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Tech Garmin Virb Ultra 30 Action Camera

Discussion in 'Cycling Department Forum' started by dazzyb2k3, Nov 1, 2016.

  1. dazzyb2k3

    dazzyb2k3 Senior Member

    Just took delivery of my new toy - not even opened it yet :) Been meaning to get myself a decent cam for ages but never really found anything that tickled my fancy until now.

    Was a toss up between this and the new GoPro 5's but the Virb's ability to automatically incorporate GPS and ANT+ data into the footage swung it in the end. It's a bit extravagant but what's the use in working your nuts off if you can't treat yourself once in a while? :)

    Ultimately i want to experiment with making ergo videos of local routes that can be recreated on a turbo. There's a few technical hurdles i'll have to cross - but the Virb's ability to capture HQ footage and GPS/ride metrics should give me something solid to start from.

    I have to admit to falling out of love with Garmin products over the years but it seems they've hit the sweet spot with the Virb so i'm looking forward to giving it a try. Will post some feedback/pics when i've got to grips with it.

    If anyone has any advice on taking good footage with a bike mounted cam i'd love to hear it!
  2. SnyperAL

    SnyperAL Well-Known Member

    I can't advise on the camera, but I love my fenix 3 and all it's goodies.
  3. Bram Hengeveld

    Bram Hengeveld Senior Member

    That's a fabulous purchase @dazzyb2k3! Looking forward to seeing your videos :)
  4. Bram Hengeveld

    Bram Hengeveld Senior Member

  5. dazzyb2k3

    dazzyb2k3 Senior Member

  6. dazzyb2k3

    dazzyb2k3 Senior Member

    Just a quick update on the Virb Ultra 30. Sadly, due to a combination of being too busy at work and terrible weather here in the UK I haven't had much chance to give it an extended 'real world' test on the bike.

    That said, I've scooted round the block a few (actually quite a lot) of times to play with different settings and thought I'd give my initial thoughts along with inevitable comparisons to it's main competitor, the Go Pro 5.

    For starters, the unit is definitely well designed and ruggedly built. It feels very solid in the hand, and outside the case it's compact and looks good. It's a real shame that the bare unit isn't at least showerproof because unless the conditions are really good it needs to be in the protective housing almost all the time which adds a little more bulk and weight. Definitely a gap in the market for a thin TPU style skin that could offer basic protection methinks.

    The controls and interface are very nicely done. One touch recording and a dedicated photo button (when it works - keep reading!) are really great features. The voice control is just OK - i can consistently get it to start recording, take a picture and remember locations but for some reason it almost never understands the 'stop recording' command which is a PITA and kinda defeats the whole point really. It would be nice if it was trainable to your particular voice IMO.

    It has easily visible status LED's that blink green or red when the camera is doing something. I love that Garmin has put these on both the top and the bottom of the unit so you can still see them when the unit is inverted. You also get nice loud beeps to accompany actions and acknowledge voice commands. All of this stuff can be turned off if you prefer.

    The touch screen is excellent and very intuitive - and it even works though the case - and wearing gloves. It's bright, sharp and works brilliantly as a viewfinder. There's a ton of options including pro-mode settings to give some fairly advanced camera control if you know what you're doing - currently i don't :)

    Image Quality/Funtionality
    Basic 720/1080P footage looks to be about on a par - or maybe maginally less sharp than what i've seen from the GoPro 5's. Where the Virb really excels is 1440P, 2K and 4K which is undeniably stunning.

    Unfortunately (and this is the frustrating part) as you enable various resolutions and features, it removes your ability to do certain things. For example, enabling image stabilization prevents you from taking photos while the camera is recording. (you can stop recording and take pictures though). Also lens correction or stabilization isn't available in ultra wide mode or at higher resolutions. I realize that these restrictions aren't exclusive to the Virb but for some reason they feel more apparent than any other camera I've used. I think is is partly down to the fact that this is a cam that excels most when your working at the higher end so it teases you into wanting to do things you can't.

    Thankfully though, aside from the niggle of not being able to take 'live' photos with stabilization enabled i've found 1080/60 (which is probably most people's default) will give access to most of the functionality.

    Mic and Sound
    Mic quality is very impressive (both outside and inside) the case. There's not much wind noise and it pick ups voices very clearly even in traffic. I was actually quite amazed how good it is. Big thumbs up for this one.

    The internal speaker is also very capable. Quite loud and no distortion.

