Garmin VIRB Elite HD action camera


A waterproof video camera put to the test.

The Garmin VIRB is a rugged and waterproof video camera that can be attached to helmets worn by cyclists, skiers and skateboarders or mounted to other surfaces, such as a kayak or vest. Alternatively, you can hold it in your hand as you walk.

There are two versions of VIRB, the VIRB standard and VIRB Elite. The Elite includes GPS, Wi-Fi and exercise tracking, as well as an altimeter and accelerometer. You pay an extra £80 to £90 for all this, over the standard camera, but it does make the VIRB Elite unique.

It’s these extra features, which many people already know and love Garmin for, that make the VIRB Elite different from the leading action camera brand, the GoPro.

Setting up the Garmin VIRB

images-15 When you first switch on the Elite, the GPS sets the time and date. It can also connect wirelessly to other Garmin gadgets with external sensors through the ANT system. So you could choose to record other useful details such as temperature, speed/cadence and heart rate via other Garmin gadgets.
Another very useful feature of the VIRB is the 1.4-inch Chroma display. This allows you to see what you are taking footage of. You can access various menu settings through the screen.

The display is non-backlit. Because backlit LCD screens use up a lot of battery energy, Garmin has chosen not to have a backlit option but still have a screen feature. Of course, you won’t be able to see the screen in the dark but in the daytime the non-lit screen is superb.

Fixing the VIRB to my helmet didn’t prove the easiest thing to do to start with. I had been sent the set-up that allows you to adhere the camera mount to a solid helmet (perhaps a ski or skateboard helmet) so I then needed to request a mount for a bike helmet with vents/holes.

The strapping system took a bit of sorting but once on the helmet it stayed in place neatly and tightly. My concern was the weight of the camera. I have a super lightweight road cycling helmet and it felt heavy with the VIRB on top.

Instead, I made use of a second bike helmet, one that I use for mountain biking, that is heavier in the first place. This option worked the best for me.

Garmin also supply mounts for dashboards, vests and a waterproof diving case so there is lots of versatility as to where you use it.

When I was walking I found it easier to simply hold the camera in my hand and point it in the direction of where I wanted to film.

Getting technical

The technical details are, according to the experts, good. There’s a 1/2.3-inch CMOS with 16Mpixels, which captures video at up to 1080p and 30 frames per second.

There are also 1280 x 960 and x 720 film recording options, with the former available at 48 frames per second and both at 30 or 60 frames per second.

I am not a technical person but I have read in several places that his makes the VIRB Elite a great gadget for action films.

There is a down side, in that there is no zoom option, but Garmin have included digital image stabilisation, which is an advantage over many other video cameras. There is also a built-in digital lens distortion correction to overcome the effect of the wide-angle.

I like the VIRB because it’s not over-complex. I hate being presented with too many options. To get started with filming you simply push a switch.

You can also change the lens correction and digital stabilisation and turn off the internal mono microphone. If you are familiar with Garmin gadgets already you’ll find many of the functions are similar.

A wee bit of fiddling around and reading some instructions allows you to set up the video camera without too much filming knowledge.

Garmin states that the VIRB will give about three hours of filming on a charged 2000mAh battery. I found the battery ran out after about 2.5 hours but this is still pretty good for the size of gadget.

Film quality of the VIRB

images-16This is a fixed focus lens and after attending a wildlife photography course recently I know that this means there will be less overall clarity. If the lens can zoom in and out you can control the depth of field and focus on a particular depth.

The VIRB tries to focus on everything it sees and while you still get good detail it’s not as sharp as a video camera that has a zoomable lens. It’s still very good to my inexpert eye, though.

I found the image stabilisation surprisingly good. I was worried the film would be all blurry because I was bouncing up and down on my bike but the clever Garmin gadget sorts this out. Don’t ask me how!

And I know that this works because I first filmed a mountain biking route without switching on the stabilisation mode and the difference was easy to see in the resulting footage.

If you are filming in good light all is great. In low light the quality isn’t as good, but that is to be expected. The colours still looked good to me.

Here is an interesting comparison movie of the Garmin VIRB Elite vs the GoPro Hero3

Editing the film

Garmin has its own VIRB Edit software, which you can download from the website. This allows you to edit the film and import the GPS and ANT sensor data. All this can be combined to create your footage.

The edit software is basic and you might want to look at other more complex editing suites, but for a simple film it is easy to use.

What I really like is that in the editing suite the film sits next to an overlay of the route on a map. When produced as a YouTube video, the compass direction, speed and height details are also overlayed on to the film. This makes the VIRB Elite a very attractive purchase for people who like to know where they have been filming.

It was also a straightforward process to add music to the background. My resulting videos are amateur looking but they are informative and so simple to film and produce.

Summing up the Garmin VIRB

While the big competitor, the GoPro, is still going to attract outdoors fans, the Garmin VIRB Elite has the added benefit of being able to analyse your bike ride, ski adventure or kayak trip in terms of distance, location and speed, as well as filming it.

If you are already a fan of Garmin gadgets I can see this being a useful addition to your Garmin stable. The Garmin VIRB HD action cameras are now on sale priced at around £200 for the standard version and around £260 for the Elite one.

Shop Garmin VIRB or Garmin VIRB Elite

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