PROS / A built-in GPS means you can overlay your videos with speed and location data.
CONS / The design is more awkward and fragile than competing products.
VERDICT / The Virb Elite is best for those who own a Garmin bike computer or GPS watch since it connects easily with other Garmin devices. If you don't have another Garmin device, its fragility and average image quality lessen its appeal.
The Garmin Virb Elite is an action camcorder with good image quality, a unique design and several GPS-enabled features. Garmin has long been the one of the world's premier GPS companies, and the Virb Elite represents its first foray into the HD action cam market.
The Virb Elite has average image quality. It can shoot at a resolution of 1080p at up to 30 frames per second (fps) or in 720p at up to 60 fps. Some of the best action cameras on the market can shoot in 1080p at 60 fps, which is the optimum setting for capturing fast action sequences, but the 720p/60 fps setting offered by the Virb Elite should be sufficient for filming most of your adventures, provided you don't do a lot of zooming or image stabilization in the editing process.
This camera has a maximum frame rate of 120 fps, which will give you the ability to replay 480p footage in smooth slow motion down to about 20 percent of the original speed. This maximum frame rate is fairly standard among action video cameras, but some offer a 240 fps frame-rate option, which would allow you to replay footage even slower.
The unusual flashlight-like shape works well when mounted as a helmet cam. It is IPx7 water-resistant out of the box, which means it can withstand submersion in 3 feet of water for 30 minutes. The Virb Elite is significantly less waterproof than most of its competition, although Garmin does offer a reasonably priced submersible case for the camera.
The camera has a preview screen, which allows you to not only navigate the various menus and settings on the camera, but also to preview the shot you're taking. This is especially useful on a wide-angle action cam because it can be difficult to tell exactly what the camera is recording.
The Virb Elite shoots HD video with a field of view of 146 degrees, which is a bit narrower than the 160- or 170-degree field of view offered by some of the top action camcorders. The angle difference won't really matter unless you plan to use a mount that points the camera directly at you, in which case you'll want a camera with the widest possible field of view.
What makes this action camcorder unique is its ability to connect with other devices in the Garmin ecosystem. It has ANT+ connectivity, so you can use other Garmin products, such as GPS watches or bike computers, as remote controls for the Virb Elite. It also has a GPS chip and can display an unparalleled amount of GPS data on your captured footage. You can overlay speed, distance traveled, altitude and more information on the video, plus if you synchronize it to a bike computer, you can display heart rate and pedal cadence. This adds an element of immersion to your videos that tells a much more complete story than just the footage alone.
The Virb Elite has Wi-Fi, so you can use your smartphone both as a remote control and as a viewfinder via the free Garmin app. You can also use your phone to change settings on the camera.
This camera integrates nicely with other Garmin products to give you more features than other action cams. If you own a Garmin GPS, watch or bike computer, the Virb Elite might be the best action camera for you. However, there are action camcorders with better image quality and a hardier design at a similar price point.