This was initially going to be a review of the GoPro HD for snowsports but now, quite organically, this article has become a review and comparison of the GoPro HD and Vholdr Contour HD for snowsports. A quick word on why I think a review like this makes sense.
First reason, these seem to be among the most popular POV cameras. Second reason, I’ve already reviewed both the GoPro HD and ContourHD so was familiar with their use and quirks (I’ve included links to my previous reviews below in the section on “Biases”). Third, I thought this review might fill a niche. There are already are a lot of reviews of the GoPro HD and the Contour HD, some good and some bad but most generic. What is lacking are reviews focused on these point of view (POV) cameras for the snowsport enthusiast. Snowsports in the Coastal British Columbia region is a particularly demanding laboratory with our heavy snowfalls, dark gloomy winters, and challenging light conditions.
Summary: GoPro HD vs. Vholdr Contour HD
The Vholdr ContourHD 1080 and GoPro HD are relatively cost-effective, robust POV cameras. There’s little to choose between them in terms of video quality; both are good. Both are subsceptible to producing jerky video, however, jerkiness can be minimized by using the cameras in appropriate conditions and with appropriate mounts. The ContourHD has a slight edge in useability but the GoProHD will be more resistant to inclement weather. As far as costs go, GoPro HD’s MSRP is $299 USD; the ContourHD 1080′s MSRP is $330 (ContourHD is $299).
For snowsports both cameras have well thought-out mounts. Non-helmet wearers skiing deep powder might find the ContourHD’s goggle mount to be preferable as that mount is located high and won’t be coated in pow. Helmet – wearers and those who ski in shallow powder or hardpack will find little to choose between the GoPro and ContourHD in terms of mounts and useability – practically speaking, the ContourHD’s goggle and helmet mounts are at least as good as the GoPro’s helmet and chest mounts. From a pure fashion sense the ContourHD’s form factor is sleeker and less obstrusive then the toaster-like GoPro worn on the head. Using the GoPro chest mount remedies this fashion faux pas.
To summarize, both the ContourHD and GoPro HD are compelling POV offerings. Compact, self-contained, very configurable, excellent quality video and decent sound. There’s very little to choose between them and what you pick will depend in large part on individual user quirks and what kind of use you’ll have for them.
I am relatively new to videos, only having started shooting and editing videos this year. I have no aspirations to produce professional quality videos – my efforts are limited to short snippets uploaded to the web via Vimeo and the Vholdr.com site. I have little interest in video post-processing and limit my efforts to merging raw clips together and sometimes adding text and soundtrack. My videos mainly showcase skiing and biking in the Southwestern British Columbia, Canada area. Although I’ve tried to pay attention to concerns that “prosumer” videographers may have, the comments in this review will reflect my biases.
I have provided many video clips as sample output. PLEASE READ THE COMMENTS ABOUT THE VIDEOS (click the Vimeo links to see them in HD and/or to read the comments) which outlined how I rendered and presented the videos. You can process video output to preserve as much quality as possible (larger files say for file-sharing via DVD) or like I did, you can process the videos to present pretty decent quality while managing file sizes for video-sharing via web.
If you want even more details about POV Camera functionality and more technical information here are some older reviews of the GoPro and ContourHD authored by myself.
- Vholdr Contour HD for biking (Initial review and mounts)
- Vholdr ContourHD 1080 for biking
- GoPro HD initial review for biking
- GoPro Hero (older generation wide-angle) showcasing various mounts for bikes
There’s a lot of literature about the GoPro HD on the manufacturer’s website and in various articles (see citations above). Suffice it to say that the GoPro is easy to use. There’s a button to turn it on. There’s another button to record. There’s a LCD with cryptic displays but the well-written GoPro manual explains everything in detail. Ideally you should configure all your settings (eg. time, date) when you’ve got the manual in front of you. You would then be well advised to remember how to change the resolutions so you can change resolutions in the field if you like (resolution settings are also printed on the back of the GoPro). Here’s some other observations about the GoPro specific to skiing:
- Sound-wise, the GoPro HD’s on-off tones are louder then the GoPro Hero but they still aren’t terribly loud especially if its storming or if you have a helmet on covering your ears. I’d like the tones to be louder.
