MO Tested: Garmin Virb XE
The data-infused action camera
Our Garmin Virb XE action camera is quite the world traveler. In our possession since its introduction last year, our Virb XE has been put to task aboard Honda’s exotic RC213V-S on Portugal’s GP racetrack in Estoril, as well as in the Karoo region of South Africa during another Honda launch, the Africa Twin. While in South Africa the Garmin went fishing (waterproof to 50 meters) on a great white shark diving expedition. So far, it’s proven to be a durable, dependable unit capable of not only recording excellent video, but also acquiring data with its G-Metrix system.
The G-Metrix system is what initially attracted us to the Virb XE. G-Metrix is a combination of a built-in gyroscope and GPS, as well as external Garmin devices for capturing data in the form of speed, heart rate, water depth, fuel consumption, engine RPM, etc. For our purposes we focused mainly on track shape, speed, lap times, G-force, and elevation – all of which do not require any external devices due to the device’s internal gyroscope. Simply power on the camera, wait a minute for the GPS to automatically sync, then it’s ready to start recording both video and data.
Garmin Virb Edit software is free from Garmin and makes editing a video with G-Metrix data easy. Simply attach your Virb camera to your laptop and the video and data flow into the software together. Once loaded, the software makes utilizing the data easy with variety of preset overlays, or you can create your own custom layout.
A few times we had to download the video and data outside the Virb Edit software. This causes the files to separate, and can create synchronization problems when attempting to utilize the overlays. This is apparent in the RC213V-S video from Estoril, where the bike is obviously accelerating but the graph shows braking forces being applied (see video above). So, for best results we recommend downloading directly from the camera to a laptop with the Virb Edit software installed.
Using the camera is fantastically easy. You can either power the camera on, ensure your settings are correct and leave it in standby until you’re ready to record, which is triggered by moving the lever on the right (with the small red dot) forward. Or, even if the camera’s powered down, flipping the red-dotted lever forward will automatically turn on the camera and begin recording. Pushing the center button commands the camera to take a still photo. Both are really cool features that are easy to operate while in motion, and while wearing gloves.
A choice exists with Virb cameras between the X and XE models. Price is the most obvious: $299 for X and $399 for XE. What you get for the extra Benjamin with the XE is electronic image stabilization, upgraded video that will shoot in 1440P, and a wider variety of frames per second selections in other formats, which is good for high-speed events (like motorcycle track testing). Otherwise the X and XE are the same camera, and if you’re not filming high-speed events, the X will probably meet your needs. You can then spend the $100 saved on an ANT+ Virb accessory or, for car guys, a Bluetooth OBDII data connector pod.
Unique to the Virb is its camera housing that is also its protective case. Waterproof up to a 50-meter depth, the front of the camera flips open to expose the lens, battery, micro SD storage card, and anti-fog desiccant insert. If your camera does incur damage, Garmin offers a repair kit that includes a new camera door, door latch, mounting flange, screws and tools ($39.99). Because the camera body is waterproof Garmin devised an interesting external connector for charging the camera and download content. The cable is thick and features a standard USB connector on the outgoing end, but we did have a few connection issues when downloading content. A new cable seems to have fixed the issue.
There’s no shortage of action cameras on the market, and we’ve had our fair share of GoPros, but for motorcyclists we see the Virb X or XE as extra beneficial simply because of its ease of operation when wearing leather gloves. Ours has functioned in heat, cold, dirt and salt water without failure. We prefer the XE for its high-speed video options, and feel the extra $100 is worth the upgrade over the X.
For more information or to purchase go to virb.garmin.com.
UPDATE: The Garmin Virb XE is now discontinued. You can still find some available from retailers, but supplies will eventually run out. Replacing the Virb XE is the Garmin Virb Ultra 30.
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