GoPro Karma foldable action camera drone has high expectations to meet

This week GoPro introduced Karma, a quad rotor foldable aerial drone compatible with the company’s latest action cameras. Announced over a year ago, this drone has to meet pretty high expectations in terms of quality, versatility and ease of use. It also has some pretty tough competition from well established players in the entry level drone segment, however interesting features and seamless integration with the class leading Hero5 cameras could set it apart from the rest.

GoPro Karma drone

Karma in action | Image credit: GoPro

In good old GoPro fashion the drone kit comes bundled with everything needed for you to start flying. It will be available for ordering as of October 23rd at a price US $800 or 870 EUR. Hero5 cameras will be made available at the start of October.

The kit comes with a detachable gimbal with 3-axis stabilization, a grip handle for the gimbal, a controller with integrated 5 inch 720p display and even a nicely designed backpack style carrying case, some spare rotors, charger and a mounting ring. Well, almost everything.

GoPro Karma drone with Hero5 camera

GoPro Karma drone with Hero5 camera | Image credit: GoPro

There is no bundled camera in the base kit, so you will need to fork out an additional $300 for a kit including the newly launched Hero 5 Black camera, $100 less than if bought separately. There will also be a kit including the Hero 5 Session, which will be available in 2017 at about $1000. The Karma is also compatible with Hero4 Black and Silver cameras, so if you’ve got one lying around it will be just fine.

What’s in the box

As mentioned earlier, the Karma UAV system is comprised of the aerial drone, the detachable smart gimbal, a controller and a mobile companion app which will be available next near. Let’s take a quick look at each component to see what it offers.

GoPro Karma drone kit

Karma basic bundle | Image credit: GoPro

The Karma drone itself has a very smart design. The quadcopter has foldable arms and landing gear, making it very easy to transport. The landing gear is high enough to keep the mounted camera and gimbal from touching the ground. On its own it weighs 1 kg or 35.5 oz, by mounting the gimbal and Hero5 camera the entire aircraft will weight approximately 1.7 kg or about 60 oz, which seems in line with most competitors.

The 75.4Wh battery seems pretty hefty, however it ensures a flight time of up to 20 minutes, a little bit less than competitors. There are no obstacle avoidance features, and the drone relies on GPS positioning for semi- and autonomous flight modes such as:

  • Orbit – circle around the subject;
  • Dronie – the drone lifts from the ground and flies away from you with high speed for a dramatic shot;
  • Cable cam – the drone flies between two predefined points;
  • Auto landing – the drone relies on GPS, and possibly signal strength, to return to the launch site.

Another highlight of the kit is the Karma Stabilizer, a 3-axis gimbal that plugs into the slot located right in front of the drone and can hold and communicate with Hero5, Hero5 Session, and Hero4 action cameras, which connect via microUSB. Thanks to this placement there is no interference from the rotors when capturing ultra wide angle footage.

This detachable gimbal can be used standalone, and can be mounted in various places just as you would with a GoPro camera. With the grip handle attached functionality is very similar to the Osmo Mobile. The grip also has several buttons for quickly setting up the gimbal and the camera itself.

The Karma controller comes with 2 full range joysticks and buttons for independently controlling the drone, the gimbal, starting or stopping recording, and so on. It integrates a very bright 5 inch 720p display. With 900 nit rating it is 2-3 times as bright as a typical LCD monitor. The battery offers an operation time of about 4 hours. Bidirectional communication with the Karma takes place over 2.4GHz radio frequency.

The controller can be nicely complemented with the GoPro Passenger app, which will be available for iOS and Android devices. The app enables full control over the aircraft and gimbal, and offers some basic mission planning and geo-fencing features. There is also a tandem control mode, while one operator uses the dedicated controller to fly the drone, another one can use a mobile device running the app to control the gimbal and view real time footage.

Let’s take a look at the superb presentation video below. In case you’re wondering, the song is Indian Summer by Jai Wolf.

Quick specs

  • Dimensions: 30.3×41.1×11.7cm (12×16.2×4.6 inch) opened without propellers;
  • Propeller length: 25.4cm (10 inch);
  • Weight: 1006g (35.5 oz) or approx. 1.7kg (60oz) ready to fly;
  • Gimbal and cameras: 3-axis Karma stabilizer camera holder compatible with Hero5 Black, Hero5 Session and Hero4 Black/Silver;
  • Top speed: 54km/h (15m/s) or 35 mph;
  • Flight time and battery: 20 minutes, 75.4Wh (4S 14.8V 5100mAh LiPo);
  • Flight altitude: 4500m (14500 feet);
  • Wind resistance: 35.4km/h (10m/s) or 22 mph;
  • Autonomous flight: GPS based positioning;
  • Connectivity: 2.4GHz, up to 3km (9840 feet) range;
  • Remote control: 2.4GHz Karma controller and GoPro Passenger mobile app compatible with iOS and Android;
  • Charging times: Drone – 1 hour, controller – 2.5 hours, grip handle – 2 hours;
  • Other: Karma grip handle with 1.7 hours operation time, transport case, 2 spare propellers, mounting ring.

Conclusion

I’ve been a fan of GoPro cameras for years, I like to refer to them as the iPhones of the action camera world thanks to their high build quality and the results yielded. These allowed me to capture great footage and never once got broken or detached from their mounting points. This is why I believe that the Karma drone has a lot to live up to and, while very few expect a revolution in an already crowded market, at first glance it seems that there is potential for a quality product with a coherent feature set. On the product page you can find out more info and ordering details.

Edited 30.09.2016: Added autonomous flight features and GPS positioning, about which I reported incorrectly as not being present. Also flight range spec changed from 1 to 3km on the Karma page so modified accordingly.