Garmin Virb Ultra 30

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During our recent sailing + kitesurfing trip I was lucky enough to get my hands on the new Garmin Virb Ultra 30 actioncam! We used the camera extensively during the trip and were quite impressed with all the functionality packed into this tiny device. By the way, during the sailing trip we did rely only on solar power to charge the camera! My Powertraveller powergorilla professional and multiple connected solargorilla professionals did keep the Virb Ultra 30 rolling all the time without any external powersupply. 🙂

Mobile charging the Virb Ultra 30
Mobile charging the Virb Ultra 30

Keep on reading for a detailed review of the camera during my first sessions including exemplary footage.


The new Virb Ultra 30

Unboxing, look and feel

Opening the cardbox let’s you catch a first glimpse on the new Virb and after pulling up the inner box reveals all parts that come with the standard Virb package:

It contains:

  • VIRB Ultra 30 action camera
  • Waterproof case
  • Lithium-ion battery
  • Charging/data cable
  • Flat and curved adhesive mounts
  • Standard and vertical mount adapters
  • Short and long screws
  • Short and long extension arms
  • Wrench (to tighten the screws)
  • Anti-fog kit
  • Garmin VIRB sticker
  • Documentation

The first thing, which caught my eye was the grid like shape of the front part of the external housing and the camera body itself, which is built around the microphone. My guess is, that this should help with improving sound quality. In fact, the sound recording of the camera inside the housing is quite good.

Virb Ultra 30 Frontside and Housing
Virb Ultra 30 Frontside and Housing

The buttons on the housing need to be pressed down quite far, before they noticeably “klick”. I like this a lot, as it avoids pressing them by mistake. The main button at the top right also gives the Virb a real “camera like” feel, much like a small standard camera, which feels good. You can flip the switch to start/stop recording and press the embedded shutter button to take a snapshot while filming (only possible when shooting full HD, not in slow motion mode 2,7K/4K mode).
Compared to the quite boring black and grey of GoPros, the red sides add a nice little fresh look to the Virb. My comparison is the old Virb Elite, which I have used for quite some time now. The new Virb Ultra 30 feels a lot more high-quality and robust than the old Elite with its rubbery surface and small buttons.

The housing feels very similar to the GoPro Black housing. After unlocking the cap can be opened and closed with very little force, which feels good compared to the high-force required to open and close the GoPro locks.


Mounts and compatibility

The housing is compatible with GoPro mounts, which is great for everyone already having an old GoPro and planning to switch over to benefit from the additional functions of the Garmin action cameras such as voice control, GPS tracking (at 10 Hz!), the high-sensitivity microphone or the G-Metrix motion and g-force sensors, to name just a few. However, Garmin’s new mounts feel a bit chunky, as if you could roll over them with a tank. They even have 4 little torx-screws. I trust these are preferred over a welded or glued connection for production-related reasons and nobody will really bother to unscrew the bolts to repair the mount. 🙂 The mounts come flat and round (for helmets, etc.)


Memory Card

In order not to restrict the recording capabilities (including 4K recording) I have ordered a I have ordered a SanDisk Extreme 64GB microSDXC Class 10, U3 card. The card works like a charm with the new Virb and I have never encountered any issues.


Firmware

For the old Virb Elite there were many firmware updates and it was always better to install them, as they fixed bugs and improved the overall functionality of the camera. So the first thing I did was to connect my Virb to Garmin Express, which is a nice little tool to update the firmware and upload activities to the Garmin Connect portal. Actually there already was an update available and I have tested the camera with Firmware Version 2.7 installed and updated the GPS Chipset to Type M5 (1621).


Waterproof housing

On my old Virb, I never bothered to use the additional water housing, as it was huge and according to the manual the camera was waterproof, well kind of waterproof at least for a few minutes not deeper than a meter or so. 🙂 Anyways, it did survive even a longer surf session in New Zealand, with duck diving, whitewater and all that. So that was fine… with the new Virb Ultra 30 however, you have to use the housing, the actual camera is not waterproof. But this is no big deal, as it is tiny compared to the Virb Elite Dive Case. And you can even fully operate the touchscreen through the plastic housing! Compared to the old Dive Case + Virb Elite (which did limit your operation of the camera to start/stop recording), I can now access all camera controls no matter whether I am diving, running around on a rainy day or kiting in the ocean. Also the new housing has been specifically designed to let in as much audio as possible for the high sensitivity microphone as you can see in the image below. I guess that there is some kind of a protected membrane, which lets through more audio than the hard plastic case and blocks of the water. This seems to work great, check the following clip, you can even hear the waterdrops hit the surface, as I am coming in for the landing. But … I have the impression that once I have submerged the housing (after a crash), the audio is not as good anymore. Compare the audio of the first clip in the video with the audio of the second clip after a crash. Blowing the water out at the front of the housing may help, but I haven’t tried this yet.

