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.
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.