Contour+ Camera Review

by Brian Mullin on November 12, 2011

The Contour+ is a small, light and compact video camera, that is easy to use and includes the capability to do GPS Video Mapping. It has an excellent usage factor, combining a mechanical start/stop recording slider, loud and distinct indicator beeps for mode changes, a 270° rotatable lens and uses a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone or mobile device, as a viewfinder for horizontal alignment and to alter camera configurations. The camera records in a vast array of high-definition video resolutions up to 1080p, and has proven itself to take excellent footage with great clarity and realistic colors.

Contour+
The Contour+ is a POV (point of view) high-definition sports CMOS camera with a 5MP sensor and 2.8″ aperture, that can record video footage in 1080p, 960p and 720p formats, along with GPS mapping information (speed, location and elevation). It records data onto a MicroSD card (2GB included) up to 32GB in size, and is powered with an internal rechargeable Li-Ion battery that gives around two and half hours of recording time. The cameras Connect View card uses Bluetooth V2.1 to wirelessly converse with iOS and Android based smartphones or mobile devices to align the camera and change settings. It has ports for a mini USB for computer connection and recharging, a mini HDMI for live streaming to a TV or other sources, and an external microphone for higher-quality audio recording. The 270° rotatable lens, is flush mounted, and uses a custom six element glass for additional clarity and decreased aberrations. The small and light camera is mostly made of plastic, and uses a fiberglass lower body, with a protective anodized aluminum barrel surrounding the lens and electronics, and its impact, shock, and water resistant. The camera attaches to an assortment of mounts, including a goggle, profile, flat surface, universal adapter (camera and RAM), flex strap, vented helmet, and handlebar, using their proprietary TRails system.

Contour+ Kit Contents

The kit comes with the Contour+ camera, a low profile and two rotating mounts, an instruction guide, a USB, HDMI and Mic cable, a rechargeable 3.7V 1050mAh Li-Ion battery, lens cap, leashes, and a Connect View and 2GB MicroSD card.

Video Resolutions
The Contour+ can shoot in High Definition, in three video resolutions. It can shoot in 1080p (widescreen) at 30fps (frames per second), 960p (full frame) at 30fps and 720p (widescreen) at either 30 fps or 60 fps. The 720p 60 fps allow for slow motion playback, which is pretty cool to watch, and in addition, it gives the normal footage a smoother and more fluid look. Each of the video resolutions is captured at different bit rates (which can be customized), which entails varying recording times and storage requirements, meaning greater resources are needed for the higher usage formats. The resolution settings are done within Contour Storyteller software on your local computer, or through the Bluetooth connection to a smartphone. There are two preset video resolutions for the camera, which can then be changed by using the 1/2 switch on the inside back of the unit. The camera records in two viewing angles, unique to its video resolution, so 1080p is 125°, while 920p and 720p are at 170°. It uses the H.264 video codec, AAC audio compression, and a .mov file type. Everything defaults to the NTSC standard, but it can optionally record PAL video in 25fps and 50fps increments.

Photos
The Contour+ can shoot still 5MP photos with a resolution of 2592 x 1944 pixels and 135° field of view, in an automatic mode, which allows photos to be taken every X number of seconds, where X is 3, 5, 10, 30 or 60-second intervals.

Contour+ Rear Controls and Features

Camera Features
On the back of the camera is a simple power button, along with two LED’s that informs you of the available memory and battery levels, and they fluctuate from green (50-100%) to yellow (20-50%) and finally red (0-20%). The back has rubber flaps that cover the mini USB and HDMI ports, so they can be accessed without opening the rear door. The front has an LED that indicates if the camera is on (green) or in record mode (red), and in addition, it blinks green while acquiring a GPS satellite, and turns blue when the Bluetooth is engaged.

Inside the back door, is the battery slot, a switch to change between preset video resolutions (aka 1/2), a MicroSD and Connect View card slot, a mini USB and HDMI port, and a recessed format button. Connection to various mounts (helmet, flat surface, etc.) is done via Contour’s TRails system, which is sort of like tongue and groove, and the camera has two female grooves, and the mounts have two male tongues.

Whoa, baby, I’m a back door man
The men don’t know
But the little girls understand

Contour+ Top and Bottom Controls and Features

On the top of the camera is a mechanical slider that turns the recording mode on and off, and it is also where the 4Hz GPS receiver chip is located. Under the back of the slider is a record mode light (red), which is hidden when not recording, and at the front is the indented button to engage Bluetooth.

The lens rotates 180° clockwise and 90° counter-clockwise of the top center, which allows the camera to be mounted at varying angles, and is cross checked by using the viewfinder on a smartphone or mobile device to indicate the horizontal alignment for proper recording. The addition of a full 270° of rotation now allows the Contour+ body to be positioned upside down, while maintaining the proper lens orientation.