The only thing I am missing at the housing is a little hole to connect a safety leash to. The old Virb Elite came with a little safety leash and I have built a little workaround solution to be able to connect the old leash to my new Virb. Like this I can attach it to my helmet, wrist or camera stick, when kiting out in the ocean or flying my paraglider. The last thing I want is see my camera sink to the bottom of the sea (happened twice to me already with GoPros and I had to change into flipper-mode to find one of them in a forest of seagrass half a meter high, 3 meters down).


Menu and camera control

The full color touchscreen of the Virb Ultra 30 is amazing. It really feels like using your smartphone. You can navigate and change all the settings and review shots instantly and intuitively. It does response very nicely, there is no delay or juddering, whatsoever. The menu itself is easy to understand, really nice compared to the old Virb and the older GoPro menus.

The on/off flip switch on top of the camera and housing is great and fool-proof. There is really not much you can do wrong. You don’t need to listen and count the number of beeps to judge if you actually started or stopped recording (when the camera is mounted to your helmet for instance so that you cannot see the red LED. Instead you can just flip the switch and feel if it’s on or off. Also you don’t need to permanently run the camera. It will automatically power on and off when you flip the switch. Obviously the camera will need a few seconds more to boot, but not half as long as the old Virbs. Note that I am not sure how long it will take to find the satellites if you use the auto on/off function. If you need to have satellite connectivity from start to finish I recommend you turn the camera on and leave it on. This will reduce the time until it starts recording and also assure that the camera is connected to satellites.


Audio quality and voice commands

Obviously nothing compares to external microphones but the new Virb comes with a high sensitivity microphone and housing specifically optimized for picking up audio. I’ve got to say that compared to my old Virb and GoPro actioncams, the audio is great. See an example during really, really windy conditions in the video above.

Finally voice commands on action cameras. Although I have to say that I cannot quite reliably use this when kitesurfing. There is simply too much wind noise around and I would have to yell around so loud, that it would make me look like an idiot and possibly not help either. 🙂 For all my other sports like skiing and paragliding I’m quite excited, as I have tested it successfully from more than 10m away from the camera.


G-Metrix and compatible sensors and devices

You can connect the Virb Ultra 30 to an endless list of compatible devices and your smartphone via ANT+, Bluetooth or WLAN. For instance you can record heartrate, outside temperature and much more with compatible sensors and add a data layer in Virb Edit called G-Metrix to display this information in your video. I really like the idea of this, as it allows the viewer to “feel” what the filmer was experiencing providing much more information beyond the actual moving images.

Connectivity Garmin Virb Ultra 30
Connectivity Garmin Virb Ultra 30

Battery life 

The drawback … all of the fancy features suck up battery life. Also the camera seems to heat up a bit, when it’s running which obviously cannot do the battery life any good either. I did like the longer recording on my old Virb Elite a lot. I guess that I will have to get a few spare batteries for the new Virb Ultra 30. Changing them during watersports is a pain but I guess there’s a “price” you have to pay for all the neat functions of this cam.


 Naming of Clips

With the old VIRB Elite this was a real pain. Whenever you formatted your SD card after importing footage to your computer, the VIRB would start counting up the same file names for individual clips all over again. The result, countless duplicated file names, which you had to rename manually (I used Adobe Bridge for batch renaming). The new VIRB however has fixed this issue – great! 🙂


Summary

Hands down, the best Garmin actioncam I ever got my hands on. It works great, the image quality is stunning, you can record ultra slow-motion and 4K plus it offers so much functionality with all the sensors and possibilities to overlay this data to your video. Plus, Garmin has dropped the price to match the price of the new GoPro. If there’s someone who benefits from the very tough competition of the actioncam market, it’s us, the consumers and users of these neat pieces of technology!


Editing with VIRB Edit

Version:

I had version 4.2.2 (11.10.2016) installed during the test.

Having edited all my last videos in a professional editing suite (Adobe Premiere Pro), it took a little time to get used to the new interface and workflow. It appeals to me that the user interface of VIRB Edit has been designed to make editing as easy as possible for inexperienced users. So for me it was all about coming from a million different options to achieve one thing to finding if and if so, how I could achieve what I wanted.

Unfortunately I could neither set the program’s language to English during install, nor from within the program. It seems as if this will be set to the system’s language by default. You know a workaround? Please drop me a comment. 🙂


Step 1: Importing footage
Directly in VIRB Edit or manually?

Whilst you can download your footage directly from the connected camera, I’m usually more of a fan of retrieving the files (video clips, Garmin .fit files, etc.) directly from the camera’s SD card and keeping full control over where I save them. This probably stems from having worked and familiarized myself with Premiere Pro extensively.

Directly import from VIRB camera from within VIRB Edit software

However, if you’re new to editing video, the option to import directly from the camera comes in handy. When you have opened VIRB Edit, connected and turned on your VIRB, the program will automatically let you know, that it has found a VIRB connected to the computer and is ready to import directly. When hitting “Continue” it will ask you, if you want to import all new files or only a selection. You can set the prefix of new files, which is cool, when you want to assign e.g. a specific name to all clips from a particular timeframe. I used the date and name of the beach for my kiting clips –  e.g. 161010_Langballig_0001, 161010_Langballig_0002, 161010_Langballig_000X …

VIRB Edit will now import your footage and automatically start to “optimize” the clips. Optimizing the clips allows for faster playback and editing. I.e. it’s the process of VIRB Edit rendering a smaller version of the imported clips for minimizing impact on your computer system’s resources.

