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.