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Almost exactly 11 months ago GoPro announced their Karma drone and Karma Grip products. While the drone got off to a rocky start (I reviewed it here), the Karma grip has had an otherwise non-problematic journey. The Grip, of course, being the GoPro branded gimbal, which can stabilize your footage to make it look silky smooth.
Now there are many gimbals on the market, most of them from Asian companies you’ve never heard of. Some of the more popular ones I’ve reviewed here, including one just last week. But how does GoPro’s variant hold up? And in particular – hold up over a really long period?
Well, I set out to find out. I’ve bought and owned three of them since last fall. And I’ve kinda beat the crap out of them. I’ve dropped them from my bike at full speed onto concrete…and then again just this weekend at less than full speed. I’ve travelled with them, I’ve skied with them, and I’ve generally tried to figure out how best to use them.
And if you asked me 8 months ago what I thought of the gimbal, the answer would actually be less favorable than now. But before that, let’s start off with the basics.
What’s in the box:
We’re reaching way back into my DCR archives for these unboxing photos. And in this case, that means photos I took in a hotel room in Las Vegas. While the table looks swanky in person…less so at night for unboxing photos.
Now technically there are two ways you can purchase the GoPro Karma grip:
A) Built into/with the GoPro Karma Drone B) As a separate unit by itself
I’ve already shown what it looks like within the GoPro Karma Drone review, when bought that way. So here’s what it looks like if you buy it solo. The hard-shell case slides out of the cardboard box:
Inside the hard-shell case you’ll find the gimbal and related accessories:
Here’s what they look like out on the table:
A) Gimbal itself (grip portion + gimbal head) B) USB-C charging cable C) Karma Grip Gimbal Ring (attaches to GoPro mounts) D) Manual stuffs E) Fabric strap to hold lanyard
And that’s it!
Here’s a closer look at the manual and more importantly the Karma Grip Gimbal Ring:
And then the gimbal itself:
And finally, a brief note about the case. While I appreciate GoPro’s efforts here for a case for the gimbal, they made what’s probably the most bombproof and yet painfully unusable case at the same time. I say that because nobody is going to travel with something this big. It’s massive. For context, here it is next to both a running shoe, as well as a DJI Mavic drone.
If you have unlimited space – then it’s great. Else it’s total overkill.
Don’t worry – you’re going to get plenty more pics of the gimbal close up throughout the review. For now though, let’s leave this Vegas hotel room scene behind.
The gimbal effectively has two and a half parts to it. The first piece is the actual grip portion, that you hold onto. It’s the long thick piece:
The second portion is the gimbal head, which is where the stabilization occurs.
Now, this section actually can be broken down further, allowing you to swap out the connector type used with it. So you can swap for a GoPro Hero4 camera if you wanted to, instead of the GoPro Hero5 Black holder (and presumably, in September with the GoPro Hero6 camera/cameras):
GoPro had also announced plans to offer a gimbal cage for the GoPro Hero 5 Session cameras, but that never came to fruition. It’s unclear where that stands.
In any event, your GoPro camera will slide into the gimbal from the side. If using the GoPro Hero5 Black though, you’ll need to remove the little door first from the side of the camera (thus, it’s no longer waterproof). Note, I’d *strongly* suggest buying an extra door now and having it handy. Especially when going on vacation. You’ll eventually lose this stupid $20 part in the coolest vacation spot where you can’t find one and then you’ll be frustrated your camera is no longer waterproof:
Once the latch is closed, the camera is locked in there. The gimbal then can power the camera using the USB port. This powering will occur once you press/hold the mode button to turn it on.
There are four buttons in total to utilize:
Mode/Power: Turns on/off the gimbal & camera at once, also changes video/photo modes Record: Either takes a photo or records a video, depending on mode Highlight: Simply marks a highlight Angle Lock/Battery: Checks battery status, locks gimbal angle
In effect, you’ve basically got three buttons for the camera, and one button for the gimbal itself (angle lock). Meaning that there’s only basically one gimbal-specific thing to tweak. By default, the gimbal will keep your GoPro camera level with the horizon:
However, if you hold down the gimbal lock and then tilt your GoPro down (or up), it’ll allow you to lock that new position. For example, this allows you to tilt slightly downwards, which if attached to a backpack or what-not, will produce a more interesting angle.
You can double-tap the tilt lock button to follow something, which means that it essentially follows your movements of the GoPro handle. So it stabilizes in that mode, while following what you’re pointing at.
Additionally, you can also simply grab the frame of the camera and move it to your desired position, and it’ll hold it.
I use the gimbal tilt lock frequently on the GoPro Karma Grip, to get an angle that has less horizon/sky in it, and more of the action. Unfortunately, this is really the only feature on the gimbal from a gimbal standpoint. So you’re lacking things like a selfie-mode to automatically swing the camera back to facing you, or to control the direction of the camera without having to do wonky things with your arms, or even connectivity to your smartphone. All features that other gimbals have.
