Joey's Gear Recommendations & Reviews
ContourROAM WEARABLE VIDEO SPORTS CAMERA
------ UPDATE! December 2011 ------
At last I got my hands on a ContourROAM video camera. I was anxious to try out the 5 Megapixel still feature so that is where I started my testing. I set the camera up to snap an image every 5 seconds and biked through traffic. Software provided by Contour allowed me to choose still photo automatic mode from several different time intervals starting at 1 second and up to 60 seconds between shots. There are times when high resolution still photos would be much more powerful than video, especially if the action is slow. But no worries because I am running my old video camera on the helmet at the same time. Seemed foolish to me to continue using a counter-weight as heavy as a camera when I own two cameras. I could also set up one camera facing rearward if action was happening all around me, like participating in a bike race. I can fit over 2000 still images on a 2 GIG memory card.
Here is a test image straight from the camera - beware, it is a large file:
Test Image 1 is 2 MB, 2592 x 1944 px
I also shot some photos at night, but I reduced the size of this one a bit:
Test Image 2 is 72 KB, 1000 x 750 px
The ContourROAM also shoots three video quality levels 1080p, 960p, and 720p all at 30 frames per second. I shoot all of my videos at the lowest setting which looks spectacular on my 15 inch high resolution laptop screen. In order to upload videos to YouTube or Vimeo.com I often dumb down the resolution and file size to a fraction of the original file. Before discarding or archiving the original file I capture all of the still images that I like using the "Print Screen" key on my keyboard (copies screenshot to the clipboard) and editing the JPEG file before saving it. I use QuickTime Pro for Windows to edit the raw video footage. I use Corel Photo-Paint for editing the still images.
------ END UPDATE ------
The second camera is a heavily used predecessor of the ContourROAM camera called VholdR. The VholdR is basically a Contour test model with limited features. All I could do is shoot standard resolution video on 2GB storage media. But shoot video I have since 2008 with well over one hundred short cycling videos created from thousands of hours of raw video footage. I shot video in all weather conditions with no concern for the well being of the camera. It never missed a beat. I shot footage from my bicycle helmet - forward and behind me - as well as from a handlebar mount and hand-held.
The ContourROAM video camera has me very excited. The battery is manufactured permanently into the unit which allows for an even better waterproof seal as well as the use of a battery with longer life, no rattles, no bad contacts. The battery charges up to useful voltage in under an hour with full charge requiring nearly three hours. Runtime is steady-on for three and a half hours. Intermittent use should allow even longer spans of time between charges. LED displays on the camera let you know when the battery is fully charged as well as battery and memory status during camera use.
The features that excite me about the ContourROAM are many. First on the list, this camera can be programmed to shoot high resolution still images at the slide of a button or continually every few seconds or minutes until the memory - up to 32Gigs - is slammed full of data or until you turn the camera off. Several resolutions are available, from the standard resolution I am accustomed to that even my whimpy laptop can edit, all the way up to HD Widescreen. The Contour lens covers a wide area without fisheye effect. The level-horizon adjustment is accomplished with two red lasers. And this camera does not require that annoying boot-up time like my well used predecessor. You slide the large switch to record setting and the film starts rolling. Slide the button back and the camera stops recording AND turns off - a HUGE battery saving feature as well as pacifying impatient people like me as I miss crucial shots waiting for my old camera to boot up before I can start capturing the action.
My Setup: I plan to use the ContourROAM the same way I use my old VholdR unit. The camera is very light, so wearing it on the top of a bike helmet allows the camera to go unnoticed. I like the camera near my ear rather than up top for several reasons: The camera emits audible beeps when booted up and turned on or off. If I turn the camera on and do not hear the beep I know the battery is spent. My camera will beep when the memory is full too. Positioning the device near my ear is crucial for me to hear it. Also I do not have to reach way up top to turn the camera on or off, and low tree branches are less likely to rip the camera off my head if it is next to my ear. I find that, even thought the camera is incredibly light, it has enough weight on bumpy road surfaces to tilt my helmet. I solved that problem with a counterweight made of two short pieces of steel rod cut so they weigh exactly the same as the camera unit including the mount. I covered the rods completely with black electrical tape, then used heavy duty Velcro® to make the thing easily removable. With the counterweight in place and the camera by my right ear the helmet is rock-solid on my head. No tilt ever. When my new camera arrives, I plan to attach both to my helmet - one facing forward and one facing backward which will eliminate the counter balance weight as the cameras will balance each other.
Above you can see my setup from the front. Ignore the Velcro® on the visor - I have a helmet mounted light that attaches there. Now look under the visor and you will see a bubble level swiped from a cheap hardware store chalkline level unit. The level is attached with heavy duty Velcro® just like the counterweight so I can remove it when not filming.
Why and How to use the Level: Obviously, the level helps me keep my head straight while filming. My experience learning to use it is interesting: At first, I would glance up at the level now an then to check it. After just a couple of days I stopped looking at it because the bubble was always visible in my peripheral vision and if my head was level (level enough) the bubble would continually move back and forth in the yellow liquid. If the helmet or my head tilted, the bubble jammed against the side of the tiny plastic tube and stopped moving. It is hard for me to believe that somehow my brain integrated that bubble motion into some strange subconscious compartment of my mind. I never think about the bubble when riding, but will immediately notice if it stops moving. I can only assume the same would be true for most people.
