The best action cams 2015 - reviewed

To test the toughest action cams you need the toughest of tests...

The best action cams 2015 - reviewed

Garmin Virb Elite (£210)

The Virb Elite’s display is a 1.4in reflective LCD that is designed specifically for use in bright light

Garmin might be relatively new to action cams, but it’s got a wealth of tough, outdoor electronics experience behind it from sailing to cycling and much in between.

Long, flat, and in a rubbery black and white casing, the Garmin Virb Elite’s styling can be traced back to some of the company’s handheld GPS units.

Auto­-recording smarts

As with its bike­-computer cousins, you can set it to use its GPS to start and stop when you do, so it doesn’t use up all its memory (and battery) unnecessarily. If you’re out on the mountain you can also set it to record when you start heading downhill – again, great for cutting out the lift runs on your skiing or mountain biking session.

The camera itself is a little ungainly, and it isn’t helped by the rather bulky mounting system, which leaves the camera sitting high off its mounting point. It comes with a pair of sticky mounts – one curved and one flat. It was dunked a number of times in our kayaking session without its waterproof dive housing, so is clearly more than a little splashproof.

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A video natural

This quality extends to the video itself – footage from the Virb Elite has bags of detail and lovely, natural colours, easily beating the 4GEE and, to a lesser degree, the TomTom.

Like the TomTom, the Virb Elite is a master of data collection. It uses its inbuilt GPS, accelerometers and gyroscope to measure g-force, distances and speed. It will even display these as you move (only really useful when mounted to bike or motorbike handlebars) and save them to overlay on top of your footage when editing.

You have the option of attaching ANT+ accessories to the Virb Elite to further add to your growing pile of data. So if you’ve already got a heart-­rate belt, cadence sensor or power meter lying around, you can get those in on the act.

Mind the app

We had a lot of trouble with the Android remote app. Whenever we tried to start recording from the app it didn’t work, even causing the camera to freeze a couple of times.

It’s a far cry from the TomTom’s stellar mobile effort. From the intro screens on the app it appears that Garmin has focused its mobile support on its newer Virb XE camera, leaving the Virb and Virb Elite out in the cold somewhat.

Garmin prefers you to plug the Virb Elite straight into your computer when downloading footage, rather than pulling out the memory card, which is located in a fiddly bay underneath the battery. It’s best done this way anyway as the Virb Edit software can then download your footage and your G­-Metrix data together.

View from the canoe

“The Virb is a little heavier than other action cams I’ve used and I was initially worried about its bulkiness. But once I was on the water, I barely noticed it. I really liked the ease of the on/off switch – just a quick flick and it’s recording – and it stayed securely in place the whole time, even with some hefty party wave action and arms flailing everywhere.”

Sean Clarke - Kayak Pro and Garmin Virb Elite field-tester

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