Recently, I took the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 on a vacation to Aruba. I only had enough money to purchase one camera, so I chose the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30. This camera did not disappoint. I could spend hours and hours writing an extensive field guide for the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30, but we are just going to focus on the key capabilities within this article. This camera had everything I needed, and then some. The only shortfalls that I found was in post production of imagery. In the Summary, I’ll let you know if your the type of person who should buy the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 or if the new GoPro Hero 5 Black is a better purchasing choice.
If you want to see how well this camera films in high/low light conditions, under time lapse, and snorkeling underwater, watch the video below. Please consider supporting me and this website with my Amazon affiliate link. If you purchase the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 from my Amazon link, I earn a small commission. It is through your support, I stay independent and honest in my reviews. (Purchase Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 on Amazon)
Like I said in my video, I chose the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 because I can connect my cycling sensors (video below). I think this is a must buy for any cyclist looking for an action camera. In the article below, I’m going to hit the major wave tops here. This won’t be a complete user’s guide, but I will discuss everything you need to know before you make a purchase. I’ll also discuss if you would be better off buying the GoPro Hero 5 Black instead. I’ll cover all the major capabilities this camera has and point out some of its weaknesses (limitations).
The main competitor to the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 is the GoPro Hero 5 Black. Both cameras are very, very capable pieces of tech. However, there are some subtle differences between each one. I’ll list those differences below. I have no experience using the GoPro Hero 5 Black. I only had enough money to purchase one camera to review. However, I do own other GoPro cameras, so I am familiar with the GoPro Quick editing software and the GoPro mobile app.
GoPro Hero 5 Black
There are some key differences when you compare the GoPro Hero 5 Black to the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30. The first thing that stood out to me was the App. You have no post production capability with the VIRB Edit App besides overlaying sensors. This means, the colors you have are the colors you get. The GoPro App does have color grade capabilities. Overlaying data on the GoPro App is much harder to do than the VIRB Edit App. Garmin makes it super easy to connect various sensors and overlay data.
Next, the GoPro Hero 5 comes waterproof up to 10 meters. The VIRB Ultra 30 is not waterproof and you have to use a case. This means the GoPro is a bit more versatile if you wanted to shoot in the water or on the go without worrying about a case.
Lastly, we look at images and microphones. The GoPro Hero 5 comes with three internal microphones that can be split with the GoPro App, while the VIRB Ultra 30 has two microphones that offer no capability to split the audio files. However, the GoPro App does have bluetooth connectivity which means you can hook up a bluetooth microphone to that unit. So, is one better than the other? Not really, it just depends on what you want to do with these cameras and what is convenient for you. (Purchase GoPro Hero 5 Black from Amazon)
Capabilities and Limitations
In this section we will look at some of the capabilities and limitations. There are very few limitations but most won’t affect the recreational user. Any limitations discussed below mostly pertain to the advanced user.
You have a bunch of different shootings modes. In my video above, I shot everything in 2.7k at 30 Frames Per Second. I did this because it gives me more options in Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) when rendering down to 1080p for upload to my Youtube channel (consider subscribing). I also did my own color correction in FCPX using ICURAS LUTS (Look Up Tables). You can see what a difference color grading makes in post production. It makes your images really pop and adds massive depth when filming underwater.
Here are the primary shooting modes:
- Field of View options are Expansive, Wide, 1.5x zoom, and 2x zoom. For 4k video I only had the option of WFoV and for 2.7k I only had at the option of WFov and 1.5x zoom.
- You can shoot Video from 720p (60fps), 1080 (96fps), 2.7K (60fps) and all the way up to 4k (30fps). 4K can only use WFoV, 2.7k only up to 1.5x zoom, and 1080/720 can use 2x zoom.
- Photo Mode can go 4:3 (12mp) to 16:9 (8mp). You can shoot burst of up to 60 frames per second at (12mp). Photo Time Lapse can go from 1 to 60 second intervals.
- Video SlowMo can use up to 1080p at 120fps. You can also go 2x FoV for 1080p SloMo.
- The time lapse I used was the 2.7k Expansive video mode at 1/2 second durations covering .25 hours of time. You can go up to up to 60 second intervals which cover 30 hours in 1 minute. However, your battery only lasts 1.5 hours. So, you need to be connected to power to hit a time lapse longer than 2 hours. You can also use up to 4K expansive and down to 1080p expansive.
- Travelapse is like time lapse except set over distance. You can set any distance down to .01 miles if you like. The camera uses the internal GPS to calculate distance moved and then takes a video shot when it hits the preset distance measurement.
- Lastly, you can record video loops. This means you can let your camera run and then select instances where it will record a loop. Great for those who just want action shots and not long running videos.
I did fool around with the pro settings of this camera. However, because I was moving around so much and my lighting was changing constantly, I chose to use the camera in Auto Mode and then color correct post production. With the Pro settings, you can adjust Exposure Bias, ISO (400 to 6400), Color (vivid/flat), Sharpness (High, Medium, Low), Bitrate, White Balance (2800k to 7500k), Spot Metering (sets exposure when measuring the middle of frame), and Exposure Lock (useful in time lapse mode to lock in exposure). You can also save those settings within the camera as Pre-Sets.
