GoPro Karma Drone for extreme sports & aerial photography

10/24/2016
Orestis Bastounis

GoPro

GoPro adds Karma to its action photography portfolio, a foldable, portable, lightweight drone that can capture stunning imagery from the air

GoPro is the best known extreme sports photography brand in the world, closely associated with rugged digital imaging products that are intended for use outdoors in high-speed or high-risk situations. More often than not, whenever online footage appears of someone’s death-defying stunt, such as climbing giant buildings or jumping from airplanes, a GoPro camera has been used to capture the moment.

Their cameras are built for photography in situations where a typical phone or SLR simply would not be suitable, or usable, designed to be attached to someone’s body, while performing stunts on rough terrain, underwater or in the air.

GoPro

The company’s newly announced Karma Drone continues this tradition, as it’s designed to extend the capability of a (separately purchased) GoPro camera,, capturing shots from seemingly impossible angles, flying overhead and either controlled manually from the ground or following a set of waypoints to sweep around the action. Until recently, capturing that sort of professional footage has been out of reach of individuals, and more the preserve of organizations like TV networks, with a helicopter at their disposal.

GoPro

The Karma Drone is launching alongside two new cameras from GoPro, the Hero5 Black ($399.99, available now) and Hero5 Session ($299.99, coming in 2017) although you can buy the drone and Hero5 Black together in a bundle for $1,099. It can also be used with the older GoPro Hero4.

GoPro

The camera clips on to the front of the Karma drone, streaming live 1080p video from the camera to the 5-inch screen of the Karma Controller console, which has a clamshell design and joysticks, reminiscent of a video game controller.

It can reach speeds of 35MPH (60KM/h) and carries a maximum distance from the controller of 1.86 miles (3KM).

Portability

While just about all drones have some form of imaging system, the Karma is unique for being highly portable, shipping with a rubber-lined lightweight Karma Case that can be carried on your back, which fits the drone itself, the controller, stabilizer, six 250mm propellers (four for the drone, and two spare), the mounting ring, harness, frame and the battery charger. There’s also a shoulder mount on the case to use with the cameras when the drone is not assembled.

GoPro

GoPro Karma drone carrying case

When folded up the Karma Drone has dimensions of 411mm x 303mm x 117mm (WxLxH) and weighs just over 1KG, while the accessories roughly add another 1KG to the backpack, so it should not be a huge amount of extra weight when hiking.

GoPro

The portability and low weight makes the Karma Done one of the most flexible drones on the market, easily carried on a hiking trip to capture breathtaking views of the scenery.

And should things get a bit messy when out in the field, one useful aspect of its construction is easily replaceable parts. The arms, landing gear and other components can be ordered and replaced if you have an accident, and an optional GoPro Care plan doubles the standard warranty and accidental damage control for two years, although if you need an entirely new drone, there’s a standard $199 service fee.

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Controller

The Karma Controller has with two joysticks on the lower section to steer the drone left and right, or adjust its altitude. The touch-sensitive screen in the upper section is rated at an extremely bright 900 nits (a standard measurement of luminance) and it lasts for 4 hours when fully charged. The 5200 mAh Karma Battery used for the drone itself offers 20 minutes of flight time, and takes an hour to charge to maximum capacity.

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To put that screen brightness rating in perspective, the Samsung Galaxy S7 screen is rated at 440 nits, while Apple’s latest iPhone 7, commended for its bright display, goes up to around 600 nits.

As many of us will have experienced when working on a laptop outdoors, LCD screens can be difficult to view in direct sunlight. Given that the Karma Controller’s display is essential to control the drone safely, its high brightness is critical for using the screen and controls in any situation.

It’s touch sensitive too, with an on-screen overlay providing quick access to all the main settings and options, giving full control over the Karma Drone’s waypoint system.

In addition to navigation with the included controller, as with competitors, you can also take control of the Karma Drone via your smartphone.

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Navigation

Dronies, or drone selfies, are what GoPro is calling the results of its automatic shot paths, which are preset waypoints that will achieve certain shots designed for high-quality images in many situations.

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But you also have complete manual control over waypoints as well to design your own shots. The Karma Drone will also return home automatically when it moves beyond control range or its battery is running low.

There’s an automatic takeoff and landing function, simplifying one of the trickier aspects of drone navigation. A useful “flight training” mode providing a simple tutorial to practice navigating the drone.

And no-fly zones (for example, public buildings in some cities) are preset in the mapping software, with the Karma Drone automatically avoiding such areas.

Alternatives

GoPro has just launched the Karma Drone, but soon after announcing it, competitor DJI announced the Mavic, a similarly quad-propeller camera drone, with even more impressive specifications, aimed at capturing some of Karma’s thunder.

DJI Mavic Pro drone

DJI Mavic Pro drone

The main differences are Mavic’s lower weight, further travel range, smaller dimensions and built-in camera, rather than a need to attach a separately purchased imaging product.

But aside from technology and specifications, what about a drone that simply looks great, bound to be the envy of onlookers?

How about being made from gold?

£20,000 ($24,457) will get you a DJI Phantom 4, available from www.dronesdirect.co.uk with the main body of the unit encased in 24-karat gold. The extra weight of the gold may slow the drone down a bit, but it still flies well, with maximum distance of up to 2KM, all the while looking like a true luxury item.

DJI Phantom 4 24-carat gold drone

DJI Phantom 4 24-carat gold drone

And if you like the look of the Karma Drone’s capabilities but want to customize it with a luxury touch, then Goldgenie (https://www.alphaluxe.com/2016/08/goldgenie-opens-store-in-uae/) should be able to help. The service, available in UAE, adds the Midas touch to any item you want, encasing it in 24-karat gold, including any drone you might choose. Once again, we’d expect the added weight might hold the drone back slightly below its stated specification, and reduce the portability, but certainly add some zest to its appearance!