GARMIN VIRB XE
Design and Durability: Up for Anything
What first caught my eye on the Virb XE is the pair of prongs extending down from the bottom of the camera. They are the same size and shape as those extending from GoPro cases, and they attach to a series of mounts very much like GoPro’s. In fact, the Virb is compatible with GoPro’s own mounts. That may be tacky, but it does provide the Virb access to a huge selection of mounting options: both its own collection, and GoPro’s.
Flipping a latch on the side opens a door on the front of the camera, exposing the lens, microSD card slot and removable battery. What you don’t find here is a micro USB port. Instead, the Virb XE comes with a USB cable that has a special attachment that clips onto a grid of gold-plated contacts on the side of the camera. So if you lose or forget the special USB cable, you’re stuck. (A replacement sells for $20.)
|Garmin Virb XE||Garmin Ultra 30|
|Best Offer||click here||click here|
|Product Dimensions||1.4 x 3 x 1.6 inches||1.2 x 2.3 x 1.8 inches
|Item Weight||5.3 ounces||1 pounds
The Virb XE boasts a better set of controls than most action cameras. The top of the device features a 1-inch, 128 x 128 pixel monochrome LCD that displays a logically designed menu tree, navigable by two buttons to the right.
Unlike the GoPro Hero4 Silver, the Virb XE doesn’t have a color LCD touchscreen, the Silver’s killer feature. But adding a screen would have made the Virb XE larger, so the trade-off makes sense. Read also: Eken H6S vs Gopro.
Garmin’s smartphone app (for Android, iOS and Windows Phone) is one of the best out there, as extensive as (and rather similar to) GoPro’s app. (I tested the app on my iPhone 5.) It provides a live preview and big buttons to start a recording or snap a photo.
Video and Photo Quality
Having become enamored of the Virb XE’s’s design and features, I was heartbroken to see its lackluster video. Shot at 1080p and 60 fps, the clips were unexpectedly muddy. For instance, a rock face I passed during a rafting trip flickered with blocky artifacts from overly aggressive MPEG video compression.
The Virb XE has much better audio than the GoPro Silver, as the latter requires a waterproof case. The GoPro Hero4 Session, however, also doesn’t require a case, and its audio sounds as good as the Garmin.
The Virb XE’s low-light video is serviceable, capturing fairly bright clips during my nighttime ride in Brooklyn. But the video had an overall greenish tint that was unappetizing.
GARMIN VIRB ULTRA 30
Build Quality & Handling
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Garmin Virb XE vs Garmin Ultra 30
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.
Meanwhile, there is so much to love about the Garmin Virb XE. It’s extremely rugged, easy to operate and just plain bad-ass looking. The mobile remote-control app is one of the best out there. The ability to incorporate and overlay rich data is not only novel but, once you’ve seen it, looks likely to be the way that all the best action cams will go in the future.