The second reason I didn’t use the pro settings is due to the screen size on the back of the camera. When using my Canon 70D, I have no problems viewing my image as I change my exposure settings. The Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 has a much smaller screen and it is harder to judge the changes. However, you can use your phone with the Garmin Mobile VIRB App and that works much better displaying what your images will look like.
A great feature of the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 is the ability to use your other Garmin Devices to control it remotely. You can use anything from the Garmin VIRB App on your phone to your Garmin Fenix 5 watch or Garmin Edge computer. You’ll have to look up your Garmin devices to see if they are compatible. I can vouch that my Fenix 5s and Edge 520 will control the VIRB Ultra 30 Camera remotely. You can see the images below. (Fenix 5s Review)
*HARD TO FIND INFO* I couldn’t find this anywhere in the Edge 520 user manual or the VIRB Ultra 30 User Manual. Basically, if you want to record video with your Garmin Edge 520, you need to hit the “Forward/Select” button to pull up the Edge 520 home menu. Then you can scroll down and select record or take a photo. It doesn’t have all the nice options that the Fenix 5 watch integration has. Hopefully, that changes in the future. Look at the picture above for a visual explanation. (I wonder if there is a connect IQ app we can add?)
The Wifi connectivity is pretty darn cool. I can hook the camera up to my home Wifi network, then stream video live to my Garmin VIRB Mobile App on my iPhone. Setting this up was pretty straightforward, and was not difficult at all unless you forgot what your Wifi password was (yep, happened to me). The VIRB Ultra 30 also sets up as a Wifi destination itself. This is how it communicates to your mobile device when you don’t have a Wifi connection.
Basically, it works like this. You are out and about and want to stream video to your phone from your VIRB Ultra 30 (Youtube live is supported at 720p). The VIRB sends a signal to your phone that looks like a Wifi router. You then connect to the VIRB in your Wifi settings section of your phone and Viola! You are now connected to your camera and streaming video to your phone.
Sensor integration was key for my purchasing decision because you cannot integrate ANT+ cycling sensors with the GoPro Hero 5 Black. Furthermore, the Garmin Mobile App was designed specifically for sensor integration and display. It much easier to build sensor displays on the Garmin VIRB desktop App than it is using the GoPro Desktop App. That has been my experience so far. Check out the quick cycling video below with sensors integrated.
You only use bluetooth for two things that I see. An external bluetooth microphone can be connected to the VIRB Ultra 30 so you don’t have to use the internal microphone. You can tell in my video that audio quality isn’t the greatest with the VIRB’s onboard microphones. The other thing you can do is connect to a Bluetooth ELM327 on-board (OBD-II) device to record automotive data. Do you have a turbo charged race car and need an action camera? The VIRB Ultra 30 can pull all of that data from your car computer and then display it easily on the screen. That’s engine temperature, RPM’s, Fuel data, turbo data, etc; anything your car records can be displayed.
Voice Control and Touch Screen
I had no issues with voice control and touch screen functioning. The touch screen worked well even when it was in it’s protective case. Voice control was pretty simple, you just said “Okay, Garmin”, “Take a Photo/Picture”, or “Start Recording”. It worked as simple as that. The case did cause some missed voice commands when I was testing it around water, but that is expected when the microphone gets water around the outside of the case. I shouldn’t expect the voice command option to work well when the device is wet.
The waterproof case executed it’s duties flawlessly. You get this little white strip with your purchase of the VIRB Ultra 30. That white strip is there to suck the moisture out of your camera case in environments where it is very humid. I tested out the case without the strip in Aruba and the inside of the case immediately fogged up when going into cooler water. I got out of the pool, opened the case up, put the strip in, and the fogging had completely stopped. I’m glad they provided those anti-moisture strips. Lastly, you get a paper card that will change colors and let you know if the strip is needed or not. My card instantly turned colors when I was in humid Aruba.
Garmin Virb Mobile and Desktop App
There are two apps you can use to manipulate and manage the footage from this camera. They are the Garmin VIRB Mobile and Desktop App. I used the mobile App as more of a manager of media files on my camera and to view footage while on the go. The desktop app is better suited for post production and splicing footage together when making your movies.
Garmin Virb Mobile App
I only used the Garmin VIRB Mobile App for a few things. It is super clunky when it comes to video editing and struggles doing any advanced function like importing music from your iTunes playlist. I had a few crashes just trying to export some manipulated video to my iPhone. Not only that, it does take a long time to process unless you want to export in 720p. You can text, email, Facebook or basically use any app to export right from the mobile app (It’s better to export to your iPhone and then load video from there). However, I would only do this for a short 20 second video of something exciting. I’m spoiled from using Final Cut Pro and I don’t like editing in these other clunky video editing apps.
