Garmin Virb Initial Review (Vs GoPro 3+ Silver)

I wanted to add more cameras for 2015 but was having a hard time swallowing the $300 or more for another GoPro. Aside from the price, there are a few things that I wasn't extremely happy with, so I started looking at alternatives. When I found the Garmin Virb, I was kind of shocked at the $99 price tag so I started doing some research and was convinced enough to fork over the hundred bucks to see what they could do. 

After a full day on the water with them, I have some initial likes and dislikes. Keep in mind that this is from a kayak angler's perspective. Some of my preferences, likes, and dislikes will probably differ from a mountain bikes, a snowboarder, drag racer, or a motorcyclist that is tearing up the Tail of the Dragon. 

One of my major beefs with the GoPro was the muffled sound that came as a result of having to use a waterproof housing. This could be fixed in editing but another problem made that even more difficult - the awful clanking sound that you get when you use the waterproof housing. Here is an example of some raw video from a couple of weeks ago. I was intentionally speaking very loud but it still isn't very good. The clanking sound only makes it worse.

When I saw that the Virb didn't require an additional housing to be waterproof, I was pretty excited.
Here is a raw clip that is only edited for time - no audio or visual modifications were done. Notice how much clearer/louder the voice is as well as the significantly lesser amount of clucking/clanking. Amplifying voice in editing will be extremely easy with this clip.

So far, based solely on the sound issue, the move to the Virb was correct.

Video and photo quality
Using the same two videos posted above, let's look at video quality.

The GoPro footage was shot at 1080-60fps while Garmin was shot at 720-60fps

From what I can tell, they both look pretty darn close in quality. I might even say the Virb footage at 720 is a tinnnnnny bit nicer? Both days were pretty cloudy and dismal.

I should note that some of the quality on both videos can simply be as a result of viewing them on Youtube. I will say, however, that even when I am viewing them from the file on my computer, I feel the same way.

In terms of still shots - the Virb has a definite advantage with it's 16MP camera compared to GoPro's 10MP (or 12MP with the newest Hero 4)

One feature that is absolutely stellar on the Virb is the ability to simultaneously capture a still photo and record video. In other words, you don't have to only do one or the other...you can do both at the exact same time!

Menu options and settings
This is where things get a bit more interesting.

On the Gopro, I set everything the way I wanted it and that's just how they stayed unless I changed them. If I wanted all the little LED indicators turned off, I turned them off and they stayed that way every time unless I turned them on.

On the Virb, I had set everything the night before the way I wanted them set. 720fps, recording light off, remote on, power save mode off. When I got to the lake the next morning, I turned the cameras on, put them on the mounts, and off I went. When I hit the record button on the remote, none of the cameras started recording. I found this strange so I grabbed the front camera and started looking at the settings....

Remote was off, power save mode was on, and the recording lights were on. When I grabbed the second Virb behind me, the same things happened. So, on the water, I had to change all of the settings on both cameras. This completely aggravated me.

Once I got everything reset, they were fine for the rest of the day and everything functioned as I wanted. The caveat in that statement is that I didn't turn the cameras off until the end of the day (more on that part later).

I sent a note to a very well known kayak angler who happens to also use the Virb for all of her videos and she told me that she doesn't have that issue so who knows...maybe I did something wrong or I have a couple of glitchy cams. I will have to call Garmin and see if they have any ideas.

I will admit that I just turned the cameras on again (it's been about 48 hours since I used them last), and all of the settings were the same as I had set them. I suppose it's possible it was a one time fluke but I'm not sure. If it does happen again, I'll update this post and let you know what Garmin says.

Remote control functionality plus battery life
Any action cam I have HAS to have a remote. I like to mount them pretty far away from the reach of my hands so I can get as much imagery in the frame as possible. I also don't want to hit record at the beginning of the day and just keep it rolling. It would kill the battery and completely fill up memory cards which would mean that I would have to change both of those multiple times throughout a long fishing day.

With that said, both cameras do have optional remotes.

The GoPro remote costs about $80 by itself while the Garmin Virb remote is about $40.

Pairing the remote with the camera(s) is waaaaaay easier with the Virb.

Actual usage is extremely different though and explaining the differences can only be accomplished by also talking about battery life.

On the GoPro, the remote has full functional control over the actual camera. You can change settings from the remote, record, and turn the camera on and off.

On the Virb remote, you can't adjust settings and you cant turn the camera on or off. You can only start and stop recording or take a picture.

The really nice thing about the GoPro set up is that with the ability to turn the camera off and on remotely, I can go 6...7....10 hours or more before my battery is dead. The remote works off of wifi so the only camera function that has to be on at all times is wifi. By itself, wifi doesn't really drain the battery.

The Virb works off something called ANT+ technology. I really don't know exactly how it works but I can best describe it as the same way a computer mouse works. Here is an example...

With your mouse, you can control a bunch of different things assuming one very important part....the computer itself has to be physically turned on. You can't use the mouse to actually turn your computer on. At best, with the mouse, you can only "wake" it up if it is in sleep mode.

