Contour+ 1080p Helmet Camera
We've been really impressed with our Contour HD helmet camera (our review) but when used in our Fisher Fury R1 kitcar, there is simply no way of getting good audio with the camera being directly exposed to 120+mph winds.
When we read the specification of the new Contour+ model, we just knew we needed to upgrade despite it being a much more expensive model and also having to buy a new underwater case.
This new model features a number of significant improvements:
- External microphone input (via 2.5mm socket).
- Improved lens to reduce distortion and fish-eye effects.
- Ability to take still photos.
- GPS with longitude, latitude, altitude and speed logging.
- Bluetooth support with iPhone app to view video feed directly from camera.
- HDMI video output.
- Support for 32Gb micro-SD cards.
The Contour+ no longer has the alignment lasers that were found on the Contour HD. To be honest, they won't be really missed though they were quite handy when mounting the camera on my helmet. They were not required since though. These have been omitted to make room for the larger lens and better optics of the Contour+.
The Contour HD model only allowed 180° lens rotation. The Contour+ now supports 270° of rotation, which means you can mount the camera in almost any orientation, even upside down and will still be able to right video orientation.
The recording switch now features a hump, which contains the GPS receiver for recording latitude, longitude, elevation, and speed.
Specification & Features
Full specs are available on the Contour website. The camera supports video capture at various resolutions, up to full 1080p at 30fps. The various support resolutions and frame rates are:
- 1920 × 1280 @ 25/30fps
- 1280 × 960 @ 25/30fps
- 1280 × 720p @ 50/60fps
- 1280 × 720p @ 25/30fps
- Still picture mode
The field of view is 125° in HD mode and 170° in SD mode. Another nice new additional feature is the ability to take a stream of still photos. The video frame rate depends on whether the camera is set to use NTSC (30 or 60fps) or PAL (25 or 50fps).
In The Box
In the box you get the Contour+ camera, two rotating flat surface mounts, a profile mount, the instruction manual, a 2GB SD-card, USB charging cable, HDMI to mini-HDMI cable and a microphone cable (2.5mm plug to 3.5mm socket). The 2Gb SD-card is a bit pointless really and doesn't store much. You need to be using 8Gb cards as a minimum.
Initial impressions were that the new Contour+ isn't quite as solid as the older model HD but, a side by side comparison shows this to not really be the case. The newer model simply has more sockets and flaps on the outside and just doesn't have the simplicity (and perceived solidity) of the older model. There is a new mechanical rear door hinge that replaces the old, soft rubber flaps. The rear door also gains a pair of removable rubber caps for the HDMI and USB connections, so you won't have to completely open the back of the camera to access them. This also means the camera can now be powered whilst in use in a car :-)
On the back of the unit is a new micro-HDMI connection that allows the Contour+ to output video to a display via this included HDMI connection cable. The Contour+ can play back recorded videos through this connection too.
Some of the controls and indicators are now better, for example the Contour+ now has a bright red light on the top indicating that recording is under way. This image shows the rubber cap on the underside of the camera that keeps dirt and moisture out of the external microphone input.
Mounting The Camera
The various mounts and mounting options have been covered before in our contour HD review, so we are not going to cover them all again here. We had to modify our mounting bracket in the Fury R1, in order to be able to plug the microphone in. It's not pretty but it was cheap and it works really well, so we have stuck with it.
Contour now supply a low profile fixed helmet mount but, this has no adjustment up/down. More importantly, it has no safety mechanism for the camera to detach in case of a fall. If you fall on it, I'm not sure what will happen.
The standard helmet mount has also been updated. Two of these are supplied in the box. The central part is held in place by Velcro. When you fall, the camera can detach (you need to use a safety tether), so that the camera isn't forced into the helmet or your head.
The Contour+ will not fit in the older model waterproof case we bought for our Contour HD camera, so we have had to buy the new one to fit this camera. This one is rated to 60m depth.
The 'StoryTeller' software needs to be downloaded from the Contour website. This is required us to upgrade the firmware on the camera and this was a quick and painless process. The software allows you to configure the camera and the video formats to be associated with the settings switch. We like the defaults, which are 720p @ 50/60fps and 1080p @ 25/30fps. If you switch the camera to PAL mode instead of the default NTSC, then the frame rates drop to 25fps and 50fps in the captured video.
The StoryTeller software lets you import and manage videos but it does have editing facilities enabled yet. You need another bit of software (e.g. iMovie) to edit the videos. In order to (import) edit the files in iMovie, we needed to rename them with a .MP4 file extension.
The new Contour+ has better quality lenses but the same sensor as the Contour HD. Video quality is about the same but, there is noticeably less distortion in the captured video, especially around the edges of the frame. Our preference is to use 720p @ 50fps as this gives smoother video and is better for faster action such as skiing and in-car usage.
The external microphone socket is a 2.5mm one but, all of the microphones we have (more than 10 of the things!) are 3.5mm. Fortunately, the Contour+ comes with a 40cm long cable adaptor to connect our microphones. Initial testing shows that it works well with standard electret microphones as used with PCs, etc.
A key test is going to be how good the audio is that we capture in our Fisher Fury R1 kitcar. For track days, we have found in the past that using an in-helmet microphone provides the best results and enables audio commentary too. This is less of an issue if you have a windscreen and roof though.
