The action camera market (and especially GoPro) has exploded in last few years, and along with the flow of cameras and accessories there have been huge leaps in the quality of the video footage. One of the most radical non-camera improvements that we’ve seen has been the introduction of compact stabilisers such as the GoPro Karma Grip.
Simply put, the Karam Grip is a small handle with a motorised gimbal head attached. This gimbal this rotates around three axis to cancel out unwanted movement and shake. The result is smooth, fluid, professional-looking footage that loses the all too often wobbly look of home shot video.
Modern stabilisers have increased hugely in sophistication, incorporating high speed motors and gyro systems that enable almost anyone to use one. Best of all, the technology has shrunk and become affordable.
The GoPro Karma Grip is just one of many stabilisers that have been launched for GoPro, but it is of course notable because it comes from GoPro itself.
GoPro Karma Grip Review: Features
First and foremost the GoPro Karma Grip has been designed for use with the GoPro Hero5 Black, GoPro Hero5 session or the GoPro Hero4 Black and Silver. It ships with a harness for the GoPro Hero5 Black so if you want to use it with any of the other GoPro cameras you need to purchase the correct adaptor separately.
Unlike some other stabilizers the grip contains a built in battery, this supplies a good hour and a half of battery life which is roughly the same as that of the GoPro Hero 5. Unlike the Hero5 battery, however, there is no way to swap it out for another one, so if you need more power you’re just going to have to wait for the grip to to recharge.
The Grip comes in two parts; the grip with the controls and battery contained within, and the gimbal head. This gimbal forms part of the new ecosystem, and can be swapped out and placed into the Karma drone if you own one.
As mentioned earlier, the gimbal has a harness to hold the GoPro Hero5. Connectors on the harness interface directly with the camera and enable you to use the controls on the Karma grip to switch modes or start and stop recording.
The 3-axis gimbal and grip fit together using a robust locking mechanism. If the two halves are separated, the supplied mount adapter ring can be fitted to enable you to connect the GoPro Karma Grip to any of the usual GoPro mounts.
On the base of the grip is a USB port of the Type-C variety and this enables you to plug your GoPro Karma Grip into a power source for charging, it can also be used for firmware updates as and when they appear. The USB port is covered with a rubber bung to protect it from moisture.
Also on the base of the grip is a wrist strap, a handy feature if you’re skiing or doing another sport that could mean you might drop the handle.
Compared with other stabiliser grips like the Removu S1 there a couple of features missing, for example there’s no Bluetooth or wireless connectivity that would enable the grip to be controlled by a smartphone app or a remote control. There are also no direct controls on the grip that would enable you to manually adjust the tilt, rotation or yaw of the gimbal. The gimbal cannot be used in isolation, it must always be connected to a power source, either the Grip or drone.
GoPro Karma Grip Review: Build Quality and Handling
The Karma Grip has been designed to be used handheld, in the GoPro Karma Drone or on a wearable mount (using the supplied adaptor ring to enable it to be used with any GoPro Mount).
The design and build quality is 100% GoPro, it’s a solid device with a good weight and perfectly designed for the action camera market. It feels tough and robust and although it’s not sold as waterproof, or even water resistant, you can tell by the rubberised feel that it will stand up to a little more than the odd rain shower. The finish is a mixture of hard durable plastic and rubberised textured grip, adding to the aesthetic as well as functional quality of the grip.
The grip is a little larger than many of the other grips on the market and for people with average or large size hands that enables a much firmer purchase than compare with the likes of the Removu S1.
There are just four buttons on the grip; a Power button on the left, Highlight button on the right, Record button at the top and Tilt Lock at the bottom. The Power button on the left enables you to switch between modes on the GoPro camera once everything is connected.
When hand holding the grip, the four buttons are all within easy reach, and although they are smooth to the surface of the grip they offer a reassuring click when pressed.
In use all four buttons are responsive and I had absolutely no qualms about their ability or functionality.
GoPro Karma Grip Review: Setting up
The Karma Grip is straightforward to set-up, you start by charging the grip through the USB port on the base of the device until the four LED lights highlight that it’s fully charged.
The Grip comes assembled with the gimbal in place but if you want to attach the mounting ring then the grip and gimbal need to be separated so that the ring can be slotted into place.
The locking ring that holds the two halves together is tight and takes a bit of effort to separate. Thankfully there area clear markings to show the locked and unlocked position.
With the gimbal attached to the grip you’re ready to fit your GoPro. Before the GoPro can be mounted the protective door that covers USB and HDMI port needs to be removed. The first time you do this it seems very wrong, but it’s actually quite easy to do but Jeff Meyer created this video showing exactly what to do.
Once the door is removed then you just push the GoPro Hero5 into the Hero5 harness that ships with the GoPro Karma Grip. You just align the camera with the connectors in the harness and push it home. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a similar harnesses available for the GoPro Hero5 Session and another available for the GoPro Hero4 Black and Silver, but these must be bought separately.
Once the Hero5 is in place you just need to power up the grip to boot up the Grip and the GoPro.
The Karma Grip comes calibrated and ready to use as soon as it’s charged and you’ve attached a GoPro. It’s instantly apparent just how quick the 3-axis stabiliser gimbal head is at correcting movement. Comparing it side-by-side against the Removu S1 and you can see that the GoPro just has the advantage on speed.
The tilt of the head can be changed by simply adjusting it with your fingers. For adjustment or recalibration of the Rotation or Yaw you need to run through the calibration process.
After time the Karma Grip can get a little bit out of sync, you’ll recognise this as a slightly wonky Horizon or the rotation will be slightly off. In both cases the GoPro Karma Grip will need recalibrating.
This is done by simply laying the Karma Grip on the table with the buttons facing up and holding down the Tilt Hold button for eight seconds.
As you do this you need to make sure that the gimbal is hanging over the edge of (and well clear of) the table so that it can rotate freely as it calibrates. This calibration process takes around 2 minutes and when done you should find everything is level once again.
GoPro Karma Grip Review: Verdict
There’s no doubting the quality of footage that can be captured when using a GoPro, especially in bright sunlight conditions. Throw the Karma Grip into the mix and you have a serious professional rig that’s small, lightweight and relatively inexpensive. It makes hand-held footage watchable even when you’re walking or running.
Using a stabiliser elevates the quality of your footage and the Karma Grip is flexible enough to be used in many different scenarios. It might not have features such as manual in control over the gimbal head or WiFi connectivity, but its stabilisation capability is as good as it gets.
The ease of use is exceptional and there’s really is nothing to learn or know about the grip, it simply does what it’s supposed to do, cut-out wobble, camera shake and unwanted motion from your GoPro captured footage.
Of all of the action cam stabiliser grips that I’ve tried, the build quality and handling of the Karma Grip is the best. Its build is exceptional, and the materials used (rubber, plastic and metal) are all well finished and of a superior quality too many other products on the market.
Handling wise you can feel that this is a product that has gone through the testing mill. It might not have some of the fancy features I was expecting, but it’s a very simple to use and capable stabiliser that really does the job it’s designed to do.
It’s also flexible, having the ability to mount directly to the vast variety of GoPro compatible mounts. However, it can be a little cumbersome as the grip always needs to be left in place and the gimbal cannot be used in isolation.
This means that when it’s mounted on the bars of a bike the grip looks rather large and it can be a little tricky to mount on a backpack – although there is an optional extension cable that allows you to tuck the handle section away if you need to. As ever with GoPro, there’s always a way.
The stand-out feature though is the quality of the image stabilisation and this is exceptional. The small gimbal really does help to smooth out camera shake and wobble caused by whoever it is handling the camera.
If you own a GoPro Hero5 then you really should invest in the GoPro Karam Grip, there are few other devices on the market than can make such a marked improvement on the quality of your footage so easily.