This video is a compilation of my favourite drone clips from all my shoots and travels over the last 3-4 years! I have used 4 different drones to capture aerial footage over the last few years. The DJI Phantom 2 with Zenmuse gimbal for the GoPro HERO3/HERO4, then the 3DR SOLO for the HERO4 and finally the GoPro KARMA for the HERO5/HERO6 as well as the DJI Mavic Pro.
It’s been amazing how quickly drone technology has developed over the last few years! From originally travelling around with a massive backpack or case for my DJI phantom or 3DR SOLO which both took a while to set up as well, to now having the GoPro KARMA and Mavic which are extremely portable and set up in no time!
I’ll give a little run down of my personal experience with each drone and what I think of them:
Firstly the DJI phantom 2 with Zenmuse Gimbal and GoPro HERO3. At the time I purchased this it was the best value for money drone out there, the most portable and was probably the most popular set up at the time so I had plenty of support and spare parts for it. My biggest issue with this set up was that it involved so many 3rd parties to make it work! Firstly DJI, then Zenmuse for the Gimbal, GoPro for the camera and then what ever brand monitor you decided to go for to get the FPV, in my case - Black Pearl. And back when I bought this entire set up it cost me double what a GoPro KARMA sells for today!
So with all these different components having to come together in order to get the drone to work the way you wanted it to, it proved to be a bit more challenging than I would have hoped, well at least for me! FPV was always my problem with this drone, now I don’t know if that was due to DJI’s FPV transmitter or the Black Pearl monitor and it’s receiver, either way it was the most frustrating thing because it seldom worked the way I wanted it to. Sometimes I would have a clear picture up to 1km range and other times the screen would start tripping out at 50meters! It was really inconsistent which made it extremely frustrating especially since friends of mine who had the exact same set up, seemed to never have this issue!
Then one day I was filming a mate of mine kayaking at sunrise when my battery went from 40% to 7% instantly!
Back then if the drone battery got to 20% or lower the return to home function would automatically kick in and the drone would fly back to where it took off from! However that did not happen and I watched my drone hover in 1 place over the lake 200meters away from me for about 4 minutes before the battery died and it dropped into the water! I had zero control over the drone when it was hovering and could do nothing to bring it back to me. At that time DJI stored it’s blackbox equivalent on the drone (which I could not recover from the lake) so there was no way of me proving to them it was their fault, thus no replacement drone from DJI. DJI are known for having terrible customer support and it’s almost always YOUR fault, even when it’s not! Before my DJI drone sank my gimbal stopped working so I sent it in for repairs and they told me I did something wrong when attaching the gimbal so it needed to be completely replaced and I would have to pay for a new gimbal, which I don’t believe for a second because the gimbal had worked perfectly fine for the first 6 months of using it. Anyway…
I was lucky enough to claim from insurance and by then there was a new kid on the block! Enter 3DR SOLO! Now SOLO did an amazing job with their launch video and everything that they claimed their drone could do. With SOLO there were no 3rd party components except for the GoPro and at the time using a GoPro in a drone was still the best option in terms of image quality! There are only 2 things I can really fault 3DR on, their gimbals were a bit inconsistent and had a bit more wobble than the zenmuse on the DJI, once again I think it was mostly my bad luck on getting a bit of a faulty gimbal. But at least now with the 3DR, the FPV and everything was all built in which meant less components to worry about! Oh and also finally being able to control the GoPro using their App!
Previously on the DJI you would have to hit record and then take off! Now I could stop and start record as I pleased and change modes! This actually took some time to adjust to and there were moments I would actually forget to hit record! The FPV on 3DR was definitely an improvement from the DJI set up and it was great that it was a completely wireless setup so you didn’t need to use cable for your phone or tablet in order to fly the drone! However the FPV may have been better than DJI but was still not as great as I hoped at times! I flew over a ridge while shooting one day and the FPV froze, now I knew the return home would've kicked in, by looking at the display on the remote but the live image from the drone was frozen and by the time that kicked back in I had 1 second at the most to react in time to stop it from flying into the side of the mountain, and let’s just say my reaction time was not fast enough.