I did use the Garmin VIRB Mobile App for a few things. You can choose video or photo settings in the VIRB Mobile App and that will change shooting modes on your camera. That is very useful when adjusting the pro settings. The iPhone gives you a bigger screen to see how those pro settings are affecting the image color and quality. I also used the App to manage my videos. This means I can view and delete videos right from the app without having to use the smaller screen of the VIRB Ultra 30.
Garmin Virb Desktop App
You can make some great movies with the Garmin VIRB Desktop App. It is specifically designed for the basic user. What I bring up in the next paragraph is targeted to the advanced user like myself. The general user can do a lot with their footage using the desktop app. It has everything you need, from splicing video, putting up text, creating transitions or adding basic layers like sensor data. You can also drop in stock music that Garmin provides or import music from your desktop. I see the advanced users only using the data overall capabilities of this app.
Garmin is really missing out here when it comes to color correcting. You can see in my video at the beginning, how important it is to color correct the raw video images. Color correction adds so much more depth than you get with the raw footage coming out of the camera. It wouldn’t be that hard to contact Paulo from ICARUS and buy his LUTs for use with the Garmin VIRB Edit App. The GoPro App has color correction and I can’t believe the Garmin VIRB App doesn’t have it.
Tripod and Extra Batteries
Yes, Yes, Yes, you need the tripod and extra batteries. I was surprised how quickly 1.5 to 2 hours flew by when shooting. The best I could do filming in 2.7k was 90 minutes. When you are out and about you need those extra batteries. Also, the GoPro Selfie Stick and Tripod was amazing and is also a must have item.
I looked around at some cheaper selfie stick options that were around 25 to 30 dollars. The GoPro costs 65 dollars from Amazon, and I’m glad I made the more expensive purchase. That tripod was awesome! The Tripod attachment simply screws into the base for storage or flips out and screws into the base when using it. You can can also turn the tripod into a stake by not extending it and just driving it into the sand. On the beach, I drove the tripod into the sand like a stake and it worked very well. (Purchase GoPro Selfie Stick/Tripod from Amazon)
Wasabi Power Pack
I am amazed that I can get two batteries and a charging station for 20 dollars on Amazon. These Wasabi batteries worked just as well as the Garmin Battery that came with the device. Also, I love this charging station because you get confirmation of the charge. You put the battery in the charging station and it turns red saying it is charging. Once the charge is complete, the status light goes green. Need to verify which one of your 3 batteries is charged and which ones are not, just plug them into the charging station and check the status light. (Purchase Wasabi Power Pack from Amazon)
SanDisk Extreme Plus 128GB Micro SDXC USH-1 Card
I loved knowing that I could shoot 3 hours of 2.7k video on that SanDisk card. I also loved that the memory card had a 95MB/s read speed and a 90MB/s write speed. That is more than enough speed to write and read 4k video. It literally took just a minute or less to upload 30GB of video to my computer. Super fast read speeds saving me precious time. If you chose the cheaper cards at 30MB/s it will take longer to download all of your video and writing to 4K could get slow on the camera. (Purchase SanDisk Extreme Plus from Amazon)
Summary (Who Should Buy It?)
Let’s break this down real quick because ultimately, the question is should I buy the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 or the GoPro Hero 5 Black. These cameras are so similar in capability, there are only a few standout areas where I would chose one over the other.
The Cyclist/Adventure Athlete/Motor Enthusiast
Anyone who uses sensors or data and needs to overlay them on video should buy the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30. That is cyclists, skiers, Mortorcycle or Car racers/enthusiast, sky divers, paragliders, you name it. If there is data you want on your video, you need the VIRB Ultra 30.
Amateur Film Hobbyist/General Adventurer Not Doing Sports
I would pick the GoPro Hero 5 Black. I say this because you can do more in the post production department using the GoPro App for color correction. The GoPro App isn’t the greatest for color correction, but at least they give you some basic tools to help you out. Also, the GoPro is water proof up to 10 meters. This means you don’t have to worry about getting water damage just hanging around water features or when it is raining.
YouTuber Not Doing Sports and Fair Weather shooting
I would pick the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 because you have the capability to do Youtube live streaming with your phones cell connection. You probably can only relibably stream in 720/1080p using a cell signal, but it gives you so much more versatility for getting on Youtube Live at any location. Also, you can use an external bluetooth microphone that significantly enhances your voice when rendering audio files.
Pro Filmer/Super User
I have to go with the GoPro Hero 5 Black. You get three audio channels you can import into other video editing programs. That gives you a bit more control. Also, the GroPro can record RAW files. If that is still important to you (I don’t use RAW), then this is a consideration. However, I think people are starting to move away from RAW for other codecs like ProRes 4444 or things like that. Again, I’m no film expert but those are your considerations.
I hope you enjoyed reading this review. If you liked what you read here, please consider making a purchase with one of the links I provided in the article. I earn a small commission and that keeps me running independent. Also, you can sign up for my newsletter at the top right of the webpage. All I do is send an email out every other week updating you on new articles. There is no spam. Lastly, consider bookmarking my Amazon link at the top. Any purchase you make on Amazon (curtains, cleaning supplies, ebooks) and I get a small commission to keep things running through reader support.