- Continuing with the above comment, you’ll often be checking whether or not the GoPro HD is on or off. When chest-mounted it’s easy to do so. Ditto for the head-band mount as you just slide the head band off. The helmet mount is a bit more fiddly as you’ll have to undo your chin-strap. As mentioned, if surroundings are quiet this might not be an issue as you’ll be able to hear the faint tones.
- The GoPro HD buttons are useable even with gloves.
- It’s pretty easy and quick to cycle through menus to change resolutions if you’ve taken the time to read the manual.
- There’s no display on the GoPro so you’ll have to get someone to see if the GoPro is pointing the right way. It’s not terribly hard to do and certainly a lot easier then biking as it’s pretty easy to “assume the position” of skiing and snowboarding. Bottom line, it’s really not a big deal to figure out how to aim the GoPro the right way.
Vholdr ContourHD 1080
There’s very good product literature for the ContourHD 1080 on the Vholdr site and a nice review in a article by pointofviewcameras comparing the ContourHD 1080 with the older ContourHD. The ContourHD is another paragon of functional simplicity. There’s two buttons on the outside; an on-off button and a slider to turn recording on/off. Once you open a rubber cover, you can also access a Hi/Lo switch which you can set (using the provided EasyEdit software) to record at different resolutions. Here’s a grab-bag of comments about the ContourHD 1080 for skiing.
- The ContourHD’s audible tones indicating when it’s on/off and when it’s recording are reassuringly loud which helps take guesswork out of shooting video.
- Control buttons are useable with dexterous gloves. I’ve seen some people glue a small projecting nub on the recording slider of the ContourHD 1080 so its a bit easier to move the recording slider up and down but haven’t found it really necessary with my gloves.
- You cannot change resolutions in the field other then through the Hi/Lo switch. I didn’t find that much of a problem since I’m shooting video for web-sharing and will almost always default to 920p or 720p video @ 30fps.
- The ContourHD’s video quality can be tweaked using their EasyEdit software. Contrast, exposure, sharpness and metering can be customized. Unfortunately there’s no way to do that in the field without resorting to PDAs or more electronic gadgetry. My suspicion is that once you figure out default settings lack of video settings field-adjustments won’t be an issue. However, it is a drawback if you don’t have access to a computer (eg on a multi-day trip) and want to continually modify settings.
This video showcases skiing in different conditions (dust on crust powder, deep powder) with the GoPro HD (headband mount backwards), ContourHD (goggle mount forwards), and ContourHD 1080 (goggle mount forwards). Sound presented “as is” without any music track.
GoPro informed me that the headband mount wasn’t ideal for skiing. This makes sense as it’s hard to make the headband mount stable. Instead they recommended the chest mount and the helmet mount. Despite GoPro’s advice I thought I would experiment and used the GoPro HD chest, helmet and head-band mount (note that the GoPro Hero mounts and GoPro HD mounts are interchangeable).
- The chest mount worked well and produced a nice stable image but in deep snow (poor me – I skied a series of four days where we got 135cms/ 54 inches) the snow would quickly clog the screen. Personally I wasn’t a big fan of the chest – mount POV since my hands and poles were always occupying large portions of the image. The 960p setting worked well for this mount since it produced a POV image that captured the most square footage.
- I ski a lot in the backcountry and don’t use a helmet when ski-touring. I tried the helmet mount on top of my toque/hat and had pretty decent results. I could use this perspective to produce decent footage looking forwards and backwards. I expected footage to be jerky but if I was in soft powder the resulting footage was useable. Since footage when I was in harder snow was very jerky and nausea-inducing I have to conclude that GoPro’s advice was correct. However, if you are in soft powder snow and you ski smoothly, the headband mount can produce pleasing results.
- Expanding on the headband mount POV, it produced the most interesting footage when I was following another person closely. However, its tough to see when you’re eating someone’s powder cloud; moreover, this isn’t the safest protocol from an avalanche hazard perspective. I dealt with these issues by moving the headband around to angle the camera to either my left or right and used this angle to then get good footage without being directly on the other person’s tail.
- I headplanted spectacularly at least once in deep snow wearing the headband mount and it stayed on my head. However, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to rig up some sort of leash to keep the headband connected to some item of clothing (eg a jacket).
- I used the helmet mount on icy hardpack. GoPro is correct; that mount is very stable and produces very nice images. It would be trivial to mount the camera looking backwards to record the backward facing POV. My only complaint is in from the trivial vanity department. You’ll look like the biggest gaper touron on the planet skiing around with the toaster-like GoPro on your helmet. As concession to vanity you can pop it off your head and stick the GoPro in your jacket or simply fold the camera down so it’s a little less obtrusive.
