I purchased the Contour HD 1080 camcorder model 1300 along with a vented helmet mount in October 2010 from JensonUSA for a landed cost of AU$361. As the camera only comes with a 2 GB microSD card and I didn’t have a larger one I also had to purchase a card. I got a 32 GB card from Warcom for $90 so my total cost for the unit is $451.00. This review reflects my usage of the Contour HD over a four month period, aka the BackpackGearTest.org approach.
The Contour HD 1080P is a wearable camcorder which has a 135°wide-angle lens that according to Contour “delivers a true high quality image that captures all the action with minimal distortion or fish eye. It records Full HD in all its glory.” The camcorder provides five video formats. These are:
Full HD – 1080p – 1920 x 1080 pixels @ 30 FPS
Tall HD – 960p- 1280 x 960 pixels @ 30 FPS
Action HD – 720p – 1280 x 720 pixels @ 60 FPS
Original HD – 720p- 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30 FPS
FAST SD – WVGA – 848 x 480 pixels @ 60 FPS
The defaults modes selectable on the camera are Full HD (H on the resolution switch) and Tall HD (L on the resolution switch). These default settings can be set to other resolutions via the software installed on your computer.
The claimed weight is 116 grams and it reportedly measures 95 mm x 53 mm x 34 mm. My recorded weight is 125 grams for the camera with the battery fitted.
The claimed recording time at Full HD is 15 minutes per GB according to the Easy Edit software application and 30 minutes per GB on the Contour website.
The recording time is not the only conflicting specification. The Contour website suggests up to 32 GB microSD cards can be used where as the Product Information Guide that comes with the camera indicates a maximum of 16 GB.
The claimed recording time is two to three hours (battery life). The battery is re-charged via a USB cable connected to a computer or a separate charger can be brought. Again there is a discrepancy in the claimed recharge time with the Product Information Guide suggesting four hours and the Contour website three hours.
The other significant feature of the camcorder is two laser lights which allow for alignment of the lens horizontally.
In addition you can configure the bitrate, lighting settings and microphone volume via the software (not on the camera in the field).
In the Box
For the road cyclist you don’t get much in the box meaning that you do need to consider what additional mounts you require. The additional mounts need to be purchased separately adding to the cost.
In the box you get:
- Contour HD 1080p Camera
- microSD Card (2 GB) (Provides about 30 minutes of video at high definition)
- Flat surface mount
- Google mount
- Rechargeable battery
- USB cable
- Lens cover
- Product Information Guide
As the Contour HD which is meant to be a wearable camcorder does not come with a helmet mount or a bicycle mount for that matter I purchased a vented helmet mount separately. The mount comes on its own with an instruction booklet. Nothing else to it really.
Playing with the Camcorder Out of the Box
The camcorder itself is pretty straight forward with minimal operator options on it. The camera is turned on and off (there is an auto time out) via a soft touch switch on the back of the body. This beeps and turns on the indictor lights to indicate all is good. Once turned on it is a simple matter of sliding the large record switch forward to record and back to stop recording. The switch is mounted on top of the camera and appears to be easily operated.
Other than setting up the horizontal angle of the lens and choosing between high or low resolution there is nothing else to play with on the camera.
Off the bike so to speak the battery charging and transferring of the videos (*.mov format) is done by a USB 2 cable. Access to the cable is via the rear cover of the camera.
In terms of indicators, there is a charge indicator light (red for charging, off to indicate charged), battery status light, memory status light and a record status light. All three of these lights are visible with the back cover closed. The memory status and battery status lights change colour along with their status condition:
Green indicates 80% + capacity;
Yellow indicates 20 to 80% capacity;
Red indicates less than 20% capacity.
The record status indicator is green when the camcorder is ready; red when it is recording and flashing when the memory is full or corrupt.
I found it pretty easy to work out the basics of operation using the Product Information Guide and I had the camera charged and all ready to go within two hours from getting it out of the box.
Installing the Vented Helmet Mount
Installation of the helmet mount was pretty straight forward. There are two straps off to the sides which go through the vents and are then clinched tight. I found the mount plate fits firmly on the top of my Bell Sweep helmet.
The mount itself is designed for the camcorder to mount on its side lowering its vertical profile. The mount allows for some tilting (back, flat, forward) of the camcorder to assist in getting a good alignment. Initial impressions are that the mount is securely connected to the helmet, that it will not bother me and the camera clicks on to the mount securely. I don’t find the weight of the camera is something I notice. Further use will provide more insights to this aspect.
