Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Product Review: Contour GPS Video Camera

I am a little conflicted writing this review, because Contour doesnt even make this model of camera anymore... but you might find one still for sale (maybe even at a great price) and a lot of the comments here will also apply to the other models, so here we go.

I thought a lot about what kind of sports cam I wanted for my bike. The two obvious options are the GoPro or the Contour. Both seem to have a lot of fans and both seem to take great videos. I like the Contour's looks and mounting options better but I just wasn't ready to buy yet.

I've also been getting interested in Strava, and you need a GPS recording device to take advantage of the coolest Strava functions. But I already have computers on all my bikes so that would be a lot of duplication just for some cool maps.

So then I realized the Contour GPS sports cam would allow me to take videos and upload GPS data to Strava too. After a little more self-convincing, I pulled the trigger.  You can click on My Contour link here or over in my sidebar to see a whole bunch of my clips, but most of the still shots and video you see on my blog since last June were taken with this camera... I hardly ever take my regular camera along for rides anymore.

The GPS function though is pretty bad:
  1. It takes a really long time to lock on the signal.  You might go a whole ride with no GPS recorded  You can help things along by finding a sweet spot in your back yard or something that you know it'll find, and warming up your camera there before each ride.
  2. The GPS makes the battery discharge faster.
  3. It only records when you're recording video.  There is no "GPS-Only" fuction.  The GPS data is encoded inside the video somehow and you can only extract it using the Contour software on your computer.
  4. Once you extract the GPS data you have to upload it manually to Strava or other programs - this may also require a little knowledge of html code.
  5. The GPS mapping onto the video only works in the Contour software and the Contour website - if you import the video into a video editing program you won't see the maps.
So if Strava data is important to you, you will certainly be disappointed with this as your device.

Overall though, I am not disappointed and I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Contour currently makes two models, the $200 Contour Roam-2, and the $400 Contour+2.  The cheaper one doesn't have replaceable batteries (recharge through the camera) and has an "instant on" switch, so it's for people who want to capture video on demand, a few minutes at a time or shorter rides only.  The expensive one has GPS and replaceable batteries and other bells and whistles so it's for people who want to record everything for the whole time on long rides and then edit later.

The mounts that come with the camera aren't much good for cycling. You need the vented helmet mount and the rubber strap mount. Other possibles are the bike mount (bars or stem) and pole mount (seat stay).

The rubber lens cap doesn't fit very well and you'll lose it within a month.  I store my camera in an old sock to keep the lens from getting scratched.

In addition to the basic package, I bought (or received as gifts)  two flex straps, a pole mount (for the seat stay), a vented helmet mount, four extra batteries with charger (Wasabi from Amazon), and a 32GB Micro SD card.

The bezel in front of the lens has to be turned the proper direction according to the orientation of the camera - if you do a sideways mount you have to rotate the bezel so "up is up".  I painted some extra dots on mine so it'd be extra obvious.

This is my normal mount.

The Flex Strap mount comes with two bands, the smaller one is big
enough for a steel headtube but you need the bigger one if you have
an oversized headtube.

The Vented Helmet Mount gives a good perspective, but you might
get dizzy watching the videos.

You have to line up that little dot on the rotating bezel with the arrow
on the top (there are arrows on three sides of the camera) - otherwise
your video will be sideways or upside down ... the little dot's pretty
small, that's why I painted some bigger dots there.

Doesn't look a whole lot different from a helmet-mounted lighting system.

The ski pole mount works well on a chainstay.  You can
rotate the ball thing to about any orientation.

All of the mounts work by sliding onto those rails at the base of the camera.  You can slide it on from either side and it's a nice tight fit but still easy and fast to put on and take off.  The pole mount above also has sort of a quick release bit that attaches to a screwed on clamp bit that you leave on the bike.

Here's an example of how screwy the GPS can be.  One of those
red lines is my climb up Diablo, and the other one is the descent
(same road).   More frequently it won't have any GPS data at all.

When you get it right though, it's pretty cool.  I can embed the Contour videos onto my blog but you lose the GPS mapping.

Here's the same video on the Contour site with the map included:  LINK

On the back door you see the battery light, the power on button, 
a door latch slider, and the memory light.  The lights flash different
combinations of colors to indicate that they're working, have locked
on to the satellite, running out of memory, etc.

The mode switch allows two different recording modes - you might pick highest def for mode 1 and long recording time for mode 2 for example... or video for mode 1 and continuous still photos for mode 2... but you can only program which mode is which while the camera is plugged into your computer... then you can switch between those two modes while you're on your ride.

Here's the link to My Contour Site where you can see lots and lots of little clips I've taken, and you can see some of the highly recommended clips of all kinds of other people too.

The Contour GPS gets a 6 out of 10 on the DiabloScott CycleCam rating scale.  One point off for the slightly buggy software, another point off for having to buy all the extra bits like mounts and decent size SD card, two points off for the unpredictable GPS availability.

