By Brady Betzel
There has been a flood of GoPro-compatible accessories introduced over the last several years, with few having as much impact as handheld stabilizers. Stabilizers have revolutionized videography (more specifically GoPro videography) and they are becoming extremely compact and very reasonably priced.
A while ago, I reviewed a GoPro Hero 3- and 4-compatible handheld stabilizer from Polaroid, which was good but had a few kinks to work out, like a somewhat clumsy way of mounting your camera.
Over the last year, GoPro has ventured into the drone market with the Karma Drone where it unfortunately fell out of grace — it was recalled because of a battery latch issue — but has recently returned to the market.
When I first got my hands on the Karma Drone (the initial release), I immediately saw the benefit of buying GoPro’s drone. Along with the GoPro Karma Drone came the Karma Grip, a handheld stabilizer for the newly released Hero 5 action camera. It is really mind blowing to be flying a drone one minute and seconds later remove the Karma Grip from the Karma Drone and then be creating beautifully smooth shots. Handheld stabilizers like the GoPro Karma Grip have really helped shooters to create more cinematically styled footage at a relatively low cost.
When GoPro sent me the Karma Grip to borrow for a few weeks, I was really excited. I received the Karma Grip between the time they recalled the Karma Drone and when they subsequently re-released it. In addition to the Karma Grip they sent me the Quik Key, a mobile microSD card reader.
In this review I’m going to share my experience with the Karma Grip as well as touch on the Quik Key and why it’s a phenomenal accessory if you want to quickly upload photos from your GoPro action cam.
When testing the Karma Grip I used my GoPro Hero 5 Black Edition, which is important to note because the Hero 5 has a different case build than previous GoPro models. You’ll need to purchase a different harness if you have a Hero 4. Nonetheless, I love the Hero 5. While the Hero 4 and Hero 5 have similar camera sensors, they have some major differences. First, the Hero 5 has some really sweet voice control. I’m not a huge Siri user, so I was initially skeptical when GoPro tried to sell me on the voice control. To my surprise I love it, especially when paired with the Remo waterproof voice-activated remote. To not be a total GoPro fanboy, I will avoid reviewing the Remo for now but it’s something that I really love.
The Hero 5 has a built-in waterproof housing (unlike previous versions that needed a separate waterproof housing), voice activation, easy-to-use touch screen menu system and many other features. What I’m getting at is that the Karma Grip comes out of the box to fit the Hero 5, but you can purchase the Hero 4 Harness for an additional $29.99. The Session mount will be released later in the summer.
What makes the GoPro Karma Grip different from other handheld stabilizers, in my opinion, is its build quality, ease of use and GoPro-focused mounting options. Immediately when opening the Karma Grip box you get four key components: the removable grip handle ($99.99), mounting ring ($29.99) and stabilizer ($249.99) with the Hero 5 harness attached ($29.99). In addition, it all comes in a form-fitted case. The case is sturdy but kind of reminds me of a trombone case; it does the job but is a little unwieldy. When you buy the Karma Grip as a set it retails for $299.99, which is a little pricey, but in my opinion completely worth it — especially if you plan to buy the Karma drone because you can purchase the drone separately.
If you know you are going to buy the Karma Drone, you should probably just go ahead and buy the whole drone package now ($1099.99 Karma Drone with the Grip and Hero 5, $799.99 Karma Drone with the Grip). If you decide you want the Karma Drone you can purchase the Flight Kit for the Karma Grip for $599. For those counting at home that comes to $899 if you purchase the Grip and the Karma Drone separately, so it’s definitely a better deal to buy it all at once if you can.
Once I opened the form-fitted Karma Grip case, I plugged the USB-C charging cable into the base of the Karma Grip handle. I kind of wish the cable plugged in somewhere other than the base, since I like to rest stabilizers on their base, but not really a big deal if you have your case around. I set the Karma Grip to charge overnight, but the manual writes it will take six hours on a standard 1A charger, and one hour and 50 minutes if you use the “Supercharger” — immediately I was like what the hell is this Supercharger and why don’t I have one? They are $49.99 and can be found here.
So the next day I tried using the Karma Grip in conjunction with a suction cup mount inside of my car on my ride home from work. I wanted to see how the Karma Grip would work when mounted to a windshield (inside my car) to film a driving timelapse. To attach the Karma Grip you have to put a separate mounting ring between the handle and the stabilizer. Like a typical bonehead, I didn’t read the manual, so I tried mounting the ring with the GoPro mount. It took me a few tries to get it on right, but once it is on it actually feels very sturdy.
