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Best Action Cam 2017: GoPro Hero5 Black vs Garmin VIRB Ultra 30

GoPro-Vs-Garmin

In virtually every post or video I make where I use an action cam, I’m asked which camera I’m using and why.  And even more commonly since this past fall I’m asked whether to go with the GoPro Hero5 Black or Garmin VIRB Ultra 30.  I don’t go a few days between folks asking which action came to choose between the two.

Before we start – a few notes.  First is that both cameras are superb.  And both cameras are without question the best that either company has ever made.  If someone gifted you either camera, I’m going to guess you’ll be thrilled.

Both cameras came out within just a few weeks of each other this past September, and both have very similar specs.  If you look at it from a pure resolution standpoint – they’re virtually identical.  Heck, they’re even using the exact same image processors.

Lastly, before I dive into it in more detail, I’ll certainly get asked about other cameras and why I’m excluding them.  And the reason is simple: They just aren’t as good as these two.

For example, let’s take the Sony FDR-X3000R.  This is a superb camera when it comes to image quality. It’s solid – very solid.  But the menu system (even in its revamped form), and the accompanying smartphone app are still cumbersome and hardly as intuitive as the clean touchscreens on the two cameras in the title of this post.  Yes, 4K at 60FPS, along with legit hardware image stabilization, is amazing.  But for 99.99% of people, it’s not amazing at the cost of usability.  When a camera is clunky to use, it detracts from you using it.  Soon you’ll stop using it – rendering your cost pointless.

SonyTomTomActionCams

Next, we’ve got much cheaper options from a variety of Asian manufacturers.  These too can be solid.  In fact, most of these are using the exact same Ambarella A9SE image processor as GoPro and Garmin do.  So from a pure hardware standpoint they are in theory the same.  But that’s where it typically ends.  When you get into app functionality and usability, they tend to lack quite a bit.  And I find that’s important.  The vast majority of the time I’m using an action camera on vacations or out for a ride, it’s because I want to quickly grab a snap from it and send it to social media.  If an app or the transfer process is clunky, I’m unlikely to do that.

Finally, what about the Hero5 Session?  Well, I’ll come back to that in just a moment – hang tight.

Everyday Use – GoPro Hero5 Black:

DSC_1950

Without question, my favorite for everyday and all around use is the GoPro Hero5 Black.  The biggest reason is simply the waterproofing.  For example, over the last few weeks I’ve been both on the beaches of Barcelona, and the snow of the French Alps.  In both cases, I didn’t have to worry about the camera or a secondary housing.  Be it swimming underwater with it or having to watch out as my brother sprays me with a tidal wave of snow at the end of a run – I’m good (or rather, it’s good).  The same goes for just grabbing the unit to toss in my back jersey pocket while cycling, or to hand-hold for a run.

I prefer having a display on the back to be able to preview framing for taking a shot or a video.  I use this on pretty much every shot I take while hand-held, and I think it is a major reason I’m able to consistently get great stills (and videos) from the GoPro lineup (be it Hero 5 or previously the Hero4 Silver).

GoPro-Hero5-Black-Display

When it comes to the menu on the Hero5 Black, it’s silly intuitive.  Slightly more than Garmin’s VIRB Ultra 30, though Garmin’s menu is far faster reacting, and actually works in its case when wet.  With the GoPro, when either your fingers or the screen have even the slightest hint of moisture – the display becomes non-functional.  However, you can use the buttons in an old-school mode to still access/change settings via the front display.

GoProHero5BlackWaterMode

While it does offer the ability to review the shots you’ve taken on the back screen, most of the time that takes so damn long it’s pointless.  Unless you’ve only taken like 6 photos that day, any attempt to preview and scroll through past photos and video is hideously slow.

From a quality standpoint, the GoPro Hero5 Black takes amazing photos and videos.  Of course, you already knew that from my Hero5 Black In-Depth Review.

My specific favorite feature on the Hero5 Black is the ‘Linear’ mode, which removes the fisheye effect and makes the footage look more natural.  This isn’t offered in the 4K mode, only at 2.7K and below.  I tend to use it a lot on photos as well, so that they look normal there too.  The only exception is when shooting selfies where I want to capture the vastness of a background (such as in the mountains), in which case I’ll switch to wide.  Note that Garmin on the VIRB Ultra 30 has similar modes, just not named ‘Linear’ and instead named ‘Lens Correction’.

GoProHero5-Linear-Mode

The last benefit for the GoPro lineup in everyday use is the GoPro Quik phone adapter for quickly offloading photos and videos after a busy day.  For example, as I write this I’m on a train back from the slopes.  A few minutes ago I plugged in the small Quik adapter into my phone and efficiently skimmed through the craptons of photos and videos I took.  Sure, I could have done this via WiFi, but that’s just not as efficient as pulling out the tiny $19 adapter.  Was also great for handing off to my brother so he could grab which photos/videos he wanted to his phone, rather than having to re-transfer to him.

GoProQuikAdapter

Last but not least, here’s my go-to settings and setup:

All-around photos: Linear Mode – 12MP
Selfie photos: Wide Mode – 12MP
Watch/wrist/device photos: Medium Mode – 12MP
Video – General: 2.7K60/FPS Linear with Image Stabilization on, or 4K/30FPS Wide mode (wish there was Linear on 4K)
Video – If meshed into something with DSLR footage: 2.7K/60FPS Linear – Image Stabilized on
Video – Slow-Mo B-Roll Shots: 2.7K/60FPS Linear – Image Stabilized on
Voice Control: Always on
Remotes: Very rarely use (almost never)

You’ll notice I rarely use the 120FPS for 1080p, or 240FPS for 720p.  That’s largely because most of my footage is uploaded to YouTube in 4K (to mesh with my DSLR outputted footage).  But more on that in the ‘Prosumer’ section…

So why not the Hero5 Session?  That’s the little cube one.  Well, I guess I just don’t find it all that awesome.  I think it’s a great compliment to the Hero5 Black if you’re trying to add more GoPro cameras and want to save money.  But as a standalone camera I think the benefit of the touchscreen display is easily worth the $100 more it costs.  Time and time again when I give friends both to try (such as for a few hours during a trip), they’ll always prefer the Hero5 Black because they can quickly see what they’re shooting.  And on sizing, the two cameras aren’t all that different actually.  The Hero5 Black is wider, but it’s also less deep than the Hero5 Session.

