Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 action camera hands-on: Voice control, GPS, touchscreen, and more


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People like to share their adventures with others and capture once in a lifetime experiences.

The best way to capture these moments is with an action camera and the new Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 gives you everything you need to record the action in high resolution while also offering an enhanced experience with GPS data.

Garmin has previous generation VIRB cameras that offer some unique options when compared to a GoPro, but it was the advanced features of the VIRB Ultra 30 that captured my attention. In addition to running, I enjoy cycling, fishing, and hiking. With activities such as cycling and fishing, your hands are often preoccupied with your gear to manipulate a camera.

With the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30, that is not a problem thanks to voice control functionality. If you want to share your experiences in real time, you can also stream the action live to YouTube.

Specifications

  • Display: LCD touchscreen display
  • Camera: 6 element wide-angle lens with f/2.6 aperture, 1.55um pixels, capable of 12 megapixel still images and 4K/30fps or 720p240fps slow motion video
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth, ANT+
  • Storage: microSD expansion card slot supporting up to 128GB
  • Sensors: GPS, accelerometer, barometer, gyro, and compass
  • Battery: 1250 mAh removable
  • Water resistance: Up to 40 meters in waterproof enclosure
  • Dimensions: 43.1 x 57.5 x 20.4 mm and 88 grams
  • Dimensions in waterproof housing: 57.7 x 79 x 33.5 mm and 155 grams

Hardware

The Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 is a high quality camera that comes with a waterproof case and for most of your activities you are going to want to use it in this case. I never used it without the case as I biked, fished, and ran. The case is mostly clear with some black areas on the front and easily secures on the VIRB Ultra 30 with a strong clasp on the right side.

The VIRB Ultra 30 looks like a small 35mm camera with a color LCD on the back, three buttons and a dial on top, HDMI and miniUSB ports on the left side, a door to access the removable battery and microSD card on the bottom, and a couple indicator lights and the camera lens on the front.

The color LCD is easy to read and manipulate with your finger. Status info appears along the top and bottom. A four square icon is centered on the bottom and tapping this takes you to a six icon display with video, photo, playback, presets, wireless, and display options. Tapping one of these takes you deeper into the software.

I was actually very impressed that you can use the touchscreen LCD even when the VIRB Ultra 30 is placed into the waterproof case. Sometimes you have to press a couple times, but it works fairly well considering there is a large piece of clear plastic between your finger and the touchscreen.

The top left button is the power button, the next one to the right is used to toggle the WiFi radio on and off, and the third one is found in the middle of the dial and acts like a shutter button to capture still image. You can simply move the dial lever forward to start recording video so you can make one move and get going.

Make sure to use the included miniUSB cable contained in the box as that is needed to charge the camera and transfer videos to your PC. I tried a cable I had lying around and it did not work.

You can purchase Garmin mounts or use existing GoPro mounts to help you capture video and still images. I used a head mount and bike mount I had from a GoPro to test the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30.

The battery is removable so you can always carry spares to make sure you never run out of power. The battery is rated for up to one hour and 15 minutes of 4K 30fps video or two hours and 15 minutes of 1080p 30fps video. I have no way to view 4K video so only tested out the 1080p resolution with my tests.

Software

The camera software is very self-explanatory and to learn it I simply tapped around the display to see what was available. You can also use the three top buttons to move left, right, and select options if you aren’t in an environment where you can use the touchscreen.

You can change the video and photo resolution, setup timelapse details, view videos you already shot, quickly go back to the presets, manage your wireless connections, and manage display settings. You can select which indicator lights appear too.

One of the coolest features on the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 is the ability to use your voice to control the camera. You can toggle this on and off in the camera software. The following commands are available for you to use with the camera:

  • OK Garmin start recording
  • OK Garmin stop recording
  • OK Garmin take a photo or picture
  • OK Garmin remember that

You can also connect to your iOS or Android device with the VIRB smartphone app. I tested the smartphone software on an iPhone 6s Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and even though the apps were in beta they worked flawlessly.

The VIRB Ultra 30 supports using your smartphone as a remote for the camera. You can use your smartphone display as a viewfinder while also using your smartphone to fully customize all of the settings on your Ultra 30. In addition, videos and photos captured by the VIRB Ultra 30 can be viewed on your smartphone display or shared to your favorite service.

With your smartphone connection, video can be streamed live to YouTube for a real-time experience.

Garmin also includes Mac and PC desktop software for advanced video editing. The tool is very easy to use and there is even an automatic video maker that steps you through the creation process so that anyone can create professional looking videos.

The software supports trimming of your clips, mixing of multiple clips, animations, sounds and music, maps, and G-Metrix.

I personally enjoy using the G-Metrix to include GPS and sensor data collected either by the VIRB Ultra 30 or a connected Garmin GPS sport watch. I used my Garmin Fenix 3HR to collect data, but since the Ultra 30 has a GPS receiver inside I just went with it for my data. You can also connect and include sensors such as bike speed and cadence sensors.

Experiences out in the field

The Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 is available through Amazon for $499.99 and includes the waterproof case. It is one of the more expensive action cameras, but it has everything you could ever want in a single camera. I can’t think of a single missing feature from the VIRB Ultra 30 so if you want the best then you should consider this camera.

As I was fly fishing, I found the ability to activate the camera with my voice to be very handy. While you could record hours of casting, most people just want to see the action when you hook into a fish and with voice control you can turn on the camera as soon as you get a strike.

The camera controls are large enough to be easy to activate and the software is setup to make navigating around the camera straight forward. Again, I don’t see how Garmin could make it any easier than they already have.

Videos and still images look great. Sound was picked up very well, which was a bit surprising given the rugged waterproof case I kept the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 mounted in.



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