More Level Info: OK, here is where the level is crucial. The lower you position your handlebars, the more your head will try to tilt when you look left or right. When you play back the recorded image, every time you looked to the side, the whole world will appear to tilt about 45° from horizontal. A few minutes of that an most folks will need motion sickness pills to watch your movies. If your neck is normal you will be able to develop a technique for looking to the side without tilting your head. It is possible. I do it all the time. Also, when you look any direction other than straight ahead, try to turn your head slowly and smoothly without tilting the camera. If your head moves around like a bobblehead doll when you ride, forget putting the camera on your helmet until you get that under control. Your movies will be unwatchable. Moving just your eyes will give you nearly 160° of forward vision and the rear-view mirror should eliminate most of the need for turning your head to look behind you.
Here is a short video clip I put together to illustrate a few features. You should play it in full-screen mode. Things you should notice: First, the sun was setting on an overcast day. Any camera can get the job done with full sunlight. Too bad not every adventure happens at noon on a beautiful day. When the sun is above the horizon, many cameras out there have strange, distracting anomalies when looking directly into a sunset or sunrise. Some cameras show a black dot covering the whole sun disk, others catch every starburst and shoot rainbow colored lines vertically all over the recorded image. Not Contour products. The sun looks the same on your video as it looked when you filmed it. Starbursts are not an issue either. Dim light...no problem. I have even shot watchable footage under city streetlights.
The street I was cycling on in the video sample was terrible. Notice how the image does not distort when the camera shakes. The filmed world looks exactly the way I saw it through my vibrating eyes.
While watching the sample video, notice how my head does not move from center frame. My eyes are scanning wildly for cracks in the road, bumps, J-walkers, cars, trucks, and busses. At 1:14 I look over my left shoulder using mostly peripheral vision to scan for cars behind me. How annoying would the video be if I did that every time? Trust me...you could not watch if for one minute. So at first you will need to remember the camera is on your head and re-train yourself to keep your nose straight ahead as much as possible and turn your head slowly when you must look to the side. The technique will soon become second nature so you can forget about the camera and pay complete attention to your surroundings. Remember...the sample video is the lowest resolution any of the Contour cameras offer. The ContourROAM high resolution setting gives you 1080p for dazzling video in several screen size formats and two choices of frames per second speed to catch every movement of the action, or get maximum time from a memory card. The choice is yours with ContourROAM.
Here is a high resolution sample created by Contour. Full screen please! Hold onto your hat.
Above is a bird's-eye view of my helmet setup. I can affix the camera forward or backward on the helmet with a slight adjustment of the mount and rotation of the camera lens. I marked both the camera and the mount with a silver sharpie so I can quickly switch from filming ahead to filming behind me. The mirror gives me a good idea of what the camera is seeing behind me.
This short video sample was filmed by me with my camera catching the action behind me. My rear-view mirror gave me a fairly good idea of what the camera was recording. All of the conditions that challenge cameras were in place: Poor ambient light, car headlights shining directly into the camera, and wet reflective surfaces everywhere. When you watch this one, pay attention to what is NOT happening. No lens flares, no starbursts, no exposure overcompensation for bright lights aimed at the camera, no strange anomalies, ghost images, or digital pixel misdirection caused by the wet, highly reflective environment. The image is a bit grainy due to the low light conditions - totally normal for any type of small camera. Otherwise, the camera records the world just like you see it. Note: The top corners of the video frame are dark due to a homemade rain hood extending into the wide field of view. I can easily zoom past the lens hood in editing but wanted to keep the footage original for this demonstration.
What I Like About Contour Cameras: My camera is rugged, sleek, light weight, and dependable. The early versions I tested had a few glitches but the folks at Contour helped me every time. They also offer fast support through the Contour Website. Service after the sale is excellent. Once I got used to the camera functions and controls I just slide the unit onto my helmet or handlebar mount, turn it on and forget about it until the action stops.
What I Don't Like About Contour Cameras: I am a PC guy. The original VholdR cameras recorded video in .AVI format which could be loaded from my camera directly into Windows Movie Maker. Life could not be easier. Now, the new camera records video in .MOV format. Great for MAC users and anyone who likes Quicktime Player. For over a year, my only method for editing Contour video required that I convert the .MOV to .AVI or .WMV first - A sloppy, time consuming, and quality eating experience. The Contour Community and the Contour Tech folks could never solve my problem with the new format. So I just waited until a solution came along and at last, the newer Windows Movie Maker and several other editing programs accept .MOV files without conversion.
What Else: ContourROAM is the baby brother of two other Contour cameras. I like the simplicity and low price of the Roam but for those who want built-in GPS features and/or Bluetooth® capability to use your iPhone® or Droid® as a viewer, Contour has you covered. Click the banner below to enter the Contour Website to watch more sample videos and explore their awesome products and community.
ContourROAM Rating: ★★★★☆
Contour makes the best, most versatile, easy to use wearable cameras in my opinion (based on four years of using the test camera). The camera gets five stars. Changing the data format in mid-stream leaving me to twist in the wind for one year cost them one star.