Garmin is jumping into the action camera field staked out so thoroughly by GoPro with the Virb and Virb Elite cameras. These rugged, waterproof, mountable 1080p video cameras come with everything you need to shoot your latest ski run, skateboard line, or unicycle tightrope. At $299.99 and $399.99 (direct), respectively, they’re pricey cameras, though. Even with the Virb Elite’s GPS and other sensors, Garmin can’t quite touch the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition in sheer performance or flexibility.
[Editors' Note: This review is based on tests we performed with the Garmin Virb Elite, the $399.99 (direct) version of the Garmin Virb. The $299.99 Garmin Virb lacks the Elite's GPS and other sensors, but otherwise has the same camera components, and video performance between the two should be identical.]
For this review, we tested the Virb Elite, though both versions have identical sensors and lenses (more on the differences in a moment). The Virb Elite looks like a cross between a flashlight and a wine stopper. It measures 4.7 by 2.2 by 1.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.2 ounces, and is covered almost completely in a rugged, rubberized coating. The glass of the lens and the 1.4-inch color display are uncovered, but seem impact resistant, and the mini USB and micro HDMI ports sit protected under a rubber door.
The battery door is held in place by a twist-lock that keeps it sealed, and the microSD card slot sits, inconveniently, under the battery. The entire design is waterproof to one meter for 30 minutes, and is very resilient against drops. Garmin notes the protection is for “accidental” submersion, though, and if you want to record video underwater you should put the camera in the company’s optional $40 dive case. The Virb Elite doesn’t come with a separate waterproof case or a Wi-Fi remote like the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition, but it does support Wi-Fi communication with your smartphone or tablet for controlling the camera remotely.
Controls sit on the sides of the bell-shaped camera, with Power, OK/Snapshot, and Up/Down navigation buttons sitting on the right side and a large sliding Record trigger on the left side. A very simple menu lets you turn on the viewfinder, use the leveling function, switch between dashboard displays, and change settings using only the Up, Down, and OK buttons. The display isn’t bright or easy to read in low light (it isn’t backlit at all), but it’s very legible outdoors under bright light, which is where you would most often use the Virb. The text, icons, and dashboard displays are all large and legible, though the viewfinder mode only offers a general sense of what the camera’s pointing at thanks to its small size and lack of backlight.
Under the hood, the Virb Elite has a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor and a very wide (but unspecified) lens. The sensor and lens are the same as on the Virb, but the Elite adds a GPS sensor, altimeter, and accelerometer. These extra sensors can be accessed in the Dashboard screen of the camera, letting you check your speed, elevation, direction, and even g-force acceleration. You can also connect ANT+ sensors to track your heart rate, cadence, or the temperature around you. The sensors even let you use the camera as a level to make sure it’s straight. In our opinion, the GPS sensor is most notable, because it lets you geotag your video with a universal .GPX positioning file that corresponds with your footage.
Video quality is nice and smooth, though you’ll have to step down to 720p to get full 60 frames per second compared to 1080p’s 30 frames. For lots of action, that’s a must to reduce blur or stuttering. The 1080p test video I recorded looked bright and appropriately colorful under the winter sky of midtown Manhattan, and showed impressive detail in a squirrel’s fur and claws as I recorded a curious one on a park bench. The 720p test video showed less detail because of the resolution, but its 60 fps footage meant the shot was relatively sharp and free of blur in any given free frame save for when the camera had to adjust focus for closer or further objects. The GoPro Hero3 Black Edition offers similarly excellent HD performance, plus a 15fps 4K video mode and many more fine tuning controls for color correction.
The Garmin Virb series is a functional, sturdy action camera that offers solid performance both for high-resolution 1080p30 and high-speed 720p60. The Elite version has some useful extra features like its myriad sensors, but they won’t justify the extra $100 on the price over the regular Virb. If you want a video camera for your helmet or bike that can handle spills drops, and splashes, either model is a solid choice, though the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition edges past both with functionality and performance.
|LCD size||1.4 inches|
|Mic Input Jack||No|
|Dimensions||4.7 x 2.2 x 1.6 inches|
|Video Recording Format||MicroSD|
|Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated)||3.3 feet|
|Interface Ports||mini USB|
|CCD Resolution||16 megapixels|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc