Review: Contour GPS Helmet Camera

Project 2012: Day 136

Ever wanted to capture the action on the road? Down the slopes? Underwater? Well, I have, and have been looking at hands-free cameras for some time.

So at last year’s Sydney Motorbike show, when I saw the Contour GPS on special, I made an impulsive decision and bought one.

Mounting

You get a couple of flat surface, rotating mounts with the device. As well as a goggle mount. The flat surface mounts attach with double-sided tape.

So I haven’t stuck any to either my last, or my current bike. I just can’t bring myself to stick double-sided tape, or an ugly plastic mount on my shiny bikes. What can I say.

I have stuck one of the mounts on my Black Fly Trekker Helmet. Not quite as easy at it seems. It turns out that helmets by and large don’t have too many flat surfaces. Those flat surfaces that are on helmets aren’t either vertical, nor are they perpendicular to looking directly ahead.

Then, when you do find the best non-ideal spot, you accidentally stick the tape on too early or late. Gah!

Still, I got the mount onto the helmet pretty damn close to the eye-line on the right-hand side of the Trekker. The mount isn’t vertical, but the camera compensates for that brilliantly. You can rotate the lens up to 90o left or right. The mount allows you to position the camera from the right or left (i.e. looking forwards or backwards) and pitch it up or down 360o.

Laser Targeting

When you switch the camera on, or press the power button when it’s on already, it projects 2 laser dots that indicate the horizontal line of the camera. So you can instantly see if:

  • The camera is pitched too low or high
  • The camera is rolled left or right

Brilliant. Like beer in a bottle….

…well, almost.

This works well when you’re wearing the helmet at home and can see the laser dots against a (light) wall.

Not so good when you’ve just changed the battery in the rain at a stop on the side of the road in the country. For that you need a view finder. I have a bunch of video that captures not much more than my bike instruments and a bit of the front of the road. Doh!!

Contour Connect Card

As it turns out, you can attach the Contour GPS to your iPhone via the magic of Bluetooth and an App. This allows you to see on your phone exactly what the camera is seeing.

I was led to believe at the show, that my Contour came with this connectivity. (wrong) So I was pretty pissed when I got home and learned I still had to buy a connect card ($50 in Aus, $30 on Amazon)

Then I ordered one from Amazon.com with a voucher I got for Christmas. This has been the first item ever not delivered from Amazon in my experience. Asking for a resolution hasn’t met with results either, because Amazon wasn’t the seller just the distributor. Grr!

So as soon as I get a connect card, I’ll append this review.

Svelte, functional and simple to use

IMG_1850As you can see, the camera is black, and slim. The grooves on both sides allow you to slip it into a mount on either side of the helmet. It’s not a white, polycarbonate encased, block like the competition. The camera matches the helmet perfectly, and is pretty aerodynamic.

The thing that I like most about the camera is the record button. It’s this massive sliding switch that you slide forward (Record) or back (Stop). When recording starts there’s an audible beep. And by audible I mean you can hear it through the helmet at speed. When you stop recording, or power the camera down, you get a double beep.

Lasts Forever

The camera comes with a 2GB MicroSD card to store the .mov files. This will record an hour or so at HD, or a couple at 720p. I picked up a 16GB (Class10) card, which will pretty much record an entire day’s riding.

The battery on the other hand lasts a couple of hours, depending on mode of recording. So I picked up a spare one of those too. Generally before a day on the bike, I’ll ensure the memory card is empty, and the batteries both charged.

Results

You can record in true High Def, 1080p at 25 or 30FPS. Then of course there are other video modes, 720p at both 25/30 or “Action” at 50/60 FPS. There’s also a “Tall” mode, which allows you to turn the camera 90o which is designed for following skiers down a hill.

At 1080 the camera films with 111o field of view. At the lower resolutions your view widens out to 135o.

What can I say, the video is brilliant. The clarity is spectacular, colours brilliant, and exposure rapid. Even at high speed, through a dappled forest, the camera readjusts exposure promptly.

Still Life

FILE0164You can pre-set the camera to two configurations, then switch between these with a dip switch in the field. I discovered the other day that one of the pre-sets is to put the camera in still photo mode. The camera will take geo-tagged photos every 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, or 30 seconds or every couple of minutes.

FILE0018This is a great option if you’re on a long ride. The idea is to leave the camera plugging away, then delete everything you don’t need.

If you’re thinking (which is something that you kind’ve forget at stops) you can position your helmet to keep a record at stops too.

FILE0024

Sound

Of course the camera is in the wind. You can change the sensitivity of the mic so as not to pick up the wind noise, to record the sweet sound of your engine rather. To date, I haven’t had too much success with this yet. Either there’s nothing but wind, or nothing…

…hopefully I’ll get there.

What About the GPS

The GPS will record both your track on a map, as well as your elevation. That last is great for rides through the mountains, or for extreme height sports like skiing, mountain-biking, or skydiving.

As with the photo modes, you can configure the GPS to record once or twice a second, or to be off. Having the GPS off will of course save battery life, and if you’re spending the day on a track, there’s probably no real reason to be tracking interminable laps.

Having said that, the GPS does record accurate speed and would be good for practice or training purposes Hot smile

The Contour camera comes with it’s own Story Teller video editor software that recognises the GPS data. This will show your video alongside the synchronised map and elevation track. You can actually select where you are in the video by clicking on the map or elevation. Great for editing after a long ride.

But wait there’s more

Another quick benefit to the GPS highlighted itself to me recently when trying to create a Google map of a ride route. Saving a route for future rides. As long as your camera is recording (even photos), you can export the GPS track, to save onto the web later.

Share the Experience

The whole point of recording your ride is to share it with those who can’t be there with you. (or those who were there) In this, the Contour gives you a couple of options.

You can pop your movies onto popular sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo. You can also save the movie, along with the real-time mapping on the Contour site, then embed this later.

I personally find the Contour Story Teller app frustrating. At least I haven’t worked out how to do simple things like add music, titles or transitions yet. I’m sure for video editing noobs it’s a great and easy app to use. But there’s so much I want to do that I can’t (yet)!!

The dilemma?

Simple.

I have 6 rides, i.e. about 20 hours of video to edit that I don’t have the time to edit. Oh yeah, and I had to move 60GB of video files off of my laptop because I was running out of HDD space. Sigh. Confused smile

 

A Camera for Bikers

Contour have definitely thought this through, right.

  • They’ve thought about aligning and configuring a helmet camera when your head is in the helmet (laser sights and Bluetooth connect).
  • They’ve thought about how to control a shoot when you’re wearing gloves. (Large sliding record switch with audible indicators)
  • They’ve thought about what happens when it rains (splashproof)
  • They’ve thought about different mounting options for any number of applications  (flat surface, goggle, suction cup, handlebar, universal tripod mounts)
  • They’ve thought about underwater (5m & 60m underwater cases)
  • They’ve thought about making it easy to share for novices (StoryTeller software, Contour Website)
  • They’ve thought about being away from civilisation for a long time (replaceable battery & memory)
  • They’ve even thought about helping you find the best points of your video, and share where you are in the world (GPS tracking)

In short, there’s is little these guys haven’t thought of. Perhaps a WiFi or 4G connectivity to stream video live Smile but apart from that, I can’t think of much else.

There are plenty of ride videos, even TV documentaries. Whereas in the past you’d have needed cameras, tapes, batteries, and another camera man (think Long Way Round). Now you could have a couple of these cameras, with some spare MicroSD cards, batteries, and a universal mount for a tripod to get shots of you riding past.

I think this should be essential for any travelling rider…

..every rider.

Wishlist

Apart from a live stream capability, I wouldn’t mind a mode that records just the last 60 seconds. I would have a couple of these cams mounted on my bike recording constantly, almost like a black box for the bike.

If you move, you need your hands, and you shoot video. This is the camera for you.

Well either this, or the Contour Plus

Putting the Sizzle into Home Movies

Project 2012: Day 24 

What’s happened to the water? I know at least 3 people having babies in the next 6 months. And you can guarantee that when those children grace us with their presence, an evil will visit us, the like of which we haven’t seen since Uncle Ernie got his VHS Camcorder in 1985…

…Home movies.

Of course today we get to endure this indignity to our sanity far more than ever before. Camcorders are on our phones, and instead of being invited over for “Fondue and Movies of our Holiday in Wollongong (Ibeza, Florida)” we get to view them on YouTube, Facebook, and Vimeo.

With all of the high tech cameras at our disposal, why are home movies so dreadful?

Well, a couple of reasons:

  • No story – the movie was just shot and thrown together chronologically
  • Crap editing – you really don’t have to put in every transition known to man – but mostly –
  • Poor shooting.

Equally a couple of things signify the home videographer’s shooting style:

  • Interminable panning and zooming
  • Rocky, handheld camera work – I know this is the favoured shooting mode of the Bourne Movies, but seriously, tripod!!
  • Shoulder height shots of everyone

It’s this last point I want to address. The one thing that will change your home movies from snore, to “show me more!”

Take the camera off of shoulder height (or adult eye height) and change up the angles.

Get down to your subjects’ (usually kids) eye level. Get in close. Pop the camera on the floor and shoot up. Even give your camera to one of the kids and ask them to shoot.

You really don’t need an expensive camera, or fancy editing software. Neither will help you if you’re shooting from standing up anyway. Just a little creativity with camera angles. Try it, I promise your home movies will never be the same.