The Easy Edit software provided by Contour is both Macintosh and Windows compatible. The MicroSD card supplied with the camera has the Windows version of the software installed, however, Macintosh users need to download the software from the Contour website. A straight forward and painless process.
The Easy Edit software allows the user upload the recordings from the camcorder, to edit the movies and to upload them to Contour as stories. Sharing to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is also available. There is no manual or documentation provided so one has to just muddle through working out what is what with the software. Not that hard but having documentation may be of value. That said there is a Contour Community Support portal here and a PDF copy of the Product Information Guide is available for download.
The other feature of the Easy Edit software is that provide the means to configure the camcorder.
Concluding Initial Comments
I am very much a beginner when comes to using a video camera and editing videos so for me getting the Contour HD 1080 up and running has been a pretty painless matter. I just need to work on the quality of what I shoot as you can see from this sample video!
My only negatives at this point are:
- The lack of suitable mounts in the box for road cyclists. Including the vented helmet mount would be really smart in my view;
- The provision of 2 GB MicroSD card is a waste of time. Providing at least a 4 GB MicroSD would be a smarter and more usable option;
- Contour clearly needs to address the discrepancies in the specifications in its various media. It also needs to ensure that the information it provides is accurate, e.g., the camera weight appears to exclude the battery. How does one use the camcorder without a batter? You donâ€™t so the report weight is simply dishonest.
FIELD TESTING (Two months on the bike)
December 28, 2010. This is a two month update of my use of the Contour HD1080P.Â A sample of the various videos I have taken can be found in my YouTube channel. For the majority of the two months I have used the camcorder as a helmet camera; it is only in the last week or so have I mounted on the handlebars of my bike.
In summary I am not that enthused with using the camcorder as a helmet camera on the road, particularly as a traffic incident recording device. It does not, well for me anyway, easily follow that what I am seeing is what is being recorded. Getting the head angle write in an incident just doesn’t work for me. However, I have found it more effective when I have it mounted on the handlebars. To illustrate, here are two videos of two incidents. The first is recorded with the camcorder in helmet mode and the second is in handlebar mount mode.
Whilst using the camera as a helmet cam I did notice what I perceived to be more tolerant driving around me on most rides. This may be my just my imagination or it maybe that the camera was noticeable on my helmet and hence drivers where more careful or of course I may have had a good run, I donâ€™t know but if it was having an impact then that is a good thing.
On the negative side I just don’t seem to be able to get the camera positioned quite right to get a level recording. This has frustrated me to the point I have now purchased and fitted a handlebar mount to try out this option. The other issue with the helmet mount is there is some loose strapping which can bang away in the wind; so securing that is good idea unless a strap banging away on your head is your thing.
I was on able, on one ride from Joondalup to Fremantle into Western Australia’s infamous Fremantle Doctor, to drain the battery which had lasted 2 hours 15 minutes of ride time, so estimate at around 2 hours 30 minutes of elapsed time. To date I have found the 16 GB memory card to be sufficient for my use. I do however tend to delete the video at the end of my commutes unless I need to retain the video for further editing at a later date. Battery recharge is however required and this is not a fast activity when using a USB charge from the computer.
The camcorder has indicator lights and laser lights for alignment. With respect to the indicator lights I have found this pretty useless both on the helmet and when mounted on the handlebars. They are impossible to see as you would expect on the helmet and the same pretty much applies on the handlebar as well, well it does for me anyway.
What I have found good but is the way the camcorder beeps when you turn it on to record and again when you stop recording. The audio indicator is much more useful than the visual indicators.
I have not found the laser alignment beams that useful as can be seen from some of my helmet cam footage; I have even managed to record the odd bit of upside down video because I mounted the camera upside down. There is no indication of what is the right side up and of course no preview screen on the camera itself, so I learnt this error the hard way: at the end of a couple of commutes with useless footage.
Turning on and off recording is a simple matter of moving the sliding switch and I found this easy to do on the helmet and again on the handlebar.
In respect to noise. I initially thought that the Contour HD1080P was picking up a lot of wind noise but having seen some Go Pro video I am not so bothered by it now. I guess you need to make your own judgement call on this by watching the videos here.Â It does not pick up my voice well, which is probably not a bad thing!