    The 3 axis stabilization is really quite good at eliminating unwanted wobble. It works excellently for swaying, bumps, potholes and general unwanted travel. It's less good with vibration such as bad road surfaces, cobbles or any situation with repeated high frequency chatter. The result is a bit of a jello effect at the edges of the footage and it's particularly noticeable during fast descents on bad road surface. This is a bit of a shame because most of the roads where i ride are poor quality. To be fair I'm not sure any kind of electronic stabilization would cope with this situation very well. I'm going to investigate different mounting methods, or adding some material into the mounts to try and reduce vibration to the unit. I suspect it wouldn't take much to make a big difference. Again, it's not a major issue, but these small things become noticeable when everything else looks so good.

    Supplied mounts are very limited. Just a couple of helmet and flat surface mounts. Quite disappointing but this seems like a good time to point out that the Ultra 30 uses a Go Pro compatible interface which is genius as it opens up a whole range of mounting options and accessories. This was a real selling point for me. WTG Garmin.

    There's an app that gives you live control over the camera & settings (via WIFI) and allows you livestream to you tube and the ability to transfer images/videos to/from your device. While it worked perfectly on my android devices, it simply wouldn't connect to my iPhoneSE. Looking on the forums it seems to be an ongoing issue with the software and some Apple phones. Garmin - you need to fix that!

    Also i find it bewildering that there is no desktop version of the app. Connectivity to my phone/tablet is nice but , the ONE thing i really want is wireless transfer to my PC.

    The wired connection to the Virb is done using a micro (not mini) USB cable. I like this as i've always found them to be more robust, but now almost every device on the planet has migrated to micro usb it means another cable on the desk. Not a big issue but worth mentioning. The interface is also USB2.0 and not USB3.0 which seems a bit short sighted - not to mention slower. There is also a micro HDMI for instant AV output.

    The real ace up the sleeve for the Virb is Garmin's G-Metrics which uses in built GPS to record your ride. It even pairs with any other ANT+/BT sensors to capture data from them. It paired with my power meter, HR and Cadence sensors instantly.

    The advantage of this, is that video footage can be overlayed with the captured ride metrics using the Virb edit software (a very basic but functional editing suite). Technically you could also do this by syncing up data from your normal bike computer but having the whole thing combined saves hours of messing around syncing things up/generating overlays etc. The results are really rather snazzy and spice up the videos no end.

    Lastly onto the subject of battery life. There's a lot of tech inside the Virb and when everything is enabled (voice control, gps, sensors etc) things inevitably take a hit. As a rough guide it's about 90mins (give or take) of general usage. This can be bumped up a bit by disabling some features.

    That's towards the lower end of other action cams - but in practice i haven't found it to be a issue, if i want to shoot longer i'll take an external battery pack anyway (the virb can be used while plugged in which is cool). I have a 6000mAH phone charger which sits nicely under my saddle and i can run a thin cable along the top tube into the Virb. It's surprisingly unobtrusive and gives me about 5-6 hours recording which is more than i'll need to capture the entirety of 99% of my rides. The virb's stock battery is swappable if you want to carry spares.


    In conclusion the Virb Ultra 30 is a cracking little camera, in fact up until the Hero 5, i'd say it was the best in class and probably still is at anything above 1080P. However, for day to day usage it's more a question of what's important to you in an action camera. The Go Pro 5 is waterproof without an additional case, has slightly better battery and has comparable (arguably better in some situations) image quality, but for me, having the G-Metric's was the reason i wanted the Virb.

    I hope Garmin continue to work on the firmware/software for the Ultra 30 because they have produced an exceptional piece of hardware which only needs a few tweaks to keep it at the top of the pile. I'm really looking forward to taking it on some proper expeditions once my day to day life calms down a little.

    Here's a couple of stills (default settings) from my local riverside on a rather gloomy day. Hope to have more pics and moving footage when I get chance to capture (and edit) something more meaningful.


    Last edited: Nov 15, 2016
  7. arthur666

    arthur666 Senior Member

    Nice write-up!
  8. dazzyb2k3

    dazzyb2k3 Senior Member

    Finally manged to capture some footage at the weekend using a whole range of different settings and I have to say that the Virb isn't really floating my boat in the way i hoped it might.

    Don't get me wrong - this is a REALLY nice cam with a lot to offer but i'm less convinced about it's suitability to scratch my particular itch.

    My biggest gripe is that the electronic stabilization really isn't up to dealing with the kind of road buzz I get on the roads i ride regularly. In fact it almost looks worse when enabled. It will probably make 70% of the footage i take fairly jarring to watch in anything but a small window. Don't get me wrong, i wasn't expecting miracles but i did hope it might help a little.

    Also at 1080P the IQ is pretty variable. In good light, on the right terrain it looks really nice but in anything less than ideal conditions things degrade quite a bit. As i said in my above review, things are better at higher resolutions but it's not really practical to shoot in 2K or 4K for extended duration.

