I've spent a while now with my new gadget, a Contour ROAM2 "action" cam. Here are some thoughts.
What to buy?
Not being the most action-y of men, I was a little concerned that to buy an action cam, would be a silly idea. I don't mountain bike, snowboard, skateboard or board of any kind in fact, but I wanted a camera I could stick on my bike.
All the ambush marketing in the land points me at a GoPro but I was unsure and at the check-out in Argos when they told me it was excluded from the money-back guarantee (seriously Argos, without that, what is the point?) and I backed out to go and buy it on everyone's favourite tax-avoiding multinational distributor (other rainforests are available).
It was then I read a bit more of the reviews and decided against the GoPro entirely. This was mainly on the basis of the battery life and the somewhat concerning commentary on the GoPro customer experience.
Thusly back in the market, I consulted a segment I recalled from The Gadget Show. Despite similar comment on the battery life of the GoPro, it came out top in their tests. But, one that also came out well was the Contour. So I went looking on everyone's favourite South American Rainforest at Contours.
Firstly, the one on the Gadget Show costs a fortune. It has GPS and Wi-Fi built in. That seems like overkill to me. But what they do have is a slightly stripped down version. At £138.99 in blue, it comes in a full £50 cheaper than the equivalent GoPro and looking at the reviews, the only real complaints stem from worries about CS from when Contour was in administration last year. Something which is no longer the case.
So, on that basis I went for it (and a 32Gb MicroSD card to boot).
Normally I wouldn't even mention this, but I really must give kudos to the packaging of this product. It's one of the few products I have found that comes close to an Apple-style unboxing "experience". A magnetic front door opens to a windowed box that you can see the camera and mounts in. It immediately has a feel of quality to it.
Once you have the camera out, again it has a quality feel. It's finished in brushed metal and is weightier than it looks (to the extent that I'm not sure I'd stick it on a helmet, though it's hardly heavy). It's also a bit bigger than you'd think it would be, perhaps 10cm long and 2cm in diameter on the barrel. Like any good product, it has the feel that you could use it to club someone with, if you had to. There's also a tripod mount screw hole on the bottom.
The external controls are simply a switch that turns the recording on or off and an ability to rotate the lens to give a level image (need depending on how it was mounted). Memory card, formatting button and USB hole are accessed behind the rear flap which has an unlabelled lock slider on it. You'll need to use this generally otherwise the rear may spring open in use from the vibration.
A pair of indicator LEDs show the state of the battery (over 50%, 25-50% or under 25%) and the same for the memory card status.
The camera comes with a pair of sticky mounting plates. One which rotates and is slightly concave for fitting to curved surfaces; and one which is flat and does not rotate. Both have a slight flexibility to them, though they both struggle to flex enough to fit flush to the downtube on my bike. They both also have a 3M sticky-pad on it which has the feel of the sort of adhesive that is never coming off once you have stuck it down, though I haven't tried removal. The rotation mount also has a spare pad supplied.
All this is lovely, but what does the video look like. Let's see then. Behold, my commute to work last Monday...
And the Southampton Sky Ride the previous weekend...
Both of these videos were recorded at 720p 50fps and should be judged as such. The camera does a few other combinations (25/30/50/60 fps rates and 720p/1080 resolution) but there is a strange thing that you can't do double framerate at 1080 and this is really noticeable in the smoothness of the video, so you'll want to do it at 720p.
There's also a noticeable fish-eye in those videos and that's because the camera has a 170deg field of view. At 720p. At 1080 though, only a 130deg FoV (i.e roughly normal). You can't mix the two. Again a little odd if you ask me.
As you can see, the image is relatively decent and the mounting is firm. It's perhaps not all I would hope from a high frame rate camera as the quality as far as I'm concerned only really feels up to a standard camera's quality level. Colour balance is generally all right, but it can be a bit sloppy in auto-adjustment of the lighting level.
There is an option for how this is determined (i.e. centre, whole frame, point) and these (and all) settings are all changed on the PC when it is USB-ed to the camera. There is no way to change them otherwise unless you manually edit the config file on the microSD card, which is how the software does it. Either way, it's hooked up to a computer. To be fair though, you'll be leaving it on the standard 720p action (50/60fps) mode anyway, so it hardly matters.
The Contour StoryTeller is pretty poor. Registration with Contour is through the software. This doesn't work. Fortunately, it isn't actually necessary to use the software anyway but you will worry for a while as this isn't clear and you can't click past it the first time.
The camera stores the files in a standard 100_DCIM type structure so you can live without this install if you're happy to change the settings in the (hidden) text file on the camera. It provides a library style view of videos but nothing of much use more than that. Videos are broken about every 2Gb and the software doesn't piece these together automatically. Frankly, you might as well stick to Windows Explorer and ffmpeg the broken files together yourself.
6/10. Will I return it? Unlikely. Would I replace it if or when it gets broken? Probably not. Will it turn me into an action cam-toting action man that gets involved in action so he has an excuse to use his action cam? Even more unlikely.
If you want a camera of this type, you won't be going wrong with this. That being said, I think there's probably better on the market. I mean, I hope so because if this is the best quality image we can offer in 2014, then we really haven't come very far in the last 30 years have we? I guess you get what you pay for in this world and, given this is the "budget" end of the market, it's probably very good value for money.