Now in this case I can see this crash being my fault to a certain degree, however if the live feed had not frozen the way it did I would have easily been able to avoid the crash, the drone was out of my line of sight, something you should never actually do when flying. However 3DR customer service were UNBELIEVABLE I would go as far as to say some of the best customer service I have come across in my life! They replaced everything for me! And a similar thing actually happened with my 2nd SOLO while shooting in the maldives (drone scene with the inflatable swan in the pool and the ocean with the shark) so I flew the SOLO about 600m straight out off the beach, no problem then flew it back past me about 200m behind me on the tiny island in the maldives, then the signal cut, so I waited for the return home to kick in like it always did, but nope not this time, nothing! I have no idea what exactly happened or where it went, but it washed up on the beach that night! Stoked the footage was ok, and well salt water and electronics just don’t get on well! Once again 3DR came to party and replaced everything just from submitting my flight logs to them! Anyway things kind of went downhill for 3DR as a company in 2016 and they downscaled to a non-consumer market.
And that’s when GoPro KARMA and DJI mavic came onto the scene. I’m not going to speak about DJI phantom 3 or 4 because I have never owned those drones. I have flown a Phantom 4 and it is an amazing drone but after my terrible experience with DJI service they really put me off. Also I work a lot with GoPro and so it makes more sense for me to use a GoPro in the air than a different brand, I also think the GoPro image is better as and it offers more variety in terms of different modes to shoot in.
So next is KARMA. KARMA has been an absolute game changer for me! Not only is it far more compact and portable than the DJI Phantom and 3DR SOLO ,which really makes a difference for someone who travels like I do, but it’s also got a removable gimbal which can clip into KARMA grip and be used as a Hand held gimbal which is a piece of gear I have always had in my equipment so to have 2 products in 1 and have it be more portable was great! GoPro really did an amazing job with the KARMA gimbal, it is the strongest gimbal I have ever used and has taken quite a beating! Watch the last scene in this ski video, we had KARMA grip attached to a carbon fiber pole, the pole snapped and KARMA was rolling around in the snow on the landing of the jump, most gimbals would have been finished after that but my one still worked, maybe I got lucky but I do know KARMA is definitely stronger. I have compared it with my other gimbals from brands like Removu and Feiyu-Tech, If you shake all 3 really violently KARMA is the only one that doesn’t drop out of place.
KARMA’s remote is one of my favourite things about the set up as well! No longer do you need to worry about connecting a smartphone or tablet to use as a screen or even having to worry about the battery life of your phone when flying because the remote has it all built in! The touch screen display is incredible and brighter than any smartphone I’ve seen, you can even see what’s on the screen in direct sunlight! The auto flight functions like cable cam and orbit also work great in KARMA. My buddy Chris Farro has done some amazing hyperlapses with KARMA and it’s cable cam feature, check it below.
So now with the HERO6 in KARMA I would go as far as to say that the image quality now competes with the DJI Phantom 4 pro! Actually the HERO6 has modes that the P4 pro does not such as 2.7k @ 120fps, 30/1 photo burst. Not to mention KARMA is a far more portable drone than the Phantom. I will be honest and won’t say KARMA is a better drone, because it’s not, but damn is it way better value for money! Right now a P4 pro retails for around $1500 and the KARMA with a HERO6 is around $1200. So here you have 2 products with a $300 difference, the P4 Pro wins, in battery life, Range, FPV and general drone tech that it has on it, the image quality is probably debatable. However for $300 less you get KARMA, but you’re getting a drone, a hand held gimbal and a GoPro! 3 different products in 1 package! Oh and it comes with a pretty nice hardshell backpack too!
So that’s what I always tell people when they ask me what drone they should get, I ask them what they want out of the product and how much they’re willing to spend. If you want the best drone and just a drone, nothing else, maybe go with DJI. but if you want the best bang for your buck and something that can do everything KARMA is a no-brainer. If you’re like me and want the best of both worlds and have some extra cash to throw around buy KARMA and mavic! Mavic is my back up drone, it’s super small and portable, doesn’t take up much space at all and is easy for me to add to my gear when I’m traveling so if something were to happen to my KARMA then I have Mavic or if there is a shot more suited for Mavic then I use mavic. *side note, the mavic camera is very zoomed in compared with the KARMA or Phantom drones. Which actually has it’s advantages and disadvantages* Mavic is not as great for getting wide landscape shots like KARMA or P4. KARMA is great because you can actually change the field of view on your GoPro, so you can have a really nice wide 170 degree image or you can put the GoPro onto linear mode which removes the fish-eye and you have an image very similar to that of the P4 pro but maybe a little wider. Ultimately KARMA has been the greatest product for me as it caters to all my needs in what I look for in a drone in terms of image quality and portability! It’s also great that it’s more than a drone! The one thing I hope to see in the next version of KARMA (which I hope is in 2018) would be stronger signal and FPV signal as well as battery life. The battery life is ok but that’s something I feel can always be improved. The live video feed is pretty decent most of the time but is definitely not as strong or consistent as my Mavic. I have flown my KARMA 1.5km away from me with no problem in range or live feed and other times I’ve had the live feed and signal start bugging out a bit at around 300/400 meters it really depends on the surroundings, now days you’re not supposed to fly your drone further than 500m away from you, I believe, but let’s be real here ;P
But don’t be an idiot with your drone please. Oh another thing I forgot to mention when comparing Phantom to KARMA, you don’t get any props in the frame with KARMA! This is a huge issue that I still can not believe DJI have not fixed after all these years! Heck with KARMA’s most recent update you can even tilt the gimbal up 15 degrees!