    Voice control is a nice idea in principle, especially as the controls are hard to reach when i have the unit inverted under my mount but the truth is that it's just not reliable enough to use. Every time i give it a command i have to stop and make sure it's doing what it's supposed to - which defeats the point.

    The above is made especially annoying as the remote control phone app simply refuses to connect to the cam. I've tried contacting Garmin about this on three separate occasions and have yet to receive any response at all. Quite frustrating.

    It's a bit of a shame, as on paper this is a fantastic device - and if you're using it for filming anything other than gloomy bumpy tarmac on a bike - the footage is fantastic.

    I'm still playing around but nothing i've changed had made a noticeable improvement yet so the jury's out so far. I've managed to blag the use of a Sony X3000 next weekend (built in GPS+Optical stabilization) so i'll be very interested to compare the results from that. I still have the option of returning the Virb if needed.

    Here's a short clip from a ride i did last weekend. It starts in decent light on a good road surface and you will see the footage looks OK, unfortunately as i dip into the trees and start the downhill section things are less good. This was shot at 1080P 60FPS, High bitrate and stabilization on. It was exported from the Garmin edit suite at max quality. It's lost a little in the upload to YouTube but not a huge amount.

    Bram Hengeveld and Burke Wells like this.
  9. Burke Wells

    Burke Wells Well-Known Member

    Nice video of a nice downhill. Looked like fun and made me want to ride. I really like the speed & cadence gauges displayed like that. Very cool!
  10. Bram Hengeveld

    Bram Hengeveld Senior Member

    Looks very good imo. There aren't many (if any) camera's giving a super clear image in such circumstances.
  11. dazzyb2k3

    dazzyb2k3 Senior Member

    Just picked up the Sony that i'm testing out over the weekend. First impressions are good. It's a tad longer and heavier than the virb but i love the profile of it. More like a mini camcorder. It has nice beveled edges which make it feel great in the hand and it's well balanced. Good form factor for mounting to the front of a bike - not so good for the chest though. It's splash proof without the need for a case and has a standard 1/4 camera thread built into the body of the cam which means i can directly mount it without a cage. I like that. Wasn't sure about the white color but it's growing on me.


    No snazzy touch screen but the menus are well thought out and simple to use. Kinda feels a bit 'last gen' but ironically i can find the settings quicker. Probably says more about me than the camera :D Very nice smartphone app that actually works.. It supports 720, 1080 and 4K but sadly no 2K. There's less 'pro' settings to play with than the Virb. No voice control (not a big deal as it doesn't work half the time anyway) On the whole it feels less gimmicky - just mount the cam and press a button to record some stuff. Done. Not sure if that's a good thing or not - but i plan to find out.

    The big selling point of this cam is the optical stabilization. I'm going to take it on the same route i did last week so i can compare footage directly with the virb. It also has GPS so hopefully i can capture some metrics too. Will report back with findings later in the weekend :)
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2016
    Burke Wells likes this.
  12. jimortality

    jimortality Well-Known Member

    That looks like the river Trent/Trent Bridge in Nottingham, the first photos
  13. dazzyb2k3

    dazzyb2k3 Senior Member

    Actually it's Richmond Lock bridge crossing the Thames in SW London. Just a few mins ride from my house.
  14. dazzyb2k3

    dazzyb2k3 Senior Member

    Well after testing various action cams over the last couple of months I can finally report that i've suprised myself in reaching a fairly boring and utterly predicitble conclusion.

    I'm in love with the Hero 5 Session

    It doesn't have all the tricks of the Virb, the mind blowing image quality of the Sony (The IQ from the sony is truly staggering before YouTube compresses the crap out of it) but the portability, ruggedness and go anywhere, do anything attitude of the session means that whatever the situation i can just grab it and go. It doesn't mind the rain, i can mount it any which way, tape it, strap it, hold it and even drop it without a thought. I can just forget it's there, which is something i can't say about any of the other cams i've tried.

    Battery life is great. The voice control works flawlessly for me, and the image stabalization is remarkably good for EIS. It can't compete with the optical stabalization of the Sony but it's noticibly better than the garmin and deals with vibrations extremely well. The only minor gripe is that the mic isn't the greatest but that doesn't matter so much for cycling.

    Sure, there are better cams for vlogging/reviews (and if i get into that side of things i'd consider getting a second cam). There are other 'action' cams that take higher quality footage but it's the session's sheer usability that won me over. The best camera in the world isn't any good if you don't take it with you and i've found myself reaching for the session every time i leave the house - even if i'm not on the bike. :)
  15. Bram Hengeveld

    Bram Hengeveld Senior Member

    Marry me then :)

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