Measured Specs:

  • Camera – 126.2 grams
  • 8 GB MicroSD card – .2 grams
  • Connect View Card – 1 gram
  • Battery – 22.3 grams
  • Total – 149.7 grams
  • Size: 99 mm long x 58 mm tall x 35 mm wide

Contour Mounts

Impressions and Usage
Mounting
The camera only comes with a low profile and two rotating mounts, while the more useful vented helmet is an optional accessory. I found that the rotating mounts, which have a neat lockable feature, were useful for any helmet that might have enough surface area for one. They were especially useful for non vented or low vent count helmets, such as ski, full faced, skateboard, BMX and some All Mountain designs. The vented helmet mounts have a small amount of pitch control, so the camera can be tilted up and down. The handlebar mounts works decently once it’s set up properly, and the ball and socket system let you point it just about anywhere. The new flex strap mount is pretty ideal, is simple to install, and fits in a variety of places on the frame of the bike, and opens up a slew of unique perspectives for video footage.

The TRails mounting system is pretty easy to use, just line up the male and female parts, and push the camera backwards until it reaches the front stops. There is some subtle inherent sloppiness in the system, which is difficult to get rid of, and rough trails and loose helmets, exacerbate the issue. The latest iterations of the camera and mounts have tightened up the tolerances, and the issue has been greatly improved. For additional safety in case the unit falls off, each of the mounts has a lanyard that snaps into an accompanying one on the camera, although I rarely have ever used the system, and threading the cord through the mount and camera holes is sort of difficult.

Contour App on iPhone

Camera Usage
NOTE – Contour App and mobile devices: To make use of the mobile app, you’ll need to install the Contour App on the iOS or Android smartphone or mobile device, and then pair the camera and device via the Bluetooth connection. The Contour App is compatible with iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, and iPod touch (3rd and 4th generation) and Android OS v 2.2.1 and above. In addition, iOS requires the Connect View card to function.

To turn the camera on, just push the rear power button, and it announces that it’s alive with a loud and distinct beep, which was easy to hear no matter what the outdoor ambient noise level was like. The front indicator light will blink green if GPS is engaged, and will turn steady, once the satellites are acquired, which can take anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute or two, to get the required four-satellite lock. To check the horizontal alignment for proper video recording orientation, bring up the Contour App on your smartphone or mobile device, and push the Bluetooth button on the front of the slider. Using the viewfinder on the mobile device, just point the camera at a stationary object that has a good horizontal or vertical orientation, like a tree, log or your finger held in front of the camera, and then watching the screen, and rotate the lens until the object matches up with the proper horizon. The frame rate for viewfinder is slow, so it can be jittery and lag, but it works fine for the aligning purpose. Since they have forgone the Laser sighting, if you forget your mobile device, you’ll need to guesstimate the proper spot for the lens. You can also bring up the configuration screens for Position 1 and 2 settings, allowing one to alter Video (mode, quality, frame rate), Audio (Mic, camera beeps), GPS, and Lighting (metering, contrast, sharpness, exposure).

To begin the recording, just push the slider towards the lens, and it beeps once, and the front indicator light turns from green to red, along with the REC light by the back of the slider. To stop recording, push the slider away from the lens, and it beeps twice. The loud beeps and mechanical nature of the recording switch were very intuitive and reassuring, and inform you of exactly what’s transpired, and if needed a quick check of the switch’s position quickly assured you of its status. I give extremely high marks to the Contour+ for its usage factor. After you get everything set up it is pretty easy to reach up on your helmet and turn the camera on or off, slide the record button, all with the reinforcement of the nice loud beeps as things go on or off. The rear on/off button was less distinct when wearing gloves, but the loud noise it made, more than made up for it. The camera has a customizable automatic shutoff timer if the camera is idle (not recording), and it beeps twice as it powers down. While it was on my head, I did notice the additional weight, but it wasn’t significant, and after riding any distance it slowly disappeared and wasn’t noticeable. It doesn’t stick up in the air as much as the toaster oven camera, but it still got whacked by trees. I really liked the 270° rotatable lens, so that the camera body can be used in a larger variety of positions.

Although the Contour App interface won’t let you delete individual files on the microSD card, at least there is now a format button to clean the card off completely, just in case you forgot to remove files at home. The internal Mic is still not the greatest for good recording, but with the new external microphone capabilities, you now have some great opportunities for more advanced and higher-quality audio.