The Contour+ has built-in Bluetooth capability (Connect View card is pre-installed) that works with the new iOS or Android Contour app to enable your phone to become a wireless viewfinder. You can also configure the camera settings in real-time and preview what your camera sees. This is a huge improvement over the previous method and will help to get the best configuration for a wide range of weather conditions. It isn't designed to provide a high frame-rate camera view but, simply a view to check alignment and configuration.
The 'Connect View' card basically Bluetooth enables the Contour range of cameras (when supported).
We have to update the firmware on the camera before the app would let us change the camera settings but, it did display a view of the video feed. Also needed to pair the camera and phone (iPhone 4) before the app would see the camera. The connections seemed a little temperamental but, an iPhone reset got things working.
The app is really useful as it lets you tweak settings 'in the field' and also check the camera alignment. We particularly like the ability to change the microphone levels (both internal and external) and the white balance, to suit the current conditions (indoor and outdoors).
Starting a recording on the Contour+ disconnects the Bluetooth.
The Contour+ phone app has a GPS assist button. This loads data onto the camera memory card, to help it get a GPS lock quicker. It took several attempts before it succeeded. The camera would drop the Bluetooth connection for some reason. Once done though, the camera acquired a GPS lock much quicker (~5 seconds). It now looks like you have to be logged into the app, in order to do the GPS assist file upload.
Later software updates allow you to switch the GPS off and thus save extend battery life.
Batteries & Charging
With the additional features, the Contour+ has a shorter battery life than our previous contour HD camera, which lasted 4-5 hours. The Contour+ claims to last 2.5 to 3 hours. This does vary on usage and temperature though. Given that you don't necessarily record all the time whilst doing sports like skiing, we have found it possible for the battery to last most of the day.
The Contour+ uses the same Li-ion 1000mAh, 3.7V battery. These batteries are identical in every respect to the Nokia BL-5C mobile phone battery, which can be bought online cheaper than any official Contour replacements we could find. We usually take a spare out with us.
When used in a car, you can use a cigarette socket adaptor that accepts a USB cable, to keep the camera powered. The back cover has a flap for the USB port to enable this, which is a welcome addition. No more worrying about battery levels on track days!
The camera comes with a single 2Gb micro-SD card. We use two additional 16Gb cards. These cards should provide plenty of recording time (>16 hours) as it typically uses 1Gb per 30 minutes when recording in HD and 1Gb per hour when recording in SD. The contour+ now supports cards as big as 32Gb.
We have done some initial tests in the Fisher Fury R1 now and the remote microphone makes a huge difference to the quality of the audio captured. Wind noise is virtually gone and you can hear the engine in all its glory now :-)
Testing in our car has highlighted one design issue with the Contour+ (which we didn't experience on the Contour HD). Both cameras have a rotating lens and both cameras exhibit some looseness around the 0º position. Once past this point there is more friction to the rotation though. On our new Contour+, we noticed on our first outing that the lens would slowly rotate on its own, due to vibrations from the car. After about 8 miles, it was at the 20º position. This is easy to prevent by applying a small piece of tape but, we really shouldn't have to do this.
The solution we've adopted for now is to stretch a piece of bicycle inner tube over the end of the camera. In this picture you can also see that we have had to drill a hole for the external microphone plug.
It obviously depends on then individual microphone used but, we started with the external microphone setting at 30% and found this caused a little bit of clipping at the highest noise levels achieved in the car. It would have been fine had the microphone been mounted in a helmet though. We used a value of 20% in the video clip above and this still seems a bit high according to iMovie levels. The iPhone app makes it very quick and easy to change this setting. The audio is still miles better than that recorded on the Contour HD though as you can hear on these clips.
In our view, the Contour+ is the best all-round helmet camera. A lot of people compare it to the Hero GoPro HD II but, the video captured by the Contour+ is almost as good and the external microphone input now makes it as good a proposition in many situations. The biggest advantage the Contour cameras have in our view, are that the mounts and the camera itself have a much lower profile and it is much less obtrusive in use. When mounted on a helmet you simply don't feel it is there.
The Contour+ may not be the best value helmet camera out there but, in our view it is worth the extra money, because it works so well in so many different situations. It is not perfect though. The video quality is very good but it is not the best in class. The fact that the video lens rotates when subject to vibrations in our car is also an annoyance (though fixable). For such an expensive video camera, the rotating lens mechanism needs to be higher quality.
A few other things:
- Some reviews claim that the flush-mounted lens glass seems vulnerable to scratching but, this was not an issue on our Contour HD and is not likely to be on the Contour+. The Contour+ also now comes with a rubber lens protector for use when stored. Either way, you can buy a replacement front glass part, should it get chipped or broken by flying stones, etc.
- Useful manual pages: page 1, page 4 & 5, page 6 & 7, page 8 & 9, page 16 & 17 & page 18.
Spent a week skiing in Austria and used the Contour+ to record just about every run. I would then stop recording at the end of each run and let the camera automatically switch off between them if the gap was long enough. Working like this meant the battery would last almost a whole day skiing. Like my previous Contour HD video camera, this one seems to handle the extreme cold very well.
Sample footage shot at 720p @ 50fps:
Despite what was said above, we too have now scratched the front lens glass. It's not in front of the camera lens though. It doesn't currently look like this can be bought as a replacement part.
We discovered this suction mount on sale and bought one, to try out some different recording angles on the Fisher Fury R1 and to also use it in our family car. It is very good quality. In our Mazda 6 though, the rake of the windscreen means that you have to mount the camera on its side or up side down, using the rotating lens to get the right orientation.
Skiing in Austria - A compilation of clips from one day's skiing.
Skiing in Austria.