From there you have to do a typical GoPro mount connecting dance to get everything situated. You can check out my results here.
Admittedly, I probably should have locked the view of the Karma Grip to keep it focused straight forward, but I didn’t. It worked okay, but I definitely would need way more time to perfect this. However, if you can lock in your Karma Grip to something like the side of a train or airplane, your shooting options will become way smoother.
On the Move
Next I wanted to test running around with the Karma Grip. Once you lock your Hero 5 into the harness on the Karma Grip it’s as simple as powering on your Grip and hitting record. You can flip over the Grip to record a ground level view very easily. Flipping the Karma Grip over to a ground level view was the easiest transition on a handheld stabilizer I have ever experienced. Usually you have to either tell the stabilizer that you want to film ground level or you have to do a certain motion to not make the stabilizer flip out. The Karma Grip is incredibly easy to use; it lets you film smoothly with minimal effort.
To go a little further into testing I made a makeshift mount using a pipe and a 2×4 I had lying around. I screwed some sticky GoPro mounts to the 2×4 for mounting. In the end, I wanted to put my Hero 4 mounted alongside my Hero 5 mounted on the Karma Grip to demonstrate just how stable the Karma Grip makes your footage. You can check it out here. After a few hours of using the Karma Grip, I really felt like I had many more options when filming. I saw a staircase and knew I could run up it without my steps being reflected in my video recording; it really opens your creative brain.
One thing I wish was more easily accessible was a mount for an external microphone. In my video, I separated the audio on the left from the GoPro Hero 4 not mounted in the Karma Grip and the Hero 5 mounted in the Karma Grip. I did this so I could hear the difference. Once in the Karma Grip, the Hero 5’s audio becomes pretty muted. I know that GoPros aren’t necessarily supposed to be used with external mics, but with the GoPro’s audio not being high level all the time I sometimes use an external mic mounted on something like the iOgrapher Go or even the Karma Grip. If the Karma Grip could somehow mount a microphone along with possibly integrating a ¼-inch jack instead of having to buy a $49.99 converter I would be very happy.
The Quik Key is a great addition to the GoPro accessory line and is available for Lightning Port for the iOS ($29.99), Micro-USB ($19.99) and even USB-C ($19.99). It works directly with the GoPro Capture app on your mobile device to transfer photos and videos without having to hook up your GoPro or microSD card to your computer. Based on support documents, it seems like Android phones are more compatible with formats and resolutions, but since I have an iPhone the iOS version is what I am dealing with. You can get the specific iPhone resolution compatibility chart here. It’s interesting to note that ProTune footage is specifically not compatible with iOS.
The Quik Key is great for my dad adventures (or dad-ventures!) to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, hikes, baseball games, etc. If for some odd reason one of my sons takes a nap, I can transfer some videos or images to my phone and upload them to the web while on the run. The Quik Key comes with a carabiner-style clip to hang on, but it’s definitely small enough to keep in your pocket with the Remo remote. I love the Remo for the same dad-ventures with the kids; you can use the button as a shutter release and also change shooting modes from video to photos by just saying “GoPro Photo Mode.”
In the end, while GoPro is digging their way out of the Karma Drone battery latch caper, I continue to love their gear. The GoPro Hero 5 is my favorite camera they’ve made to date and it’s easy to take along since you no longer need an external housing to keep it waterproof. All of the GoPro accessories like the Karma Grip, Hero 5, Hero 5 Session, mounts, three-way mount and practically anything else fit perfectly in my favorite GoPro bag, The Seeker. It’s an incredible bag that even comes with room enough for your CamelBak water bladder.
The Karma Grip is smooth and super easy to use, it works flawlessly with the Hero 5 and coming soon in spring of 2017 is the Karma Grip extension cable. The extension cable allows you to put your Grip handle out of sight and mount the stabilizer inconspicuously, something I bet a lot of television shows will like to use, opening the GoPro creativity door a little more.
I really love GoPro products. Even if there are other options out there, I always know that for the most part the GoPro product line is made of high-quality accessories and cameras that everyone from moms and dads to professional broadcasters rely on. I can even give my GoPro to my sons to run around with and get muddy without a care in the world allowing them to capture the world from their own point of view. The GoPro product line including the Karma Grip is full of awesome gear that I can’t recommend enough.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.