GoPro tends to have the market for the generic action camera sewn up. As a result, competitors such as Garmin and Shimano have realised action cameras but with additional sport specific features, such as GPS and ANT+ sensor integration. So from the view of a cyclist, how does Garmin’s first action camera fair in this Garmin VIRB elite review?
Garmin virb elite review
The first thing you notice about the Garmin Virb is its shape. It doesnt look very camera like. Rather more like a rubber lozenge. Personally I feel thats part of its charm. I’m not the only one who thinks that given Garmin won a Red Dot design award for the VIRB!
The GoPro has never had a shape that appeals to me. No matter where you position a GoPro, there is no way of getting around the fact you’re mounting a brick.
Be it on your helmet, on the handle bars, even under the saddle. A GoPro looks like a stuck on wart – sometimes form should actually be considered in the Form Vs. Function debate.
HOWEVER there is one area where the GoPro does work from a mounting perspective, thats when worn on the chest for running etc. If you try and do that with the Garmin VIRB, you just look like you’ve grown a horn! You might suggest shoulder mounting with the harness…dont…it might have in-camera stabilisation, but it can’t work miracles!
The Garmin VIRB comes in two flavours, the elite, reviewed here and the regular. Externally the only difference between the two units is the colour, with the regular VIRB coming in a much stealthier black, as opposed to the rather visible white of the the Garmin VIRB elite. In addition to that Garmin thoughtfully covered the VIRB in soft grip rubber, to stop people dropping it – great idea! BUT the white house does tend to look rather grubby relatively quickly! Something I think Garmin must have been aware of, as they have now launched a subdued, grub hiding, olive green
Which a really interest colour, stealthy even. Perhaps tropically stealthy – which may be why you can see a lovely bit of product placement in Jurassic World on Owen’s handlebars
Currently thats the best picture I can find, but will update this when its out on DVD, or a better picture comes my way. Yes I’m that sad/boring/observant I notice these things!
OK its a camera, but what can it do?
Well I suppose the most important part is the camera, so lets start with that. 16MP, and covering most of the movie basics
- 1080p HD video: 1920 × 1080; 30 fps
- 960p HD video: 1280 × 960; 30,60 fps 48fps
- 720p HD video: 1280 × 720; 30,60 fps
- WVGA (slow motion): 854 848 × 480; 120 fps
- Still photo resolution: 16 MP (4664*3496); 12 MP (4664*2632); 8 MP (3264*2448)
- Photo burst: 6/s 3/s@16, 5/s@12 or 10/s@8
- Photo time lapse (seconds): 0.5,1,2,5,10,30,60
Note I say most as the VIRB can’t cope with 2.5/4K video that some of the latest action cameras are able to do. However as YouTube has only just started supporting 4K video, which to be fair look awesome, at this stage, I think 4K is merely a marketing gimmick, but that will change.
There is a microphone on the back of the camera…
Frankly its naff!
The sound quality if very poor, it sounds as thought the camera is under water! Here is a video I’ve produced which splices together feed from the Garmin VIRB elite with that of the Cycliq Fly 6 camera I have also reviewed in the past
The rear facing film is from the Fly6, whilst the forward facing is from the VIRB.
Whilst the audio might sounds poor, there is a reason for this – Garmin tried to IMPROVE the sound quality by putting a rubber…plug at the back end of the cradle the VIRB sits in
They certainly failed to improve the sound quality. I really dont understand this from a company as large as Garmin, as I was able to reduce the wind noise on the Fly6 above, but just putting a piece of sticking tape over the microphone hole.
This is the big one, as its basically how Garmin is selling the VIRB elite over other cameras.
- Bluetooth®: No – But lets be honest are we really surprised. Garmin has practically gone out of its way NOT to support bluetooth sensors and connectivity on its products currently. Yes the Garmin 920XT has excellent bluetooth connectivity with regard to phones, but still nothing for sports sensors. Perhaps because Garmin owns the ANT+ protocol and has a vested interest in promoting it?
- ANT+® compatible: Yes (remote & sensors)
- Interface: USB 2.0
- HDMI output: micro HDMI
- Wi-Fi: 802.11 bgn
- GPS: Yes
- Memory: microSD™ card (up to 64 GB); card not included
- Accelerometer: Yes
- Altimeter: Yes
- Water rating: IPX7…we’ll come to that…
- Image stabilization: Yes (digital)
- Lens distortion correction: Yes
GPS & ANT+
GPS and ANT+ is really how Garmin differentiates itself in the action camera market. The plethora of sensors it can connnect to gives you access to a massive range of overlays, e.g. bike speed, distance, cadence, heart rate, power sensors. Even if you dont have ANT+ compatible sensors, the GPS unit inside will still give you a wealth of data covering speed, distance, altitude, position, G force!
The sensor setup is done from the device screen – where Garmin has made an interesting choice. The screen is not back lit.
This saves a lot of power – given the camera only has at the maximum 3 hours of recording time, thats no bad thing. However in some circumstances it can be a little tough to read, but overall I found it a great compromise.
The VIRB has several down sides – again the audio – but also many excellent features, the software supporting the VIRB is first rate. Which includes both a desk top editor and a smart phone app
If I’m creating a video from sports cameras, its the Garmin VIRB Edit software I use. Simply because of the overlays it allows. Using a Garmin GPS file you can even put the overlays on feed from a different camera – like the Fly6.
