The DJI Mavic Pro and the GoPro Karma both launched in September, but how do they compare?
When we look back a decade from now, September 2016 will be pointed to as a defining month in the drone industry. New product releases have paved the way for manufacturers to target mainstream markets for the first time, commercial legislation in the US has started to open doors for businesses across the country, and drone racing has hit the big time with enormous global broadcasting deals and substantial investment. More than anything, September will probably be remembered as the month that GoPro finally made its move in the industry. But despite all the build-up and a generally positive reception, the portable camera giant might find things more difficult than expected.
Let’s get some context here. The GoPro Karma was probably the most hyped-up drone we’ve ever seen. It’s a company that doesn’t do anything by halves, and the protracted marketing campaign that resulted from a surprise delay only added to the sense that something big was coming. But come the big day, it’s fair to say that many people who have been watching the industry closely left feeling a little underwhelmed. Sure, the Karma is a well-priced drone that will appeal to current GoPro customers and those who like the idea of a drone being modular. But we still wanted more. More in terms of features, more in terms of flight time; something, anything to suggest that GoPro is going to genuinely challenge the market domination of its Chinese counterparts with something other than just its established brand name.
Admittedly, we probably expected too much. As a first step into the world of consumer drones for GoPro, the Karma certainly holds its own. Generally, it’s made a positive first impression.
A positive first impression is all well and good, but GoPro CEO Nick Woodman only had a few days to pat his amazing copywriters on the back before DJI came along and started bursting all kinds of bubbles. The launch of the Mavic Pro will surely dampen spirits at GoPro, not only because it’s offered at a similar price point to the Karma, but simply because it seems to be a better drone in pretty much every way.
Let’s take a closer look.
DJI Mavic Pro / GoPro Karma – Comparison
At a glance, this seems to be where the DJI Mavic Pro is way ahead of the GoPro Karma. Both drones have been designed to be easy to use for beginners, and both appear to tick that box successfully. But it’s when you want to go up through the gears and perform more complex and challenging photography maneuvers that the Karma gets left behind.
For starters, the Karma can’t track you. It has no follow mode. Exactly why GoPro chose to pass on this pretty fundamental feature is a bit of a mystery. But we can guess that it’s probably a combination of keeping costs down and waiting until the technology has been perfected before introducing it for later models. Either way, it looks like a huge miscalculation from GoPro, especially when the Mavic Pro comes with a range of autonomous tracking features. Putting ourselves in the shoes of an adventurous, outdoorsy GoPro fan, it’s pretty unclear how the Karma can be flown without it being a bit of a buzzkill at the same time. Spontaneity has to go out of the window, as you set up a flight path to coordinate with your planned route, whether you’re skiing, surfing or riding.
Another area in which the Karma takes a beating is obstacle avoidance. GoPro’s drone has no features to help you avoid a collision. The Mavic Pro, on the other hand, has a similar forward-facing collision avoidance system to the Phantom 4, and can recognize objects, stop short of hitting them, and divert around them if possible. The Mavic Pro also has downward-facing sensors to detect changes in ground level, so you can safely fly up or down a slope without worrying about hitting the floor. It’s clever, and could save you a lot of money if you’re an accident-prone pilot.
If we dig deeper into the flight modes, it becomes clear that the Mavic Pro has so much more to offer. As well as appealing to purists with its sports mode, DJI’s new drone comes with a new mode called ‘Tripod’, which lowers the Mavic Pro’s maximum speed to under 2.2 mph for extra flying precision when flying indoors or confined areas. In return, the Karma’s associated ‘Passenger’ app allows your friends to tune into your live stream and control the camera in flight.
And how about speed, range and battery life? Unfortunately for the Karma, it looks as though these three rounds all go in favor of DJI, too. The Karma can hit 35mph, while the Mavic Pro can do 40mph. The Mavic Pro also has around seven minutes more of flight time in its battery, which means that you could spend around 30% longer in the air. Spare batteries can be bought for both the Karma and the Mavic Pro, costing $99 each. In terms of range, DJI says the Mavic Pro can stay connected up to 4.3 miles – way further than you could ever (legally) need – while the Karma offers just under 2 miles.
