[nextpage title=”Introduction” ]
Garmin Virb Ultra 30 Snap Verdict
Garmin’s action camera might not be as well known as GoPro Hero, but ever generation of the Virb series has has innovated and impressed. Garmin were one of the first to include GPS and motion sensors, and way before the GoPro Hero5 launched with voice activation the Ultra 30 was already out there. The Ultra 30 is a powerhouse of an action camera that’s not just good, it really challenges the formidable Hero5 for the top spot.
For Garmin Virb Ultra 30
- Solid quality design
- Voice activation
- GPS and Motion sensors
Against Garmin Virb Ultra 30
- Some touch gestures are tricky
Garmin Virb Ultra 30 features
- 4K @ 30fps
- Touch Screen
- Voice activation
Garmin Virb Ultra 30 info box
- Type: Action Camera
- £389 / $419
Garmin joined the action camera market in 2013 with the Virb, and was the first GPS manufacturer in the field. At the time the camera was a real GoPro competitor with features and quality that really did rival everything else on the market.
The first generation camera was styled along the bullet cam design and was exceptionally easy to use. The Next generation of Virb X cameras adopted the more common box design and saw a complete reworking with resolution and features all making a leap forward.
The Ultra 30 has once again been remodelled, where the X lost the waterproof casing the Ulta 30 brings it back. There’s also a host of features that bettered any other camera on the market at the time of launch, even GoPro.
Garmin’s expertise comes in the GPS field and the Ultra 30 pulls on the previous two generations of Virb to produce one of the most connected and well rounded action cameras out there.
When it comes to features the list is extensive and unlike many cameras expandability at the heart of the Virb. That’s not to say that it’s ready to fit lenses and become a full blown video rig, it’s more part of a larger fitness and lifestyle eco system that will appeal to many.
Whereas GoPro have aimed their latest products; the Karma Drone and Grip at the young outdoors youth, Garmin’s camera is aimed directly at everyone involved in activities, from your weekend family ride to full scale expeditions the garmin and it supporting tech is ready to record the adventure.
[nextpage title=”Features” ]
The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 is small at 57.5 x 45.9 x 31.3 mm without the case and 79.0 x 75.5 x 39.9 mm with, and weighs in at 87.9g just slightly lighter than the GoPro which weighs in at 118g.
Resolution and framerate offerings look pretty standard for the latest batch of cameras, with 4K video at 30fps, 1080p at 120fps and a range of other options ending with 480 at 300fps for ultra small slow motion footage.
Stills are provided at either 12 or 8 million pixels which can be captured in burst mode at up to 60fps.
That reintroduced housing is pretty funky and waterproof to 40 meters, I nicknamed it the mudcatcher case during the test and you can see why when you look at that textured design. Which I also quite like mud and all.
Power is supplied by a 1250 mAh battery that provides a good 2 hours of recording time at 1080p and just over an hour when recording at 4K.
As with many high end cameras the Ultra 30 features a series of advanced features that enable you to take full control over the video shooting settings by using the touch screen, app or voice control.
[nextpage title=”Build & Handling” ]
Build Quality & Handling
Build quality, design and usability is just exceptional.
The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 is the first of the Virb series to feature a waterproof housing, in the past the water protection has been integrated into the design and build of the camera.
Initially this seems like a real step back when you consider that GoPro has shed the outer shell and Nikon’s Key Mission series also go shell-less.
Whilst I have become a fan of the no case approach I can also see the benefit when it comes to protecting your camera, my GoPro Hero5 looks a mess and each venture out the outer shell becomes more tatty and destroyed as time goes on.
Here the Garmin is protected in a waterproof case and while the lens is perfectly flat, in my opinion an absolute essential, the rest of the front of the case is quite a complex design.
This textured design appears to be added in order to help reduce wind noise against the case and checking the inside of the case you find that there’s a rubber insert that intersects perfectly with the camera.
There’s also a small metal speaker insert that obviously helps improve the quality of the audio recording through the case whilst retaining the waterproofing.
The case certainly looks attractive but also raises concern as it’s perfectly designed to capture mud. In the first ride out with the Ultra 30 the case quickly became clad in mud.
