DigitalCameraReview.com
Contour Roam 2: A Tame Camera for the Thrill Seeker
by Sarah White -  12/13/2012

Adventure enthusiasts; hold on to your helmets! The Contour Roam2 is now available to capture your latest adventure. With 1020p HD video capabilities and an adjustable 270 degree viewing angle you are sure to get the video that will make your friends envious. At a street value of $200, will the Contour Roam2 have you braving the elements to buy one or have you running for the hills?


Overview

The Contour Roam2 Waterproof HD Action Camera is designed for outdoor and action enthusiasts that are interested in filming their adventures. It is equipped to shoot 1080p HD video and has an adjustable 270 degree viewing angle, so no matter how it is mounted, with one twist of the lens, the shot comes out right side up.

There is a 4GB miniSD card included in the package, with a full-sized SD adapter, and Contour offers a desktop based program for editing video called Storyteller, which lets users play, edit, and share video. Oddly, the software is also the only means by which to configure the camera for specific settings. 

Build and Design

The Contour Waterpoof HD Action Camera is about 2.4 inches tall, 1.33 inches wide, and 3.9 inches long, which makes it compact and lightweight, at about .31 lbs, as far as HD camcorders go, but mount the Contour 2 to a helmet, and its bulk and weight are still noticeable.

It comes in four colors, black, blue, red, and green, and features multiple mounting options. Another design feature of the Roam 2 is that it is waterproof up to about 3 feet. An additional case is available for purchase to make it waterproof up to around 200 feet.

On the top of the camcorder is the "instant on" switch, which helps maximize the battery life by eliminating a "stand-by mode." On the actual recording switch is a small locking switch with a red indicator to show if the recording switched is locked or not.

The back of the camera houses a latch sliding cover that, when pushed up, exposes the miniSD card slot, a reset button, a format button, and a miniUSB port for the charging cable. A status button and resides on the back of the latch along with display lights that indicate SD card status and battery life.

The front of the camera houses the lens, which can be rotated to film at zero, 90, -90, or 180 degrees, so that if the camera is mounted in a way in which it would be filming upside down, the image will still come out right side up. Since the Contour Roam 2 lacks a viewfinder or LCD screen to line up, there is an automatic laser alignment tool on the top of the lens and at the base of the camera

This light will turn off after 15 seconds, and this feature can be disabled by changing the camera settings via the Contour Storyteller program. The LED light that shines red on the top of the camera can also be disabled via the Contour Storyteller program, so that it will not light up during recording.

Menus and Modes

The contour camera does not come with software included in the packaging, preloaded on the device, or on the included 4GB miniSD card. However, users can download Contour's Storyteller program for free. This program lets users edit video, import movie files from the camera, and control the camera's settings.

It is not possible to change settings on the camera while filming, since the device itself lacks a menu screen. This means the settings chosen while it is plugged in will be the settings used until it is hooked up to a computer again. Keep that in mind should you take the Contour on a camping trip or extended expedition -- you'll also need to bring along your laptop.

The options for shooting video include:

Audio settings are limited to mic sensitivity and the camera's beeping noise.

Picture controls include:

Under this option, the metering can be adjusted between center, average, and spot; and this helps the camera's aperture and shutter speed accommodate for different lighting situations. Users can also name the camera something other than CameraROAM2, which is helpful for those using more than one camera. Finally, the video capture can also be changed from 30/60fps to 25/50fps for international users.

All told, the Contour offers an impressive amount of control compared with other small rugged HD camcorders, particularly with the manual adjustments. It's too bad that they are hidden and only accessible in the software, where experimenting with different settings is annoying at best and impossible at worst in an action environment. Maybe it's asking too much, but some quick controls on the actual device would be a huge improvement over the current setup.

Mounts

The versatility of the Contour Roam2 with mounts is one of its largest selling points, as it offers mounts for a wide range of activities, and each slot neatly into the base of the camcorder.

The camera comes with two mounts, a profile mount and a rotating surface mount. The profile mount attaches the camera onto the side of a helmet or object as a stationary device, and the rotating surface mount allows the user to turn the camera freely. The free motion mount can also be locked in place if the user wishes to keep the camera at one angle. On the back of each mount is an adhesive, and along with the two standard mounts, the camcorder also comes with an extra adhesive pad for mounting.

Additional mounts are available on Contour's website including moto mounts, snow mounts, bike mounts, helmet mounts, outdoor mounts, roll bar mounts, surfboard mounts, pole mounts, headband mounts, hat mounts, and the list goes on. Basically, if you are moving and want to film it, there's a mount for that.

The mounts are pricey depending on the package, but they start at around $30 for something as basic as the headband mount and cost as much as $100, at the time of review, for the moto mounts. There is no official claim from Contour regarding sticky pad reusability, but it's fairly obvious that each new mountable object will require a new sticky pad.