Had the Karma been released in the summer as expected, the contrast in performance wouldn’t have been so damaging, but in the context of a September packed with product launches, things don’t look good for GoPro.
The unique selling point of both of these drones is portability. Both drones are foldable for easy transportation but again, the Mavic Pro seems to take things to another level. All folded up it’s lighter and smaller than the Karma and, only about a big as a bottle of water, you can fit it in your pocket at a push. The Karma fits easily in a backpack. With both of these drones, gone are the days of removing propellers for transit.
In one way, the Karma is perhaps as mobile as you can get, given the fact that you can take it apart and use its constituent parts individually. The ‘grip’ can be separated from the drone and used as a stabilized selfie stick, while naturally, GoPro’s Hero 5 camera can be removed and used with another mount. Credit to GoPro has to be given for putting together a drone that genuinely is “more than a drone”. As cheesy as that phrase is, there’s no denying it. This is a big plus point for the Karma, and represents good value for people looking for a three-in-one combination of drone, camera and selfie stick. What will become clear in time is the pulling power of this offering, given that the majority of GoPro die-hards will already have at least one of the three constituent Karma parts.
In terms of image quality, it doesn’t look like there’s much to separate the Karma and the Mavic Pro on paper. Both have a 3-axis gimbal with full stabilization. The Mavic Pro has a built-in camera that can shoot in 4K at up to 30fps and 1080p resolution at 96fps. It’s also capable of snapping 12-megapixel stills. The Karma doesn’t come with a camera, but when fitted with the latest Hero 5 Black has very similar specs to the Mavic: 4K footage at 30fps and 1080p footage at 120fps with 12-megapixel stills.
While proper reviews will judge which is the best, the range of motion offered by the Mavic Pro might appeal to serious photographers. The GoPro Karma’s gimbal offers a range of motion of -90° to 0° up and down, while DJI Mavic Pro goes from -90° to +30°, and has the ability to roll.
As you might expect for any near-$1,000 product, both drones come in a range of bundles that offer greater value for money the more you spend. The base models make for an interesting price comparison. The DJI Mavic Pro, without a controller, will reportedly be sold by DJI for $750. With a remote controller it’s $999, and in a bundle that also includes two spare batteries, a car charger, and a shoulder bag, is $1250.
The Karma base model comes with a controller but without a camera, and costs $799. In a bundle with the new Hero 5 Black camera, it’ll set you back $1099 .
The Karma’s Success will be a Test of Brand Loyalty
Looking through the important features above, there really is only one winner: DJI’s Mavic Pro. All in all, it seems to be better value for money, more powerful, faster, smaller, lighter, smarter, safer…. Just well thought through and a clear step forward – it pretty much wins in every category. It’s as comprehensive a walkover as DJI could have wished for.
But while that might be a gloomy conclusion for GoPro shareholders and CEO Nick Woodman, there’s still hope for the Karma. To begin with, its modular nature does make it an attractive proposition if you’re into that kind of thing. In a drone on drone contest, there’s only one winner, but throw in the fact that you can use its constituent parts separately, and there’s a definite selling point there. This is especially true with the Hero 5 Black, which looks like a pretty incredible piece of technology.
On top of that, GoPro will be pushing the software side of things hard. Cloud storage and a new editing app, Quik, promise plenty if you’re willing to put the time into post-production.
Ultimately, the Karma’s success will rest on the pulling power of a brand that has dominated the action camera scene for years. There’s no doubt that the reach of GoPro as a brand will help the company appeal to more potential customers than DJI ever could. But just a small amount of research from anyone willing to spend $1,000 on a drone will quickly show that there’s only one option here.