The flat front lens enabled the mud and other crud to be quickly wiped away, however there was no way the mud would simply wipe away from the rest of the case.
Ok it looks messy, but actually I think this is how an action camera should look. We don’t have an award for the best mud clad action camera but if we did the Garmin Ultra 30 would definitely win. The only way to clean it really is to run it under a tap.
This case is ingenious, I’ve been caught on the fact that the front captures mud, but the true fact is that this case is streets ahead of any other waterproof housing I’ve seen.
The level lock is positioned on the side of the camera and has a small spring loaded lock that needs to be pressed before it will open. This lock feels super secure and the whole action is firm and exact.
On top of the case is the power and Wifi buttons, these also enable you to navigate once the camera is on and next to these is the shutter button.
This again takes on a completely different design and use to other shutter buttons by clearly separating how to take stills and video..
To take a photo all you need to do is push down on the shutter button like any other camera. However when it comes to shooting video there’s a simple switch around the shutter which can be flipped to quickly start recording.
On the sides of the camera you have the HDMI and USB on one side and a small lever lock that releases the battery and SD card access.
Pop the camera back in the case and switch it on and you realise exactly just how good the case design is.
Used as an everyday camera the shutter button enables you to use the camera as a mini compact stills camera.
Fixed to a bikes handlebar and you quickly realise that the switch design to start and stop recording is inspired, there really is no doubt as to whether you’re recording or not.
But there’s two much larger features. The first is that this camera features a touch screen but not just one that works out of the case it also works in. As far as I know no other camera offers this ability and it’s outstanding.
The reactiveness of the touch screen through the case is by no means as sensitive as out, but who cares the fact remains it is still perfectly usable.
The other feature is voice activation and use. You may think GoPro with the Hero 5 was first, but months before that camera was released the Garmin Ultra 30 was already sporting voice activation and it really works well.
Starting and stopping recording with your voice really couldn’t be easier and whilst you may feel like a bit of an idiot talking to your camera at first you soon get used to it.
After a while you also learn not to shout your commands at the camera, which again makes those around you feel much happier.
Just a few of the voice commands are simply ‘Start Recording’ ‘Stop Recording’ and as you roll across the ground after being tipped from your bike a simple ‘Remember that’ will ensure the event is marked.
If whilst flying through the air you’re able to shout out the command I’ll be impressed, but don’t worry that’s why the motion sensors are there to automatically mark such events.
The Garmin Virb Ultra 30 is by no means the lightest or smallest action camera out there but it is one of, if not the best made. There really is no doubt that this is very much a premium product.
[nextpage title=”Performance” ]
Starting out with the Virb Ultra 30 and the first thing you want to do is to make sure it fits all the usual mounts.
Ok I’m in a slightly spoilt situation where I seem to have boxes of the things and every bike, and piece of sports equipment has some type of mount fitted. I even have a harness for the dog, although she’s figured out how to wiggle out of it.
Thankfully the design of the Ultra 30 means that it’s compatible with the majority of generic GoPro mounts and this makes it easy to attach to anything that you would normally attach an action camera to.
Using the body, bike and a variety of other standard GoPro mounts the Virb Ultra 30 fitted perfectly and was held securely without the need for the over cranking of the nut or too much wiggling to get the mount to slot into place.
Once attached the ability to interact directly with the camera’s settings on the touch screen through the waterproof housing was a definite bonus.
This is inspired and although it’s by no means as responsive as when out of the case it does get around the usual faff of popping the camera in and out of the housing.
Using the camera was simple with the toggle switch to start and stop video recording even making it easy to operate when wearing gloves. It also gives you an absolute indication as to whether the camera is recording or not.
The power and Wifi buttons are a little different to what I’ve seen on the majority of other action cameras, but here they absolutely make sense.
If you just want to switch on the camera to review settings or watch footage from the day then a dedicated power button make sense, as does a Wifi button that switches the Wifi on and off. This is a feature that I always really liked on the Veho K2 series although there it was a slider switch rather than button.
