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Hands-on Gear Review
GoPro Karma Quadcopter Review
Price: $1,100 List | $598.00 at Amazon
Pros: Great video quality, gimbal can be used in ground based filming as well
Cons: Controller joysticks could be better
Bottom line: A great and fully-featured videography kit that will serve filmmakers well
Weight: 2.2 lbs
Max Speed: 34 mph
The GoPro Karma Quadcopter provides more than just a camera drone, it offers a versatile filmmaking toolbox. The gimbal can be removed from the drone to provide stable footage whether filming in-hand or using one of the included mounts to attach it to just about anything you can think of. This, combined with the fact the drone itself produces great footage, make the Karma an attractive option from those looking multi-function filmmaking system at a reasonable price. It's even more attractive if you already have a compatible GoPro camera, as in that case you can add all the functionality of the Karma for just $800.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
This chart displays the Karma's overall performance in our testing (shown in blue) compared to how the other models we tested fared.
Below we expound upon how the Karma performed in each of our individual tests.
The GoPro Karma Quadcopter earned a score of 8 out of 10 in our video quality testing. This put it right in the middle of the gimbal models, which scored from 6 to 10, and leaps and bounds in front of the non-gimbal models, which scored as low as 3.
The Karma is compatible with most of GoPro's camera offerings, including the HErO5 Black, HErO5 Session, HErO4 Black, and HErO4 Silver. We used the HErO4 Black in our testing. The Karma excelled in all aspects capturing footage. The camera provides crisp, 4K resolution and great color saturation, even when pointing towards the sun. The gimbal did a great job of stabilization. We rarely had any issues with camera shake or the horizon not being level. The copter's design also makes propellor intrusion near impossible, eliminating that concern. The only aspect of the Karma's footage we didn't like was the slight fisheye effect of the GoPro camera. This look just screams GoPro, and works great for many common GoPro camera applications. However, when you take the camera into the air, this can result in a slight bend in the horizon that just looks unnatural. This lens distortion can be corrected for, but it is done digitally, so it does result in a slight loss of resolution. This correction is much easier to make with HErO5 cameras, as they can be set to make the correction automatically within the camera. For HErO4 cameras you must make the correction on your computer in post processing. With 4K footage you do have a decent amount of resolution to burn before most laypeople would notice any actual decrease in quality, but if you're really after the best footage possible you probably won't want to make any resolution sacrifices.
Ease of Use
The Karma provides a seamless user experience with a few drawbacks, and scored a 7 out of 10 in our ease of use testing, putting it well ahead of the bottom score of 3.
It was definitely the easiest model to set up out of the box. The controller with integrated screen eliminates the need to download an app and connect a smartphone or tablet. That same screen also walks you through the initial calibration, and provides a flight simulator to practice using the controls before even getting off the ground. The Karma also folds up and fits within a sleek, included backpack. This makes it the most portable of the gimbal models we tested. The only place the Karma lost points in our ease of use testing was in its controller design. So much about the design is great. We really like the built-in screen, and the fact that folding that screen down turns it into a nice, compact, durable package. However, we just didn't like the joysticks. They were shorter than the joysticks on other controllers and were recessed quite a bit. This means you can only fly using your thumbs, not pinching with your thumb and pointer finger like some people prefer. They also feel a bit softer than other joysticks, so its a bit harder to hold them still. We don't feel like this is a dealbreaker, but it is a clear drawback when compared to other controllers. Also, while we liked the simplicity provided by the integrated screen, it was a bit hard to view in bright sunlight.
First flight with the Karma is stress free. The onscreen menu is superb, allowing you to easily change camera settings, even at first glance. A takeoff button on the touchscreen autonomously brings the drone off the ground and to a hover. From here the videogame-like controllers make flying easy, and if you used the flight simulator during setup it probably already feels natural. Due to the small joysticks, you may have some trouble holding a perfectly steady rate of climb or forward speed on your first flight, but the high performance gimbal ensures this footage will still be smooth. After flying the drone home you can select the auto landing function on the touchscreen, and it performs a gentle, stable touchdown.
The Karma earned a score of 8 out of 10 in our flight performance testing. This was at the top end of the gimbal models, which scored from 6 to 9. The non-gimbal models were inferior to the gimbal models, both scoring a 5.
It was rock solid in takeoff and landing, and similarly stable when executing its autonomous orbit point of interest and cable cam modes. The copter didn't drift or bob at all when hovering, and it felt reasonably responsive. The Karma does not have a follow me function, which does not feel like a loss as we found such functions on other models to be borderline unusable. The Karma's battery provides a maximum flight time of 20 minutes. This is slightly less than some comparable models, but it's unlikely you're ever going to capture a shot that requires you to be in the air a full 20 minutes. One small issue we noticed was, when sitting on the ground, the Karma's rotors sit much lower than those of other models. This can be an issue when taking off and landing in grassy areas, so user should keep that in mind. Overall, the Karma cannot match the speed and maneuverability of the sport modes in some of the higher end Phantoms, but it excels in the slow and smooth flying that is required of 99 percent of the shots you will want to capture with a drone.
The Karma's video downlink was good, but it was one of our least favorites among the gimbal models. It scored a 7 out of 10 in a metric where gimbal models scored between 7 and 10, and both non-gimbal models scored 4.
The link itself was great with no interruptions or drops in quality, even during out 3000 foot flight test. It lost points because of the quality of the video displayed on the screen. It wasn't terrible quality, but it felt like it had a bit of a soft focus, which was just less sharp and vivid than the video on other controllers. This wouldn't affect your ability to frame and get the right shots, but it certainly puts a bit of a damper on the whole experience.
GoPro Scored a 8 in our customer service metric, which saw scores ranging from 3 to 9.
We found GoPro's customer service to be superb. We were never left waiting on the line and all the representatives we spoke to were knowledgeable and helpful. The only reason we didn't give GoPro a top score is that they promised a free camera to all customers who purchased a recalled Karma drone, but we still haven't received one.
The Karma lists for $1100 with an included HErO5 Black camera, or $800 if you already have a compatible camera. Considering its high performance and the slew of gimbal and mounting accessories included, this feel like a steal. If you're looking for a full action video capturing system, you probably won't be able to find a better value.
The Karma is a great drone that captures high quality footage and provides multiple other on the ground filming options. If you want something that can keep up with your creativity both on the ground and in the air, you won't find a better value.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
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