Well, the Virb and its remote work exactly the same way. By turning power save mode off, the Virb will go into "sleep" mode after a couple of minutes of no activity but will never completely shut off. If you have power save option turned on, then after about ten minutes, the camera will completely shut off and can only be turned on by physically hitting the power button on the camera itself. This can't be done via remote.

And that is where the bigger battery on the Virb becomes essentially pointless. Typically, depending on how much recording I actually did, I was able to fish for 8 to 10 hours without the battery dying on the GoPro.

On the Virb, I only made it about 5 hours before both cameras started beeping which indicated my batteries were just about dead. I had only taken about 20 minutes of actual footage plus a few still shots. The rest of the time, the cameras were in "sleep" mode.

So, even though the Virb battery has almost twice the aH's that the GoPro battery has, I get about 3 to 4 hours less of practical use. The reason for this is simply because the Virb's sleep mode still uses more battery than the GoPro's set up of only having the Wifi on but the camera completely off.

Now, if all I did was hit the record button and never stop it, the Virb would get about 40 extra minutes of battery life over the GoPro but it's simply not how I shoot my video footage. As a result, this is kind of a bummer to me.

The solution to this is to simply carry a couple of extra batteries. Changing them isn't that difficult assuming I can reach the cameras.

Initial conclusions
At a hundred dollars, the Virb basic is incredibly hard to beat. If you want some additional bells and whistles, you can get the Virb Elite for $270 and it comes with wifi and GPS. Both are incredibly cool options that allow a whole bunch of awesome data. I just don't need those for kayak fishing and quite frankly, I never used them on my GoPro so forking over the extra $170 just wasn't worth it.

Overall, minus the reverting back to factory settings incident, I am extremely pleased with Virb cameras. They have plenty of mounting options and can easily be used with any GoPro mounts.

I'll update this as I use them a bit more.


More action from Lake Michigan!

So this weekend didn't go quite as planned....
My original plans were to drive over to Indiana and do some musky fishing with my friend Randy at Predator-Pursuit. Things were looking good until Friday afternoon when he sent me a text that the lakes were frozen. GRRRRRRR

Since the lakes in Indiana were frozen, it would make sense to drive a couple hours north to do some kayak fishing in Lake Michigan, right? HA HA

Luckily, it takes that giant inland sea a bit longer to cool down than those small Indiana musky lakes so off I went. 

The weather was a lot nicer than it was a couple of weeks ago. Rather than 21 degree air temperatures, it was a toasty 50 degrees. I'm sure this still sounds cold to my southern friends but to me, it was gorgeous! 

Unfortunately, the actual fishing part took a different route. Instead of getting better as the weather got better, it actually got worse. 

I was barely marking anything the entire day. I'd find a small pod of two or three fish and then nothing for a long time. A half hour would go by and I might see another lone fish...then back to nothing. This made it hard to make adjustments because I didn't really have too many opportunities to test the presentations I was using. As a result, I mostly stuck to the same three set ups - Biovex Deep Runner in Hot Shad on one line, blueback on another, and then a spoon down the middle. 

I had a couple of short strikes on the crankbaits but they were so soft that the rod barely bent for more than a second. I stopped trolling for a bit to do some jigging but quickly lost confidence in it since I really didn't have too many visual targets on my sonar. 

Once I got back to trolling, I left the two crankbaits alone and put on a smaller spoon. After another hour of trolling, I FINALLY had a fish on!!! 

After that, I had one more really strange hit on the crankbait. Quite frankly, I'm not sure it was really even a strike. As I was trolling over one of the few pods of fish I was actually able to find, one of the crankbait rods completely lost tension. It looked as if the fish had simply crashed into the bait and went forward with the bait instead of pulling in the opposite direction. It's also possible that I just went over the back of a fish but I think I still would have noticed a quick pull instead of the rod just lunging forward. Oh well....strange things happen out there!

Also, one quick thing to note about the video!!! All footage was shot with two new Garmin Virb cameras. I'll be posting an initial review of that in the next day or so!! 


FishHunter Review: Real Livetime Sonar on your Smart Phone

I have been in possession of a FishHunter sonar unit for the past few months and have been learning what it is, what it does, and how I - or someone else -  would actually use it. Before I get into the last point, let me address the first two. On several occasions, I ran it side by side with my permanently installed Lowrance GPS/Sonar combo just to observe the accuracy of the FishHunter. Though it was slightly less detailed than the much more expensive permanent unit, it was perfectly acceptable in comparison. I marked the same fish, saw the same depths, saw the same weeds, and was able to generally determine if the bottom was hard or not.

To start, the FishHunter and it's corresponding smartphone app is a mobile, full color, sonar unit that provides real time sonar of what is going on in the water below you. It will tell you depth, water temp, and what is happening between the surface and the bottom on any body of water. It works via a Bluetooth connection between the small ball shaped sonar unit and your smartphone - in my case, I am using it with an iPhone 5. Using it is really quite simple, throw the sonar ball into the water, connect to it via Bluetooth with your phone, and viola, you have live sonar.

