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The video camera that won't let you get lost

We've just taken delivery of the new Garmin Virb Elite HD camera. It's a serious bit of kit, this, and the £349.99 price reflects that, but it's more than just a helmet camera for recording your commute in: it looks to be a genuine contender to the still-dominant GoPro Hero in the amateur (and professional) point-of-view stakes.

Bigger than a GoPro, with a rugged rubberised body and a wide-angle lens, the VIRB is waterproof out of the box; there's also a dive case that's good to 50m. The obvious main difference is the fact that you get a screen built in. It's an LCD with no backlight, using ambient light to show the image. It's not going to win any awards against the OLED screen on your smartphone but it's mainly useful just for framing, and displaying all the other info the Virb Eilte collects - more on that later. And it's very frugal on the power too, which is A Good Thing as far as cameras are concerned. Garmin reckon you can shoot three hours of footage on one charge of the Virb's 2000mAh battery which, if true, is class-leading.

Recording with the Virb couldn't be simpler. There's a huge slider on one side of the body, just push it forward and you're rolling. Even if the camera isn't turned on, flicking the big switch will set it recording, although there's a lag of a few seconds while it fires up. It'll record in full HD1080 at 30 frames a second, with 60fps HD720 and 120fps SD480 modes available, as well as a time lapse mode. It'll take stills up to 14MP too.

The Virb is connected to its mounts by a cradle that hooks into the back of the camera, with two spring loaded pins at the front holding it in place. There's a range of different mounts: we have a bar mount, shown above, a vented helmet mount (with straps to go through the vents) and sticky mounts for attaching to a flat surface like the outside of a ski helmet, or a car panel. The mounting hardware is significantly chunkier than the standard the likes of GoPro and Nilox use, which is good because the camera's heavier, and all the connections have a notched surface to stop the camera moving position. It all works very well; there's a standard tripod mount available too.

On to some of the stuff you wouldn't expect. Or maybe would, seeing as how it's a Garmin. The Virb Elite has a fully functioning GPS, WiFi and ANT+ setup inside it too. That means you can use it as a bike computer, and you can also overlay speed, accelerometer and other information over the video using the VIRB Edit software. Plug it into your PC and fire up Garmin Connect and you can upload your rides like you would from an Edge computer. You can link heart rate, cadence and temperature sensors to the Virb Elite and all that stuff will get logged too. There's a number of data screens that you can display on the LCD to show your stats mid-ride; they're not configurable like they would be on a dedicated GPS.

And that's not all: You can pair your Virb Eilte with your Garmin (newer models only) and use that as a remote control for the camera (there's a dedicated remote too). You can also control the camera from your smartphone using a free app, although that's yet to be released. And if you have deep pockets and more than one Virb you can daisy-chain them together so that pressing record on one sets them all going: great for multiple angles of the same thing. That'll please the pros, as will the ability to fit an external microphone.

The camera is designed for all outdoor activities. It can be set to record when it's moving (good if you forget to press the record button before that lake jump) or to record only when you're going downhill: ideal for skiiing where you don't really want a bunch of footage of yourself sitting on the ski lift.

We haven't had the Virb very long but we've had it long enough to try it out on the streets of Bath in the day, and at night: below is some sample footage, shot in 720P. First impressions are pretty good and we'll give it thorough going over in the next few weeks.

www.garmin.co.uk

Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.

9 comments

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edinburghbike [12 posts] 2 years ago
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looks excellent! one for the xmas list

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Neil753 [447 posts] 2 years ago
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Another great bit of kit from Garmin, but I wonder if any manufacturer has considered separating the CCD/lens unit, and connecting to the main part of the device via a cable.

Lots of cyclists seem to have two or more cameras on their bikes, so maybe there's scope for several small lens units to be connected in this way to just one "box".

Come on, you manufacturers, start thinking "outside the box" (scuse the pun).

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septic77 [4 posts] 2 years ago
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Bloody terrible bit of cycling on the video
30-40s
shouldnt have gone up the inside & lucky not to have been taken out by the reversing vehicle

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cactuscat [284 posts] 2 years ago
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septic77 wrote:

Bloody terrible bit of cycling on the video
30-40s
shouldnt have gone up the inside & lucky not to have been taken out by the reversing vehicle

reversing vehicle?

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fatbeggaronabike [823 posts] 2 years ago
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septic77 wrote:

Bloody terrible bit of cycling on the video
30-40s
shouldnt have gone up the inside & lucky not to have been taken out by the reversing vehicle

Reversing vehicle? did you mean the white pick-up that had it's brake lights on  39

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pwmedcraft [27 posts] 2 years ago
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Neil753 wrote:

Another great bit of kit from Garmin, but I wonder if any manufacturer has considered separating the CCD/lens unit, and connecting to the main part of the device via a cable.

Lots of cyclists seem to have two or more cameras on their bikes, so maybe there's scope for several small lens units to be connected in this way to just one "box".

Come on, you manufacturers, start thinking "outside the box" (scuse the pun).

10 years ago, before the magic of flash memory, I used to have a bullet camera on my helmet for snowboarding, connected to a camcorder in my rucksack and a battery and remote in my jacket. The jacket, lid and bag being wired together made it a massive pain to take one of those items off. I would stick to separate self-contained cameras.

If anyone sold what you described I would have thought it would be Vio Sport but it looks like they still only have one input:

http://vio-pov.com/pov-hd

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KiwiMike [1223 posts] 2 years ago
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Wow. So this replaces:

iPhone for Strava recording
bike computer for speed/cadence/HRM
Camera for stills/video

Plus it's waterproof.

PLUS (and these are critical points missed in the review) it has a removable battery *and* microSD card.

Pity the photo shutter release button is right next to the OFF button, might be an issue with gloves on.

Nice bit of kit. Pity it's not £249 though, and 1080p@60fps would be nice.

I reckon this would be my choice for an action holiday/weekend, if limited for space, or recharge capability (spare batteries are £25 - not bad. You can't charge in the device, only in a cradle, but that takes USB so can do from a car or laptop)

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spaceyjase [54 posts] 2 years ago
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That's bloody excellent. I've had a contour device before now and that proved to be too bulky and none of the brackets ever sat right on the bike. The mount here isn't much more than a decent light mount; very, very nice. I think Garmin know their market exceptionally well.

Neil753 wrote:

Another great bit of kit from Garmin, but I wonder if any manufacturer has considered separating the CCD/lens unit, and connecting to the main part of the device via a cable.

Lots of cyclists seem to have two or more cameras on their bikes, so maybe there's scope for several small lens units to be connected in this way to just one "box".

Come on, you manufacturers, start thinking "outside the box" (scuse the pun).

I've toyed with the idea of a Raspberry Pi mounted on a bike, wonder if multiple camera boards (or even tiny web cams) would be appropriate and useful. Suspect there'd be power issues but possible, especially with a USB-powered 7mm scope or something (although they have limited resolution and framerate). The Pi could be useful beyond recording video.

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Andrew Hagen [8 posts] 2 years ago
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Hi Ragingbike - we are manufacturing a device that we think is 'out of the box' Fly6 is a combination rear tail-light and HD camera that watches what goes on behind you during your ride.

These things take an enormous amount of time & effort to bring to consumers. Trying to satisfy everyone is, as you can imagine, impossible however, comments like yours provide good feedback and inspire new ideas.

As cyclists, we think our device addresses a number of issues cyclists have and hope other cyclists do too! One of our concerns is the same as yours where we now have so many 'things' on our bikes that can't some of them be combined?? A camera & tail-light can!!

Check it out here http://www.fly6.com