GoPro-Hero5-Black-vs-Hero5-Session

To wrap up – for the vast majority of friends and family that ask which camera to get, I recommend the GoPro Hero5 Black.  The easy of use and ability to just take it to the beach and not worry about it is huge.  The exception to that recommendation would be those that fit in the below category.

Sport Use – Garmin VIRB Ultra 30:

GarminVIRBUltra30InCaseOutCase

So when I say ‘sport use’ – what do I mean?  Well, it’s complex.  One could argue that everything in the previous section was sport use, and there’s probably some truth to that.  But when I think of this category I’m thinking of a case where you’re doing some sport that you want to convey the ‘coolness’ of it beyond just straight video.  Specifically, where you want to overlay data like speed, elevation, g-forces, or power.  All things that Garmin excels at greatly with the VIRB Ultra 30.

The VIRB Ultra 30 has GPS built in, as well as the ability to connect to ANT+ sensors (and even some automotive Bluetooth sensors).  Plus, it has an altimeter and numerous other sensors like a gyroscope and compass.  All of this data is captured anytime you power up the unit, allowing you to record not just a video stream – but also a full stream of data in widely understood data formats.

Garmin-VIRBUltra30-Sensors

More importantly though, Garmin’s VIRB Edit software for both desktop and mobile apps makes it easy to overlay this data and export out videos. For example, you’ll see this type of data in this short snippet below while paragliding, created automatically with the VIRB Edit suite (meaning, it just put together a video magically for me):

image

At this point – some of you are saying “But wait – GoPro says they can do that too!”, and that’s true. They do say that.  But it’s laughable at best.  I wrote about it a few months ago, and very little has changed since.  First off, you’ll spend 100x more work getting just a handful of data pieces overlaid onto your videos (since each individual snippet has to be done manually), and then on top of that, the data is rarely super accurate and often latent.  I can be stopped and it’ll say I’m moving.  Or I could be going up, and it says down. It’s horrible for specifics.  Someday they’ll undoubtedly get it right, but today is not that day.  Plus, you can only do this on the desktop app and only for a single ‘clip’ at a time – so doing multi-clip stuff takes forever.

But the options on GoPro for data can be counted on a single hand, whereas the options in the Garmin suite number into the hundreds of gauge types (or create your own).

(Previous screenshot above is the Garmin VIRB Edit for overlays, below in the GoPro Quik suite for overlays)

image

So when do I use the VIRB Ultra 30 instead of a GoPro?  Primarily when I want to share that type of data with you.  For example, say I’m doing something cool cycling where I want to show you descent or speed.  Or perhaps showing you me skiing at 60MPH, or perhaps to even show how my (rental) car’s engine is running.  Different folks will assign priorities to this based on their own activities.  Some will show the finishing sprint in a race, and others will use it to show paragliding.  To each their own.

GarminVIRBUltra30VIRBEdit

Of course, Garmin still hits all the core features of the GoPro Hero5.  They’ve got voice control (and it consistently works better than GoPro’s), and they can image stabilize up to 2.7K (though, not quite at 60FPS like GoPro).  The real singular downside to the Garmin unit is the lack of waterproofing without using the case.  Which isn’t to say you need to baby it.  I rarely use the waterproof case, even when hand-holding it while running, or taking it out for a ride.  I’ve found you can get away with light rain, but I wouldn’t do a downpour.

Another advantage if you’re already in the Garmin ecosystem is the ability to use your watch/device to control the VIRB.  Almost all Garmin wearables do this these days, as with all cycling computers and a bunch of other Garmin devices.  I find that I’ll sometimes use my Edge to control recording while riding.  Though I don’t tend to use my watch all that much to control it, since it’s often just easier to hit the button on the camera.

In any case, here’s my go-to settings and setup on the VIRB Ultra 30:

All-around photos: Standard, Lens Correction Enabled – 12MP
Selfie photos: Standard, Wide Mode – 12MP
Video – General: 2.7K30/FPS Lens-Correction enabled with a 1.5X crop with Image Stabilization on, or 4K/30FPS Wide (wish there was Linear on 4K)
Watch/wrist/device Videos: Same as above
Video – If meshed into something with DSLR footage: 2.7K/30FPS Lens-Correction enabled – Image Stabilized on
Video – Slow-Mo B-Roll Shots: 2.7K/60FPS Linear – Image Stabilized Off (usually set it somewhere)
Voice Control: Always on
Sensors Connected: All ANT+, usually ANT+ heart rate, cadence, and power
Remotes: Sometimes will use Garmin Edge to trigger it, rarely my watch (though it can)

Like before, I rarely use any of the higher frame-rate stuff.  In large part because for most of the sports I do won’t look all that much cooler in 120FPS or 240FPS (i.e. cycling or running).  If I were doing jumps, or basically any sort of airtime situation – that’s where those higher frame rates would indeed be handy.  But running still looks boring whether it’s at 30FPS or 240FPS

Pro Settings/Features:

GoProvsGarminProSettings

While typing the above sections, I realized that at times I fit into a category that isn’t a normal everyday consumer.  Sure, I use mine just like every other person at the beach.  But then I’ll shoot something totally different where my video needs differ from a production or output standpoint.  In this case, let’s talk about the prosumer setting.  One could also say this is the ‘Professional’ side too.  There’s honestly very little difference there when it comes to action cams, since the choices are limited.

Manual Control of Settings: Both cameras now offer the ability to control settings like exposure, white balance, and sharpness.  Same goes for features like exposure lock and previewing what the settings are. That’s been the same since last fall.  It’s kinda a wash there.  They have their minor nuances in how they’ve both implemented those features – but it hasn’t really impacted my workflow much.  In the case of GoPro, that’s part of their ProTune setup, whereas with Garmin it’s just the Pro Settings control panels in general.

