there will soon be a release of the GoPro Goggles headset for flying the drone while you watch a live feed with nearly VR-like intimacy.
On the other hand, we didn’t like the 15 to 20 minute flight time due to its shortness and generally felt that both the MAVIC Pro and Phantom 4 drones from DJI were just a bit more capable than the Karma. The MAVIC in particular feels much more agile in the sky and offers a considerably longer 27 minute flight time.
The GoPro Karma Drone sells in different packages. However, the version we're reviewing here, with GoPro Hero 65 camera included as part of the drone package, retails right now on Amazon.com for $1,099.00. Since GoPro's new Hero 6 4K UHD camera is now available (as of September, 2017), you might prefer going for a more basic Karma Drone itself and buying a Hero 6 4K UHD action camera instead of the Hero 5. It retails for $499.99 (the Hero 6) but offers considerably better overall recording performance with the particularly notable feature of 4K video at 60FPS, 2.7K video at 120FPS and 1080p recording at a whopping 240FPS.
4.7 - 4 Reviews
• Smooth, sharp photo and video quality
• Comes with Karma Grip stick included
• Extremely easy to fly
• Great downloadable camera control app
• Excellent, tough controller design
• Some very good autonomous flight features
• Comes with hard case backpack
• Needs more advanced in-flight features
• No obstacle avoidance
• We’d like a longer flight time
• No follow-me mode