After posting many quarters of big camera sales declines, GoPro's (GPRO) new Hero5 cameras should allow the company to reverse the tide. Just how much its innovative-but-costly Karma drone will help looks like more of a question mark.
At a Lake Tahoe, Calif., event held this afternoon, GoPro unveiled the Hero5 Black, a new flagship camera that will sell for $400, and the Hero5 Session, a revamped version of the tiny, cube-shaped Hero Session that will go for $300. The much-anticipated Karma was also shown off -- it goes for $800 -- as were new PC and mobile video-editing apps and a $5 per month cloud service that automatically uploads content when a camera is being charged.
GoPro closed up 2.3% on Monday, after posting much larger gains earlier in the day. Video processor supplier Ambarella (AMBA) , for whom GoPro is the company's biggest client, closed up 0.3%.
The Hero5 Black should be popular with GoPro's core base of action sports enthusiasts. It improves upon the Hero4 Black, which launched in 2014, by featuring a touchscreen, voice commands, GPS/photo location capture, electronic (but not optical) image stabilization, wind-noise reduction (useful when skiing or skydiving) and RAW and wide dynamic range (WDR) photo-capture modes.
Like the Hero4 Black, the Hero5 Black supports 4K-resolution video recording at 30 frames per second (fps), and can take 12-megapixel photos at 30 fps. While both devices feature waterproofing, the Hero4 Black needs a camera housing to be waterproof, while its successor doesn't.
The Hero5 Session improves upon its predecessor by adding 4K recording and support for 10-megapixel photos; the original Session topped out at 2K and 8 megapixels. It also adds voice commands and electronic stabilization, but doesn't have the Hero5 Black's touchscreen, GPS radio and RAW/WDR modes.
Whereas GoPro is discontinuing the Hero4 Black -- it has already disappeared from the company's camera page -- it's still selling the original Session for $200. The company has tried to use the Session line to expand its addressable markets to consumers wanting a small, rugged camera for everyday recording.
But weaning consumers off their smartphones cameras has -- and probably will remain -- a tough challenge. On the other hand, the new Session's image-quality improvements might be enough to win over some action sports fans wanting a more lightweight camera than the Hero5 Black.
Can the Karma, which becomes available on Oct. 23, be the mass-market consumer hit that the Session has failed to be? The quadcopter drone's impressive hardware and perhaps unmatched convenience/ease-of-use don't hurt its cause.
The Karma can be folded into an included backpack/case, and comes with a controller that sports a touchscreen and looks like a handheld video game console. It also features semi-autonomous flight modes (also supported by some rival drones) and a three-axis stabilizer that can be removed from the drone and placed on the Karma Grip, an accessory that promises "ultra smooth" GoPro camera footage when either held or mounted on compatible accessories.
But all of this isn't cheap. In addition to paying $800 for the Karma, a buyer will need to purchase a compatible GoPro camera -- the Hero5 Black, the Hero5 Session or the Hero4 Black or Silver -- to record footage. GoPro is offering $100 discounts to those who buy a Karma with bundled Hero5 Black or Session, but that still respectively spells a total cost of $1,100 or $1,000.
For comparison, the Standard edition of market leader DJI's popular Phanton 3 drone can be purchased for $477 on Wal-Mart's site. Among other things, the Phantom 3 can't be folded up like the Karma, and the specs of the Standard edition's built-in camera aren't as impressive as those of the Hero5 cameras.
But at a price less than half that of the Karma bundles, many drone buyers are probably willing to accept such compromises. In addition to DJI, the Karma faces competition from many other drone makers, as a quick search on Amazon shows.
Given such a competitive environment, and the fact the drone market is still at a stage where many potential buyers are wondering whether it's worth purchasing one, it might just be a matter of time before GoPro slashes the Karma's price or delivers a less costly model.