Video frame rates/modes: Both of these units are very similar, but there some nuances when it comes to which features can be enabled at which resolutions.  For example, on the GoPro Hero5 Black you can enable image stabilization up to 2.7K/60FPS, but on the VIRB Ultra 30, you’re limited to 30FPS.  For many, this may not matter, but I like being able to shoot 60FPS for b-roll, and then slowing that back down to 24/30FPS.  So having the image stabilization is handy for hand-held shots (doesn’t matter if placed on a surface). Beyond that, both cameras pretty much match each other.

Video bitrates: Both cameras shoot up to 60Mbps, depending on which settings you use.  For example in some modes on both cameras you’ll need to enable a higher bitrate though the pro settings.  Either using ProTune on the GoPro side, or using the ‘High bitrate’ option on the Garmin side.  Either way, your end-state is the same 60Mbps.  Certainly folks might be able to quibble on specific resolution/frame rate combos being better on one camera vs another.  But I think in general if you’re filming in the highest bitrate on either camera you’re going to be getting basically content out of them.  In 99.99% of cases, it’s going to come down to how well you edit and your post production workflow – not so much the bitrate.

GoPro-Hero5-AudioProcessing

Audio General: I find in general audio quality is roughly a wash. There are some cases where I’ve found the GoPro will record better audio, and others the Garmin.  There’s rarely much of a pattern behind it.  Both units can connect to wired mics, though in the GoPro’s case that accessory will set you back $65, while Garmin will set you back a mere $14.  However, the Garmin can also connect to Bluetooth mics/headsets (for free), and that works astoundingly well.  Plus, it will even allow you to give voice commands via the BT mics, great for extending the range of your control.

Audio in/out of water: This specific item refers to how well the camera’s mics handles going in and out of the water (such as playing on a beach).  I’ve had great luck with both cameras, and have routinely used both units for swimming related videos here on the blog – without any issues.  I’ll do shots where I’ll have the camera under the water and then 1 second later be talking to it above the water.  Then rinse and repeat.  No issues with either unit.  Even with the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 in the case, the audio sounds awesome.

Audio Wind Noise Reduction: GoPro has three mics, to Garmin’s two mics.  This can mean that GoPro will record audio better in higher wind situations, but again, I haven’t really seen that to be the case.  Both have front/rear mics, while GoPro also has a side mic.  But I can’t remember the last time that I was in a high-wind situation and needed to record audio from the side.  Most of the time you’re either in front of or behind the camera.  Don’t get me wrong, having a 3rd mic is great and awesome – for reasons I’ll outline in this next bullet.  But practically I haven’t seen it make a difference in real-world usage.

Audio Pro Features: GoPro takes the win here for the ability to record each of the mics to a separate audio .WAV file, if you want. Further, they even allow you to decide what level of processing to apply to it.  Garmin has recently attempted to match this, but they did so in a wonky way.  They split the two mics onto two separate audio channels (left/right), but that’s just yet another pain in the ass thing to deal with in post.  It’s far easier for me to drag the three .WAV files into Premier and have it sync and pick them out accordingly (plus the video file with the pre-processed/combined audio).  That gives me ultimate flexibility to picking out whether I want to use GoPro’s wind-reduction algorithm, or do it myself.  In most cases, both the GoPro and Garmin units do wind reduction quite well, but sometimes you just need to override.

Accessories/Mounts: When it comes to mounting things, this is a wash. Both cameras use the same GoPro mounting adapter.  So it doesn’t much matter which one you use, since everything out there works with either camera.  Not only that, but since GoPro changed their case design this past year with the Hero5, any advantage they had there is mostly gone – since there’s really only a handful of accessories out there these days that are specific to an external case design.

DSC_2078 DSC_2031

Gimbals: When it comes to gimbals, obviously GoPro has their own Karma Grip gimbal.  And to be fair, despite being bulky and feature-limited, it does work really well from a stability standpoint.  Plus, it can attach to their backpacks, which is handy.  On the flip side, Garmin’s VIRB Ultra 30 fits into the Feiyu Tech G5 gimbal (as does the Hero5 Black) – and Feiyu Tech is one of the most popular (if not biggest) dedicated gimbal maker out there.  The G5 works great, and costs less than the GoPro gimbal, plus, it has far more features.  Also, assuming Garmin is smart, they’ll ensure sizing compatibility down the road for any new generation of cameras (since gimbals continue to be a major feature differentiator).

Extra Batteries: GoPro has done away with 3rd party battery compatibility for the Hero5 Black, now actively trying to block folks from using cheap 3rd party batteries.  Thankfully, companies have found ways around that, such as PowerExtra.  You get 2x GoPro Hero5 Black Batteries, one dual battery charger, plus some lens covers and wipes – all for $25.  I’ve been using those batteries for a while now without issue.  It’s basically half the price of the GoPro batteries, plus you get a dual charger!  Meanwhile, on the Garmin side there’s a pretty similar 3rd party option for 2x Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 batteries and a dual charger for $19.  I haven’t yet tried that though.

GarminGoProExtraBatteries

Drone Compatibility: Yes, GoPro has a drone for its Hero5 Black – the GoPro Karma.  But as we all know, you don’t want it – it’s terrible.  And there aren’t really any recent drones compatible with the VIRB Ultra 30 (yes, I did make it work with an older DJI Phantom, but I wouldn’t recommend it).  So basically, just go out and buy a DJI Mavic/Phantom 4 Pro/Inspire instead, depending on your budget.

Cloud Sync: GoPro has their cloud sync service (GoPro Plus), but for a professional, it’s not super useful.  That’s because they downscale all the footage to 1080p/30, even if you shot it at 4K or something else.  Photos are maintained at the shot resolutions.  On the flip side, I do kinda like using the GoPro Plus just as a general backup of stuff I shoot.  Though, I can’t remember the last time I pulled from it.  Part of the problem is that there is no way to edit directly in the cloud, so you end up copying lots of stuff back and forth with their apps.  And for large files, it’s just faster to do it via local storage.  Still, I think Garmin has a huge opportunity here to simply open up Dropbox sync with their app.  I’d love to be able to configure my Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 to sync with Dropbox via WiFi automatically when in range.  That would allow me to get the full resolution sync’d to a secondary platform.

