Sunday, July 6, 2014

Life With Garmin VIRB Elite - Mini Review

This is a private purchase and not a sponsored item by Garmin. What I purchased was quite a lot - it was the Garmin Virb Elite and most of the mounting accessories - including the shoulder harness.

You can read detailed reviews elsewhere and I would not try to repeat the same stuffs covered by other reviewers. There is an outstanding review here by DC Rainmaker. Check it out. The reviews out there will tell you it has built-in GPS, accelerometer, a lo-res display screen and connectivity with other Garmin devices. I will share with you how the unit has performed for the past month or so I have had it.

The tempe sensor is optional. Got it online for USD$29.

Conclusion : The Short End of It
Virb Elite DOES NOT produce the best video quality out there but as an overall complete package with enhanced features, it is HARD TO BEAT. The low down is : it all boils down to Virb Elite vs Sony HDR-AS30V vs GoPro Hero 3+. I am not a videographer nor a movie maker where perfect image (color rendition etc) is a must. All I want is decent footage with overlaid GPS data. You can fine pick picture quality all day between the 3 units but for me, the clincher is that the Virb can talk to other Garmin devices and accessories. And because it does so - it opens up new features and data fields that neither the Sony nor the GoPro has. You can tell me Hero 3+ renders color more beautifully and that Sony does better low-light recording than the Virb and I simply don't care. You will understand why as you read below.

KEYWORDS on things I like about it : GPS, remote connectivity, display, When Moving Mode, sensors, data overlays, TimeLapse mode.

Out of the Box
First the bad : it came with Firmware 3.0. And honestly it was a real pain. The unit freezed up on different occasions. When I thought the unit was recording, it actually was not and there were footage which were simply not recorded. For the first 3 days, I felt I really had an expensive lemon in my hand. The WebUpdater could not detect FW3.0 and it tells me that my FW is uptodate. It was not - FW 3.70 was already posted by Garmin. I had to manually update the Elite by finding the physical update file of 3.70 on the  internet and putting it on the SD card.

The good - the manual update went smoothly and the unit since update has performed flawlessly for the past month. No more freezes.

Life with Virb Elite 

Garmin:"We chose white so that you can find it easily if it falls in the mud."

Virb Elite comes only in white and you can see why white is a bad choice! It is an action cam, where the photographer you know, may come into contact with dirt, water, mud .. or did that escape Garmin's designers? For a unit which has not spend more than 40 days out of the box, it looks like it has spent life outdoors for the past 2 years. The Garmin lettering is not in black - that is a botched experiment of using Black Plastidip spray ..

Customisable everything with all the GPS and sensor data!

Its a simple lo-res VGA display that tells you all you need to know : how the video is being framed, what it is recording and playback. It is not backlit so you won't be able to use it in darkness but for most other occassions, it is mighty fine enough for you to even select and delete clips that you do not like when you are out doing your activities. After living with GoPro Hero 1 for many years, the display is a big leap in terms of assisting video composition as well as excising useless clips on the fly.

The display also has a GPS style dash - which shows you the speed and sensor data. For example, it will draw an elevation profile of your location - so if you have the unit turned on for the past 1 hour, the graph will show the elevation profile for the past 1 hour. Ditto for temperature readings. It also shows the G readings in real-time. All these data are displayed live together with a Min / Max reading. Very nice.

Virb writes on the SD card the .mp4 video files, .gpx files and .fit files.Presumably Fit files come into play when you pair the Virb with, say, a heart rate monitor or a tempe sensor. All the GPS and sensor data can be put into good use when you edit the videos using Virb Edit.

Apart from the conventional continuous recording, it can also record "When Moving" mode. So when the vehicle stops - say at a traffic jam or a traffic light - the recording stops. It restarts automatically when the car moves again. On this mode, as you pull out of the garage, it will automatically start recording, even though the Record button is in the OFF position. It cuts out a lot of useless motionless footage. It also has a SKI Mode which only records when the camera detects you are going downhill. If you are going uphill, the recording stops. MTBr downhillers may find this function useful.

Garmin connectivity and sensors!
My Montana 650, Garmin Fenix watch can remotely operate the Virb Elite. The Android app allows my Samsung Note 8 to remotely operate the camera too. You even have a nice preview of what the camera is seeing with your Note 8. But once the shutter is triggered, live-view is disabled (you see a blank screen on your tablet).

If you are a Montana user - there is another plus point - Virb uses the same batteries! So whilst you plug in the Montana in the DC charger of the car, you can use the Virb for (it says 3 hours but I have consistently got 2++) and the swap the batteries with the Montana. Rinse and repeat. For a long journey, you basically have a continuous supply of batteries :)

This connectivity enables you can mount the camera on the roof of the car and use your Fenix watch or Montana GPS whilst driving the car to remotely operate the cam. Wonderful. The Fenix will even tell you how long it has been recording. Superb! I have a GoPro Hero 1 - how may times do I have to check and double check if I am recording or if the unit is on? TOO MANY! No reaching out to the unit to fiddle with it every time you can to start and stop recording.

It talks to the Tempe, HRM, cadence and power meters. And you can overlay all these data on your video. Seriously do you need more justification? :)

Tempe readings and graph for the last 5 mins

PLEASE NOTE THAT NONE of official Virb Garmin mounts can be mounted on the external surface of the car (short of gluing it). For this job, I use RAM Mount - the suction is rock solid that it ain't gonna fly off even if I mount it on the roof and going at 150mph.

RAM mounts are the bees knees of all mounts out there

Video Recordings & Camera

With a 64GB SD card, I am able to record some 6hrs 30+ mins at 1080p 30fps. The  max file size per video is approx 3.5GB+ before Virb splits and create another file is the recording exceeds the limit. So if your footage is 12GB long, then you may end up with 4 separate video files.

The Time Lapse mode is super neat. It takes 16MP pictures at selected intervals of 0.5 secs, 1 sec, 2 secs, 5 secs, 1 minute etc. The moment you stop recording, Virb will stitch all the pictures into a videoclip. Great to film mundane things which would seem boring otherwise- like eating, setting up bike gear or better yet : sunrise or sunset. For the latter two, you should plug the camera into an AC outlet if you intend to do time lapse for many hours. On time lapse mode with 64GB, you can record more than 99+hrs.

Time Lapse and 1080p are the only 2 modes I normally use. It has a wide-angle 16MP camera. The performance is actually pretty good - even in low light. 

My personal impression is that this camera does admirable night recordings and I am honestly impressed. I read that Sony betters Virb but since Sony cannot talk to the Tempe, HRM, cadence sensors, I did not particularly care :)

Virb Elite on FW3.70 performed flawlessly whilst it traveled the length and breadth of Japan in 8 days - including 2 days in the rain and a waterpark. 

Photo mode. Night shot. Not bad eh?

Sungai Besi Toll Plaza
Virb Edit

Virb Edit - this software is far from the best out there, but it gets the job done for simple editing.


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