 
Performance

The camera works as directed; slide the switch forward and it instantly starts recording. Just make sure there is a mini SD card loaded in it, otherwise it will emit a high pitched beeping noise, very loudly, and will not stop until you turn the camera off or disable the noise in settings. As far as recording, it does what it should, and it fit securely into all of the mount attachments that came in the box.

When the time comes to record, all it takes is sliding the switch forward and the camcorder will immediately begin recording. During testing, there was often a slight lag time between pushing the switch up to record, and the record light coming on. The delay was mostly experienced when the camera had been off for a few minutes or longer.

The laser alignment would be helpful in a darker setting, but with lights on or in bright daylight, there was not much use for the laser alignment. To film something, I had to point the camera in its general direction and estimate my field of view. It has a wide viewing angle, so it will most likely catch whatever is trying to be filmed.

While recording, I turned the lens around to film at each degree, and back to zero degrees. When watching the video, the playback did not skip a beat before the video changed to the intended degree. The only annoying part was that the lens does not continuously turn in one direction. Once it hits 180 degrees, it has to be rotated the other way. To go from 180 back to 0 during filming, the scene will go to -90 and then to 90, before reaching zero.

Initially, holding the camera felt awkward, especially while walking around, because there is no way to monitor the action. It was also awkward to hold as it is essentially a small tube with a plastic mount on the bottom. Anyone planning on taking video without using a mount, expect very choppy video.

The Contour does best when mounted on something that remains relatively stable while in motion, like a car, or a skateboard. But since it is so sensitive to movement, I could forsee it being an issue if attached to a helmet, since it would be impossible to keep the head still while in action.

It is important to note that there is no way to take stills while also recording video with the Contour Roam 2. It is possible to capture still images from the video using the software, but that often results in blurry or low-resolution pics. Another option is to have the recording set to continuous still shots, which will take still after still, at a rate of 30 fps, rather than record. This will work if the intention is to only have stills, but to switch back to regular record mode, the camera will have to be plugged into a computer to have the settings changed.

Video Quality

I took a few short videos to start, and when I went to open them on my computer via the SD card, the relatively small files shot at 720p would not open and froze my laptop three times. I finally hooked the camera up to my laptop via the USB to miniUSB cable, and was able to view the videos that way. The quality of the actual video was subpar in my opinion, when filming at 720p at 60fps. The quality was far from spectacular and a bit grainy. The footage records as H.264 aac wrapped in MPEG-4, which is a commonly used file format for video recordings. Users should not have a problem working with these files once uploaded to a computer.

There was a noticeable different between shooting in Action HD 720p at 60fps and Full HD 1080p at 30fps. The difference was not so much in the color, since the camera picked up colors very well, blues were blue, reds were red, whites were white; the difference was in the choppiness of the video. When shooting in Full HD 1080p, the fisheye effect was slightly lessened, and the video was much smoother than when shooting in Action HD 720p at 60fps. It still was not the best video quality, but the image was a bit steadier and less pixelated when compared side by side with video captured at 720p at 60fps. In both settings, the camera switched from direct sun to shade nicely, accommodating for the shift in lighting. While shooting in 1080p, I did see a slight lens flare in the corner, but it was early afternoon, and the sun was pretty bright.

While simply holding the camera still, or even while walking, the video came back sort of choppy and shaky. The image bounced around seemingly more than the camera did. I can't imagine that it would be much better while doing things like white water rafting. The promotional video shows a much more stable image playback with higher video quality than I experienced. To be completely honest, the video playback (even in the promotional video) left me feeling a bit motion sick at times. However, to an adventurist who enjoys skydiving, I'm sure motion sickness is not really an issue. 

Audio Quality

The Contour Roam2 features an internal mic and records sound as AAC audio compression files. The Roam2 does not have an additional port to hook up an external mic. The internal mic does a decent job of recording; I was able to hear my footsteps and conversation on the recording. There was also a bit of wind when I was recording audio, which was noticeable in the recording, but it did not cause any distortion in the sound.

Those filming while white water rafting or cliff diving may not be interested in an external mic, but anyone hoping to use the Roam2 to capture professional sound will be disappointed. There is no way to hook up an external mic to this device, so if sound is important to the video, users may need to bring another set up to film sound separately. 

Overall, the Contour Roam 2 would be a convenient camera for anyone who wants to film their adventures, but is not looking for professional quality in the videos. The quality of the recorded movie left me feeling a bit dizzy, but it did capture a good viewing angle of the recorded scene, albeit with a slight fisheye effect.

Priced $200 at the time of review, the Contour is relatively expensive, considering there are HD action cameras for under $100, albeit with less picture control. If the goal is to shoot video on the go for fun, and not for professional means, then there are quite a few other options on the market that can get the job done for less money.

For those looking for professional quality, it might be a better option to up the price range and go for something like the Contour+2. It features mobile connectivity making it compatible with an iOS and Android smartphone app, which allows settings to be adjusted on the go, unlike the Contour Rome2. It also comes with the additional waterproof case, valued at $40 at the time of review, which for anyone interested in filming underwater, makes the step up in price a bit more worth it.