Thursday, 22 October 2015

GoPro Alternates: The Contour

The Contour Roam2.  If you're looking for a motorbike
friendly, less expensive alternative to the GoPro, this is it.
No doubt, GoPro rules the action camera world, but I'm always on the lookout for alternatives to the very expensive king of the hill.  I'm waiting (seemingly forever) until the 360Fly becomes available in Canada, but in the meantime, the Contour Roam2 came across my desk, so I gave it a go.

I'd previously tried the Foscam AC1080, another cheap, GoPro alternative, but it was fairly disastrous.  The camera took nice enough video, and seemed sturdy in its shell, but the incredibly cheap accessories will let you down.  In the short time I had it the fastening mechanism never held up to wind (it wasn't geared and would just flop flat) and then the entire camera was gone after the cheap plastic mount let go while riding.  Unless you can source better quality mounts, I would not recommend the Foscam for motorcycles at all.

The basic Contour Roam2 is about the same price as the Foscam (about $150 Canadian, or 1/3 the price of the cheapest GoPro), but doesn't mimic the GoPro form factor.  Instead, the Contour is a brushed aluminum tube (in a variety of colours) with a very small frontal area making it an ideal motorcycling camera.  Unlike the GoPro or other cameras that copy its format, the Contour is a slim, low profile design that doesn't produce a lot of drag or wind noise.

The two suction mount options compared - you're paying
US exchange and 1/3 more in shipping for what, at first,
looks like a cheaper GoPro option.
The Contour also comes with much more robust mounting than that terrible Foscam.  While riding in a variety of conditions including some quality Canadian roads and a downpour (the Contour is waterproof without a case), the Contour never wavered, offering steady video and secure mounting at all times.

Mounts for action cameras appear much like printer refills - it's where the real money is.  Fortunately Contour offers a wide range of accessories and mounts and, unlike GoPro, ships from a Canadian distributor so you aren't surprised by a lot of extra costs.  The pricing for the mounts is also comparable to other action cameras, so you aren't getting extra hosed on the back end.

The Contour offers a wide range of accessories including motorcycle focused low profile, helmet and goggle mounts.  I've found the 360° stick-on mount to be robust and offer a variety of angles from a single location on the fairing.  You can rotate the Contour's lens to keep videos upright regardless of how you mount it, so you don't need to muck around with a lot of video editing.

Operation of the Roam2 is as simple as it gets.  The default setting is 60 frames per second 720p video, which looks sharp on youtube and keeps up nicely with a motorcycle's motion:

To change settings in the camera you need to have it hooked up to a PC with USB and be running Contour Storyteller (a free download).  This app lets you edit and share video and change camera settings.    The camera can be set to 1080p or a variety of lower settings.  It also has a photo every so many seconds setting.  It takes standard micro-SD cards which are cheap and easy to find.  Swapping cards takes only a moment, and they're tiny, so keeping them in a micro-SD card carrier (don't leave them loose, you'll lose them, they are tiny!) in your pocket means you can easily carry as much footage as you like.  The battery has yet to run out, even on all-day rides with lots of filming.

To turn on the camera you simply push the slider on top forward and a light comes on to let you know it's filming.  This is easy to do even with gloves on and I found I could do it even while riding, so catching just the good roads is an easy and obvious process.  The camera records to mp4 which is then easily uploadable to YouTube or other video sharing sites.  It doesn't work well with Windows Movie Maker, but does with everything else.

If you want live footage and camera control, the Contour+2
does the business, and at $430, it's over $100 less than a GoPro
If you've never made riding footage before the Contour Roam is an inexpensive way to get into it.  It's a basic, tough camera with solid mounts that suit the rough nature of video on a motorbike.  It isn't chock full of options but it does the business well.

Contour also offers the Contour+2 which is a much more complex camera in a similar form factor that offers wireless connection to your smartphone, GPS and super high frame per second options, all for a hundred bucks less than the typical GoPro.  If you dig the format, it makes a compelling alternative to the standard GoPro.