Smart Phone App
IF the desktop app is great, this smart phone app is useful.
Starting the VIRB recording is easiest thing in the world. There a massive slider on the LEFT side of the unit. It doesn’t matter what mode the VIRB is in, when you slide the switch forward it starts recording. Seriously, this is one design MASTER piece on the VIRB.
However sometimes its nice to be able to check the “framing” of your video, but if you have the VIRB mounted under the handlebars, as I do, that can prove a little difficult. Hence the VIRB app.
The Garmin VIRB elite has a WiFi chip built in. Switching this on, creates a mini WiFi network, allowing the app to see, and control the VIRB. I’ll be honest, I’ve never found any of these camera based WiFi solutions, particularly stable, BUT they do provide functionality of letting you check vital stats on the camera, e.g. battery life, and check that the camera is not pointed at the ground!
The Garmin Virb comes with its own…Wierd ass mounting system. Garmin has created a cradle into which the VIRB sits, very snuggly, which can then be attached to a series of Garmin mounts.
If I’m honest, this cradle mount is the thing I dislike most about the VIRB. It just…in-elegant, as the cradle has to interact with a connection unit normally to fix the camera to whichever mount you are using. Certainly if you use the handle bar mount, the unit stands VERY prominently, and looks rather exposed.
As well as the Garmin specific mounts, there is also a GoPro adapter mount, but this then means again three pieces required to mount the camera. As a result of this I have used the K-EDGE combo mount – which allows for a Garmin quarter turn mount, and a GoPro connection underneath, providing quite a tidy solution to the clutter Garmin provides you with!
(as ever if I include a link, its to the cheapest place I have been able to find the product for direct sale, and is simply to help readers, and not affiliated.)
Seriously mounting all of this on top of the handlebars just looks ridiculous!
Another real benefit of the K-Edge mount, as opposed to the Garmin included ones, is the stiffness of the mount when clamped tightly on the bars. There is no flex, and very little shake even when going over some of the biggest bumps, giving a good camera feed – but whatever you do, make sure that you use the in camera stabilisation option on the VIRB, otherwise you’ll just end up sea-sick!
As far as I’m concerned this is a very important part of the Garmin Virb elite review. The VIRB is NOT waterproof
IPX 7 translates to able to withstand 30mins at 1m depth.
I would now take that to mean splash proof. Certainly the device is NOT capable of withstanding going swimming with it in your pocket! Something that I had considered thought would have been be possible with that rating – as for the case in
question, the pool was 1.2meters deep – I never sat on the floor of the pool, and only swam for 10mins doing arm rehabilitation after my fracture
The ports are covered by a heavy flap, which pushes into a very snug fitting socket, giving a reassuring feeling.
Similarly, the battery pack has slight sealing lip around the outside of the cover – note the micro SD card under the battery
That slight sealing is reinforced by the screw turn locking mechanism
In spite of all of this, after 10minutes in the pool, the camera stopped working, with water under the battery 🙁
Thankfully a night on the radiator had the VIRB up and running again without issue.
Given the curved lens on the VIRB which is needed to provide nearly 130 degree field of viewing the VIRB can’t focus under water
It should be noted, this isn’t a limitation of the VIRB specifically, no curved lens will focus under water. Hence why Garmin sell a dive case, with a nice flat front!
Straight on, the dive case has four white rectangles in the corners. These are little desiccant patches. If water was to get into the case when on a dive, these should absorb the moisture – they are not big enough to say absorb the water – the good thing about these desiccants is they can be reused, according to the package by drying out on a heater 🙂
Whilst the audio on the VIRB isn’t great, the footage certainly is as you can see below. As a result, I think you get better films currently with an audio track overly. I’ve used a slightly different data overly on this ride. But I do want to point out the dropping the heart rate sensor. Occasionally the VIRB can get a little forgetful when out on a ride. Maybe a firmware update would resolve that?
The VIRB has a battery life in keeping with other action cams out there…BUT the VIRB is a bit finicky when it comes to charging. In fact one unit was so unreliable when it came to getting the unit to detect it was plugged in to charge, it had to go back to Garmin – and before anyone asks, No that wasn’t the one that went for a swim!
Personally I’ve found the best charger for the unit is, rather than the bundled Garmin charger, actually an iPad charger.
To get the unit to remain in “off” mode, and charging is not an easy task, frequently nothing happens, or the unit starts up as well, with the camera rolling, meaning that charging takes much longer.
Its well known that the socket is quite recessed, and needs a bit of force to actually accept the cable, but that doesn’t seem to cure the…variable nature of the charging.
Conclusion – garmin virb elite review
The Garmin VIRB elite is a great video camera. Full stop.
Its a passable movie camera due to the sound issues.
Its an excellent sports camera given the built in GPS and the ability to use ANT+ sensors
Its a naff electronic gadget when charging the unit proves to be its largest headache.
All in all, I’d give it a solid 3 stars, and even with the mounting issues, I think that I just, just on balance given all the bells and whistles its got, just prefer it to a GoPro!
– Thoughts on the review? Stick them in the comments below!
I have now reviewed the GoPro Hero4 Session, and have done another film with the Garmin VIRB, so if you want to see some longer footage of a ride around wellesbourne, and the (superior) quality of the VIRB sensor, take a look at the GoPro Hero 4 review
Similarly I’ve compared the VIRB with the Shimano CM1000 earlier in july
The replacement for the GARMIN VIRB elite, the VIRB XE review is here