The Garmin Virb Elite Action Camera is the new and surprise entry shouldering it’s way into the competitive action camera market. With the now well-established and popular GoPro in it’s 4th generation, and competition from heavy hitters such as Panasonic, Toshiba, Sony & JVC (as well as new niche brands such as Drift), how can an action camera set itself apart from the rest in this crowded market? With a market leading GoPro Hero 3 Black in the office, we matched the Garmin up against it’s rival to see how it faired.
With a rich history of GPS systems, it’s no surprise that Garmin have integrated GPS into the camera. This stands out as a pretty decent USP and opens up an whole range of useful and fun features (such as tracking speed and altitude which can be displayed on a map and speed dial via the free VIRB Edit software). The other standout feature we liked was the battery life, with a 3hr record time at 1080p (30fps) the VIRB Elite beats GoPro’s 2hrs (for the 3+) at the same setting. The Elite also features some more standard and expected features such as WIFI connectivity.
Where the VIRB Elite falls short in terms of features is within the Video & Audio settings, the GoPro 3 Black offers significantly more resolution and frame rate options, however this might not bother some people as the 30fps/1080p is a fairly standard resolution, some of 4k options GoPro offer are perhaps more targeted at video enthusiasts and specialist applications. Overall the VIRB Elite provides a better jack-of-all-trades platform, where as the GoPro is more specialist in terms of features.
The VIRB Elite is well built, with a slightly rubberised outer casing that is submersible without a specialist housing (Water resistant: IPX7 (1 m/30 min)). The lens does bulge beyond the housing and therefore has the potential to suffer damage, and we found dirt found its way to the corner joint of the lens which was irritating to clean out. Overall the VIRB Elite will suffer expected abuse and knocks fairly well without the need of a protective housing.
Easy Of Use
One of our pet hates with the GoPro is switching it on a recording when helmet mounted, the VIRB Elite excels here with a brilliant toggle that you simply click forwards (which is easy to use even with gloves) that boots up the camera and begins recording. The menu and options are fairly straightforward to navigate with the in-build screen, although the screen was difficult to view in intense sunlight.
The video quality is generally good and does compete with the market leaders. If we’re being critical, the GoPro Hero 3 Black does just beat the Garmin with it’s superior contrast and natural colours, we also found the GoPro to be slightly sharper then the Garmin, but overall these are minor differences and the VIRB Elite performs well.
The audio quality is OK, with most edited footage laced with Dubstep this is something that tends to get discarded. If audio is a concern, a USB to 3.5mm adapter can be added to allow external microphones to be used with the device.
Unlike the snap system that GoPro use, Garmin have opted for a ring screw that attaches securely with no risk of coming undone. Included with the Garmin is a GoPro mount adapter so they have covered all bases here. We found mounting to be generally straightforward, quick and secure. One complaint of the system are the large degree changes on rotation when (for example) tilting the camera up or down vertically, unlike GoPro, Garmin use locater teeth that sets the angle which does remove some flexibility when framing shots.
So where does this leave us? GoPro or Garmin? With a negligible difference in video quality, we think it depends on what you need. If you’re looking for a lightweight and small package with fantastic video quality – the GoPro is the obvious choice, however, the GPS features, inbuilt screen and long battery life of the VIRB Elite might be more appealing for some.