Still, I do find it works well – and it’s durable. As you can see below – the GoPro Karma Grip is a beast compared to other gimbals on the market:
Here’s the weight compared to the G5 gimbal – pretty similar, despite the size differences:
But in that beastliness comes durability. For example, I dropped it out of the back of my jersey pocket on a ride this past January in Australia. And it’s just fine over 8 months later:
And again this weekend it bounced out of a bike basket onto some trails – also fine. Not to mention being jammed into bags, suitcases, and generally beat to crap without any issue.
Still, I do need to end on pointing out an incredibly frustrating bug that GoPro has with the Karma grip – which is that it won’t work if your micro-SD card has more than 100GB of content on it. Not following what I mean? Well, pretend you buy a standard 128GB MicroSD card. It’s all I buy. And then pretend that you’ve ‘only’ got 20GB of space left on it. With me so far?
Because the Karma Grip isn’t with you.
It actually won’t work when there’s more than 100GB of content on it. It’s a known bug that still hasn’t been fixed countless months later. The unit will simply persist in this annoying ‘USB Connected’ screen forever (it normally only shows this for a few seconds upon booting up).
So as you sit at the top of your ski hill, or mountain bike run, or whatever it is – you get nothing burger. Really annoying this isn’t fixed yet.
I just work around it by always having spare micro-SD cards in my wallet. Given they’re cheap, it’s not a huge issue. But it’s still annoying.
Finally, a brief note on charging. The bottom of the grip includes a USB-C port, the same as on the GoPro Hero5 Black:
It’s here that you’ll charge the grip. It claims 1hr 45 mins of battery life, and I seem to be in the ballpark of that (maybe a bit lower). Though it’s rare that I’d use the grip for 1hr 45 mins straight. Note that the unit does show battery status at any time by pressing the battery icon. Also, keep in mind it does power your camera too – so you don’t have to worry about keeping that charged as well.
At launch of the Karma Grip, GoPro touted the ability to detach the head of the gimbal and place the handle in your backpack (or just somewhere else). To do that you’d need the GoPro Karma Grip extension system, though unfortunately that didn’t start shipping till this past spring. Still, I went out and bought one as soon as they became available and started toying with it.
The first thing you realize is that it’s basically just a giant-ass USB-C cable. Except one that can lock on both ends, giving you the ‘extension’ piece.
To install it, you’ll unlock the gimbal head from the gimbal grip:
Once that’s done, it allows you to hook the gimbal up on your person without the additional grip bumping around. Then you can use the 35in/89cm cable and toss it in your backpack:
In theory, this works well, but in practice, there are some bummers. First is that there are no buttons on the upper portion of the grip extension near the gimbal. All those buttons are back on the lower portion of the grip. Lacking the buttons means you also lack the mode/record buttons. Though I don’t find that a huge deal since I can easily do those with voice commands. Plus, those buttons weren’t really all that accessible anyway using the backpack gimbal connector anyway even when up front.
However, one tip a commenter left below is that if you want to change orientation of the gimbal, you can do so without the buttons – simply move the head (meaning, hold/move the camera) of the gimbal to the position you want for a second or so, and it’ll stay in that position. Normally you don’t want to dork with the gimbal heads on almost all units, but in this case it’s totally OK. That makes positioning a million time easier!
Next is that while the front connect is smaller, it’s not super-small. Meaning that yes it’s great for a backpack, but it’s totally impractical on a typical road cycling helmet (with lots of vents):
However, if you have room for sticky mounts atop or onto the side (meaning, not vented), then you could actually do it like a skiing helmet (or most downhill mountain biking helmets). First, atop:
And then second, aside:
And in those cases, the cable easily floats down behind you. Additionally, you could mount this more easily to the front of a bike or other location that you didn’t want the full grip flopping around. And it does make the backpack piece far more streamlined up front.
I do think in many ways if you plan to get the GoPro Karma Grip, it’d really be because you plan to either use the Karma Grip extension, or because you plan to use the Seeker bag. Speaking of which…
Seeker Backpack Integration:
About this time last summer GoPro introduced the GoPro Seeker backpack. This backpack had storage for a boatload of GoPro units, plus specifically designed spots for holding the 3-way GoPro tripod/pole (my favorite GoPro accessory), as well as clipping a GoPro onto the front of your bag. Further, it can act as a hydration pack too. It’s great:
(Note: When I say ‘Great’, I mean great in that it’s designed well, but it’s also overpriced, and since it doesn’t include the three-way pole, nor does it include a hydration bladder. Also, my top zipper died within a week of using it. Maybe some day I’ll send it in to get replaced.)
In any event, what GoPro didn’t say at the time was that it also would hold their GoPro Karma drone and gimbal:
And sure enough, when they announced that a few months later – it fit that too. But more importantly is that it had that clamp on the front to hold the GoPro Karma Grip gimbal:
And it’s this scenario that works exceptionally well while cycling:
All of this depends on the GoPro Karma Grip Mounting Ring. It’s this magic ring that’s key to mounting the GoPro Karma Grip onto anything you want that has a standard GoPro mount. Be it your bike, your car, or heck – even a horse. As long as you’ve got a GoPro mount on it, you’re good.
