UPDATE: Videos now added!
Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 Review (part 1)
A few key points before we get started! I didn’t get this Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 as a promo, I bought it with my own coin, and I don’t have 10 action cameras to compare it to. I bought a GoPro Hero 2 years ago and nothing has really impressed me enough to make a new purchase (until the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 obviously). The Hero 3 was a bit smaller, the Hero 4 a bit sharper… meh, my Hero 2 is a great camera that takes great videos, I don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on minor upgrades. Likewise, no other company has really every produced anything to compete with GoPro. Panasonic has a super weird form factor, the previous Garmin VIRB cameras were mediocre, Sony had some ok cameras, Olympus has some decent ones, but GoPro is the king – end of story. Until now that is! The Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 has released a true upgrade, something no one else can match – including GoPro(so far). I hope you enjoy part 1 of 3 parts of the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 Review.
Initial impressions from Day 1:
Feels super high end. This doesn’t feel like a “knock off” product. All the GoPro mounts I have work for it, which is really nice! Touchscreen works well (even in the case), and the camera is easy to use. Voice control works great! Takes good video and super slow mo is awesome. Audio is surprisingly good in the case as well.
Unless there is literally NO WAY to take the shot I want to take with another camera, I will not use my GoPro. I typically use my GoPro once or twice a year. Why? It is a pain the ass to use. You have to click through different menus, you never know what mode you are in, etc. Want to change the shot from wide to narrow? Hope you have 5 minutes to change that setting. This is where the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 shines – it is so easy to use. Because it is so easy to use, I find myself wanting to use it, and using it very often. I am just thinking of the last 10 things I video’ed and how my life would have been so much easier if I had this Garmin instead of my GoPro, camcorder, and cell phone. I would have just brought this one camera instead of using all three.
What’s in the box:
Garmin VIRB Ultra 30, basic “sticky” bases, with some different shaped attachments. Altimeter back plate, which is not water proof but allows the camera to altitude measurements.
Camera out of its case with the battery
SD card slot:
Super engineered case allows the camera to have incredible audio even inside its tough/waterproof case. Super impressive!
Latch is much easier to use than the GoPro and well thought out.
Compared to the GoPro Hero 2:
Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 vs the GoPro hero 2: You can see the Garmin is a bit smaller, and it is also lighter. If you want to have a screen on the GoPro however, the LCD backpack makes the GoPro much larger and heavier. In my opinion, the Hero 2 is almost completely useless with out a screen or at least Wi-Fi to use your phone as a screen (also requires a backpack on the Hero 2).
Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 vs. GoPro with LCD back pack.
Using the Camera
The touchscreen works even with the case on! The camera is super easy to use, the menus are well laid out and easy to navigate. Really makes the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 very accessible, it operates the way you expect a smartphone to work. This is basically the opposite of GoPro! The GoPro system is archaic in comparison. Additionally, the buttons are very easy to press/operate, which means my son (3 years old) can’t play with the GoPro, but he loves this thing!
Lock screen keeps you from changing settings accidentally.
The connectivity options are fantastic. Miracast for wirelessly showing your shots, Garmin smart watches work as remote controls, Wi-fi lets you connect it with a smartphone app, and Ant+ lets you connect heart rate monitors (and other sports accessories).
Taking Pictures and Video:
There are some awesome features that REALLY make a huge difference in day to day use of the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30. The first is the knob. Instead of a record button, there is a knob that you flick forward or back. When the camera is off, you flick it forward – it turns the camera on and starts recording in ~1 second. When you are done recording, you flick the knob back and it stops the recording, saves the video, and turns off the camera. ZERO wasted battery or jockeying around with the camera. This allows you to really stretch battery life easily and “edit in camera” (which you should be doing anyways!). This is perfect for when you are wearing the camera facing outward (first person view)
Another feature is the voice control – it works. It works pretty dang well too. My smartphone has a voice control feature as well and it basically has become the only way I use the camera. Having this allows me to do SO much more with the camera and cuts my editing time. You can even set it to go into low power mode and wait for your voice commands instead of fully turning off. This is perfect for taking shots of yourself from a distance, and it works great when you are doing something that requires your hands (like biking).
The last one is the shutter button. The button allows you to snap pictures while you are taking videos or any other time. The camera does not need to be in “picture mode” you can just take a picture whenever, you know… like a camera.
Controlling the Camera
There are blinking LED’s all around the camera so you know what state it is in and there are audio cues when switching modes.
I mentioned the smartwatch and smartphone control. My Garmin Fenix 3 picked up the camera instantly and works really well as a remote control.
The smartphone app works great as a remote viewer and controller. It also allows you to access your on-camera media and to download/share it from your phone.
The last piece of the puzzle is getting the G-metrix on the video and on the web. Enter the VIRB Edit video editor.
VIRB Edit software:
This is a pretty basic video editor with some very specific features for Garmin VIRB cameras. The software is very easy to use and works well. You can present the G-metrix in hundreds of ways which is really cool. Don’t want to use it to edit your video? Just import the shots using it, overlay the G-metrix, then export the shots. Don’t even want to do that? Just export the G-metrix as PNG transparencies to overlay onto the video using another software. Very adaptable to whatever you refer.
Next installment of the review: Videos!
I will be taking a number of videos and G-metrix and such as examples over the next few days and I’ll do a whole separate post on them! I hope you enjoyed part 1 of 3 parts of the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 Review, stay tuned for part 2.
Part 2: Example videos and photos
I took a few example photos. I was seriously impressed with the shots taken on this camera.
I found that I like the Lens correction feature on. If you are purposefully going for a fish-eye effect then leave it off, but I was able to use this as a serviceable point and shoot with that feature on.
Lens correction on:
Lens correction off:
Here is a gallery of a bunch of other shots I took:
Video: Low Light
The first test was on my back deck, that has very “cool” colored lights and generally quite poor lighting. As you can see, the video is a bit grainy but overall its fairly decent.
Next I took a walk in the woods:
I put on the image stabilization to see if it made a difference, and it seems in the low light, it made the image significantly worse, which was surprising.
Lastly I bumped the camera to its highest setting (but with a slightly lower fps) to see if that would make a difference, but it doesn’t appear that it does.
Stay tuned! I’ll be updating this daily as I get more footage and run more tests!
There are 3 main slow motion settings on the camera:
That being said, you can select from a whole bunch of frame rates lower than these (96, 60, etc) at each resolution. I took a few example videos of each setting. The software is easy to use to get the video to go slow mo, you just shoot in slow mo, then change the speed of the clip to 50%, 25%, or 12.5%. The best best seems to be 720p at 240fps.
Here is a video at 1080p 120, set to 25% and exported at 30fps.
This is 720p 240, set to 12.5% and exported at 720p 30fps
This is 720p 240, set to 12.5% and exported at 1080p 30fps
This is 480p 300, set to 12.5% and exported at 1080p 30fps. Why would I only slow it to 12.5% when I could slow it further with the higher frame capture rate? Well, because the VIRB edit software can only slow to 12.5%!!! This mode degrades the video quality and the higher rate is unusable without another software set, so I don’t recommend it.
There are 4 levels of zoom (kind of). Standard, Lens Corrected, 1.5x, and 2x. In GoPro speak thats wide, fish eye correction, medium and narrow. Below is a comparison between the features:
The one feature I forgot to include here is “expansive” which is extra fish-eye/wide angle view. I’ll have a comparison with that feature soon!
Timelapse, travelapse, expansive zoom, underwater, and stabilization test!