Battle of the Personal Drones

Battle of Personal Drones - Mavic vs Karma

In the past month, we saw the launch of 2 new drones that started a fight for the top place and title of ultimate personal drone. A few weeks ago GoPro announced their new Hero 5 camera range, including the GoPro Karma drone. During the past week drone manufacturer, DJI, announced the new Mavic. This truly started the personal drone battle for the sky, and our hard earned cash.

What makes these 2 drones so different from the existing models on the market? Well just by looking at pictures of these two models, you can immediately see the form factor is much smaller than that of equivalent drone models in the same price range and with similar features. The main selling point of both the Mavic and Karma is

ready to fly, anywhere, anytime.

They are small enough to be carried in a normal camera bag or backpack, with fold-away propeller/motor arms, making them extremely portable compared to other drone models.

But small doesn’t mean toy drone! Both models are packed with features never seen on a form factor this size. Super stabilised gimbal systems ensure smooth professional looking still and motion photography in 4K resolution. Advanced flight control systems ensure the drones are easy and safe to fly, while intelligent flight modes let the operator take aerial video footage that would be otherwise impossible to fly by a novice or hobby pilot.

Let us take a close look at both models.

GoPro Karma

Think of the Karma as a flying tripod. GoPro’s philosophy is different from the normal drone manufacturers. Being known for their excellent action cameras, GoPro still focussed on the camera. In fact, the Karma is sold without a camera. You need to mount a standard GoPro Hero4 Black/Silver, a Hero5 Black or Hero5 Session on the Karma to make it a complete photography drone.

GoPro Karma and controllerThe Karma folds into a compact package and together with the remote controller, removable gimbal and Karma Grip, all of it fits into a slimline case with shoulder straps, that can be carried as a backpack.

The remote controller looks a little bigger than a portable game console. It has a built-in touch screen with minimal control switches. It has the normal joystick controls, power on/off, two main buttons for start/stop and take-off/landing. On the front are the gimbal and camera controls.

GoPro Karma Removable GimbalThe strong selling point of the Karma is that the camera gimbal is removable. When fitted to the Karma Grip, the same gimbal and camera become a handheld, allowing you to continue your video, from where the drone landed.

From an aircraft perspective, the Karma was launched with all the right buzz words: Return-to-Home, Auto take-off and land, and few flight modes like Cable Cam, Orbit or POI. Nothing is mentioned about the flight controller itself and what systems are used onboard.


DJI Mavic Pro

Launched shortly on the heels of the GoPro Karma, DJI announced this week the Mavic Pro. It almost looks and operates identical to the Karma, but it contains a lot of DNA inherited from its older siblings, the DJI Phantom 4 and Inspire 1.

DJI, predominantly a drone manufacturer, focusing mostly on aerial photography, already has an impressive lineup of aerial platforms with various camera options and combinations, ranging from a few hundred dollars, up to tens of thousands of dollars. DJI caters for the consumer as well as professional cinematographers.

DJI Mavic front side viewWith the Mavic, they increased their focus on the personal and consumer market. This is a portable drone, with a 4K gimbal stabilised camera and some of the most advanced flight controller technologies available on the market.

The Mavic is advertised to be so small when folded, you can wear it hanging on a belt clip on your waste, or strapped to the back of your backpack. It fits into a shoulder sling pouch bag. It weighs only 743g.

DJI took the miniaturisation even a step further. You can fly the Mavic without a remote controller, using only your smartphone. And when using the remote controller, it is the size of a game controller. Again your smartphone attach to it to become the display using the DJI GO app.

DJI Mavic ControllerSmall package, big dynamite. The Mavic comes with the same aircraft flight control systems as the Phantom 4, and more. The built-in Obstacle Avoidance System (OAS) and Visual Positioning System (VPS) uses no less than 5 cameras and 2 ultrasonic range finders. It offers precision hovering with the GPS and GLONASS systems outdoors and indoors using VPS. At the heart of the Mavic, 24 computing cores are responsible for a stable and safe flight. Overall it offers the flight stability and control that DJI is renowned for.

A new feature launched with the Mavic is the new OcuSync transmission system. Introduced on the Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional models and the Inspire 1, DJI used the LightBridge 2 transmission system between the remote controller and the aircraft. This provided a stable control and video link in 720p resolution to a maximum range of 5km. The new OcuSync not only now supports 720p and 1080p video links, but extended the maximum range up to 7km. To be honest, I will never fly my drone that far, but it only means the OcuSync system is much more interference resistant, reliable and will simply perform better on a shorter range.

In short, if you are familiar with the Phantom or Inspire range of drones, you will be right at home flying the Mavic.

DJI GogglesDJI also took a step into another genre of drone flying, FPV or for the uninformed, First Person View. Compatible with the Mavic and OcuSync transmission system, you can now use DJI’s FPV goggles to make flying totally immersive, with two Full HD (1920 × 1080p) displays in front of each eye. OcuSync delivers the 1080p video stream directly from the Mavic, and not through a cable or a Wi-Fi link from the controller, with super low latency.



Decisions, decisions

To summarise: the Karma is GoPro’s first aerial platform. No doubt, they would have ensured that the aircraft is flying as good as they make it look like. The main difference between the Karma and the Mavic is the fact that the drone is not the camera. It simply makes it much more useful for a wider range of applications. Yes, you have to buy the camera separately, but you already have the gimbal and gimbal grip included in the Karma package, and most buyers will probably already own one of the supported GoPro cameras.

For someone who already invested in GoPro and GoPro accessories and mounts, this seems to be an ideal extension into action photography.

The Mavic is almost guaranteed to be an excellent flying machine., simply looking at its lineage. DJI is renowned for its excellence in drone flight control systems for many years now. The Mavic is simply the next evolutionary step in DJI’s technology development.

Moneywise, how does the two compare? The Karma is listed on GoPro’s website at $800. That is without a GoPro camera. A GoPro Hero 5 will take another $400 from your hard-earned cash. The total package is $1200.

The Mavic lists on the DJI website at $1000. That is with the built-in 4K camera. To compare apples with apples, another $300 will buy you the OSMO Mobile. This handheld gimbal can be used with your smartphone. At $1300, functionally this will be equal to the Karma plus Hero 5 package.

  • It is debatable if the Karma aircraft is equal in features compared to the Mavic.
  • It is also debatable if the Mavic/smartphone camera combination is equal to the GoPro Hero 5.

In the end, the decision will be base on these to points, better aircraft vs better camera solution.

I will not mind having one of each!

We can not wait to take these models for a test drive, once they are available and we will definitely share our findings.

In the meantime

Enjoy some of the introduction videos from both companies:

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