The backpack is lightweight enough that it doesn’t bother me even on long many-hour rides. And it’s got enough storage for most people to store a bunch of random things in it for hiking and such. It also, of course, has the pockets and such for GoPro storage, including a perfect place for your GoPro Karma Grip extension pieces:
The downside though to this and every backpack is the fact that GoPro put the buttons on the ‘wrong side’ of the gimbal when used with a backpack. They face you, and are right against your chest. So you can’t see them, nor can you really access them without just reaching down there and titillating yourself hoping you find the right button on your gimbal grip.
Still, I find myself going back to this backpack over and over again.
Now interestingly, this past summer I stumbled on and bought a GoPro Seeker knock-off bag on Amazon, the DeKaSi Seeker. This bag is almost identically designed to GoPro’s Seeker bag – down to many of the stitch lines…and yes, even the name. In fact, in most ways, it’s better. First is that it’s less than half the price. Second is that it also includes a variant of the three-way pole (it’s not as sturdy though, but still does the trick).
Also, the zippers work better, and there’s even some minor improvements inside too – and they include a nifty full rain-cover for it. And heck, it even holds drones too. I fit two drones, one DSLR, three GoPro’s, one full tripod, and a whole boatload of other crap during some recent mountain biking.
The only downside though is that attachment point for the GoPro Karma Grip. In this knock-off edition they eschewed sewing the GoPro attachment piece directly on, and instead went with this clamp-on design. These clamps can easily be found on eBay or Amazon for a few bucks (thus turning any backpack into a GoPro holding vessel). But in their case, they oriented the clamp the wrong way. Thus it actually wouldn’t hold a GoPro Karma Grip:
I’m sure there are other clamps you can buy that will orient correctly – but my concern is really more about weight and force. I’ve done some pretty solid drops and such while skiing with the GoPro Karma Grip and the legit GoPro Seeker backpack, and it’s never fallen off – because that mount is solid. Whereas with the clamp-on system, I’d be pretty concerned it’d fall off.
On the flip-side, if you’ve got no plans for a GoPro Karma Grip, but just want a solid GoPro-focused backpack (or one to easily hold drones and other goodness), this one is awesome for the money.
Of course – a gimbal review wouldn’t be complete without at least some footage. I’ve taken loads of videos on this over the last 8 months, mostly as part of other things I’ve published – though a lot of it I never bothered to identify the gimbal. So instead, I’ve put together a simple video to show a random blend of cycling footage:
Next, some folks might ask about audio quality. One of the issues with the GoPro Hero5 Black and the Feiyu Tech G5 gimbal I reviewed last week is that the gimbal noise (depending on the audio configuration) can be heard. So here ya go – a simple test in a closed/quiet room to show the gimbal noise doesn’t ‘leak’ into the Hero5 Black from a GoPro Karma Grip:
On the flip-side, some folks will notably be upset that you can’t attach any microphone to the unit. On one hand, I get that. But on the other – this is clearly a gimbal designed more for sports, where secondary mics aren’t as practical. I’d personally much rather them take the approach of Garmin with their VIRB cameras and allow pairing to wireless Bluetooth mics (like this one, which works great in sports). But I suspect that’s not in the future.
I’ve added the GoPro Karma Grip into the product comparison database, it’s here you can compare it against other gimbals I’ve tested/reviewed. Though in this case I’ve only added the Feiyu Tech G5 gimbal in there. I don’t really plan on reviewing non-action cam gimbals (like phone gimbals or the DJI Osmo which has its own camera), as that to me seems like a different market. My interest is mostly in sports action capture.
As I started off the review saying, had you asked me back in January whether to buy the GoPro Karma Grip or the Feiyu Tech G5 gimbal, I’d have laughed and said easily the Feiyu Tech G5. But over time I’ve come to appreciate some aspects of the GoPro Karma Grip, most notability its durability and consistency. While the FT G5 has far more options and is even waterproof, it’s also occasionally finicky. It also lacks an extension type solution (though Feiyu Tech would argue its other wearable gimbals solve that issue, which is partially true but not totally).
There’s also the fact that the GoPro Karma Grip does a far better job of powering the camera than other companies can, which makes it so I don’t have to worry about the battery state of the camera. I know as long as the gimbal has juice, so does my camera.
Which isn’t to say the GoPro Karma Grip is perfect. No, far from it (really far from it). The positioning of the buttons is frustrating, as is the lack of features. And that ignores that 100GB bug I mentioned.
But if you’re in the GoPro ecosystem already (it doesn’t work with other cameras), and you’re looking for a super clean solution that you can mount especially to a backpack easily – the whole kit here does work out pretty darn well.
With that – thanks for reading! Feel free to drop any questions below and I’ll try my best to answer them.
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