After the successful import you can either hit “OK” or “Remove from VIRB”, which is really handy. No need for formatting your VIRB’s SD card, simply hit “Remove from VIRB” and your SD card will be ready for the next session! By default VIRB Edit will safe your files to the location specified in the settings. Make sure you set this to wherever you would like your clips to be stored.

Folder location of “optimized” clips:

Usually I do keep all my footage on external drives and with Adobe Premiere I can set the exact location, where my cache and rendered preview files are stored (usually I set this to the same directory). Unfortunately I did find no similar setting in VIRB Edit. There may be a solution for this, which I am not aware of, so please comment, if you know a workaround. The downside of not being able to change the location for rendered previews is, that VIRB Edit will save them to a default location under Window’s AppData folder structure: C:\Users\YOURUSERNAME\AppData\Local\Garmin\VirbEdit\Preview. As said before, I like my clips and folders nice and tidy and do not like the idea of this folder blowing up my system’s partition (=C) with rendered preview files. However, if you have enough free space on C, and delete these files after finishing your video projects, this should be fine.


Step 2: Creating a video

After importing your media, it’s time to create your video. You can hit the “New video” button on the upper left hand side. Note that I have the German user interface installed and haven’t figured out how to change this to English yet, so please forgive me if the wording is not a 100% match. 🙂

Editing

Now you can drag and drop your clips onto the timeline, which feels natural after working in other non-linear editing (NLE) programs such as Premiere Pro. They are aligned with the foregoing clip automatically, which comes in handy, when you quickly want to build a small video. Obviously you will miss many features of professional NLE programs such as trimming clips with your mouse tool etc. Instead you have to use the “Editing” tools by moving the bar in the timeline to the desired position and then hitting buttons such as “Shorten left” or “Shorten right” (equals trimming clip on left/right hand side) or “Split” (equals a normal cut). When you’re used to another program, this will certainly slow down your workflow at first. Also I am missing an indication if a certain clip has already been added to the timeline or not or the option to expand clips in the timeline, in case I have shortened them too much. Be that is it may, you will have to stick to Virb Edit, if you want to use the very cool G-Metrix data overlays. A workaround solution for more professional video productions is to add the data overlay in Virb Edit, export the clips in the desired format and import them into your professional NLE software.
For normal consumers however this program will offer anything you need and is easy to learn. So for 90% of the customers this is the right choice and I would recommend the software. You even have a few soundeffects and background music loops that you can add to your video. Whilst I don’t like the music and recommend to look on the internet for free music, this is great for people that don’t want to spend much time on their editing but just want to share their experiences with the Virb through social media. 🙂

Map View:

I love the map view included in Virb Edit. Check out the screenshot and you can see how I am flying downwind in the middle of my first jump. This is a really cool feature and let’s you scroll through your video – on a map. I love how Garmin integrates location info with video – thumbs up! It makes checking your footage a lot of fun, as you remember where you did what jumps and experiences.

Virb Edit Map View
Virb Edit Map View
G-Metrix:

Under the G-Metrix tab you can add an endless amount of gauges and displays to your video. You can browse through all different sorts of data information, drag and drop them into your video, drag them around in the clip to the desired position, change their colors, add logos and what not. The possibilities seem to be endless. As a normal customer I guess this is a lot of fun. If you are a professional, you will most likely stick to the more clear and less intrusive designs. 🙂 But it’s stunning to browse through all these data fields and see how much information the camera actually records.
In the timeline you can even see where you did a jump:

Timeline indicates events such as jumps and vertical descents
Timeline indicates events such as jumps and vertical descents

However, note that with the waterproof backdoor the camera does not record height correctly, as the barometric sensor cannot feel the pressure differences. So you will be limited with the measurements depending on whether you use the extra backdoor with an opening for the sensor or the waterproof backdoor. You can see this, as I am jumping from -16 to -13m in the video above. 🙂


Step 3: Exporting Video

Now that you are finished with editing your clip, you can hit “Export” and you are ready to choose your target file resolution (4K, HD, etc.), framerate and destination to save. Virb Edit automatically selects the maximum resolution and framerate of your sourceclips. I.e. if you filmed in 1080p with 120 FPS, it will set this as output. Of course you can further reduce resolution or framerate to save space. Here you can also set a Garmin Intro &/ Outro logo clip to be added to your video.

Summary

For average users Virb Edit is great. It is intuitive and will allow you to fully utilize all functions of your Virb Ultra 30 actioncam. However, if you are more ambitious or have worked in more professional NLE programs such as Premiere Pro, DaVinci Reslove or Final Cut Pro, you will need to work around by exporting your data overlays in Virb Edit and importing the exported clips into your NLE.

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