Just a year after releasing the stunning VIRB XE, Garmin has released yet another action camera again, the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30. In the saturated world of action cameras, it’s divided into two broad categories: those made by GoPro and those that aren’t. While this could be true at some point years ago, it isn’t what it is now. Making it’s global appearance in August 31st, the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 is one of the most fully featured action cameras on the market currently.
Since its’ introduction, fierce rivals like Sony and GoPro have come out with newer versions of their flagship action cameras. This detriment the Ultra 30’s key selling points as it no longer stand to the audience. For instance, its electronic image stabilization was beaten by Sony’s optical system and both voice control and the highly anticipated integrated touchscreen were matched by GoPro’s latest camera, the Hero5 Black.
In response to this, Garmin has since lowered the Ultra 30’s price to bring it in line with its competitors. But just because the competition is fierce and unpredictable, it doesn’t mean that Garmin’s flagship camera is any less good.
Usability & Design
Unlike its predecessors, the VIRB Ultra 30 has somewhat similar looks like a GoPro and you can still mount the camera on GoPro-style mounts. What stood the Ultra 30 out is its integrated touchscreen that works through a standard waterproof case, a high point over its competitors. However, if we bring the Hero5 Black’s touchscreen into the frame, the Ultra 30 would be less impressive as the Hero5 is built with a totally waterproof, case-less design.
As far as the screen is concern, it works well even when wet; with or without the case. However, the screen became less responsive after it’s scuffed up. Depending on your level of adventurism, this may or may not be an issue. That being said, it was way faster to go through the system interface using the physical buttons rather than swiping on the touchscreen.
Luckily, the physical buttons on the Ultra 30 is built intelligently. Much like the older VIRB models, there is a dedicated video switch which will turn the camera on and recording automatically starts. The reason it is very convenient and easy to use is because the it is literally a switch and not a button.
We put the Ultra 30 on our own adventurism and all results trended towards the positive. We mount the Ultra 30 on our bike and took it for a ride. With just one finger, the camera can be toggled on and off.
Built inside, the video switch is the still photo button that acts like a larger camera’s shutter release. Both Power and Wi-Fi buttons sum up the physical controls and double as navigational buttons when the touchscreen isn’t and can’t be used.
But if both the touchscreen and physical buttons aren’t your candies, you can still operate the Ultra 30, with your voice. Similar to the first-time setup of Google Voice, your voice must be prefaced with “Okay Garmin.” Using your voice, you can start a video, capture images, and you can even tag a moment while recording by saying “Remember that.”
Features & Quality
While ease of use is an important aspect in building an action camera, the quality it produces cannot be overlooked. The VIRB Ultra 30 is Garmin’s first action camera that’s capable of shooting in 4K Ultra HD, and it has done pretty good.
The VIRB Ultra 30 feature a tons of advance settings unlike its’ predecessors which includes three different levels of sharpness as well; a high bitrate mode that records video at 60 megabits per second, and an option for a flat color profile that gives constant dynamic range. If you’re wondering, exposure compensation and ISO limit can also be set.
Just like many cameras in the market, while 4K is as good as it sounds, many features are still limited to 1080p and many are still struggling to produce a constant result while in 4K. For instance, the three-axis electronic image stabilization mode in the Ultra 30 just doesn’t go well with 4K or even 2.7K mode. Furthermore, 4K is limited to only the “wide” field of view and you can forget about correcting lens distortion as it can’t be enabled. While in 1080p, you have a choice of two narrower files of view and lens correction did pretty well in removing fisheyes.
What sets Garmin’s action cams is the G-Metrix. It houses a collection of detailed movement, positional and environment data. By leveraging data and information fed by the five sensors built into the Ultra 30 which include an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, barometer and GPS, the G-Metrix will then show you a detailed data collection such as your speed, position, g-force, hill grade and much more. Additionally, you can get even more data such as temperature and heart rate for extra costs on additional sensors.
The one letdown of the Ultra 30 is its battery life. All we get was around 90 minutes of video spread out over a two-hour period on a single battery. While longer battery life is always welcomed, the Ultra 30 is just about on par with other action cameras.
The VIRB Ultra 30 simultaneously writes G-Metrix data, all while recording a video. When you connect the camera into your computer, that data file is seamlessly imported together with the video into Garmin’s Virb Edit desktop app or the Virb mobile app.
Unfortunately, the G-Metrix data can only be decoded in Garmin’s own apps and for veteran video editors, it is a major letdown. However, in order to provide a solution, Garmin has included an option to export G-Metrix overlays as a PNG sequence with a transparent alpha channel. Yes, it’s a hassle, but after that you can take then do whatever you want with those PNGs.
The Ultra 30 is installed with a USB 2 connection, which is agonizingly slow (imagine transferring hours of video). So it is advisable that you get a USB 3 MicroSD card reader or SD adapter on standby. If waiting isn’t a word in your dictionary, the Virb iOS app can do just about everything you think of. You’ll be able to view/transfer videos and photos with Wi-Fi, add G-Metrix overlays and even share your edited work straight onto social media. You can also live-stream those seamlessly to YouTube, together with G-Metrix data intact.
With a reduced price of RM1,749, the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 is still very much standing along with top tier action cameras such as GoPro and Sony. The Ultra 30 is a cumulative success off of the tings Garmin already did wel, like the G-Metrix sensors and the convenient start/stop switch, and bundles a 4K resolution, voice control and even an integrated touchscreen. Though it isn’t perfect, with stabilization limited to only 1080p res. But hey, nothing is perfect and the Ultra 30 is a solid option for any action camera enthusiasts. Check it out below.
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