Memory and Battery
The rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery fits very snugly into the back of the camera, and there is a latch to hold it securely in the position, which greatly helps the jarring vibrations that mountain places on the battery. A loose connection means loss of footage, data corruption, and that anomalies can be introduced. The 3.7 volt and 1050 milliampere-hour battery, gave me anywhere from 2-2.5 hour of usage, and its limit varied on the video resolution and bit rate used, air temperature and the number times that I cycled the on/off and stop/start recording switches.

Contour+ and Battery Pull Tab

The battery is a pain to remove if you want to swap it out when it’s discharged or low, but a simple trick is to use a small piece of scotch tape on the battery, making a pull tab for easy extraction. The unit comes with a 2GB MicroSD card, which was good for 30-60 minutes of recording time in HD mode (15-30min per GB in HD). I went out and bought a 8GB MicroSD card for maximum recording time, since the memory gets maxed out when the battery limit is reached. I always bring an extra battery, and MicroSD card, if I desire more footage, or had forgotten to charge the battery or clean the card. To charge the battery, connect a mini USB cable from the cameras back port to a computer USB, or the optional car and wall chargers. The indicator on the back will stay red until the battery is fully charged, which can take a couple of hours depending on how drained the battery was, and it turns green when complete.

Contour Storyteller Application – Video with Map View

Interfacing with the Computer
To download or view the video’s you recorded, open the USB rubber gasket on the back of the camera, and connect the mini USB to the camera, and then the other end of the connector to a computer USB port. The unit will appear as a Removable Disk, and just navigate down to the appropriate directory (example: F:Removable DiskDCIM100MEDIA) and either download or view the video straight from the camera. For faster downloads, use a standalone SD card reader, and bypass the camera as the downloading interface.

The preferred software to use for the Contour camera line (ContourHD, ContourROAM, ContourGPS and Contour+)  is their Storyteller application, and it lets you to do camera configurations, video and GPS imports and exports, editing (primitive), viewing and uploads to their Community site. The highlight of the Storyteller is the map and video interface for the GPS data, if that option was engaged. When playing a video within the utility that has embedded GPS, an accompanying popup shows the map location, elevation and speed of your route as the footage plays. In addition, you can upload edited (Storyteller only to retain GPS) or unedited files to the Contour Community website as a ‘Story’, for sharing with others.

Contour Community Story:

I used the Storyteller Application predominately for inventory and import purpose for the camera, along with making changes to the Position 1 and 2 settings. I didn’t use it much for editing, as I much preferred more robust and professional video-editing software packages. Although, it was handy to edit or trim a small portion of footage by clicking the ‘+ Awesome’ button to retain GPS data so that it could be uploaded to the Contour Community site. My usual preference, is to upload my footage as a raw file directly to Vimeo, as I think that offers the best quality without any editing degradation.

Contour Storyteller Application – Camera Configuration

You can configure the global camera settings (frame rate and automatic power off), and then the Position 1 and 2 macro setup, which includes video, audio, lighting and GPS settings, by clicking on the tabs for each position. The video portion sets the mode (1080p, 960p, 720p/60fps, 720p, photo), the bit rate quality (high, medium, low) and white balance (auto, 2800K – 10000K), while the audio does microphone sensitivity (0-59), external microphone sensitivity (0-59) and camera beeps (on, off). The lightning sets the metering weighting (spot, center, avg), and has two predefined conditions (everyday outdoor, dusk) and a manual customization, which has settings for contrast (1-100), exposure (-4 to +4) and sharpness(1-5). The GPS can be set to come on at power up (on, off) and the capture rate (off, 1, 2, 4 times per second).

I always left the bit rate high, since I didn’t worry about resource issues (battery and memory) and wanted the highest quality output possible. I left most everything else as factory default, except for my specific video resolution for Position 1/2. Anything could be reset in the field on a smartphone, especially the lighting setting, which was extremely useful when light got dimmer, or the ride was going to be predominantly in the deep dark woods.

Video
I tested all the different HD video resolutions, and my usual preference was full-frame 960p, since it gave more of the trail viewpoint of what is perceived when actually riding a trail, meaning taller and narrower field of vision. The 720p at 60fps was nice and smooth, and due to the additional flow, it offered to the footage, I have become enamored with it, and it was easy to edit and splice, and was more conformable to the video upload sites. The camera can have two preset video resolutions, which are set up with the Storyteller application or a smartphone, and then are chosen with the 1/2 switch, and I usually did a 960p and 720p pairing. The captured footage had good clarity and sharpness, with realistic colors, although they were slightly cool and muted. The picture quality has evolved with each of their successive models, and the top of the line Contour+ really shines, and it’s definitely their best yet, although I would like to see the 5MP sensor bumped up to at least 10MP.