Live Streaming: GoPro can stream to Periscope, and Garmin can stream to YouTube.  For most pros, they’ll likely choose YouTube over Periscope, but realistically the bitrates you’re getting are kind of low in either case (limited to 720p).  And even with the Garmin VIRB, you can’t overlay any data metrics on that (neither on GoPro) in real-time.  So it’s just the base video stream.

VIRBLiveStream

API’s/SDK’s: Both companies have developer programs for their platforms.  I believe only Oakley has leveraged Garmin’s, whereas GoPro has a handful more.  But realistically neither company is that great here.  GoPro is actively making it difficult for partners to leverage their platform (especially if they deem you anywhere near a competitor), and Garmin hasn’t really done a whole lot to court others.  Unless you’ve got a very specific partner product in mind that’s already rolled out support, I wouldn’t consider this all that important.  I would not base any decisions on ‘promises’ for upcoming support, since very rarely have those worked out.

Misc: GoPro used to be king in some of this stuff, but has since backtracked on the GoPro Hero5 series.  For example, you can no longer configure the camera/WiFi names on the GoPro Hero5 series, but you can certainly do so on the Garmin units.  This is handy if you have multiple cameras, to keep track of which ones are which.  Further, Garmin allows the ability to copy your entire settings configuration and then transfer it between cameras instantly.  Again, great for multiple camera users to match everything across multiple devices.

So which one do I use?  Well again – it’ll depend on what I want to do with it.  If I want to connect a microphone to something, it’s a lot easier to do that on Bluetooth with the Garmin.  Whereas if I need those few extra FPS on a slow-mo shot in a linear/image stabilized way – then the GoPro is a better bet.  And again, if I want to manage multiple cameras – Garmin is now easier to do that, whereas if I want to separate audio channels more easily, GoPro is better.  Plus of course all the usual stuff up in the previous sections about data metrics vs waterproofing.

In general though – my line of thinking is that for anything I’m shooting where I’ll use data, I’ll go with the VIRB Ultra 30 (even though I could technically use VIRB Edit to overlay data onto GoPro footage, it’s just not worth the hassle).  Whereas if I’m not caring about data, I’ll shoot with the GoPro.

Product Comparison Tool:

GoPro-Hero5-Black-vs-Garmin-VIRB-Ultra-30-Waterproofcase

Both products are listed within the product comparison tool, so you can dive into not just these two – but all other action cams I’ve reviewed.  For the purposes of this post though, I’ve just listed these two in the table below – but you can add more here.

GoPro Hero5 Black vs Garmin VIRB Ultra 30

Feature ListingGoPro Hero5 BlackGarmin VIRB Ultra 30Feature Winner
General: Price$399 $399 -
General: Touchscreen controlYesYes-
General: WaterproofInternally to 10mWith case to 40m GoPro (but depends on preference)
General: Battery life~2hrs @ 1080p30~2hr 15min @ 1080p30 -
General: WiFi & BluetoothYesYes-
Data: GPS EnabledYesYesGarmin uses data better
Data: Accelerometer/Gyro/Altimeter/CompassGyro/Accel onlyYes to allGarmin
Data: Can connect to sport/automotive/boat sensorsNoYesGarmin
General: USB Connector TypeType-CMini-USBDepends on preference
General: Voice ControlYesYesGoPro (can customize)
Video: Highest resolution4K @ 30fps4K @ 30fps-
Video: Highest frame rate720p @ 240fps720p @ 240fps-
Video: Electronic Image StabilizationYes up to 2.7K/60FPSYes up to 2.7K/30FPS GoPro - Barely
Video: Remove distortion modeYesYes-
Video: Wind cancellationYesYes-
Video: Record individual mic tracksYes to seperate filesSorta to separate channelsGoPro
Photo: Highest resolution12MP12MP-
Photo: Highest burst mode30 frames/sec60 frames/secGarmin
Photo: Ability to have pro settings modeYesYes-
Photo: Ability to shoot RAW filesYesYes-
Photo: HDR photo optionYesYes-
Accessories: Uses GoPro mountYesYes-
Accessories: Remote controlYesYes-
Accessories: Gimbal optionYes - 1st party3rd Party with Feiyu Tech G5-
Accessories: Drone connection optionYesSorta but not idealGoPro
Software: Cloud Sync SolutionYesNoGoPro
Software: Mobile appYesYesGoPro faster, Garmin more options
Software: Desktop AppsYesYesGarmin for more powerful editing
Software: Can automatically create highlight moviesYesYesGoPro's mobile better, Garmin's Desktop

Again, remember you can make your own product comparison graphs via the product comparison tool here.

Wrap-up:

GoProHero5BlackvsGarminVIRBUltra30Screens

Phew – that ended up way longer than I expected it to be!  But hopefully you just found the section that applied to you, and now you can go about making your decision.  You won’t really go wrong with either camera, but certainly one camera might fit your specific needs more than the other.

If you still need a bit more details – then check out my full in-depth reviews on both of them:

GoPro Hero5 Black In-Depth Review
Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 In-Depth Review

Plus, along the same lines, here’s some more photographic type stuff that may be of interest:

GoPro Karma Drone/Gimbal In-Depth Review
DJI Mavic Pro Drone In-Depth Review
My 2016-2017 Photography Gear I Use List

Oh – and lastly – what about 360° cameras?  Well, they’re getting much better, but I’d be hard pressed to really spend a lot of money in that category unless you’re talking a 4K variant – and even then you’ve gotta look closely at how well the unit stitches between lenses. And even more importantly, the software the company has.  In one line or less, here’s my 360° cam recommendations (yes, I’ve actually tested all these):

Nikon Key Mission 360 4K: No, so-so camera, but dismal software.
Kodak PIXPRO 360 4K (either single or dual setup): No, blah camera, and even worse software than Nikon.
360Fly 4K Camera: Mostly yes. Good camera, decent software. Just not 100% 360°.
360Fly 4K Camera Dual-lens: I’ve only seen demo’s of this, but I’d say it builds on above.
Samsung Gear 360: So-so.  So-so camera, so-so software, officially limited to specific Samsung phones.
Ricoh Theta series: While a nice package, resolution is just really low.
Giroptic 360 cam: God no. Just no, please no.  Don’t do it.

