Our first experience with Karma was when we were at the GoPro HERO5’s launch at Squaw Valley in Tahoe. We got to shoot with the HERO5 Black and Session and we even had a small flight with Karma. Later that week, we had another chance to fly Karma and released a first and second impressions video. Because we counted our time with Karma in minutes rather than hours, we needed more evaluation.
Karma is a unique product, because unlike many drones on the market, Karma is the sideshow to the main attraction: the camera. If you haven’t read our take on the HERO5 Black and Session, you should take a look. Karma is best thought of as an accessory to the HERO5. Adding to the large ecosystem of mounts, supports and attachments Karma is just a tool to get a different viewing angle from a GoPro. Included in the package is Karma Grip. Karma Grip is a handheld mount for the detachable gimbal off Karma. Detach the camera and gimbal from Karma, attach it to the grip and you’re ready for steady shots on the ground.
Lots of Trash-Talk
GoPro isn't as lucky as some drone manufactures like DJI that were able to come up under different times and with different expectations. Drones are capable of so much these days. On specs alone, the GoPro Karma doesn't impress, but it doesn't have to. For $1,100 you get a drone, a waterproof action camera, a handheld gimbal, a controller with a built-in touch monitor and a backpack to carry it all. If you were to buy all of the parts of Karma à la carte, a HERO5 Black is $400 alone. The drone is $400 with an extra $300 for the controller and you're still not done. Add in the Karma grip for $300 and GoPro is giving you $1,400 of gear for only $1,100, and that doesn’t even include the backpack or battery. Now, thats just talking value, but how does it perform? It performs like a $700 drone.
Many would choose the DJI Mavic Pro over Karma, but when you think about it, they aren’t the same. Mavic is a pure drone with a camera. Yes, we know, it’s a good drone with a good camera, but that's just it; it stops at shots from the sky. GoPro throws in a handheld gimbal to shoot from and then you’re able to take the camera off and go into the water. Karma and Karma Grip just allow for different shots from your GoPro.
Did it fall out of the sky?
Unfortunately for GoPro, when Karma was first released, it wasn’t ready for prime-time. It doesn't seem that it took much to get it back on the market. We’re glad GoPro was able to resurrect Karma but either way, it was painful to see. But who looks away from a trainwreck? GoPro fixed the problem with a new battery latch, but the new Karma is otherwise the same as the last.
Flying a drone should be done responsibly. Always be aware of the laws in your country and get certified if you are required to. Because previous versions of Karma have a history of falling out of the sky, we approached flight with caution.
Flying a drone should be done responsibly. Always be aware of the laws in your country and get certified if you are required to.
Setting up Karma was easy; fold out the props, screw in the blades, fold out the landing gear, turn on the controller, turn on the drone and you’re ready to fly. The controller might want to download the map for your area. It's a bit annoying if you are eager to fly, but it doesn't take long. We wish that users could choose the state or region that they’re flying in and that it would load all maps for that area before leaving the house, but that isn’t the case.
The controller counts you down and Karma takes off. The controller feels very much like a game controller, but doesn't seem cheap. When hovering at about six feet, we felt our first glimpse of the drift Karma experiences as it slowly lowered itself toward the ground. The next time we experienced drift was when in flight; flying in a certain direction we let go of the sticks. On many drones they will counter the movement and stop in the air. With Karma, it drifts to a stop. We asked Karma’s product manager about the drift, and they justified it by saying they know Karma flyers will be beginers and they might need that gentle stop to get the shot right.
We‘re not sure we buy that explanation, but even so, it doesn’t feel quite right during flight. It made flight seem somewhat out of control. On top of that, in order to not lose your signal with Karma you need to face in its direction. If you put your back to Karma while in flight, you might lose connection. We lost connection with the camera and drone as it flew overhead multiple times. When that happens it’s very unnerving. This will however, force you to keep the drone in your line of sight. That said, it also limits what you can shoot and how far you can get from home. In the case of a lost connection, Karma will fly back and land at its take-off point.
GoPro Karma has four autonomous flight modes that are very useful for shots. The first is Orbit; fly over your point of interest and set a keyframe, then fly out to your desired field-of-view and Karma will fly a circle around the interest point. Orbit is great for capturing buildings and landmarks. The next flight mode is Dronie. Dronie is a selfie from a drone. Frame yourself up, then execute Dronie and it will fly up and away from you, keeping you in frame. It’s a cool shot.
Karma has cable cam that allows you to fly from point to point for a choreographed flight path, but our favorite shot is The Reveal. The Reveal starts with the camera pointing down and reveals the point of interest you set. We were amazed at how fast we could fly Karma for this shot for how dynamic the shot was.
The overall flight time is 20 minutes, give or take a few minutes depending on how aggressive the pilot is. During the evaluation we didn't have one smooth landing over the many flights we had. Because of the drift, the downward motion continued and caused our landings to be pretty harsh.
Drone this and drone that – tell me about the Grip alredy!
The gimbal detaches from Karma with the turn of a coupling. Just like with the HERO5 Black, the connection point for the gimbal is a type C connection that plugs into the grip. The Grip has its own battery; just turn the coupling to reconnect and you’re ready to go. No set up; nothing. It worked pretty well, too. We would have liked to see a joystick on it to be able to have more control over its overall point of interest. Drones are fun, but getting dynamic moving smooth video is a pleasure. With the cost of the whole package together it’s like you get the grip for free.
Recommendation and Final Thoughts
If you’re looking to buy a drone, and don't need or want it to do anything else, GoPro Karma might not be for you. But if you're in the market for an action camera, want smooth gimbal shots and want to get a shot from the air from time to time, you won't find a better value than Karma. All of the parts of Karma, from camera to gimbal to drone, are easy to use and setup. Are there things that need to be improved on Karma? Yes, but for the money, it’s a great buy.
- Karma Grip
- Included GoPro
- Fold out props
- Drift in flight
- Controller connection has issues
- Frequent map downloads are annoying
Karma isn't the best drone, but it is a good value. Considering Karma is more than just a drone, it’s a handheld gimbal and it/s a waterproof action camera that shoots 4k.
- Enthusiast filmmakers
- Home video shooters
- Event Videographers
- Social media enthusiasts
- Travel videographers
Flight Time: Up to 20 minutes
Maximum Speed: 35 mph / 15 m/s
Maximum Flight Altitude: 14,500' / 4500 m (above sea level)
Maximum Wind Resistance: 22 mph / 10 m/s
Frequency: 2.4 GHz
Range: 3280' / 1000 m
Display Size: 5" / 12.7 cm
Resolution: 1280 x 720
Brightness: 900 nits
Battery Life: Up to 4 hours
Weight: 22 oz / 625 g
Number of Axes: 3
Tilt: -90 0° (down/up)
Camera Compatibility: HERO5 Black
Dimensions: 8 x 1.7 x 1.7" / 205 x 43 x 43 mm
Battery Life: 1.75 hours
Weight: 8.62 oz / 244.6 g
Flight Battery: Lithium-ion polymer (LiPo)
Capacity: 5100 mAh / 75.4 Wh
Voltage: 14.8 V
Charge Time: 1 hour (approximate)
Chris Monlux is an avid drone pilot. The days he gets to fly are the best. He is also Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor.