Garmin VIRB Takes on GoPro: What to Know

Anybody who takes part in extreme or outdoor sports will have come across a GoPro at some point, as the brand proudly holds the position of industry standard action camera. However, there are an increasing number of challengers coming into the action camera market and with brands like Sony, Drift Innovation and Contour offering viable alternatives, many sport enthusiasts are starting to take a serious look at products outside of the GoPro family.

The latest camera to step into the fray is the Garmin VIRB. Lets see if the Garmin brand, famed for their GPS equipment, can transfer their expertise to the field of action cameras and if, with the introduction of the Garmin VIRB, the GoPro Hero 3+ has had its day as the king of action cameras. With the the VIRB Elite and the GoPro Hero 3+ Black both retailing in the $300-$400 range, it is clear that Garmin is looking to compete directly with GoPro and they have tried to offer extras to coax away some of GoPro’s loyal customers.

The first obvious difference between the cameras is their very distinctive looks. Some have been critical of the GoPro’s cumbersome and unnatural look when used as a head-cam. The VIRB on the other hand is longer and thinner than the GoPro and resembles a head torch. This makes it less natural to hold but it is less noticeable and distracting when being used as a fixed on head-cam. On top of this, Garmin has utilized some of their GPS technology in the Elite version of the VIRB by instilling it with a function that tracks your GPS position, speed and elevation as you film. This information can then be laid over your footage in editing so you can monitor the details of each scene. As well as the extra features, perhaps the main advantage that the VIRB seems to have over the GoPro is its intuitive layout and design. I particularly like the oversized record switch, which is easy to flip in unstable conditions.

One of the downfalls of the VIRB is its image stabilization capability. Compared with the GoPro, the VIRB’s stabilization seems to have only a relatively minor effect and may leave bikers and cyclists with some bumpy sections of film. There is also a striking contrast in the images that each camera produces. The VIRB has a soft red hue whereas the GoPro seems sharper, perhaps even cold in comparison. While a lot can be done to edit and improve the image, I prefer the raw image of the GoPro. I think the GoPro provides a clarity and crispness which is favorable over the artificial warmth of the VIRB. That being said, it should be noted that the latest GoPro is designed to focus on objects within 4-5 feet and anything significantly outside of this range will appear blurry. This results in a lack of versatility which many users have found frustrating, leading to numerous complaints. The VIRB is an interesting alternative to the GoPro and the VIRB Elite in particular offers a wide range of unique features. Despite my preference for the look and feel of the VIRB, the GoPro’s main strengths are definitely its superior image stabilization and the more neutral image it offers. On top of this, the longevity of the GoPro means it has a wider range of accessories and add-ons than the VIRB, which give it a potential for renewed interest that is unmatched as far as I am aware. Garmin has done a great job with this new camera and has given any fence-sitting buyers a lot to think about. For me however, they have not quite done enough to prize my money away from GoPro just yet.

Here’s a great shot with a GoPro camera.

Here’s a great shot with a VIRB Elite camera.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the GoPro and Garmin VIRB camera.

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One of the downfalls of the VIRB is its image stabilization capability. Compared with the GoPro, the VIRB’s stabilization seems to have only a relatively minor effect and may