Video courtesy of Lee Lau: Contour GPS and Contour+ video comparison, Whistler Bike Park, showing varying light conditions:

The new lens is no longer recessed, and is flush, so it doesn’t t catch mud, snow and dirt, and the six element glass offers better clarity, for improved footage quality. It did well in bright sunshine, especially when panning directly into the sun (some rare purple CMOS flares), but it wasn’t the best when alternating between sunshine and shade. Pixelation was good, with a mild amount of aliasing, and framing was smooth, but heavy shocks, and vibrations caused occasional distortion. If the terrain was smooth, or you could tighten down your helmet or use a full faced version, the 1080p offered outstanding clarity. Unfortunately, with the rough terrain encountered during typical mountain biking, and loose fitting helmets, the 1080p format had a significant jellovision and “jump or shake” syndrome, and it made those recordings less desirable. Many of these anomalies are because inexpensive CMOS sensors use a Rolling Shutter, which makes videos seem a bit shaky, scattered and jellovisioned, due to motion artifacts (skew and wobble), and also spatio-temporal aliasing, which has a rippled or watered appearance.

Video courtesy of Lee Lau – Abenteurweg, Zermatt, Sept 23, 2011 showing Contour 960p footage interspersed with point-and-shoot:

Changing the lighting settings can make some impacts during early dusk conditions or riding in deep trees, and the footage had a prominent response with those tweaks, with the quality being quite decent. However, I was unable to get the night, low light indoors, late dusk or darker footage to work for me, and I considered the results mediocre, as it was pixelated and noisy. I rarely record anything that late in the evening, so it was not a deal breaker for me, but the camera is not at its best in low-light conditions.

Lighting Comparisons

Using the HDMI connection, you can stream live or recorded video to a display (TV) or external capture device. It was nice to be able to watch previously recorded footage on a big-screen TV, seeing things with exceptional clarity, spaciousness and sharpness.

Bottom Line
The Contour+ has a superb usage factor, takes great high-definition video footage, with good clarity and realist colors, and the additions of GPS mapping capabilities and the Mobile App interface for viewing and configurations make for an exceptional package. What I really like about the camera was the usefulness of the switching. When turning it on, or switching recording on and off, you get a loud and distinct beep, and in addition, the mechanical feel for what is happening. The camera is compact and light, and the Aluminum and fiberglass body haven proven to be tough and durable, as it has taken lots of tree impacts, an occasional drop into the rocks, and a couple of good crashes. The TRails mounting is a bit sloppy, but the tolerances have greatly improved over its predecessors. The capability to use a iOS and Android smartphone as a viewfinder for alignment and camera configuration is an extremely useful feature, and allows in the field adjustments.

I would have liked the 960p resolution to have a faster fps option, and the camera really needs to be bumped up to at least a 10MB sensor, to compete against the competition. The loss of the Laser sighting makes alignment tough if you forget your phone on a ride, and the camera is pretty expensive.

Strengths

  • Contour App and Smartphone interface – viewfinder and camera configuration
  • GPS video mapping capabilities
  • 270° rotatable, flush and six element glass lens
  • Loud indicative beeps
  • Mechanical slider
  • Lightweight and small form factor
  • HDMI interface
  • External Mic
  • Great video quality

Weaknesses

  • Smartphone – only iOS and Android compatible
  • Only 5MP sensor (needs 10MB minimum)
  • No Laser sighting
  • Expensive
  • Internal Mic is poor
  • Mounting system
  • Mediocre in low light

MSRP: $499.99

Contour+ Specs
Video

  • HD 1080p (1920 x 1080) at 30fps
  • HD 960p (1280 x 960) at 30fps
  • HD 720p (1280 x 720) at 30fps
  • HD 720p (1280 x 720) at 60fps
  • 5 Mega-pixel CMOS Image Sensor
  • 2.8″ aperture
  • H.264 Codec (AAC Audio)
  • File Type *.mov

Memory

  • MicroSD card
  • Maximum 32GB (2GB included)

Audio

  • Internal microphone
  • External Mic Jack
  • AAC Audio compression

Lens

  • Custom Six Element Glass
  • 270° rotatable
  • Flush
  • 960p and 720p – 170°
  • 1080p – 125°

Body

  • Water resistant
  • Aluminum and Fiberglass body
  • TRails mount system

Battery

  • Removable Litihium-Ion Battery 3,7V 1050mAh
  • 2-2.5 hours record time
  • Charge via USB or Optional Charger
  • Charge Time 4 hours

Camera Kit

  • Countour+ camera
  • 2GB MicroSD Card
  • Connect View Card
  • Profile Mount
  • Flat Surface Mount
  • Rechargeable Battery
  • USB Cable
  • HDMI Cable
  • Mic Cable

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