There’s of course a few others out there, but that’s the gist of it.  Note that I haven’t focused on multi-cam rigs like the GoPro Omni/Odyssey or others.  That’s sorta a different category that I don’t plan to cover here.

With that – thanks for reading!

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62 Comments

  1. The optical image stabilization and superb low-light ability on my Sony X3000 generates results that beat the pants off the GoPro, to the point where I don’t understand why GoPro’s action cams ever got so much hype and Sony’s so little (though, GoPro’s stock is crashing, so maybe Sony will have the last word).

    Your statement “But for 99.99% of people, it’s not amazing at the cost of usability.” is a bunch of untrue FUD, that makes it sound like it’s some kind of catastrophe when it’s not. Sure, up/down/enter buttons to navigate the menu on the camera could it be easier, and it takes a few minutes of exploring to learn what’s what, but it’s a low-power-draw text-based screen, which you don’t even really have to use, because you can do it all from their app on your smartphone anyhow! I would never think anyone would consider that to be a deal breaker, and certainly not to the point of making it not even deserving of a review! Especially because, after you set it up on the first day, there’s really only one button that matters, and that’s the giant easy-to-hit (even with gloves on) red one on top, to power it on and/or start recording (in one press, with nice audible start/stop tones). [Your picture above doesn’t show that button though, as it’s not even of an X3000 (which makes me wonder if you actually even have one).]

    If you want to seriously sacrifice image quality on the memories you’ll keep forever, just because of a menu you’ll never use, well, I obviously think that’s a big mistake. But avoiding even doing a real comparison? That makes me wonder if there’s some ulterior motive at play here, or if you’re just doing your readers a big disservice.

    • It’s not about hitting a single button, as I noted – all cameras have that these days (which makes me think you’ve never tried a GoPro or Garmin cam). It’s about finding/changing settings and the apps along with the camera, as I also noted. While the Sony desktop app isn’t bad and they do some cool stuff with multi cam, the mobile apps leave a ton to be desired. Sony’s settings panel uses industry jargon that most people don’t understand – even in the X3000.

      As again I noted in the post, I’m not saying Sony isn’t doing some cool things (cause they are), I’m simply saying they aren’t doing enough cool things to make the cut.

      As for optical stabilization, again, as noted it’s great – but for most people the electronic stabilization does just fine – it’s hardly sacrificing serious image quality. And you’re forgetting mounts too – the vast majority of unique 3rd party mounts are GoPro compatible. And anytime you try and retrofit the Sony mini-tripod style to the GoPro style, you end up with crappy results.

    • Pavel

      The problem with Sony (except their mobile software, which is really crappy) is their mounts. For example, I can mount a GoPro (Session in my case) on the helmet with one mount (well, two – sticky plate/strap mount and low-profile case).
      If I use Sony, the mount looks like this: sticky plate/strap mount + mount plate + rotating thing (here I need a screwdriver of coin to tighten the screw) + camera platform (one more screw).

    • Don

      The big thing that would matter to me for the Sony, and that it would be nice to see mentioned, is gimbal compatibility. If you’re recording POV video on your bike, and especially on your mountain bike, the gimbal is a game changer. It basically takes from the video from mostly unwatchable except for rare smooth sections of trail, to downright enjoyable. Just check out the Follow-cam Fridays videos from Nate Hills to see what I mean, then look at the average non-gimbal footage of the same trail on YouTube. The difference is night and day.

    • Wolfgang

      Haters gonna hate.
      Keep up the great work Ray!

    • Mr. T

      So now people who offer valid criticism are “haters”. It would be a boring world if we all agreed

    • Mark

      RE: Mounts. Back in pre-history (2012) Sony decided to stick with the tried and true 1/4-20 standard tripod mount on their first cameras instead of what upstart GoPro did reinventing the wheel.
      Sony didn’t even put the mount on the body of the camera! You had to have a case at all times on the original ones.
      Should Sony have known better? Of course! When has something Sony pioneered worked out in the end? BetaMax? MiniDisc? MemoryStick? (It’s bluRay and 3.5″ FDD, even though larger floppys were pioneered by IBM)

      But, some of these problems can be rectified with a $5 gopro-tripod adapter.

    • “But, some of these problems can be rectified with a $5 gopro-tripod adapter.”

      Sorta, but not really. I’ve bought almost every GoPro tripod adapter I can find (the specific type required to use a Sony cam on a GoPro mount*) – and they all suffer from roughly the same problem: They eventually loosen.

      I’ve snapped one in half on a section of cobbles, I’ve another almost fall off entirely, and then most of the time the camera can’t be adjusted perfectly straight either because of the rotation. If you’re just putting the unit on something static, it’s not too bad – even a selfie stick isn’t too bad because there are few vibrations. But any road/whatever vibrations doesn’t work well for 3rd party mounts.

      Sure, Sony makes bike mounts too – but we all know those are cumbersome at best.

      Note, there are some legit solutions. K-Edge makes great mounts for the Sony action cam, and I’ve bought those. They’ve got a secondary locking pin that helps the Sony cams pointed perfectly forward (or backwards in the case of the rear seatpost mount).

      *Note: Going the other way (GoPro mountonto a tripod), is trivial of course.

  2. Mathieu

    How about the Feiyu Tech G5 indepth review? I saw your comment on Twitter wayback in january about it coming up…

    • I know! It’s horrible (my delay). Literally the whole thing is written, photos taken, on server, etc…

      Just haven’t had time to finish editing the darn videos that I want to include in it. Grr…

    • MAGNUS

      Like videos even matter…. Feel free to paste the “Summary” here… I promise to click on the post, watch the vids once they’re posted and click on all the likes while I’m there.

    • Rick Harker

      You need an organised, switched on, mind reading apprentice.

    • I do…or rather, I just need someone to edit videos for me.

      I probably end up only publishing about 10-20% of the videos I shoot. Kinda sad.

  3. Hey Ray

    What’s your take on NTSC/PAL and the fps?