The shutter button on top is a direct link to traditional still cameras, and here functions in exactly the same way. Although this is obviously an action camera this configuration of buttons makes it exceptionally easy to use and once removed from a mount gives the camera more of a traditional still camera feel.
The touch screen out of the housing is excellent and really responsive but aside from when home and downloading footage the camera rarely left the housing.
The ability to use the touch screen through the housing was a surprise and not something that I expected, but was definitely a great feature that made it far easier to use out in the field, especially in wet and muddy conditions.
The Ultra 30 was the first camera to widely feature voice activation and here this works exceptionally well. A quick voice call to the Ultra 30 and you can get it recording, highlighting footage, taking stills and a long list of other features and commands.
There’s also the obligatory app, again you can use this to control the camera as well as review footage. The app also shows you all the GPS and motion data captured, so if you’re seriously into your riding or fitness the integration with other ANT devices is a significant benefit.
[nextpage title=”Image Quality” ]
Going through all the different settings and options offered by the Virb Ultra 30 there’s quite a bit of choice when it comes to resolution and framerate.
Obviously the motion and detail will vary between each of the resolutions and frame rates, but generally the Virb Ultra 30 performed well.
Looking at footage shot 1080p at 30fps and the motion is smooth with plenty of detail and little image break-up. During the test to ensure I got the best footage from the camera the video quality was set to high.
Shifting the framerate to 60fps and you can see a slight shift in the quality of the motion especially with the footage shot on a bike.
Increasing the framerate again to 100fps (In PAL) and the image retained a decent quality although it was possible to see some break-up of the frame.
The Garmin Ultra 30 is advertised as having a max framerate at 1080p of 120fps although scrolling through the frame-rate options and this option seems to be missing. After a quick read of the manual it turns out that 120fps is possible but only in the Slow-mo mode.
Again the footage captured is ok and comparable to that from the GoPro Hero5 Black. The image lack some of the crisp detail and contrast of footage shot at the lower framerates but it’s still passable.
Taking a look at the edge of the frame it is possible to see some signs of chromatic aberration and softness, but no more than you’d expect to see from an action camera of this type.
Overall the video quality is superb and holds its own well against that of the GoPro Hero5 Black. There were some occasions where the image did pixelate slightly in low light but overall very little to fault.
[nextpage title=”Verdict” ]
Do I like the Garmin Ultra 30? Hell yes, would I buy one? Definitely. The Ultra 30 is an outstanding action camera, it has it’s faults, it harvests mud like no other, but the positives smash the negatives into the ground.
Let’s look at the negative, that case! I love the look and design of it but it’s just not practical. The black textured design on the front is a mud magnet and a pain to clean when you get home. But aside from that the rest of the design is perfect.
Being able to use the touch screen with the housing on for a start, then there’s the easy to use interface and app, which really once you have it setup you never need to use as you can use the voice commands.
Voice activation for recording is excellent and worked perfectly to start and stop recordings to the point where I now feel upset that there are only two cameras on the market with this feature.
The GPS and motion sensors do exactly what you want them to do and can be used as overlays for your videos which I liked a great deal, aside from the fact it highlighted that I’m getting slower.
Video quality was exceptional, and although the higher bit rate does increase the amount of card space consumed it’s well worth it for the boost in quality.
The only downside at present is that the Garmin Ultra 30 is more expensive in many places than the GoPro Hero5 Black. That says something really – this is a premium camera.
Would I buy one over a GoPro – well that’s difficult as at the moment I’m riding with both.
Should I buy a Garmin Virb Ultra 30?
It’s tough and feature packed and part of the larger Garmin eco-system. If you’re really into the outdoors, trail blazing, riding, fitness and off roading then the Ultra 30 is the perfect match for you.
Compared to the GoPro the decision becomes more difficult – The Ultra 30 wins on being part of a larger family of fitness products whereas the GoPro has the fun of the drone and the grip. Both feature GPS but the Garmin wins on the motion and GPS feature set. Usability and they’re neck and neck with the voice control and app. Video quality there’s little in it but the GoPro’s ProTune has the edge – overall it depends on you as to which of the two suits your lifestyle more than anything.