Tech review: Garmin Virb 360
Easy-to-use camera targets the adventure sport activist and has great sound
If it’s not in 360, it doesn’t count. Or so the tech industry would have you believe. It feels as if you can hardly move these days without someone capturing the moment “for the memories”. From Facebook turning panoramic phone photos into 360-degree images on your news feed to Samsung unveiling its own 360 camera that captures footage for its virtual reality headset, the so-called future of photography is being ushered in at an alarming pace.
The unusually named Virb is another option for the 3D enthusiast, giving you 360-degree footage in a neat, easy-to-use package. Made by Garmin, it has a specific market in mind – the active user. You know, the type of person who would willingly have strapped a GoPro to their head before throwing themselves down a mountain, on a bike, at speed.
Where the 360 – both old and new versions - had a slightly alien look, the Virb is rectangular and reminds me more of the Go Pro than the Gear 360. Lenses are located on both sides of the body to capture that 360-degree footage and 15 megapixel stills. Video can be captured in 4K 360 degrees, or up to 5.7K unstitched.
Unlike the Samsung Gear 360, the Virb is rugged. Garmin has built this camera for action, and that includes from the extreme sports side of the house. It is waterproof to 10 metres and, although the lenses protrude on either side, it feels like it can take a bit of rough treatment.
Different modes On the top is a small screen and buttons that allow you to flip between the various modes on the camera – photo, video, front and back lenses, raw mode – and control wifi.
The buttons are small but still easy to manage, even while wearing gloves, which is an important consideration. You can also use the smartphone app, available for both iPhone and Android, to control the camera.
But one thing the Virb has that makes it stand out from the 360-degree competition is the voice control. GoPro learned a while back that using voice instead of stabbing at tiny menus was a good alternate for those who were strapping the action camera to their bodies or heads and throwing themselves down mountains and the like. You can instruct the camera to start recording video or take a photo by prefacing your command with “OK Garmin”. The drawback is that you feel bit daft – similar to talking to Siri or Alexa – especially in front of people, but you’ll get over it if you really want to.
There’s also built-in GPS for geotagging your images and videos, and four microphones to capture 360-degree sound. If you are going to capture 360-degree video, you don’t want the footage let down by below-par sound.
Live streaming You can use the app to live stream your video to Facebook Live or YouTube – but only with “compatible devices”. That list includes the iPhone (5S and above) but no current Android devices. But you can use both versions of the app to preview and share footage, and with some minor editing, you get some very decent footage from the camera. That’s partly due to the 4K spherical stabilisation feature on the camera, and partly due to the resolution of the camera itself. The Virb feels like the footage is high-definition, and not stretched thin.
One area where action cameras – 360-degree capable or otherwise – need to perform well is with battery life. You don’t want to be continually battery-watching. Balance that out with the need to keep the camera compact and there’s an obvious conflict. You get about an hour of shooting time from the Virb, which may well be enough for the average extreme sports fan. The fact that the battery is swappable though is a major point in its favour. Carry a spare – or two – and you’ll be fine.
The good The Virb is built to take abuse. You can dunk it and it will still bounce back. Waterproof up to 10 metres, you can take this camera almost anywhere with you.
The not so good It’s significantly more expensive than the Samsung. At €820, it’s a bit of an investment. The live streaming may also be a great addition, but the feature is only available on iOS for now. Sorry, Android fans.
Battery life is relatively okay, but somewhat limited – you’ll get an hour roughly from a full battery but if you plan on some heavy shooting sessions, you’ll need to invest in extras.
The rest The box include a small tripod and a mount that will adapt the device for use with GoPro accessories, That’s knowing your market right there - appealing to existing GoPro owners.
The verdict It may cost a lot extra, but if you want to throw yourself into 4K 360 degree filming, the Virb 360 is a worthy contender. garmin.com