I’ve been wanting to look into a new action cam for awhile now. I used to own a GoPro and, this time around, I sort of figured I had been there and done that. I wondered what else was out there—was there a GoPro alternative that was any good? My search led me to try out the Garmin Virb Elite action camera.
I think what initially drew me to the Garmin Virb (and subsequently the Virb Elite as the two models look identical save for a different color scheme) was it’s styling. Namely, it had some. Compared to the boxiness of the GoPro it seemed like a nice—although larger—change.
Also unlike a GoPro, the Virb feels like it was made to fit a hand. It’s easy to hold, it’s grippy and in this case, it’s larger size makes a bit of sense.
I also find the color scheme of the Virb Elite compelling for some reason. I guess the black and white and red stand out a bit in a world where most of my gadgets are silver. I mean, I love my Apple products, and the aluminum and glass look works for a refined office feel, but it wouldn’t work for a product made to take into the great outdoors.
Plus, unlike a GoPro, the Virb doesn’t need a case to prevent it from getting beat up. The ruggedness is built right into the product (that’s not to say there aren’t a ton of accessories Garmin would love for you to get your hands on, though—more on that later).
Using the Garmin Virb is easier than easy. Rather than have an on button and a record button—a two step process—the Virb just has a record button that takes care of both functions. See something you want to record? Just flip the switch and you’re in business.
Being right handed, I did find myself wishing the record switch was on the right side of the device which would make it easier to hold the device in my right hand and use my thumb to switch it on. As it was, I typically ended up holding the device with two hands to turn it on and then switching it to my preferred hand for filming.
There’s a large red light on the Virb that flashes a bit obnoxiously during recording. I assume this is so that a person in the midst of a crazy action sport will know for a fact that they are capturing footage. But it does ensure that the device is anything but subtle. Forget recording in a public place without anyone noticing—or at the family gathering without being chastised (probably appropriately so).
There are a few settings on the device. Changing them is a bit frustrating as it’s not the world’s best interface and button system. That said, I found that I never really needed or wanted to change much right out of the box. This is a camera that works—and works quickly—right from the get go. It’s default settings are going to get you where you want to go.
The Virb does have a nice, small colored screen on top which can give you a better idea of what you’re actually shooting (rather than aiming and hoping you’ve hit the mark or haven’t cut any heads or arms out of the picture). So, while other action cameras on the market may require you to hook up with an iPhone or iPad to see what is being filmed, with the Virb there is simply no need. Great feature.
The actual footage of the Virb has a fish-eye/wide-angle feel to it. That means it isn’t going to be “flat” like your iPhone or Android camera. That ends up being a good thing because it really does capture more of what you are trying to film.
In terms of quality, the 1080p resolution is nice. In my testing I think the colors could have perhaps been a little brighter, but clarity and smoothness were excellent. With this type of a camera, the anti-shake capabilities matter and the Virb does a good job of reducing shaking and making videos more watchable. No, it’s not a 4K camera, but if you don’t want to spend $499.99 for a GoPro Hero4 Black, it’s a great option for HD footage (and a savings of $220).
The included software isn’t great. It’s a bit confusing, isn’t robust and seemed a tad buggy. That said, I don’t buy a camera for the software. Once you offload the footage onto your computer for editing, there are plenty of great programs you can use to splice scenes together and add finishing touches.
As I mentioned earlier, there are a ton of available accessories for the Virb. There’s a helmet mount, chest mount, arm mount… everything the buyer of an action cam would expect and want. I had no problems with any of those, but the car/dash mount left me a bit grumpy. It took me a good 40-50 tries to get it to stay put on my car’s windshield. Often, I would think I had finally gotten it to stick only to have the whole apparatus—camera included—come crashing down mid drive.
If you’re looking for an affordable, rugged action camera with plenty of accessories that is easy to use and that lets you start shooting quickly, Garmin’s Virb and Virb Elite are worth a serious look.
As for me, I will continue to use the Garmin Virb Elite. I’m not looking for an alternative at the moment as I’m quite satisfied with it’s convenience and performance.