    I always shoot in PAL (loosing some fps on the way) because I’m always afraid of lights flickering and acting due to the 50/60Hz difference between Europe and the States.

    I see you keep using NTSC for recording. Did you ever had any issues with lights at all?

  4. Michael Coyne

    Will we be seeing videos to go with heart rate and other sensor comparison charts in your reviews made with the VIRB? I always loved how well you were able to point out and line up a HRM screwup with say, a cobble section, but it’d be EXTRA awesome to be able to see how bumpy it was to cause said HRM loss, and the other conditions.

    I have some less than ideal conditions in a few places around here, but it’s kinda hard to compare bumpiness levels with stills and without the other stats easily visible with them at a glance. It’d be awesome for you to be able to show highlight clips with speed/cadence and heart rate overlaid onto the clip of you actually riding said problematic section, and seeing exactly where it screwed up. Or to be able to have the barometric reading drift overlaid with a timelapse video that lets you see the weather change.

    Keep up the great work, and thanks a ton for the review!

    • Hmm, I hadn’t thought about it for power meters. That’s a cool idea.

      I have been using it for running related reviews. For example, a few weeks ago you saw one with the Fenix 5 and instant pace done on the VIRB to see stats.

      I shot one yesterday afternoon showing similiar optical HR data from the Suunto Spartan Wrist HR vs Fenix 5 wrist HR, also with the VIRB.

      Also shot one last week skiing with the VIRB and showing skiing mode on the Garmin watches.

    • Michael Coyne

      Awesome! For some reason, I had thought that the speed from the overlay in your running video was from a separate sensor. I was also confused about why they seemed to disagree several times in the video (overlay reading 5:40 while you’re talking about 6:30, although I have a REALLY hard time actually reading the watch in most of that video). I guess the discrepancy and lag in matching is because the VIRB overlay has no smoothing? Or maybe the watch says that and I just can’t read it?

      Also, have you ever considered a 3d-printed arm mount to hold action cams right over the watch face to get a better shot of your watches whilst running? I would gladly make you a model and send you one (either physically or digitally) if that would help… I really can’t see what’s going on with the watch face well in most of your running videos. A mount might be super awkward, but it would also allow you to swing your arms normally while still getting a good view of the face, which you mentioned might be affecting the watch’s ability to sense changes in the video.

      Also what does the “stance” stat in the video mean? Time between steps???

      Thanks again, and I look forward to the Suunto and skiing vids!

    • Pace came from the camera, but stance/HR and the Running Dynamics piece came from the HRM-TRI/RUN strap paired to it.

      I could have actually imported in the Fenix5 file, but…I was lazy. I’m actually doing that for the ski video, because I forgot to wait for GPS at the top of the mountain, so I’m missing some GPS speed data there.

      I’ve been messing with different options for watch-face videos. Different gimbals, different crop settings, different data page views, different post-processing stabilization, different lighting, etc…

      That said – always open to some sort of Terminator style mount if you’ve got ideas!

    • Michael Coyne

      Wait so does the camera have it’s own GPS then? I guess that would make sense for geotagging photos when using the camera alone.

      Have you tried finding a gimbal arm (or even non gimbal) handle that you can hold in the watch-wearing hand while keeping the watch in frame? I think the problem is mostly from the difference in motion between your two hands. If it were attached to the same hand/arm, it would be much better.

      The other benefit to wearing/holding the camera on/in the watch-wearing hand would be that you wouldn’t run into the 3-handed cameraman problem near so much when trying to press the buttons and film at the same time, since the camera and watch would both be on the same arm/hand.

      There are also some arm straps (gopro brand: link to amazon.com generic brand: link to amazon.com) that might work. Not sure if those are available in France, but in looking on the french amazon page I also found this glove thing that might work: link to amazon.fr

      If that still doesn’t work and you can’t find a good arm strap mount or handle for the job, I’d love to model some kind of gauntlet mount/handle for you. Do you have access to a 3d printer? If not it’d be harder and would take longer to send a physical piece to you by mail but I could still do it. I’d probably wait to get my own F5 and test it with the Hero 4 I already have first just for fun though.

    • Michael Coyne

      Huh, for some reason the link to amazon france made by me seems to be broken. But if you search “go pro arm strap” and “go pro glove” plenty of options come up, like this one: link to amazon.com

      The main downside I see to those compared to making a more solid attachment system is vibration while running, and the closeness of the mount forcing you to film the watch face at an angle instead of flat-on. That’d be the main reason to either go for a handle in the right wrist position or creating some sort of custom DCRainmaker 3d-printed mount made just for filming watches. I doubt many other people out there want an arm mount with that kind of camera framing lol.

  5. Janka

    There is one very important reason, why i bought Garmin VIRB30, and am very happy with it – the manual on/off switch!!

    I ride motocross bikes and use my camera on helmet, so i cant see if it is recording or not. With Garmin, i’m always sure in what position is the on/off switch.

    Before i had Gopro and there where many many times when i pushed on button (with gloves on), and ended without any footage, because i missed the button or pressed two times etc.

    My point is – if you end up without footage, than it does not matter what other better futures are on Gopro cameras :) :)

    • NathanC

      I agree. I recently picked up a Ultra 30 and very much prefer the big honkin’ switch to the button on my old Hero. When mounted on your helmet – it’s nice to immediately be able to tell with your fingers what’s up. I also like that it can be controlled from my Fenix 3 and the real deal killer for the Hero was the bluetooth sensor capabilities of the Garmin. I can’t wait to use it with my bluetooth ODB2 dongle at an autocross.

    • This is the exact reason I went for the Garmin over the GoPro. I’ve missed a lot of footage with the GoPro in the past (thinking I’m starting a video but the GoPro is in photo mode was far too common), but after my first mountain biking trip with the Garmin I was happy with no such issues. There’s also no delay when everyone is ready to go; switch on/start recording/know it is recording video in one quick step.
      The button placement also works well with the existing gimbals, so I can keep it attached all the time.

