GoPro Karma Drone: Australian Hands On

GoPro’s long-awaited drone has finally reached Australian shores. It’s not made necessarily for drone enthusiasts, but for GoPro enthusiasts — the company’s fanatic fanbase who already document everything they do on the ground and in the sea. But what’s it like to actually fly?

What Is It?

This is really the second birth of the Karma, a drone that was released internationally and then recalled for battery issues — nothing more complicated than the fact that some were becoming unclipped during flight, cutting off power rather unceremoniously. The redesigned Karma, though, has finally hit Australian shores, and we took one out for a short flight above Bondi to capture some video and to give it a test drive.

In the Karma case for the $1349.95 kit you’ll find the drone itself, two spare propellers, a Karma Grip, and a spare skeleton mounting case for your Hero5 camera. You’ll need a Hero5 Black camera to use the Karma, too, or you can buy a Karma drone kit with a camera included for $1749.95 Additional sets of propellers, if you happen to break them during flight, are $34.95 for a set of four (two clockwise and two counterclockwise). Replacement landing gear is $74.95, as are each of the drone’s replacement arms. GoPro being GoPro, you can also get replacement parts and mounts and other accessories, and those accessories will work on the standalone Karma Grip with an adapter.

The Karma’s removable battery is good for about 16 minutes of flight time from when it’s fully charged. Replacement or additional batteries are $129.95, and additional chargers are $124.95 as well. In reality, because you’re not waiting for the Karma to establish a GPS signal for five minutes — like some other drones we’ve flown in the past couple of years — that flight time is accurate, and you get a precise countdown of when you’ll need to stop filming or mucking around and return to home base either to recharge or to swap out for a brand new fully charged cell. There’s also space in the Karma case to carry an extra battery or other goodies on your travels.

What’s It Like?

Controlling the Karma is easier in a lot of ways than controlling GoPro’s own Wi-Fi enabled Hero5 cameras, because it doesn’t rely on your smartphone at all. Once you open up that Karma Controller and power it on, and power the drone on too, you’re hooked up and ready to go. The controller itself, too, is incredibly simple — two thumbsticks for height and rotation (left) and forwards/backwards plus left/right strafing (right), a two-directional toggle to adjust the orientation of the GoPro’s image stabilising gimbal under your left forefinger, and record/mode buttons under your right. Takeoff and landing have their own buttons on the controller’s top.

The controller is also touch sensitive on its 5-inch display, which is seriously bright for outdoor use as well. That touchscreen runs all the Karma’s automated flight features, like its ‘dronie’ selfie mode — which pulls out from one specific point to another — or an orbit, or the cable cam mode — which moves between two predetermined points over and over while still allowing camera adjustment. Each of the modes has a hand-holding demo at the start, but there’s also a training mode that teaches you how to fly a drone with a quick 3D demo and interactive tutorial rather than your thousand-dollar investment.

When it comes to actually flying the Karma, too, it’s perfectly straightfoward — anyone who’s ever flown a drone before will instantly be at home, but even newbies will find it easy to get to grips to. And, if anything goes pear-shaped, you can take your thumbs away from the controller and the Karma will hover in place, even in strong wind. The automated features are best for consistent photography if you’re trying to get a quality video, but the controls are responsive and the Karma can be set to blast along pretty quickly if you’re confident enough.

If the drone and controller lose their sync at any point, the Karma will return to its landing zone and put itself back on terra firma with no extra input required from the pilot. Any landing zone you start off from in the first place should have a generous leeway of free space around it, too, just in case the drone decides to go a bit walkabout on its return trip due to wind or imperfect GPS reception.

And, the $1349.95 Karma being a drone that works with the GoPro Hero5 (and future GoPro cameras), you can expect exactly the same image quality in the air as on the ground — with all the usual camera controls, too. Check out the video at the top for a quick edit I threw together in GoPro’s mobile Quik app using the Karma and a Hero5 Black at 1080p60.

We’ll have a full review of the Karma coming when we get our hands on one!