Although I didn’t attend, I’ve been looking forward to Photokina 2016 for months. For me, this was a show where almost every manufacturer I’m really interested in was presenting. I was most excited to hear the Panasonic and Olympus presentations, because both were announcing a new flagship m43 camera that I’ll quite possibly buy, and I wasn’t thinking much of GoPro, even though I love my GoPro 4 and various accessories.
Well, the Panasonic and Olympus announcements were pretty cool (more on this later), but the GoPro presentation blew me away. I don’t know if it’s because I wasn’t paying attention to what they were up to (I knew they were preparing a drone, that’s about it), but I was really, really impressed, and yes, excited.
I think the best thing is to just go over all the things they announced and give my thoughts:
GoPro Karma drone
This was the big news, and it looks great. The price is amazing – $799 by itself (if you already own a GoPro Hero5, or a GoPro Hero4 Black). If you buy it bundled with a camera, you save $100, so if want to add one of those tiny Hero5 Session cams, it’s $999, and with the new Hero5 Black, it’s $1099 (All prices USD). To me, this is a really good price. If you get the top of the line Hero, it’s $100 cheaper than a DJI Phantom4, which is the only other drone I’d really consider (because I’m worried I’d crash everything else).
The Karma Gimbal thing doubles as a hand-held stabilizer!
This blew me away, it’s so genius, and it looks like switching the gimbal between drone and the handheld stick works so smoothly. I currently own a Feiyu-Tech G4 gimbal for my Hero4 Black, and the footage you get with it is absolutely amazing, but there are a few problems:
One problem is that Feiyu-Tech is some relatively faceless company in China, and I’m not very confident as to what happens if my gimbal ever breaks, or gets damaged. Of all the camera equipment I have, the gimbal is by far the thing I think most likely to break, because of all the tiny gyros and moving parts. And the thing seems built well enough, but a couple of little touches worry me – there are 2 long screws that you need to adjust that are so flimsy and always bend a bit, and they send a special USB cord to charge the batteries, but if you use a normal USB cord, apparently you can fry the batteries or something.
So the better option to a FeiyuTech might be the DJI Osmo, and it does look great, but it’s over $500, and you can’t remove the camera from it and move it around. I’ve always been tempted, but it’s too pricey and not flexible enough for me.
So my point is this: Having a drone double as a gimbal stabilizer is such an amazing value proposition. If you price out what a drone/camera on this level would cost, and then add the price of a stabilizer, the Karma drone looks like just an insanely good deal, and it’s not even close. This is great for GoPro, because it will give a lot of people (like me) a good reason to buy the Karma, even if they know they won’t use the actual drone part constantly.
You can also buy the stabilizer on its own with no drone (for $299), and oh yeah, one of the coolest things about it, is that you can mount the gimbal itself to any GoPro mount, just like you’d mount a camera. Honestly, I feel like I’m doing a bad job explaining how exciting this thing is, but it’s really, profoundly awesome.
Their usability and software improvements looks great
I installed the GoPro software when I got my Hero4, and I was pretty surprised that it wasn’t bad at all, it was quite usable. I’ve never had great luck with bundled software, especially photography stuff, and I long ago got to the point where I don’t even install anything that comes with a camera, other than smartphone apps (which are usually abysmal). But, as decent as the GoPro Studio thing was, it still wasn’t quite up to par with other solutions (I use DaVinci Resolve now).
The new software that GoPro announced looks extremely good though. It’s hard to really be sure, because marketing videos never tell the whole story, but I’m quite curious to try it out – it looks like a really good alternative.
The other usability add-on that really looks amazing, to me personally, is the feature where you plug in the Hero5 to charge, and it automatically starts sending your footage to your computer. This is such an amazing change, and I only wish any camera I owned had this feature. I used to use Eye-Fi SD cards, and they had this, and it was almost magical – I had a friend who bought one and then yelled at me for not telling him about how great it was. Eye-Fi had pretty terrible desktop software though, so hopefully GoPro will implement this feature a lot better. They could easily do it terribly and negate any benefits of this feature, but I’m hopeful, given the way they presented it and really focused on usability.
The Hero5 and Hero5 Session look great
I’ll actually say that I was most impressed with the Hero5 Session. When they released the original Session, I wasn’t that impressed – it was smaller, but the Hero4 was already relatively small, and I didn’t see the point. What’s more, having such a small camera with not even a small monochrome interface just seemed to suggest a lot of usability problems.
Now that it has voice activation, I see it as something I could easily use, and the size now becomes an advantage, not a hindrance. I love chucking my Hero4 into a pocket for quick trips out, but it’s still a bit bulky – and weirdly shaped – for all occasions. I could stick the Session in easily.
The voice activation in the Hero 5 is something I have actually wished for with my Hero4. It’s a real pain switching modes on it – I always forget which button does what, and the UI is not very great. Being able to just say “Take a picture” is amazing. I use voice commands on my phone all the time, and I think most people who think of this as a small feature haven’t really lived with a voice-activated device. This is a major feature, to me at least.
I didn’t mean this to be this long, and I’ve got to wrap this up, but the upshot is: This stuff all looks amazing, and I’m very pumped to try it out when it’s released (soonish I think). I’ve read that the actual GoPro company is not doing amazingly financially lately, but if anyone else thinks like I do, I could see this whole line really re-invigorating their sales.
(By the way, needless to say, I don’t own any stock in GoPro, and this post is completely independent and just my own views – I know it may feel over the top, but I’m not shilling, I just think this new line-up is really exciting.)