Best GoPro alternative? Garmin bike camera VIRB Ultra 30 HD 4K Action Camera review
In recent years, GoPro has dominated the bike action camera market: GoPro and action cameras are virtually synonymous.
Full disclosure: This post contains compensated links (more detail below).
But in late 2016, Garmin launched the VIRB Ultra 30. I’ve been using it since January 2017 (that's why you might notice some wear on the camera housing in these photos - it's seen a lot of action!).
I think it’s a bit of a game-changer.
If you’re looking for the best GoPro alternative, I think you’ve found it in the VIRB Ultra 30.
It’s particularly good for people like me that want a bike camera that allows them to overlay data like speed, elevation or power (more on this below).
The Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 camera is a big upgrade on Garmin’s previous version and includes 4k resolution, video image stabilization, photo burst mode, voice control and a colour touchscreen display
The voice control lets you take a photo and start and stop recording. You can also say “remember that” to mark a highlight in your video. It’s worth noting that the GoPro Hero5 Black (probably the biggest competitor to the VIRB Ultra 30) allows you to customise the voice controls, whereas this isn’t possible with the VIRB.
The touchscreen display works even when it’s in the waterproof case. The display lets you tap through the menus (you can also use the buttons if you don’t like the touchscreen) and preview the video.
YouTube Live streaming is available via iOS, though I haven’t tested this out yet.
In terms of size, it’s practically identical to the GoPro Hero5 black: the GoPro is 62x45x33mm versus Garmin at 58x46x31mm.
In terms of weight the Garmin VIRB is lighter than the GoPro Hero5: GoPro is 117g whereas Garmin VIRB is 89g.
The camera has a lot of video modes. The ones you’ll probably be most interested in are 4K/30fps, 2.7K/60fps and the slo-mos at 720p/240fps and 1080p/120fps.
I think the default settings create great video footage, the only problem I’ve come across is that footage can sometimes get overexposed. You can adjust this in the pro settings if it’s a problem, and there’s even a preview window so you can see the changes as you adjust the settings.
There’s also electronic image stabilisation which crops a portion of the higher resolution image to make the image more stable and less jumpy. This works up to 2.7k footage; you can’t stabilise 4k footage.
Unlike GoPro cameras, the VIRB has a dedicated photo button. Video recording is by way of sliding the lever on the right to the front to record while it’s a button for taking a photo. You can also take a photo in the middle of recording a video, so it helps you get a perfect photo when you’re recording at the same time as a back-up.
I find the default settings are fine for most daylight photography, but they’re not great in low light.
For those wanting to do a bit more, there’s lots of flexibility with the photo settings, particularly burst modes where you can take at least 60 frames in 1 second at 8MP or in 2 seconds at 12MP. GoPro’s Hero5 Black only allows up to 30 frames/second. The pro settings on the VIRB allow lots of adjustments to be made, including white balance, ISO and exposure.
Sensors and data overlays
One of the main reasons I picked a Garmin VIRB over a Go Pro as our main cycling action camera, is its sensor and data overlay support.
Even if you don’t have any sensors supported, you’re able to add the following data types to your videos: Speed, Pace, Altitude, G-Force, Orientation, Hang Time, Jump Height, Jump Distance, Rotations in Air, Jump Count, Distance, Grade, Relative Elevation, Vertical Speed, Pitch, Roll, Course, Bearing, Coordinates, Track Shape and Position, Lap Times (Automatic/CC, Manual), Lap Count (Automatic/CC, Manual)
The unit connects reliably with sensors like powermeters and heart rate monitors via the Ant+ protocol. Sensor data is captured on the VIRB any time you have it turned on, even if you aren’t recording. Then when you’re in the VIRB Edit software, you can overlay the data and gauges onto the video.
One big niggle for me is that you can’t configure the altimeter. Sometimes the data is completely wrong and the only way you can recalibrate it is afterwards in VIRB Edit. This is quite clunky and time consuming to do - it would be nice if you could re-calibrate while out on the bike.
Editing: software and apps
Garmin offers the VIRB Edit app for desktop and mobile.
The mobile app lets you preview the screen and change settings when you’re out and about. It’s also possible to download photos/videos to your phone and create an auto video. However… I use it on the iphone and find it slow. Plus it drains your phone battery, so I don’t use it that much.
The desktop app allows more advanced editing and is where you can overlay the G-Metrix templates and gauges to show the data information. There are loads of styles to choose from and most can be tweaked to your requirements. It’s useful that you can specify where the data you’re going to show comes from, so for example if you’re using a Garmin, you could display the data from there instead.
The free music available is quite limited, but you can always use a different source for your music.
The auto create video option is quite handy and you can specify the music and length. You can also edit the final product.
The camera comes with a flat and rounded sticky mount, along with various extenders and orientation changers.
It also comes with a single battery (which is not the same as the GoPro battery even though it looks very similar), the waterproof housing case and a standard mini USB cable (which can be used to charge the battery when it’s inside the camera unit and to synch videos).
While the battery isn’t compatible with GoPro, at least I’ve found that the accessories seem to be.
I’ve been using the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 as my go-to cycling action camera since January 2017 and have been very happy with the quality of footage and the camera’s overall performance. The ability to easily overlay data makes my videos more interesting; this is a bike action camera that does everything I need it to, and more.
If you’re weighing up the Garmin Ultra 30 to find the best GoPro alternative, I hope this has helped you decide. Give us a shout if you have any questions!
What do you think of the garmin virb ultra 30?
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