With their new drone releases, DJI and GoPro are gearing up for a Batman V Superman style burly brawl. Unlike that movie, we’re really enjoying this showdown.
After a couple of years out in the cold, GoPro, the prodigal son of action cams returned to our open arms last week with Karma. Long awaited and delivering on a lot of expectations, it was certain to change the drone landscape and grant GoPro a position of respect once again.
But before Nick Woodman’s company could enjoy the party and bask in any of its new found glory, a chilling voice cried out from the shadows, “Mavic!”
The Mavic is half the price and half the size of the Phantom 4, and includes most of the major features from its already excellent predecessor. Announced yesterday, the entire world is now asking if this little monster could kick Karma’s ass and GoPro’s reputation back out the door. So let’s give you a blow by blow of how these two drones stack up.
The Mavic brings an onboard 12.35MP resolution cam capable of 4K 30fps, with a 35mm equivalent lens. It’s an almost exact match to the onboard camera on DJI’s Phantom 4 so no glittering improvement on the visual front, but the Phantom 4 was already a very capable shooter. If you want to put down the remote, the Mavic will take photos or start/stop recording if it is given certain recognisable hand movements. This does walk the tightrope between extremely useful and incredibly dorky and awkward. We’re also dubious how well these will actually work at any distance and if filming a crowd will drive it mad but it’s an innovation nonetheless.
Comparing the Mavic’s camera to the Karma’s is a little difficult to start with as the Karma doesn’t have its own onboard camera and instead can be equipped with any GoPro action cam of generation 4 and above. Since the Karma comes in a bundle (more on that later) with the GoPro Hero5 Black, we’ll be using that for comparison purposes. The shooting quality is pretty close, with the Hero5 having a lot of the same specs as the Hero4. It shoots 12MP stills and just like the Mavic has 4K 30fps video recording. It also has it’s own hands free feature using voice commands to tell it to shoot or take a photo. However, it’s unclear if these commands can be heard over the noise of the drone itself. We’d suspect not, rendering them pretty useless for use with the Karma.
In this round, both competitors are fairly evenly matched.
The Mavic has a respectable 3-axis rotation gimbal that can go from -90 degrees all the way up to +30. The camera at the end is positioned up front so as to avoid catching the blades in shot.
The Karma’s camera is also positioned at the front of the drone and sports a 3-axis gimbal which goes from -90 degrees to a flat 0 degrees. The Karma has a trick up its sleeve however, in that its gimbal can be disconnected from the drone body to be used handheld with a special kit grip, bearing more than a passing resemblance to a DJI Osmo.
Heralding this feature may sound unfair when we say we’re comparing drones but this innovation in modular thinking confronts a drone’s biggest weakness; that when you’re in situations where flying isn’t viable, you’re left with a useless camera. There’s an added benefit to this modular design between the Karma’s components: not only does the gimbal provide stabilisation, the Hero5 has its own inbuilt digital stabilisation system to help provide smooth shots even in tough conditions. The handheld option also makes use of the Hero5’s sound capture system, which trumps the onboard mic of both the Mavic and Osmo.
In this aspect, there is no contest. The Mavic simply runs circles around Karma, both figuratively and literally. Though it doesn’t clock the same 45mph speeds of the Phantom 4, the Mavic can manage an impressive 40mph, 10 miles faster than the Karma at 30mph. The Mavic can also has a signal range up to 7km away from its controller while the Karma is limited to 1km.
Speed and stamina aren’t the only elements of flight where DJI’s offering dominates. The Mavic has several advanced flying modes carried over from the Phantom 4, including follow me and object avoidance. Other modes featured so far are a panning tool to track a target from the side, a spotlight tool to keep them centred in frame regardless of directional moves, and a special mode to maintain altitude as terrain height changes.
The Karma is lacking in comparison, which is to be expected as a newcomer to the drone industry. It’s slower and though simple flying modes are included, there’s no ‘follow me’ mode, which has been a key feature for many recent DJI drones.
The battery on the Karma boasts 20 minutes of flight time, while the Mavic (if kept flying) goes for 27 minutes. It’s battery capacity is somewhat diminished compared to the Phantom 4, but the Mavics tiny form factor means it can fly for significantly longer.
Piloting of the Mavic is possible from the controller alone, with a liveview interface available by plugging in any mobile or portable smart device. If only simple piloting is required, you can also control the Mavic completely through your smartphone via the DJI Go app.
Although I’m personally glad that the Karma’s remote includes a screen, giving me the option to keep my mobile phone free from draining out, there seems to be another glaring oversight in the lack of mobile control for the drone. GoPro is offering a rather nifty passenger app, that will allow offloading camera controls to someone else who can control the cam via mobile. However, though this will fetch some unique shots, it’s not quite as impressive as being able to actually pilot the entirely drone from your phone.
It should also be noted that the Karma’s controller is quite large, weighing almost as much as the Mavic drone itself. If portability is your thing, carrying a phone or a small controller as opposed to the large clamshell Karma controller may be an important factor to consider.
Much was made a week ago of how brilliantly the compact Karma could slip into a standard backpack. Now with Mavic we have a drone that could fit into an oversized pocket.
The difference this makes cannot be understated. While the Karma could be carried to most places imaginable, the Mavic can be taken anywhere imaginable. DJI’s PR rep Michael Perry said that the goal was to make Mavic weigh only as much as a water bottle and they succeeded. Perry’s more awkward on-stage delivery at events may never reach the heights of Woodman’s irresistible folksy charm but when he pulled this small but potent package out of a hip holster, the crowd cheered and the mic was resoundingly dropped.
We aren’t denying that the Karma is convenient, it is fantastically designed to be nothing but convenient. The problem is that the Mavic is so small that it renders any argument of convenience moot. Until others match the Mavic’s size, this will be the hill their loyalty to other drones dies on.
The Mavic is an absolute wonder of a drone (and will be without a doubt, the mega-successor to the Phantom legacy) but Karma shows an intriguing level of forward thinking.
If we were to speak of bang for buck, the two products are close enough in price to make any clear winner difficult to name. With the remote (It’s US$749 to buy without it) the Mavic is a bargain at US$999. The Karma on the other hand sells at US$1,099 with a GoPro Hero5 included which, considering the added utility, is also a bargain.
With Mavic you have a product that can do one thing fantastically well, while with Karma’s modular design, you have three separate products in one. The singular master versus the jack of all trades, Superman versus Batman.
In essence, these are two products for two different consumers and it will come down to marketing to split the difference over which is more successful. Mavic is a total dream for any budding aerial photographer while Karma provides the tools for any potential outdoor vlogger and video maker in a handy kit.
Now go away and argue about this endlessly on Facebook, on Twitter and in the comments!