When I first got it, the app was in its early stage of development. While it did indeed provide surprisingly accurate sonar, the options were somewhat limited. What has really impressed me is the constantly developing app that has evolved on an almost constant basis. You can now edit settings such as sonar speed, recording of the depth profile, various sounds, fishview vs true raw data (less accurate fish icons vs the arches that so many are used to), what side of the screen you want your depth scale to be on, battery life, and bottom display. In a nutshell, this is constantly evolving into a true sonar unit that rivals the big named permanent mount units.

You can also mark locations on a built in map so you can go back to that exact spot at a later time. This feature also allows you to log your catches with details about the catch such as what lure you were using, weather at the time, fish size, and location!!In addition, there are moon cycle charts, weather information, tips on catching almost any species, and probably a ton more that I haven't even begun to discover yet. This is constantly evolving so make sure you update your app whenever you get an alert!

 This actually brings me to the start of my last point - how and where would you use it? The truth is, that I can't exactly tell you to throw your permanently installed GPS/Sonar unit that you have on your boats or kayaks in the trash. This isn't a replacement persay...It's more of an addition.

I have thought of as many possible uses where this does shine above the rest though - here is what I have come up with:

*Shore fisherman - So you don't have a boat/kayak/canoe...Instead, you tend to fish local ponds and lakes from shore? Well before this, you were generally out of luck with the exception of a few less than stellar black/white units that provided very limited data. With this unit, simply tie some string to it and toss it out there! Instantly, you will have data on your phone showing you what type of depth and structure is in front of you. The limit here (and it's somewhat of a big limitation) is that the connectivity is only reliable up to about 20 feet away. After that, it may disconnect. They have made some improvement on this since I have had it but it's still somewhat limited.

*Wading - similar to the shore fisherman, there have been so many instances where I have wondered what is in front of me that I can't see. Is there a big boulder, a log, a hole? Before this unit, the only way for me to really be sure was by trying to depict what the surface of the water was telling me or by going to the exact spot. The problem with the latter is that by doing so, I just scared whatever fish were there and essentially killed the spot for a while. With the FishHunter, I simply let the current carry the sonar unit downstream and watch my phone screen.

*Kayaking/Canoeing - So maybe you do have a kayak but haven't gotten as crazy as me by installing a crazy expensive GPS/Sonar unit, rod holders up the ying yang, etc... Or maybe you have and ran into a situation where that unit stopped working for some reason just as you were starting a tournament? Well that happened to me at a tournament on a body of water that I wasn't that familiar with. I had the FishHunter in the truck so I ran back to shore, grabbed it from the truck, tied it the side of the kayak, and got back to fishing. I ended up placing 3rd in that tournament...not too bad!

Another situation where it came in handy was on another kayak fishing outing when I came across an island, in the middle of the river, that had a very fishy looking bay on the downstream side of it. The problem was that the entrance to the bay was only a few inches deep. I didn't want to waste a bunch of time and energy dragging my kayak into the bay so I took my FishHunter, threw it out there and found out it was about 2 feet deep. I even marked a couple of fish. As a result, I spent the time and energy to get the kayak in there and was rewarded with a couple of pretty nice bass.

*Those once a year/lifetime trips - Im sure all of you know someone - maybe even you - that takes a big trip up to Canada, Northern Wisconsin, or some other fishing mecca that requires hours upon hours of driving or flying. When they get there, they usually rent a cheap tin boat and blindly run around the lake hoping to find some fish. Instead of aimlessly casting, take your FishHunter, throw it in your suitcase, and you have a fully functional sonar unit anywhere you go.

*Ice Fishing - Drill a hole and plop this baby right in the middle of it. It floats so you don't have to worry about it sinking and getting lost.

I'm sure there are a ton more uses but these are the ones that really stuck out to me. In closing, this thing is definitely pretty impressive. While its not something that I would trade for my traditional unit for, it adds a bucket load of versatility to my arsenal when I am fishing in places where a boat or kayak wont go. Even if they do go there, it serves as a great back up!! Retail cost for the sonar unit itself is $229. Here is a link to the FishHunter store where you can purchase it. The app itself is available through the iTunes store or the Google Play store for you Android folks - click this link for that download.

Below are some various photos and screenshots to help illustrate the FishHunter

Picture of the sonar unit. Notice I simply tied a rope to one end. It's about 25' long so I don't worry about going farther than the Bluetooth's range. It also helps me not lose it. 

Screenshot of the pairing screen on the app. This is also where you can adjust your ping speed and access the settings menu. 
Settings Menu

One of my catch logs

Notice the "Navigate To This Catch" feature!

Tips and tricks on how to catch just about any fish that's out there

Forecasts to help plan

Mooncycle charts

P.S. Another cool note - The folks at FishHunter are constantly running various contest for best catch, coolest pictures, etc...through the app. Once you download it, you can get in on the action!!


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