REVIEW: Garmin VIRB Elite action camera
We were lucky enough to be given a Garmin VIRB® Elite to play with for the summer and were keen to see how Garmin’s first foray into the action cam market would fare.
Right out of the box, the VIRB feels solid and well built. It weights in at 177 grams and, as such, isn’t the lightest action cam on the market, but I’d happily carry a little more weight instead of worrying if I’d break the camera.
Garmin have opted for the ‘long and narrow’ front facing approach to design which makes sense and works well on helmets, handlebars, kayak decks and shoulder mounts. Much more so than the shoebox on a stick design that many other brands follow.
The only place you wouldn’t want to try using it is a chest mount as it would stick out way too far. A minor niggle.
The camera itself is fully waterproof down to 1 metre and has the option of a dive case which protects the camera to 50 metres and has an ingenious sealed switch mechanism to turn it on and off.
The VIRB comes with a full colour, Chroma, non-backlit screen. This, counter-intuitively, works well in sunlight but requires a light source (torch, headlamp, house light) to be able to view the screen in lower light situations.
The instructions are quick and concise with full instructions online, if required. Most of the functions are intuitive and easy to use.
The VIRB’s first outing was a kayak trip across Poole Harbour. We used two mountings. The first was an adhesive mounting included with the VIRB, the second was a modified tent pole that would fit into the rudder hole and give a birds eye view over the paddler.
To control the unit whilst out of reach, we used an extremely handy app on our iPhones that acted as a remote control and could also give a live screen view. This was achieved by activating the wifi function on the unit, then getting the iPhone to link to it. Easy.
Being able to start and stop recording allowed us to increase the battery life quite considerably and meant that we were recording long, boring periods.
The camera fires up very quickly from standby so that you don’t miss any important moments which is another nice touch.
The battery life itself was about the same as other cameras of the same size and quality and lasted to within around half an hour of the manufacturers claim.
The unit doesn’t come with a memory card. It takes the Micro SD format so we had to use one of our spares which was only around 2GB and, as such, filled up after about 45 minutes of recording at 720dpi (less if we’d opted for 1080dpi HD). In reality, the larger the card the better.
The built in screen makes a big difference when setting up the camera as you can get a view through the lens and ensure that you’ve framed the shot correctly.
The screen also lets you playback footage, adjust the numerous camera settings and view the various sensor readouts. See more of that in the section below.
There are also various preset recording profiles, a very nifty one being the Ski profile that records your run but automatically stops at the bottom. This works well for mountain biking too.
The control buttons are rubberised and slightly proud of the unit which will be familiar to anyone who has one of Garmin’s proven eTrex or Oregan GPS handhelds.
They are easy to use, even with gloved hands which is fantastic for watersports users.
A feature that sets the VIRB apart from the competition is the amount of additional data that the camera collects in use and how that data can be used as well as the connectivity with other products wirelessly via Garmin’s ANT+.
The range of data that can be collected from the VIRBS GPS, Accelerometer and Barometer is impressive, all of which can be overlaid on the final video as well as be viewed live on the built-in screen.
Speed, lap-times, pitch, roll, direction and much more can be saved and is excellent note only for yacht and dinghy racing but for motorsports, skydiving, cycling and other activities.
One point to mention is that, to download and use the data, you need to use the Garmin VIRB Edit program. Using your computer’s default video uploader won’t drag across the data.
Once uploaded to the program you can edit the video and choose which gauges and dials you want to display on the screen. There’s a large amount to choose from, broken into categories such as motorsport and aviation.
This feature alone, I think, raises the VIRB above other cameras.
While the VIRB is waterproof as standard, we took advantage of the dive case supplied for the review and plunged it over the side of the kayak for an undersea view. The results were great and, if we’d had the time permitting, we would have grabbed the dive gear and popped round to Kimmeridge to give it a full dive test.
The dive case has an ingenious start/stop switch that doesn’t physically touch the unit but works on what looks like a reed/pressure switch. This removes the requirement for another opening and associated seals in the casing. Very clever.
The other advantage of using the dive case is that it protects the protruding domed lens that stands slightly proud of the casing.
For the number-crunchers, the VIRB Elite has the following:
- 1080p HD video recording with 16 megapixel CMOS image processor
- Chroma display: colour, high-resolution; easier control of setup, playback and adjustments
- High-sensitivity GPS, accelerometer and barometric altimeter
- Wi-Fi connectivity; use with free mobile applications for iPhone® and Android™
- Rechargeable, 2000 mAh lithium-ion battery, record up to 3 hours at 1080p
For more information, visit: http://sites.garmin.com/en-GB/virb/
GPS and motion data
Domed lens cover can be vulnerable to knocks and scratches
ConclusionHaving spent a summer with the VIRB, using it in different environments from sea to mountain, I found it to be more than sturdy enough, easy to use (even with gloved hands) and with more than enough options and functions to keep the committed technophile smiling for months. For me, the stand out feature is the sensor information which enriches the video content and provides and addition layer of enjoyment. In a crowded market such as it is, I think the VIRB is well worth a look and stands head and shoulder above much of it’s competition.