If you want an action cam, you buy a GoPro, right?
The undisputed star of extreme video recording, the little white, silver or black box has become as common a slope-side sight as unnecessary facial hair.
But lately, young upstarts such as Ion have tried to get themselves a slice of that tasty action pie. And now here's GPS supremo Garmin with its own attempt, the VIRB Elite.
Ready for action
The VIRB Elite comes as a self-contained ruggedised unit, so unlike with any GoPro, you won’t need a waterproof housing in most scenarios. And that's not its only advantage over its rival. While GoPro users have to either make do with a teeny little monochrome screen or spend an extra £80 for a clip-on LCD panel, the Garmin has a proper colour display.
Well, we say 'proper'. The VIRB's ‘Chroma’ display is powered by ambient light - which is great for battery life, but not so good for viewing in poor conditions; use it in the dark and it'll be virtually blank. Still, it's a screen, and the fact that it's on there at all makes it easier to frame shots, review footage and alter settings in many situations.
You want features? With built-in GPS and Wi-Fi, the Elite can log your location and altitude and send heart-rate, speed, cadence and temperature info to other Garmin gear. (There's also a more basic model, the Garmin VIRB, which lacks GPS and Wi-Fi but which costs £50 less.)
We compared the VIRB Elite's footage to that of GoPro's flagship model, the Hero 3+ Black Edition. And you know what? It's a close run thing. The Garmin has richer colours and a more saturated tone that we like, and while detailed scrutiny shows up a more limited dynamic range and blown-out highlights, we'd struggle to say one is better than the other.
As far as getting that footage in the first place goes, Garmin’s backed the VIRB with a wide range of mounts covering heads, chests, wrists, helmets, bike tubes, dashboards and tripods. And if that's not enough, an adaptor allows you to use some GoPro mounts.
The VIRB's buttons are more logically laid out than those on the latest GoPro, too, with nice touches such as a big, glove-friendly slider for toggling recording on and off and a bold green light to confirm that yes, you're rolling. There's even a neat remote control app for Android and iOS.
The Garmin VIRB Elite is a real rival to the GoPro range, perhaps the biggest they've had to face so far. In fact, given a straight choice between this and the flagship GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition, we'd choose the Garmin. Cripes.
It's easy to use, takes good footage and has plenty of attractive features. All of which makes it an action cam worthy of our Top 10 Camcorders list.
Garmin VIRB Elite
With a rugged form and new tricks aplenty, the Garmin VIRB Elite is our new favourite action cam