And Finally Mavic!
So I actually purchased the Mavic before going to Sri Lanka earlier this year as I needed a back up drone for the shoot and Mavic seemed like the best choice for that, and it was. It’s really an incredible piece of technology, if you’re looking for the best portable drone out there, I would say it’s probably mavic. The picture quality is definitely not as great as KARMA and it’s terrible in low light. But if you’re only interested in a drone and nothing else and want something very compact and portable then mavic is the way to go, otherwise again I would recommend KARMA because it really is the best value for money!
Also if you are shooting action sports I would say KARMA hands down as well. I find anything besides 4k or 2.7k on the mavic, looks like Sh!t. the first time I used mavic I wanted a slowmo shot so put it onto 1080p @ 60fps I think it was, the qaulity was terrible! So as much as DJI would probably like to claim the mavic has ‘slowmotion’ it really doesn’t unless you like crappy quality footage! Your best bet would be shooting in 4k or 2.7k with Mavic and using twixtor to slow down to 50% which I have personally done, but that’s another $300+ just for the plugin, and it can only really be used for some shots, not all shots. So KARMA with the HERO6 really puts Mavic in the shade when it comes to image quality and the different modes you can shoot with it! Also the gimbal on the mavic I have found can pick up vibration quite easily especially when accelerating or breaking. Mavic sport mode may be fast but it struggles to keep a steady picture at speed. I have found Mavic and KARMA to be quite similar in speed, Mavic might be a little bit faster and definitely accelerates faster but KARMA at full speed, still produces much smoother footage and it easier to frame your shot at speed, compared to mavic.
Another thing I have found from flying both KARMA and Mavic is that when you are flying Mavic it locks in its home point from where it takes off and it assumes that you stay there, so for example we were shooting a car shot on a dirt road one day and I was in the passenger seat flying Mavic but after driving what must have been a little over 1 km Mavic stopped mid air because the settings restricted it from flying further than 1km from its home point, which is great and I understand that, but at the same time it had failed to realise I was moving with the drone and every time I have tried to set mavic to return to user instead of home point it has always told me my phones signal or gps is too weak. This is really not a big help when you are shooting on a boat on a lake or river and are taking off and landing on the boat because your home point is going to be locked somewhere over water instead of coming back to you, this is something I have found KARMA actually does quite well, I’ve actually landed my KARMA on a boat while shooting on a lake as the battery was getting really low and just a few second before I was about to land, the KARMA controller said “battery too low returning to user” which thankfully did not result to the drone flying off and trying to return to the home point, but actually still allowed me to land on the boat, which would not have been the case had it been mavic, and is part of the reason I get a little nervous when I’m using mavic and the battery gets low while shooting from a boat. I also can not emphasize how nice it is to not have to use a smartphone with KARMA, I’ve had the DJI app crash on me a few times while flying Mavic and luckily was experienced enough to be able to bring the drone back to me without actually needing the app or FPV, still not a fun experience either way.
One of the questions I find I get asked the most is “Do I buy KARMA or Mavic?” and to be honest that really depends what kind of user/consumer you are. If you want a really portable drone and just a drone Mavic is probably for you. If you want a better image quality and better value for money, go with KARMA, if you shoot action sport, go with KARMA. At the end of the day both will get you some great aerial shots but when the drone battery dies only 1 of the 2 products can still be used as a handheld stabiliser and a camera you can take surfing (KARMA).
Any how, Drones have changed the game in what we can capture now days and how easily we can do it as well, at a ridiculously affordable price! It’s an exciting time and I can’t wait to see where it goes next!
These blog post things are actually not that bad, maybe I’ll do more! lol