  6. Janka

    And yes – i’m whis Chris Hubick about Sony cameras.
    I used some Sony cameras and didn’t find that menu system a deal breaker for me and i think that your statement about 99% users is not fair.. and you are misleading your readers..
    When you learn the menu system, its really not that bad!

    But i agree with you, that Garmin and Gopro form factor simply works better.

    • Bikeman

      I’m a long time Sony shooter. Lots of experience working with their menu system. I’m in full agreement with Ray. The end product is excellent but the journey isn’t worth it for most folks. Sony had been taken to task for years by professional photographers for their convoluted menu systems. Other manufacturers understand the menu needs to be somewhat intuitive, especially for new users. Sony has their heels dug in on this point. With each new Sony camera introduction, we hope to see some progress but it looks like it’ll be a long wait. Great hardware is only half the battle.

    • Christian Köhler

      You are right.
      For some people a feature like 4k60p is much more important than a smartphone toy editor with instant social sharing.
      Yes, those people may be 1% or even .1%. But you should not dismis a peroduct just because it is more interesting for enthusiasts than for average Joe.

      Ray recommends the Fr735XT. Why? It is way too complicated for 99.9% of people. It is full of elite sports jargon. Average Joe has no idea about power meters or Vo2max and he is probably better off with a Vivofit.
      Aren’t we all enthusiasts?

    • I promise you there’s nobody here that wants (and has talked about) the desire for 4K60P more than me. There’s so much you can open up with it. Heck, I’ve been stalking reviews of the new GH5 with it, as well as contemplating the P4P on it, etc…

      But I didn’t dismiss the Sony, in fact, I was super clear that it has an advantage on image quality/specs. Instead, I then detailed exactly why *overall* it’s a subpar setup than a current gen GoPro or Garmin. Certainly, people can decide for themselves what features they want. I dearly hope, like Bikeman and others, that eventually Sony figures it out when it comes to the software/UI/mount side of things. With every new release I get excited that maybe they’ll see the light. Unfortunately, not yet.

    • Jim

      Does the camera have an API so 3rd party developers can apps to control it?

  7. Ryan Lefler

    First of all, thanks for all the great content you put out! The time and detail you put into the site is amazing.

    Can you speak to the audio quality of the hero5 while using a gimbal? I’ve been looking to buy a gimbal (the G5 looks great) for my hero5 but have read about it’s struggles (regardless of which gimbal is used) with muffled audio thanks to the mic locations. How has it been in your experience?

    • The key is flipping the camera over. With the GoPro Hero5, there are three mic ports on it – one front, one back, one side. If you’ve got the Hero5 oriented such that the mic port is against the gimbal, bad. If you flip it over…happy. :)

  8. Matthew Longacre

    Thanks for another great in-depth review.

    When do you expect the Fenix 5X review to be up? Looks like it’s selling now. I noticed Garmin changed their battery estimates to 12 day watch/ 20 hour GPS/ 50 Hour UltraTrac, down from previous estimates.

    • This week. Late Thursday or Friday morning. Somewhere in there.

    • Matthew Longacre

      Thanks, looking forward to it.

      On a side note, if you’ve got an “in” at Garmin, somebody needs to talk to them about product roll-outs. I’ve been following the Fenix 5 pretty closely for a while, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by their social media. I was shocked to check in and see they’d already been out a few days!

    • I think they’re trying to find the balance between telling people that a handful of units have shipped, and having people be upset their unit hasn’t shipped yet. That said, a single photo of pallets rolling off the factory floor would probably be perfect…

    • Michael Coyne

      “I noticed Garmin changed their battery estimates to 12 day watch/ 20 hour GPS/ 50 Hour UltraTrac, down from previous estimates.”

      No, if you look back this has always been the case for the 5x. The extra mapping capability/bigger screen/more powerful processor drains the battery more. That’s actually a huge part of why I decided as soon as they came out that I wasn’t going to get a 5x. The bigger size is a bit more uncomfortable but not unbearable, the hike in price is undesirable as well but not unbearable, but the hike in price for a device that has less battery AND is less comfortable? Mapping isn’t quite worth all that to me. Battery life is like half the point of getting a 5 to me.

      But yeah, the 5x has had that listed battery life since their announcement. If you look back through the announcement posts you’ll see that, along with everybody asking Ray if the lower battery life for the 5x is a type because everybody expected it to have more since it’s bigger, rather than for the mapping drain to cause it to have less.

    • Michael Coyne

      *Why I’m not getting a 5x variant in particular – to be clear I intend to get a Fenix 5 as soon as Ray’s review comes out as long as there aren’t any glaring issues. I know it’s only 4 hours in GPS battery life or 2 days in non-GPS mode which probably wouldn’t affect me much given how beefy the battery life on the regular 5 is. It’s when you combine that small hit to battery with less comfort AND paying more that you lose me though.

      Also I hope to use this watch for a loooong time (or if I upgrade, to give it to a family member to continue using for a long time), and I don’t know how the battery life will get as the devices ages and the battery gets old. So the more starting juice, the better imo.

  9. Great comparison, Ray! Does video quality suffer significantly (apart from resolution limitations) when using the cameras’ respective lens correction (non-fisheye) settings? I’m hoping to find something suitable for recording both my wife’s makeup videos and my sports stuff, lest we have to buy her an SLR at twice the price.

    • Generally no, it maintains quite well. There was actually a video I included in my Week in Review post a few days ago from a GoPro guy on how to remove the fisheye with the higher resolutions (4K). And certainly, you can do that – it’s just one more step I like to avoid in post if possible.

      That said, I’d be hesitant to recommend an action cam like this for doing makeup videos. You won’t get the level of detail you want, because you won’t get the zoom/clarity that close up. I’d look at picking up something like a GH4/GH5 or a base Canon DSLR to fill that gap. The thing is that even a DSLR from 2-3 years ago will produce better close-up detail than any of the action cams out there today.

      Certainly I use action cams in my non-sports videos as a secondary camera in a pinch while travelling, but I really try to avoid it at all costs.

      Just my two cents…

    • Thanks for the feedback, Ray. I hadn’t considered the closeup issue. I guess we’ll both be buying toys through your affiliate links if possible.

  10. fiatlux

    Excellent review… even if a bit opinionated on that Sony stuff ;-).

