The Karma is one of the most anticipated drones, and it has a few nifty tricks up its sleeve. However, its inauspicious launch last year has somewhat put it behind the curve in 2017 and it doesn’t have a few features you’d probably expect at this price.
GoPro Karma: Price
The Karma costs £1,199.99 from GoPro. Given that you get a £399 Hero 5 Black in the box, plus the Karma handheld stabiliser (£299), that means the drone and controller are effectively costing you £500.
If you already own a Hero 4, you can buy the camera-less version of the drone for £869.99 (which still comes with the Karma Grip) and spend £34.99 on the Hero 4 harness to attach it to the gimbal that comes in the box. It’s just a shame you can’t yet buy a bundle designed for Hero 4 owners.
Extra batteries cost £99.99 each, and a set of official propellers is a faintly ridiculous £24.99.
If the Karma gets damaged in a crash, you can replace individual arms for £49.99, and they’re not difficult to fit yourself.
GoPro Karma: Design
When it was announced back in October 2016, the Karma had enjoyed plenty of hype thanks to GoPro’s teaser videos. It was one of the first folding drones and much more compact than the DJI Phantom 4.
Well, it’ll fit into your backpack with the propellers removed, but it’s still a pretty large and heavy drone when compared to DJI’s Mavic Pro, which was announced a week after the Karma.
Plus, there’s now the diddy DJI Spark which fits in a handbag, and makes the Karma look positively ungainly.
The Karma comes with its own carry case, a sort of backpack. It’s a shame there’s no extra storage or pockets in it for a phone: you’ll probably have to carry two bags with you when you go to fly the Karma.
But, and this is a big but, the Karma can do more than any of those drones. It’s built around a Hero camera, which means you can use it for aerial footage, strap it to your bike helmet and record some fast downhill action or attach it to the included Karma Grip (which I’ve reviewed separately) and shoot some super-stable film on foot.
Although DJI has a few handheld stabilisers in its Osmo range (including the brilliant Osmo Mobile), it doesn’t yet have a consumer drone with a removable camera. That means if you buy a DJI Phantom, Mavic or Spark, you can only use it for aerial photos and video.
The Karma has a few drawbacks of its own, though. It’s GoPro’s first drone, so you wouldn’t expect it to be perfect. But it had a rocky start, being recalled after just a few weeks due to a problem with the design of the battery clip.
That was redesigned and the Karma was relaunched in April 2017. But the price had increased by £150 and the drone market had moved on. The fact it lacks obstacle avoidance will put off some buyers, and while one of GoPro’s teaser videos showed it being launched by a skier, it can’t follow you or fly automatically without the controller.
There’s no ultrasonic system for stable hovering near the ground, and I am certain that another teaser video for the Karma in a library wasn’t shot with an actual flying Karma. Were you to try and recreate that video, you’d need immense flying skill and you’d have to replace the soundtrack of buzzing propellers with a quiet recording of background noise.
One nice feature, though, is that the remote control has a compact, clamshell design with a built-in 5in screen. That means you don’t need to use your own phone or tablet with an app.
It’s a touch screen, but as with your phone, it’s extremely reflective and could do with a sun shield.
You can connect the remote to Wi-Fi to download local maps (you could tether it to your phone to do this if you can’t cache maps before you head out) and the remote can also act as a Wi-Fi hotspot through which other people can connect their phones and view the video from your flight using the ‘Passenger app’.
When you select the map view, you get a satellite-road hybrid view and the main camera feed reduces to a thumbnail. Tap on that and it makes the thumbnail full screen, but you lose the map entirely.
The controller can also work as a flight trainer and simulator, so you can learn the buttons and how the Karma will respond to stick inputs before you take to the skies for real.
Settings are fairly sparse, but you can set distance and altitude limits, as well as adjusting the volume and screen brightness. A nifty feature is a button to make the Hero 5 beep for a minute, which could help you to locate the Karma if you crash it.
On the left shoulder is a wheel for adjusting the gimbal tilt and on the right buttons for starting and stopping video (or taking a photo), toggling between photo and video modes and marking video highlights.
GoPro Karma: Performance
Controlling the Karma is exactly like any other drone, and as with DJI drones, the sticks are both sprung and return to the centre. This means that taking your hands off the controls will make the Karma hover.
There are also buttons for auto take-off and landing.
Another setting on the remote is to enable Sport mode, which removes the speed limiter and lets the Karma fly at up to 35mph, which should be more than enough. The fact that the Hero 5 sits right at the front of the drone means that you’re less likely to see the blades spinning even when you’re flying forwards at speed.
You get four ‘automatic’ flying modes: Dronie, Orbit, Cable Cam and Reveal – very similar to what the 3DR Solo offered when it launched in 2015.
They’re useful, but they do leave you wanting more. And if you’ve already had a DJI drone with ActiveTrack, TapFly and other modes, you’ll feel short-changed.
At least with the Auto Shot modes, you can concentrate on the camera and adjust the angle and direction while the Karma flies along its route. However, they’re not really automatic: you have to fly to the start point, and end point where appropriate. before you can enable autopilot.
Image quality is of course a given. I’ve reviewed the Hero 5 separately, so you can read more detail about video quality if you want to.
Suffice to say that this is GoPro’s best action cam yet and with the three-axis gimbal, you can expect rock-solid, smooth footage at 4K.