In a world populated by iPhones and Flip cameras we’re starting to see video captured in more places. For the adventuring set–those that like to climb mountains, sky dive, hurl themselves down hills on thin layers of material or a pair of wheels (and I count myself among the most timid of this number) there is a choice: sacrifice a few of these cheap devices every once in a while as your home-made brackets and straps fail, ejecting them onto the landscape with disastrous results, or buy a proper “made for adventurin’” camera and roll with that.
Proper adventurin’ cameras are few and far between. Today we’re going to look at the Contour HD 1080p. It’s a new model of point-of-view camera, joining the illustrious ranks of the GoPro Hero. It’s built for a slightly different market, and it’s definitely go some strengths and weaknesses therein.
The Contour HD 1080p is a dry-land camera; it’s water resistance, but I’d find a way to stow it if you’re in the middle of a Vancouver afternoon (that is to say that the metric volume of a swimming pool full of water is being dumped exclusively on you while you do stuff). It is, however, uniquely adapted to fastening to your helmet or other strappy devices with two pretty unique mounts that come in the box.
The first is the flat-disk mount. Peel the label, stick it to a flat surface. This is most obviously used for fastening the camera to a helmet (snowboarding, motorcross) that has larger flat surfaces. The second is a goggle-strap mount that threads into your goggle strap. Both mounts lock into the camera body through a strong plastic bracket. Contour calls this system TRail™ (get it? It’s like, trail and rail all in one! Someone in marketing feels witty about that one…)
The whole assembly seems very tough in both cases. I didn’t smack it against things for science, but it felt like it could take the knocks you’ll put it through in both summer and winter.
Actually using the darned thing.
The Contour HD 1080p has a 135º wide-angle lens, which I found captured video beautiful, delivering shots of vistas with very little distortion. I sampled the Contour’s features while climbing a small mountain (my bike was stolen in January, cut me some slack) so I used the goggle mount in a MacGuyver-like fashion, attaching it to the shoulder strap on my backpack.
One of the coolest things about the Contour HD 1080p is that it uses a pair of lasers to project visible dots so you can see if your image is level. You can rotate the camera 90º in both directions inside of its housing, meaning you can attached it at almost any angle and still get absolutely dead-on straight video. This is a brilliant design decision, and is the single strongest strength in my opinion: the Contour HD 1080p has versatility in installation that no other camera has right now.
Image quality is good; you can choose from 3 resolutions and two frame rates; I found all of them were excellent and usable… as soon as I upgraded my SD card. It should go without saying that a Class 2 card won’t cut it for HD video, something I’m embarrassed to say didn’t occur to me until after I’d recorded my first choppy video. Upgrading to a better quality card eliminated the issue. The video that the Contour HD 1080p produced was great on several levels: on the highest resolution and frame rate it was clean, and the image quality was excellent. Colours really popped, and despite the constant motion of the camera carrier (that’d be me) I didn’t feel nauseated or irritated; that’s a good sign that the camera is not dropping frames. I was able to drop the video into my video editing program and use it without a problem.
The Contour HD 1080p is built for people who do stuff, and the folks there know that messing around with on-switches is probably the most annoying thing ever. Using the GoPro Hero always features a bit of guesswork in this respect; the on and record buttons require a solid press, and I was never able to tell if I’d started recording, meaning that most of my videos with that camera feature my upside-down face, checking to see if the video is on.
The Contour HD 1080p, on the other hand, features a large slide-forward switch that leaves no question as to wether you’ve started recording. A nice chime (optional, you can turn it off) lets you know you’re shooting as well. It’s a lot less cumbersome, and has meant less editing for me on the other end of shooting.
I loved the GoPro Hero’s inclusion of a casing that’s meant to handle just about any condition. Like I mentioned earlier, the Contour doesn’t come with a waterproof case, but there are several available at reasonable prices. Gone are the days of spending half the price of the camera on a waterpoof casing (thanks for those years, Canon. They sucked.) Like the GoPro Hero, the Contour HD 1080p has a variety of straps, grips, and casings available, making it pretty flexible.
The Contour HD 1080p is a great camera. If forced to pick between the GoPro Hero and the Contour I think I might lean towards the Contour, simply for the easier-to-use record switch and the laser sight for leveling your shots. If you’re deciding between the two, I’d suggest taking an up-close look at both cameras and making your decision based on that. I’m too torn to make a call for you.