Review: Garmin VIRB Elite preserves your high adventure memories in high definition

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In a world of smartphones with built-in GPS chips and cars with included navigation systems, what’s a navigation device manufacturer to do? If you’re as smart as Garmin, you diversify, that’s what.

Sure, Garmin still makes standalone GPS receivers. They even make my favorite iOS navigation app, Navigon. But what’s even more exciting is the way Garmin is reaching out into other areas, bringing its mapping expertise to other cool devices.

Like cameras. Sure, GoPro is getting a lot of the buzz now, but Garmin’s VIRB Elite is versitile, rugged and feature-packed “ruggedized” camera — a fancy way of saying it can take pretty much anything you can dish out on your most extreme outdoor adventure, and play it back to you in stunning 1080p high definition video.

Lights. Camera. ACTION.

Recording on the VIRB is a dead simple affair. Just push the large sliding switch forward and you’re rolling — a great feature that helps ensure you won’t miss any action that comes up suddenly, even if you’ve only got one hand available, and the hand’s gloved at that. Other settings and functions are a little more complicated to get at, requiring the use of a few rubberized buttons on the devices other side. A 1.4-inch display provides a view of what you’re recording as well as on screen menus.

garmin_underwaterThe VIRB sports a fisheye lens that affords a large field of view to make sure you’re capturing all the action without having to pay close attention to the viewfinder. Software helps to correct the distortion inherent in using an ultra wide angle lens, minimizing my dislike for the spherical images those lenses often produce. It also features built in image stabilization.

The camera offers a slew of recording options, including 1080p at 30fps, 960p or 720p at 30 or 60fps, WVGA at 60 or 120fps. The 60 and 120fps options translate to Slow Motion or Super Slow Motion when played back. It also has a time lapse mode with options on how long between frames, which determines the payback speed of your time lapse footage. You can also adjust the field of view from Wide, Zoom 1, Zoom 2 and Ultra Zoom.

But wait, there’s more!

But this is Garmin, after all, so you just know there’s going to be a GPS component to this. And so there is. In addition to a GPS chip, the VIRB includes an accelerometer, altimeter and — wait for it — WiFi (more on that later.) Those onboard telemetrics let the VIRB embed lots of cool data into the video file so it can be displayed later. With the VIRB’s free “Edit” companion app, those data are used to create a map-like overlay that tracks your motion and provides Heads Up Display (HUD) style information like speed, altitude, coordinates, etc. And although it’s not something this reviewer will ever test, those chips can be used in “Ski Mode,” which automatically stops recording when you’ve ended your run, waits while you get back to the top of the mountain, then starts recording again as you start your next run.

Remember when we mentioned WiFi? It allows the VIRB to use a companion iOS app to connect with and control the camera remotely. So if you’ve mounted your camera on the front of your kayak or out of reach somewhere on your backpack, you can use your iPhone to control the camera.

Here’s a Garmin-produced video that gives a good look at the camera’s features:

The VIRB Elite (the non-Elite version has fewer sensors) has a variety of mounts for hands-free (and more stable) videography. You can mount it on a smoot flat surface like a kayak or helmet, use a tube mount to put it on your bike, or connect it to a tripod adapter to connect it to just about anything else. Garmin even offers wearable mounts like a headband. It’s that hands-free, set-it-and-forget-it ability that makes the VIRB truly useful: record pretty much everything and edit out the boring stuff later.

And recording pretty much everything seems an obtainable goal. The VIRB’s removeable, 2000mAh battery lasts for up to three hours in 1080p mode, and it accepts a high speed micro SD card for up to 64GB of storage.

The VIRB Elite is waterproof at “IPX7,” which means it can withstand depths of up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. For deeper or longer underwater use, you’ll need an optional dive case, sold separately for $40.

The Garmin VIRB retails for $299; the sensor-endowed Elite model retails for $399.

The ability to capture your high adventure outings is a dream come true. There are so many trips I can think of that I’d love to be able to revisit through video. And even when smartphones and dedicated cameras started to make that possible, battery life and bulk kept them from being practicle. Ruggedized sports cameras like the Garmin VIRB not only make capturing those memories practical, they make it easy. And the ability to easily mount them to your gear or even yourself allow you to do it without distracting or detracting from the adventure itself.

The long view

If the VIRB’s price tag is too high for you to justify for your own trekking schedule, chip in with a like-minded friend. But however you do it, get one. Someday, you’ll be too old, or too busy to get out there. Having the high definition, high quality footage of the VIRB is like being able to revisit those adventures any time you want.

You can get more information on the Garmin VIRB Elite from Garmin’s website.

Garmin VIRB Elite: sites.garmin.com/virb
Price: $399 ($299 for Garmin VIRB)
Rating: 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

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