Should be action cam season again. The recent Yi 4K camera-which is approximately as capable as a GoPro Hero4 Black for only half the price-really impressed me. While we are all waiting to observe how 800-pound gorilla GoPro will react to that threat, Garmin has stepped in to the game. Clearly, the business is swinging for the fences.

The Virb Ultra 30 may be the latest in Garmin’s Virb type of action sports accessories. There were Virb-branded action cameras before, however the Ultra 30 represents an intensive rethink. It’s Garmin’s attempt at a kitchen-sink style, high-end action camera, and generally it certainly succeeds. Its resolution and speed are as long as 4K at 30 fps, or 1080p at 120fps, exactly like GoPro’s Hero4 Black. Actually it looks almost identical to a GoPro. Just like the Yi 4K (another GoPro dead ringer) in addition, it includes a touchscreen on the back-something that your Hero4 Black lacks, however the mid-tier Silver edition has.

Remarkably, you can continue using the touchscreen despite having its case on, which is waterproof to 133 feet. But that isn’t the most known thing about the case; Garmin exclusively designed a mic port for the waterproof case, and you might not exactly believe it, however the sound is merely as clear with the case on since it has been the case off. Crazy, I understand, but watch the video comparison and you will see why. It’s totally unprecedented in the arena of action cams, and its own audio tracks quality blows the doors off the rest.

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Another terrific idea Garmin has implemented is voice control. You alert it by saying “OK Garmin…” and “start recording,” “stop recording,” “have a photo,” or “understand that” (to include a tag compared to that portion of the video). I tested it thoroughly while mountain biking some singletrack in the badlands of North Dakota, and I quickly grew to love the feature for just one very important reason: It meant I didn’t need to take my hands off the handlebars. It certainly is the dodgiest occasions that you would like to capture, which will be the precise occasions you truly must not be letting go. Obviously, this pertains to many different sports. It really doesn’t work perfectly, as well as your videos will always end with “OK Garmin, stop recording,” but true hands-free control is a significant advantage.

Garmin makes wearable sensor tech of most sorts, so it is practical that the brand new Ultra 30 packs a GPS radio, a barometer (for elevation), an accelerometer (for force and motion), a gyroscope (for rotation), and a compass (for bearing). All that data could be overlayed on your video (if you are using Garmin’s iphone app or desktop editing software). I’ve always liked this process. Point-of-view footage doesn’t always execute a congrats of capturing things such as speed of descent or steepness of terrain, and it’s really nice in order to add that layer of detail. Using those sensors, you can slap a text overlay into your video denoting your speed, pace, altitude, g-force, hang time, jump height and distance, rotations in air, lap times-all sorts of stuff.

This advantage is extended further for the reason that Virb also offers Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ANT+, this means it could pair with a large number of external sensors that Garmin either makes or works together with. Heartrate monitors; cycling sensors for cadence and power, OBD2 ports for various data from a car’s engine, flight computers to truly get you pitch and roll, boat computers for things such as course over ground and wind speed. Insanity.

Eyes Forward
Video quality is on par with GoPro’s top-of-the-line Hero4 Black. Dynamic range is good, colors are pretty accurate, and the image is sharp, maybe a good hair sharper than GoPro’s. It has practically yet options for framerates, resolutions, and shooting modes as GoPro, too. It even comes with an “Expansive Mode” which is analogous to GoPro’s SuperView. Basically, it requires a 4:3 image and squishes it into 16:9 this is why more at the very top and bottom of your frame. It is the mode you would like to use whenever the action is near the camera (surfing, mountain biking, snowboarding, gratuitous selfies).

The slots in the bottom of the waterproof case just eventually match any GoPro mount. It’s a sneaky way to leverage what is definitely among GoPro’s biggest advantages. When I was taking the Virb mountain biking, I knew I needed a chest mount. I didn’t have a Garmin chest strap, but I had among GoPro’s. It worked perfectly. It can feel somewhat lousy to be supporting copycatting such as this (the camera looks as being a GoPro, its battery is nearly identical to GoPro’s, almost all of GoPro’s shooting modes have already been cloned), but I cannot say it’s harmful to the consumer.

One feature I’m not totally sold on is that the camera includes a two-way activate top to start/stop recording (separate from the button that takes stills). It’s wise since it enables you to feel if the camera is rolling or not, however the switch is too stiff. I often found myself fumbling with it. I imagined negotiating the switch with the camera mounted to the nose of my surf board, a wave coming, my hands wet.

It wasn’t all perfect. Battery life can be an issue, since those sensors and connections have a real toll. For my 2.5-hour bike ride I had it paired with a heartrate monitor and was shooting mostly 1080p 60fps, with a small amount of 4K at 30fps, nonetheless it died a long time before the ride was over. I finished up with only 31 minutes of video and 42 still photographs to show for this. Having voice controls enabled further taxed it, because it certainly is listening for a vocal cue. About one hour in, I started powering down the camera among shots to save battery, nonetheless it still died about two hours in.

One feature that Garmin is very hyping up may be the three-axis image stabilization, but I believe you’re generally better off not using it. It’s digital image stabilization, not optical/mechanical, which means that your shot eventually ends up cropped. The field of view is narrowed, and the camera stretches the image to match the frame. It generally does not look bad, nonetheless it does degrade the image quality and spoils your wide shots. In addition, it includes a lens distortion compensation setting which crops an excessive amount of as well, which camera doesn’t have even a lot of a lens distortion problem.

Camera, Action
The Virb Ultra 30 is on the market for $500. That puts it right through to the most notable shelf with the Hero4 Black, but with the Virb, you merely get a lot more for the same money. The voice commands, the superior mic, the touchscreen, and the cornucopia of sensors and stats all soon add up to an improved camera.

Actually, after five years of testing action cameras I could say that this can be a best one I’ve ever used-so far. GoPro? Sony? Whattaya got?