I’ve never been a fan of the GoPro cameras so that’s why when I wanted to get an action camera a couple of years ago I ended up getting the Contour+ instead, it had some exciting features the Contour lacked as well as a slicker form factor. But, that wasn’t enough to overthrow GoPro since two years later, GoPro is still here while Contour collapsed last year due to financial difficulties. Now it’s Garmin’s turn to try and take on the GoPro with the new Virb action camera. Garmin are known for their navigation devices and this is their first attempt at an action camera so the local dealer in Kuwait passed me one to review.
I’ve had the camera now for around two months and I think I’ve got a clear idea of what I think about it. I’ve used it to record my bike trips, I’ve used it off roading in Lebanon and I’ve even tried using it as a dash cam. Generally I like the camera, it’s not perfect but it has some cool features that might make some people choose it over the more popular GoPros.
The biggest feature I think that will win people over is the durable water resistant rubber shell. The camera feels very well built and can take abuse which is why I wasn’t afraid of dropping it. Actually during this one trip the camera flew off my ATV while speeding on a rocky mountain trail. Not a scratch, not even on the lens. But even if I did scratch the lens it’s a cheap $20 part I could replace myself. Garmin wants me to put this camera in risky situations not be worried about damaging it and I love that.
Another great feature is the fact the camera has a large color LCD screen which you could use to help you frame your shots, for playback or to adjust any of the settings. The camera also has a large record toggle button similar to the one I used to have on my Contour camera which means I can turn on the camera and start recording by just moving the switch forward. Specs wise the camera can shoot 1080p at 30fps, 720p at 60fps and for extra slow mo, WVGA at 120fps. It also has GPS, wifi, bluetooth and even ANT+ so you could connect it to your heart rate monitor or other ANT+ device and overlay that information onto your video.
I think the biggest issue with the Virb is the weight of the camera. Because the camera is built like a tank it’s heavier than the GoPro and that might turn some people off. Also the majority of the footage I shot was coming out slightly underexposed and desaturated as you can see in the short video above. Finally the color of the device turned out to be problematic. The Virb I received for testing was white but after having it for a couple of months now and the abuse its taken from me the white now has a bit of a brown tint where it fell into the dirt and I had difficulty restoring it. Getting the black version would be the easy fix here.
The majority of the people interested in an action camera will most likely get the GoPro because thats the one everyone gets. But, that doesn’t mean it would be the best option for you. If you’re looking for a camera that can take some abuse or a camera in which you could overlay data onto your video like the speed you’re traveling or your heart rate, then you should consider checking out the Virb. The price of the Garmin starts at KD85 for the normal Virb or KD109 for the Virb Elite which is the one I tested.