The Garmin Virb
Action cameras are amongst the hottest items in the electronics market these days. The GoPro camera totally revolutionised the video segment and made action-oriented videography affordable and accessible. Since then many other companies have entered the market. One of them is Garmin – best known for their GPS devices. A little while ago, they released the Garmin Virb Elite action camera. The specs are probably not as impressive as those of the upper level Go-Pro models but Garmin allows you to connect any kind of ANT+ sensor to it. I hone a very pleasant addiction to running and biking and therefore decided to get one of the Garmin Virbs to bring on my various business and personal trips. This Garmin Virb review is intended to just focus on the photography part of this camera. I actually call it run & bike-ography.
Why would I pick the Garmin Virb Elite over a smaller Go Pro? Very simple: the form factor. I was looking for something to bring on my runs. The GoPros are a bit boxy and didn’t really fit into my hands. The Garmin Virb on the other hand is longer. It is really easy to hold and operate when you run. Also, it has a small screen that allows you to pre-visualise the photos and videos. Not too shabby. Take a look at the photos below. It simply fits.
The Garmin Virb allows you to take videos and photos. The camera has a fixed wide-angle which borders to a fish-eye level. The sensor features 16MP. Taking photos on a run or ride is really easy. Just turn on the camera and press one of the buttons on the right. If you hold the shutter release, the Garmin Virb will take a series of photos. It’s important to note that these action cams are not really substitutes for a real camera, i.e. framing is a bit difficult. But in general, I am very impressed with the quality of the resulting photographs. White-balance is a bit off sometimes but the resulting files can actually be tweaked quite a bit. Below are a few examples.
The files can easily be edited in Lightroom or some of the mobile apps such as Google’s Snapseed. What amazes me is how flexible the files are. You can pull back highlights and enhance shadows to a large degree. Pretty cool.
Integration with Strava
I am an avid user of the cycling and running website Strava. Strava allows premium members to link photos to their workouts via Instagram. I love adding visual memories to certain runs and rides. Unfortunately, the current Strava functionality makes it a bit cumbersome.
Here is my workflow:
- Download photos from Virb to my laptop
- Email photos to iPhone
- Upload to Instagram
- Upload workout to Strava
It’s important to note that you need to upload the photos right before adding the workout to Strava. Their synchronisation window is relatively short.
A quick word about video
The Garmin Virb is also an excellent video camera. There are various modes (quality, size) including time-lapse. The great thing about the Garmin Virb Elite is that the camera also records signals from ANT+ compatible sensors. In my case this includes the power meter of my bike, cadence sensors, heart rate etc.. When you create a video, the Virb actually records all these signals and you can overlay them later in your final video. It’s quite cool.
Is the camera perfect? No, it isn’t. There are a few things I would like to see Garmin change:
- Turning the camera on takes too long: right around 15s or so.
- Heavy: it’s not the lightest camera. Shaving a few gr off would be great
- Stability: The Virb is sturdy and pretty reliable. However, I have experienced a few random crashes
- Underwater case: It is not possible to take individual photos with the underwater case – only video. This is outright stupid.
I love the Garmin Virb. It’s a fun tool for any run or ride. While the resulting photos will most likely not end up hanging on my wall, I am often quite surprised about the very decent quality. The form factor is absolutely perfect for running. It is very easy to bring the Garmin Virb with you and take photos on the go. The integration with ANT+ is great for creating cycling videos. This is a huge plus for me personally. Two thumbs up. However, I am looking forward to future revisions.
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