One of the reasons if not the main reason I got the camera was for recording traffic incidents so that I could a visual â€œwitnessâ€ to back up my police reports. I feel that this camera works well for this purpose. I record in HD 1080 which allows me to capture good detail including number plates. One just needs to slow down the playback to make them easily readable.
Finally wet weather riding. I have used the camcorder on a couple of rides where it got exposed to some very light rain. I found that this had no impact on the camera itself nor did it seem to effect the recording quality. That said I have now purchased a waterproof case to allow me to use the camera in more adverse weather conditions.
Off the bike – Editing
On my MacBook Pro I have Contour’s Story Teller software and its Easy Edit Software installed. I honestly don’t find the Story Teller software useful at all as I am not interested in uploading to the Contour website. As to the Easy Edit software I again don’t find this very useful from an editing perspective (and I am really only interested in basic editing). I use the Easy Edit software to transfer the files from the camera as it properly deleted the files from the memory card. With the Mac if you just move the files to the Trash they are not deleted until the Trash is actually emptied.
My preference is to use iMovie for editing purposes, however, this also has its drawbacks as there is a conversion step involved which can take a couple of hours with a 2 to 3 GB file. Easier to do a quick rough cut in Easy Edit software to get a smaller clip and then convert this clip into iMovie for more detailed editing. In my view Contour really needs to provide better quality editing software.
For quick and dirty playback of movies without out editing them I have found QuickTime is good. QuickTime also allows me to slow and play the video frame by frame (using the mouse) which is handy for say getting registration numbers or other details.
One Issue Did I Arise During the Field Testing Stage
At one during the field testing stage my MacBook Pro and the Contour HD1080P had a falling out and decided to not talk to each other, that is computer would not recognise the camera. A bit of a Google turned up this thread at the Contour forums. A positive with these forums is that Contour staff do input; you listening Garmin!Â Buried in the thread was this little bit of useful information; a set of steps to go through to get the camera and the computer talking again. I am pleased to report that these steps worked for me and I didn’t have to apply step four:
- Remove the battery and memory card from the camera;
- Press and hold the power button on the camera for at least 10 seconds;
- Reinsert the battery ONLY and power on the camera. It should beep three times and then power off;
- If the camera didnâ€™t respond then take the battery out again and repeat step two and then leave the camera for five minutes;
- If the camera beeps three times, reinsert the memory card and power on.
- All should be sweet again.
Conclusion of Field Testing
I mentioned early that I have now purchased a Contour XL Handlebar Mount (SKU #2775) and a Contour HD Waterproof Case (SKU #3300). As these arrived very late in the field testing stage my use of them has been very limited so I will update the Long Term Testing section of this report with my thoughts on these two accessories.
In closing I am quite happy with the camera and consider it a good investment. I actually feel that I am now missing something if I go out on a ride without the camera; having it does give me more peace of mind as I now know that if something does happen I have visual evidence, a witness which the police will act on.
LONG TERM TESTING (Four months on the bike)
I am late with the update on the camera, it is now April 2011. I am still using the camera both as a helmet mounted cam and also on the bike using the Contour XL Handlebar mount and the HD Waterproof case.
Contour XL Handlebar Mount
I have the handlebar mount fitted to my Kinesis Racelight Granfondo Ltd and find it does its job well.
Fitting the Mount: Fitting the mount is pretty straight forward. I am using the XL mount which is designed for oversized handlebars. What I have found its that it designed to fit the fatter part of the handlebars and to fit it to skinny part would require using padding such as an old bike tube. Once fitted the mount stays in place, whilst providing relatively easy adjustment of the camera.
Camera Fit: This is the weak point in the setup in my view. First impressions suggest the camera mounts tightly to the handlebar mount however I have found that the recordings are picking up a noise which appears to be coming from the camera moving slightly in the mount. When I mount the camera to the helmet the noise is not there. The video below illustrates the issue.
Using the Waterproof Case: The waterproof case is now pretty much permanently attached to the bike. It is one very tight fit to the handlebar mount, so tight that I have not been able to remove it, so I have just continued to use it on the bike. In fact this outcome has one advantage in that the camera is much easy to remove from the bike for charging. Overall the waterproof case does not appear to impact on the recording and has worked okay at keeping the camera dry in the little bit of rain I have encountered.
In closing I am happy with the camera, it is straight forward to use, the software works well on my Macintosh. My only concerns are the rattle from mounting the camera directly to the handlebar mount and the other negative is the usefulness or rather not of the hi-low switch. It would be more functional if it was a day-night switch instead.