The new Karma drone from GoPro.
The new Karma drone from GoPro.

First Impressions: The GoPro Karma Drone and Hero5 Cameras

All the products released Monday move the action-camera market forward. Could GoPro have gone even further? Sure. But the new Hero5 Black is the best POV camera to date, and the drone one of the most capable we've ever flown.

The new Karma drone from GoPro.

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It’s been more than a year since GoPro released the Hero4 Session—a one-inch cube designed to stick to basically anything and thus expand the possibilities of POV shots. From a sales perspective, that camera tanked, taking the company's stock prices with it. As a result, investors and content makers have been eagerly awaiting the launch of the Karma drone and two new Hero5 cameras.

I got to play with all three models in Lake Tahoe this week. Now, in general, I think it's time for the increasingly saturated POV market to take a big step forward when it comes to creatively capturing high-quality footage. While I would have liked to see GoPro attempt a bold rethink of the action cam (think: a model with detachable lenses that would expand the focal range), I can say that the Hero5 Black is the best POV camera on the market. And the Karma sets a new benchmark for ease of use and capability for a consumer-level drone. I’ll be testing both cameras and the drone extensively over the next few months, so check back for more in-depth reviews soon. In the interim, here are my first impressions. 

First, the Karma, which has been in development for several years. The drone enters a market dominated by the Chinese tech company DJI, but I think it will win over a number of those customers. 

The GoPro Karma and included backpack.
The GoPro Karma and included backpack. (GoPro)

For starters, it comes with a detachable three-axis gimbal—a device used to stabilize the camera for smooth footage. The key word here is detachable: you can fly the gimbal on the drone or remove it and use it on a handheld grip to create buttery smooth run-and-gun footage from the ground. The gimbal works with other mounts, too, so you can wear it on your chest or pack strap while skiing or mountain biking, for example. It’s the first time we’ve seen this kind of portability in a gimbal, and it's by far the Karma's most significant feature.

GoPro's three-axis gimbal.
GoPro's three-axis gimbal. (GoPro)

Other benefits: the drone is compatible with GoPro’s latest and much improved Hero5 cameras (more on them in a bit). It's small, folding into an included daypack, and weighs just four pounds. The gameset-like controller comes with its own screen, so you don’t need to rely on your phone (as you do with DJI products). In the air, the Karma is fast, intuitive, and fun. It goes on sale October 23 for $799, or $1099 with a Hero5 Black. 

Now onto that camera. The Hero5 Black ($399, available October 2) is the latest update to the GoPro family. The new camera doesn’t get a video or photo-quality upgrade—it still shoots 4K video at 30 frames per second and takes 12 megapixel stills—but it does have some improvements that make shooting easier. The most important of these: the Hero5 is now completely waterproof—without a housing—and sports a two-inch touchscreen display. This is the first time a Black edition GoPro gets a screen, which should make capturing and managing your footage easier. The Hero5 Black also has a voice-control feature, so you don't have to fumble around for the record button ever again. Say commands like, “GoPro, record video”, or “GoPro, take picture,” then just focus on what's in front of you.

The Hero5 Black.
The Hero5 Black. (GoPro)

The upgraded three-microphone system improves overall audio quality and can detect whichever microphone has the least interference from wind or other background noise. We also like the linear-view setting, which zooms in and will remove the distortion and often dizzying, super-wide angle effect. This is useful on a drone because it lets you keep a true horizon.

The camera can shoot RAW (or uncompressed) photos for better editing. It also has an internal video stabilization system that will help smooth footage. When plugged in and connected to WiFi, the Hero5 auto-uploads photos and videos to GoPro Plus—a new cloud-based subscription service aimed at making your content more accessible and therefore easier to edit and share.

Hero5 Session.
Hero5 Session. (GoPro)

Finally, there's the new Hero5 Session, which can shoot 4K at 30fps and 10 megapixel stills—impressive for its size—and has voice control, video stabilization, cloud connectivity, linear-view setting, and fits in the Karma.

To summarize the launch, I'd say this: the Karma combines the industry’s best drone and action-cam technology into one tight, easy-to-use package. And the Hero5 gives us even more tools to capture high-quality video. I expect to see a winter full of POV edits that demonstrate how these two releases combine to improve on GoPro’s existing technology. I'm excited to hop into the fray, too. 

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