Why didn't I get a Go-Pro? Mostly just the looks and the attachment options... and the lack of a GPS recorder.

Dork factor goes to 11

It's like a Fred annunciator.

UPDATE:  Here's a comparison of still photos.
I took photos of the same tree with different methods, and then cropped them to the same size... seems like a valid comparison.

Test Photo 1:  Screen grab from Contour 1080p video.

Test Photo 2:  Contour continuous still photo mode.

Test Photo 3:  Olympus pocket camera photo.
One thing I didn't mention before is that in the full HD 1080p mode, the camera uses a lens angle of 111°, and in all the other modes it uses 135° degrees, so there's a noticeable fish-eye effect in the still photo mode that you should be aware of that isn't too pronounced in the way that I cropped the photos here.  You'll also notice that in some of my videos you get a little more brake lever and shift cable in the frame... that's 720p mode, and the ones with hardly any lever and cable are in 1080p mode... IMO much nicer framing for bike videos... snowboarders and such may prefer the wider angle.

Here are uncropped screengrabs from the Contour Storyteller software so you can see the difference.



Sunday, January 27, 2013

2013 SMR 05

Berkeley beans, French press

Wildlife Encounter:  TURKEYS

I flagged a car driver behind me to stop because 
these guys were just around a blind corner and there 
would've been a blood bath.

Temperature was actually pretty nice.  The fog got thicker and thicker as I climbed... very low visibility at Junction.  BONUS... not many cars going up for a view; some campers coming down though - I can't imagine camping overnight and then wanting to leave early in the morning.

Wildlife Encounter:  HAWK!

Shoutout to Team C4 Racing !

The thumbnail that's supposed to go with that video above.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

2013 SMR 04

Toe warmers weren't nearly warm enough at the start, but things hotted up with the rising sun.

We did the Hole and came home on the Boulevard.

Just another Groovy day on The Mountain.

Groovy Descent of SGR from Diablo Scott on Vimeo.

And....... another peak power PB on the spin bike.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

2013 SMR 03

Could see some snow on The Mountain this morning, but I couldn't tell if it was near the road.

When I was waiting at the Gate I heard the ranger tell a guy that Summit Road was open only to Juniper because of ice on the road.

We got a lot of rain on Thursday but I was surprised there was still snow and ice... but it was definitely still cold.

No, you do not get extra Belgian Hardman Points for wearing
shorts in January... you do get an honorable mention right here though.

Snow at Junction!

At Junction, the rangers said all of Summit Road was closed and wouldn't let anyone go up at all.  Then they said they were going up on a road check and would open it up in a half hour or so if it was safe.

In my search for interesting camera angles, I found this one:

Up Yer Nose Cam from Diablo Scott on Vimeo.

Snot Rocket Like a Pro... not too gross, but don't click if you don't want to watch.

YES! I finally broke the 1,000 Watt barrier in spin class.
In fact I shattered it.  Found the perfect combination of
RPM and knob resistance.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

2013 SMR 02 with Kevin

Friend Kevin from work has been riding recreationally for about a year now and decided he was ready for his first Diablo.  But he lives in Pinole and 8 at the Gate was just too early so I told him I'd do my regular 8 o'clock ride with JB, then turn around and meet him at the Gate at 9:30 and I'd ride up again with him.

So the 8am ride was cold but not as bad as New Year's Day... my toe warmers did a good job.

Wildlife Encounter:  train of turkeys near Clavicle Cracker.

No time to waste at the Junction, turned around to go meet Kevin.  He got a little jumpy though and had started up before I got to the Gate.

The eponym MOSS sneaked up on us from behind.  Captured with my hub-cam.
JB always has one more level of cold weather protection than everybody else.

Kevin on his first ride up NGR.

Compulsory newb pose.

He had been a little nervous all week, not sure if he was really up to it, but he did great.  He wasn't always sure about what gear to be in or when to honk and when to spin easy, but physically he had no problem at all.  He totally loved the whole experience too - the view and the outdoorsy naturalness of it all.  He thinks he can probably get a hall pass for one Diablo ride a month.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2013 SMR 01 New Year's Summit Ride

SMR means Saturday Morning Ride and today's Tuesday... I suspect nobody will complain.

I wasn't the first one to the Summit, but I was probably top 5 judging from how many people I saw coming down.  Left home at 7:00... crack-O-dawn.  I was prepared for really really really cold, but it was only really cold, so the ear jock and neck gator stayed in my pockets until the descent.

Tons of people riding up by 9:30 while I was on my way down.

Hadn't warmed up yet at the Junction.

Little bit of snow in the ditches up above Devil's Elbow.

Just a bit windy at some parts, but mostly it was blue sky and sunny.

Visitor Center's still closed.

Pole Mount for my Contour

Ankle Cam
Click for vicarious experience.

New Year's Day 2013 Summit Ride from Diablo Scott on Vimeo.