Hogwarts Express with the Garmin VIRB 360. To see this in 360, .Geoffrey Morrison
The ever-growing 360 camera market is seeing players new and old enter the fray. Nikon certainly swung and largely missed with their difficult-to-use KeyMission 360. Ricoh is still clinging onto their . The Insta360 is a . And then there’s Garmin, branching out from their history of GPS to include action gear.
At 0 the VIRB 360 is one of the more expensive entries, though it has a lot of features like 4K video, waterproofing to 33ft/10m, and more.
I’ve been playing with one for over a month now, and I have some thoughts.
If you're new to 360 cameras, check out my .
Garmin VIRB 360Garmin
If you want the details on the hardware itself, . The basics are 5640x2816 pictures, and 4K video.
Garmin VIRB 360Garmin
This is such a crucial part of any 360 camera, since they rarely have any sort of screen. This is where Nikon blew it, hard, and where Garmin does very well. Connecting to the camera is fast and easy once you’ve gone through the easy setup. Just open the app, and it connects. That’s it. It works as you’d hope it would.
The app itself is fairly simple, but you can adjust lots of aspects of the camera and the photos. The basics like ISO, EV, and so on are there. I’d prefer a few more fine details like being able to manually control the shutter speed, but that lack doesn’t seem a huge deal.
Two great features are Bracket and Lens Mode. Bracket takes three photos every time you press the shutter, at different exposures. Ostensibly this is so you can create HDR images (though that feature built-in would be nice). In use, however, it usually leaves you with one image that works really well, and not always that one you’d expect. This isn’t to say it doesn’t meter correctly, it does, but a number of times the over- or under-exposed image would actually work better for that scene.
Lens Mode is super useful. It crops down the image from one sensor (your choice which), and creates a GoPro-esque wide-angle image.
A "Front Only" wide-angle (but not 360) image with the Garmin VIRB 360 of Puente Nuevo in Ronda, SpainGeoffrey Morrison
There’s also PC/Mac software for editing. It’s fairly basic, and I wish there was color correction, but it works well enough. It even worked on , so extra points there.
One aspect I didn’t use much, but the VIRB is capable of, is in-video overlays of speed, angle, GPS co-ordinates, and so on. I can see how some people might like these, but for me I felt they distracted from the video content. To each their own. You can see how they look on Garmin’s page.
Since YouTube shows 360 videos, it’s the easiest way to show off a 360 camera. This is one example, taken at the Alcázar of Seville (Dorne, if you're a Game of Thrones fan).
For a bunch of other videos I took with the VIRB 360, .
Reviewing 360 cameras is a challenge, since most websites can’t display 360 photos. Facebook, Flickr, Google Photos, are some of the big names that can. So the photos you see below are the flat versions. If you want to see how they look in 360, .
Here are a few examples of how the Garmin works as a camera. These are unedited.
A flat version of a Garmin VIRB 360 photo. To see this in 360, .Geoffrey Morrison
A flat version of a 360 photo from the Garmin VIRB 360. To see in 360, .Geoffrey Morrison
If anything, the VIRB 360 underexposes slightly. This isn't a big deal, as you can either bracket (as mentioned above), or bring up the brightness slightly in any editing software. Also images are with fairly minimal adjustments to the camera's own settings. Depending on the situation, you should be able to dial in what you want pretty easily.
The result can look like this picture I took of the actual Loch Ness Monster:
A flat version of a Garmin VIRB 360 photo. This one is has been edited with Photoshop (most images posted to Facebook look a touch dark, so here this looks a little bright. You can edit yours as you see fit). For the 360 version, .Geoffrey Morrison
The photo at the beginning of this review is another example. My Flickr page has a few more too. Overall the images are detailed and colorful, though as with all 360 cameras, the sensors themselves are small, so don't expect SLR quality.
Pros and Cons
On the pro side, and this isn’t flippant, the VIRB 360 works. You can turn it on and take a photo almost immediately, or record almost instantly via a switch on the side. It connects to your phone quickly and easily. These are not things to take for granted. The app, too, is easy to use.
Image quality is good, in some aspects a little better than the competition, in some cases a little worse. But overall, you’ll get good looking photos and videos. The stitching is good, though as with all 360 cameras, there’s always going to be some situation where you can see the seams between the two photos that makes the 360 sphere. The VIRB 360 is at a bit of a disadvantage compared to the Theta here because of its size. The sensors themselves are farther apart, so the point at which the seams become noticeable is farther from the camera. I felt the stitching was fine, though as with all 360 cameras, it could be a bit better.
Not so great is the battery life. Garmin claims it will record 4K for an hour on one charge. Photos don’t drain it as much, but those two things aren’t the issue. The issue is it's easy for the VIRB to be turned on accidentally, and drain its battery while it’s “safe” in your bag. This happened to me a number of times. The big switch on the side doesn’t turn the power off, it merely turns the recording on. It would have made better sense to have that switch be power, and then have a single button activate the video recording. Since the switch is also difficult to click with one hand, it’s of limited use in my opinion.
Garmin VIRB 360Garmin
Getting the SD card out is a major pain too, unless you have long fingernails. A minor gripe, to be sure, but a reoccurring one.
The other main issue is the price. 0 is a lot in this space. The closest competitor is the Nikon KeyMission 360, which performs similarly for video and photo, has similar rugged specs, and is even able to go deeper. However, it’s obnoxious to use. So I guess you’re paying 0 to have a working waterproof 360 camera.
I was only able to test the underwater performance briefly, and it wasn’t great. In similar conditions the Nikon worked better. However, this was just a preliminary test, not a final judgement. I'll try to test it more and report back.
Shown with the included grip that cleverly converts into a tripod.Garmin
Digital Trends liked it, . They said, “The Virb is an excellent, though expensive, choice. An 0 price is nothing to blink at – you could get a good entry-level DSLR for that price – but if you want to venture into 360 action cameras, the Garmin Virb 360 is the ultimate.”
, giving it a 9.4/10: “…as of now, the Garmin VIRB 360 is the best non-professional (aka ,000) rig out for 360 rugged cameras.”
The Garmin VIRB 360 is a great product that should be a little cheaper. But then, what wouldn’t be better if it was cheaper? If you're looking for the best you can get, without spending a fortune on professional-level gear, this is it. It does it all, or at least does as much of it all as any 360 camera as of this writing. If you just want to dabble in 360 photos/videos, and don't need waterproofing, the will save you a ton of money (though the pictures and especially the videos won't be as nice).
Otherwise, the VIRB 360 works, works well, and takes great photos and videos. Pretty solid, that.
VIRB 360: 0