This review is an update of a now old review I wrote where I reviewed the Contour HD for snowsports. Contour has continually improved its camera so it makes sense to review and showcase the latest iteration of Contour’s POV camera – the Contour GPS.
As with the previous article this review is for a specific situation and use; point of view (POV) cameras for the snowsport enthusiast particularly for use with heavy snowfalls, dark gloomy winters, and challenging light conditions. Contour (the company) has made several changes to the ContourGPS camera all of which improve useability. This article will highlight the improvements.
Contour GPS Helmet Cam Specs and Improvements
Of course there is now GPS functionality. To be honest I didn’t use it much. It’s no use as a navigation tool since you can’t extract waypoints. You have to use the Contour video-editing Storyteller application to show the GPS tracklog and I don’t use that software. The GPS functionality is a battery hog.
- Small light (5.2 oz) form factor
- Shoots 3 frame rates (1080p, 960p, 720p with a choice between 30 fps and 60fps) and a still mode which allows you to take pictures
- Wide angle but not the fish-eye that GoPro has brought to POV cams (Contour is 135 degrees wide, GoPro is 170 degrees wide)
- Levelling lasers to help you aim the camera
- Rugged body – not waterproof but definitely water-resistant
- Self-contained. No wires to other external doo-dads.
(Note – Contour released functionality to preview video on an iPhone in the last month. I don’t have an iPhone, so someone else will have to review that feature)
Contour GPS Video Quality
I am now relatively experienced with POV videos having shot literally hundreds. I have no aspirations to produce professional quality videos – my efforts are limited to short snippets uploaded to the web via Vimeo. 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. In general, my videos combine different points-of-view, include static footage and tend to be shorter. Your mileage may vary.
Improvements Over Contour HD 1080
Listed here are the major changes between the Contour HD 1080 and the ContourGPS. Many of these changes make the ContourGPS a better camera for POV use in snowsports:
- The rear door of the camera is now hard plastic and latches shut with a switch. This prevents the rear door from swinging open; a problem which occasionally plagued older versions of the ContourHD
- The on/off switch is now raised. It’s easier to turn on/off with gloves
- The Storyteller application has more customization. There are two switches which allow you to pick between resolutions and camera settings. You can toggle the GPS on/off. The old EasyEdit software customizations (particularly the exposure settings) didn’t seem to make much difference. With Storyteller, when you change exposure, there is a remarkable difference in the ability of the ContourGPS to handle light/dark.
- The microphone location is changed so that more sound is picked up. Although there is more gain, the ContourGPS also picks up more wind-noise so, as with all other POV cameras, sound quality is poor.
- The on/off audible tones on the Contour are perhaps louder than before and easy to hear. It’s very easy to tell the position of the on-off switch and therefore whether the camera is recording.
- In bright sunlight video quality suffers from purple fringing. Take a look at the Blackcomb Glacier video below. Side-lit shots under March sun are vignetted and fringed. I’ll note that the lens of the ContourGPS was clean
- I really like the fact that the on/off volume is so loud and that the on-off button is so big. You never have to guess whether the camera is on/off or recording.
- You cannot change resolutions in the field other then through the 1/2 switch. This means you have to do some thinking in advance and put in different settings so if the weather changes you can compensate accordingly by using the switch.
- The Contour HD 1080’s video quality suffered mightily when it was dark. Video quality still isn’t great when going from light to dark and vice-versa but what can you really expect from such a small form-factor wearable video camera. However, the exposure controls are now much improved; the software controls actually do something when you make exposure changes
Handful of Sample Videos
Blackcomb Trees March 16, 2011
(Filmed with a Contour GPS. Rendered 720p @ 5000kbps; Settings 720HD. Contrast 60; Sharpness 4; Exposure +3 )
Blackcomb Glacier March 17, 2011 (non-family-friendly edit)
(Forward looking – Rendered 960p @ 5000kbps Settings 960HD. Contrast 60; Sharpness 4; Exposure +2; Backwards looking – Settings 960HD. Contrast 60; Sharpness 4; Exposure +2)
Blackcomb (Patrollers Trees) March 16, 2011
(Filmed with a Contour GPS. Rendered 720HD 5000 kbps. Forward looking – Contrast 60; Sharpness 4; Exposure +3; Backwards looking – Settings 960HD. Contrast 60; Sharpness 4; Exposure +4)
Blackcomb (Crystal Zone) – March 16, 2011
(Filmed with a Contour GPS. Rendered 720p @ 5000kbps Forward looking – Contrast 60; Sharpness 4; Exposure +3; Backwards looking – Settings 960HD. Contrast 60; Sharpness 4; Exposure +4)
Bottom Line: Contour GPS Helmet Cam
To summarize, while GoPro’s flagship GoProHD hasn’t changed over the past year, Contour hasn’t been standing still. I had wondered how Contour could change the camera without incurring the substantial cost of re-tooling new molds and admit to being suitably impressed. Contour took the Contour HD1080; listened to many customer concerns and introduced small yet meaningful tweaks. These tweaks have the cumulative effect of making this a better camera.
Now I admit to not being overly impressed by the GPS feature. In my opinion, it’s marketing bumpf and a gee-whiz feature but what do I know? If I wanted a GPS, I’d use my standalone GPS. Having said that, the ContourGPS’s improvement as a camera are substantive. They improve an already pretty-decent camera. Innovation, constant refinement and consistent improvement can only make Contour’s offerings better.