This video showcases the GoPro chest and helmet mounts.
Vholdr Contour HD
Not to belabour a point but GoPro’s mounts were radically superior to the ContourHD’s mounting options for biking. This is not true for skiing where both companies have their mounts dialed. For my personal use as a non-helmet wearer, I would have to give a slight edge to the Vholdr ContourHD’s goggle mount.
- I loved the ease of use of the ContourHD’s goggle mount. It feels like it might move around but if you cinch down your goggles, you’ll get good footage. The mount allows you to dial in horizontal (move it backwards or forwards on the goggle strap) and vertical direction (the little ratchets on the mount). You can film backwards and film forwards. It’s close to your ears so it’s easy to hear on/off tone. It’s sleek so that you don’t look like a complete dork when wearing it. In short, it’s beautifully well thought-out for skiing.
- I used the ContourHD 1080′s new vented helmet-mount on my ski helmet. It’s substantially better then Vholdr’s old vented-helmet offering and produced stable footage. It’d be used if I was skiing with my helmet and without goggles.
- I haven’t yet figured out how to use the ContourHD if I’m not wearing either a helmet or goggles. Subscribe to this article and I’ll put up an update once I figure out how to jerry-rig a stable mount.
This video was filmed with the ContourHD on the goggle mount.
Video and Sound Quality
There’s not much to choose from in this regard. Both the ContourHD 1080 and GoPro HD produce pretty good video. Each camera lets you choose various shooting High-definitions and Standard definition formats (1080p, 960p, 720p @ 60 fps, 720p @ 30 fps and standard definition) with the GoPro having field-configurable settings. Both cameras also have decent microphones although wind-noise is present when skiing at speed.
- Both cameras perform best in brighter light producing sharp focused images in those conditions. Video quality suffers when its dark. Video quality isn’t great when going from light to dark and vice-versa but that is true of most imaging devices.
- Both cameras allow sound-tweaks. The GoPro HD offers a skeleton door with holes in the back for better sound reception – I haven’t tried that option as yet. The ContourHD’s Easy Edit software offers the option of increasing microphone gain.
- There’s no getting over the fact that even in the nice soft powder in which I’ve been drowning in Whistler’s early season), footage is still somewhat shaky. This occurs with different mounts on both the ContourHD and GoProHD but to a lesser extent as you tighten down the mounts. I have to conclude that shakiness is something that is exarcabated by the rolling shutter technology used in both cameras (more about this technology’s limitations here) . I also believe that HD video presents so much detail that you’ll see shakiness which might be obscured in the more grainy, vague footage you’d get from Standard-definition video.
- I personally won’t be using 1080p footage much. 1080p files are big and they choke my computer. I can’t see using it much for my primary usage of video-sharing footage over websites where 720p or 960p seems adequate for such a task. 1080p footage from the GoPro HD and Contour HD is provided below for your perusal. No editing was done and these are direct from the camera. You’ll need to click the vimeo link in the videos to look at the videos in Vimeo, and get a vimeo account (free) to download the raw footage.
This is the GoPro HD Camera: Ski Movie from GoPro on Vimeo – sample shows how the video can be presented without being too shaky with tightly worn chest-mount straps and a pole-mount!
This video compares ContourHD 1080 (goggle mount forwards) and GoPro HD (headband mount slightly sideways and forward) footage in 1080p format.
This video compares the ContourHD 1080 (goggle mount forwards) and GoPro HD (headband mount forwards, sidewards and backwards).
This video compares the ContourHD 1080 (goggle mount backwards) and GoPro HD (chest mount forwards).
This video compares the older ContourHD (goggle mount forwards) with the GoPro HD (chest mount). Sound is presented “as is”.
I’ll look into both these cameras more beyond these initial impressions and will update this article as I resolve questions. Some possible follow-ups might be as follows:
- How will the ContourHD handle moisture and/or snow (I figure its a safe bet the GoPro will be ridiculously tough).
- The GoPro HD’s battery lasted through 2.5 hours of use shooting in temps of minus 15 celsius. Is the ContourHD’s battery comparable?
- What will the GoPro accessory backpacs look like? What types will be released? When?
- What other mounting angles can be used? I bet there are some interesting angles using booms.