    Regarding data overlay, I use Garmin’s VIRB Edit even though I have no Garmin action cams. I simply fuse my (old) GoPro or (junk) Elephone action cams recordings with Garmin Forerunner GPS logs in the app (syncing both is dead easy). I even can use the app for my drone footage (through an intermediate script).

  11. Ed. Vega

    Hi, not sure why you didn’t mention that GoPro have a way to add overlays (telemetry) as well:

    link to dcrainmaker.com

    for sure, Garmin one could add more, but one could record those offline and use the same Garmin App to add HR, and other info to the video been taken on the GoPro 5 as well.

  12. Hey Ray,

    When you go for a run do you usually carry the action cam in your hands the entire time or do you pocket it or strap it somewhere? I’ve been doing 3 – 4 mile runs just carrying my Virb 30 but for longer runs am looking into some other “carry” method… wanted to hear what you did.

    Thanks so much for all of the awesome posts!

  13. Greg Hilton

    I wish the Quik key was $19, £34.99 on Amazon UK website!!

  14. Andy Chan

    How can you tell whether the camera is recording when it’s on your helmet and you can’t hear the beep because it’s too windy? I have GoPro and Sony, and often I need duck and ask a friend to see if it’s recording. When I am alone, I need to take the camera off, turn on the recording, and then clip it back onto the helmet. Really annoying.

    • Michael Coyne

      On the GoPro Hero 4 (which I have), you can easily control everything about the camera as well as get a good, low latency stream onto the phone screen of what it’s actually seeing by using the mobile app, which I’ve found to be extremely useful for using it with a helmet mount.

      I don’t know what other earlier GoPro models can do this if any, but all the later models can do that and it’s wonderful. I believe the VIRB also has more or less the same capability but maybe Ray can chime in about which is better in that regard. I think the VIRB uses bluetooth whereas the GoPros use wifi so the preview image quality might suffer a bit, but it’s also just a preview to make sure things are in frame, so…

    • Janka

      See my comment about this problem above! You need Garmin VIRB30. It has manual on/off switch, so you are always sure, that camera is recording or not recording.
      Using mobile phone for checking if camera is recording, is not possible for me, when ir ride my motocross bike ;)

    • Andy Chan

      Thanks Janka, that’s exactly is my issue. I use it for skiing and I find it troublesome to take off my gloves to grab the phone or take off the camera. So, maybe virb is a better choice if you use it as a helmet cam and ski.

    • FWIW, I always turn the beeps up to high on the GoPro, which makes it pretty easy to hear in the wind when skiing or such. Though, I also turn them off entirely when just shooting around talk (i.e. as a tourist/walking/etc…).

      The other option is getting one of the GoPro remotes. That gives you visual feedback it’s recording, since it shows you the current recording time.

      Still, despite all that – almost all of my video shots from skiing last week start off with me asking my brother if it’s recording. And the one time I forgot to ask? I forgot to turn it on entirely – ironically enough that time was with a VIRB Ultra 30 in a gimbal. We had done a pretty cool series of shots handing off the gimbal back and forth on some twisty terrain. Last run of the day….sigh – no footage.

  15. Tim R Frielingsdorf

    Anyone interested in trading a Hero 5 Black for a Garmin Virb Ultra 30?

  16. Jeremiah Stewart

    Hey Ray,

    I really enjoy all of your post as they keep me entertained especially on slow days at work. Noticed one thing (and I rarely notice spelling or grammar)

    Audio Wind Noise Reduction: GoPro has three mics, to Garmin’s two mics. This can mean that GoPro will record audio better in higher wind situations, but again, I haven’t really seen that to be the case. Both have front/rear ???makes???? (Maybe supposed to be mics?) , while GoPro also has a side mic.

    Keep the reviews coming and if you head back to Colorado anytime, let us know!!

  17. Jeff Forrest

    Are you sure the Ultra uses mini USB? Garmin moved to micro after the original Virb I thought? Like most people I have hundreds of micro USB cables and only 1 or 2 mini…

    • Yup, still mini. Only latest Garmin Edge devices you micro. VIRB v1 used mini, V2 used special adapter, V3 now back to mini.

    • Michael Coyne

      Most action cams don’t use micro even if they came out after it because it’s just a WAY easier to bend/damage connector than mini due to the geometry of micro (sort-of a trapezoid with extra corners in the side walls in the worst possible places). Type-C on the other hand is far harder to bend than micro, so I wouldn’t be surprised if various things like action cams which place a higher priority on that just skip micro in certain lineups to go for Type-C whenever they want the other benefits Type-C can provide.

    • Yeah, I suspect we’ll see everyone move towards USB-C this year (like GoPro did). Though, keep in mind that GoPro is still proving a USB-C to standard USB cable – so for basically everyone it’s a wash.

      Ironically enough, I just yesterday actually bought some new USB-C to USB-C cables purely to download off the Hero5 to my new MacBook Pro.

  18. Bert

    Ray, great review as always, thanks!

    How do both cameras compare in gps accuracy? I’d expect Garmin to be ahead for several reasons. Will the accuracy compare with Edge 820/520/Fenix 5?

    Does the Garmin Virb auto-calibrate elevation using the barometer (unlike the edge 1000)? If I understand things correctly, there still is no way to manually adjust elevation at start.

    Thanks
    Bert

    • The VIRB track is generally pretty good. Sometimes I see some quirks, such as with elevation because you can’t calibrate the altimeter on the VIRB – it auto-calibrates only. But it’s rarely an issue in most of my use cases, since most times I’m demonstrating extreme altitude gain/loss – rather than a super specific number that may be off slightly (still, I wish I could adjust it!).

      On the GoPro, we don’t actually know. They don’t allow at this point you to export/view the track, though some 3rd party devs have access to the SDK to do so.

  19. Ken

    I understand you favor the GoPro 5 because of the waterproofing but I’ve been converting to all Garmin because of the GPS. I know in advance if I’m going to be somewhere wet & value the ability to include GPS data on-the-fly more than needing to bring along a case, especially since I’m so used to needing a case for mounting all of the older GoPros.