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Contour+ Camcorder Review
Lens & Imaging System
The lens on the Contour+ is certainly a unique piece of work. Instead of offering an optical zoom, the lens records at a huge wide angle, which was measured at 95 degrees in our testing, but reported by Contour as being 125 degrees in Full HD mode. If you shoot 720p video, the recording angle increases to a ridiculously-wide 170 degrees according to Contour.
Either way, the lens can record at a very wide scope, and its design produces a fish-eye effect wherein the edges of the frame are warped in order to accommodate the wide view. This effect can look very cool, but it can also be a distraction—it all depends on what kind of stuff you're recording (fish-eye effects have become a staple of action and extreme sports videos). We must say, the fish-eye effect wasn't as extreme as we thought it would be based on the wide angle of recording, but it is definitely noticeable and present in all shots with the Contour+.
There's no LCD, viewfinder, or any kind of visual display of data or video on the Contour+. It's simply not part of the camcorder's design. But, if you want to see your video while you are recording you have two options: you can connect the camcorder to an HDTV via its HDMI output (most camcorders with video outputs can do this), or you can use your mobile phone as a wireless viewfinder of sorts. The latter feature is far more exciting, and it involves using the Bluetooth capability of the Contour+ and a mobile app that is currently available for iPhones and should be available on Android systems by mid to late June, 2011.
Unfortunately, this "wireless viewfinder" system was very buggy when we tried it out with our iPhone 3G. For starters, it took a long time to setup the Bluetooth connection on the Contour+, and, once the connection was established, the video display was sluggish on our iPhone. We'd say the delay in motion was around one full second from the time you move the Contour+ before it would register on the iPhone. We also repeatedly lost connection between the two devices, and we had difficulty getting connection back without restarting either the iPhone or the camcorder. Maybe Contour is still working out the bugs, as the mobile application is quite new, and we did find things worked a bit smoother with an iPhone 4 instead of a 3G.
According to Contour, the Contour+ had a pretty solid Bluetooth connectivity ratio in their testing, with the camcorder correctly synching with an iPhone 3G around 80% of the time. We didn't get nearly this good of a result, but we did notice the camcorder working better when we were outside of our office and away from busy city streets. Perhaps the interference from various WiFi connections and other signals were messing with the capability of the Contour+ to connect properly.
Apart from the microphone jack, which is located on the bottom of the camcorder, the Contour+ houses all of its jacks and terminals inside the compartment on the back of the camcorder. The entire back of the camcorder slides open to reveal this compartment, which has a USB jack, and HDMI terminal, a memory card slot, and the battery slot. The USB and HDMI terminals are fairly standard (both mini-sized), while the memory card slot fits MicroSD memory cards. Keep in mind that this HDMI terminal can only be used for live video output on the Contour+. There's no way to playback videos on the camcorder, so viewing your clips on an HDTV may end up being something of a challenge.
Additional connectivity features on the Contour+ are wireless in nature. The camcorder is equipped with GPS, Bluetooth version 2.1, and a ConnectView card that comes inserted in the camcorder. The ConnectView card is required to connect to an iPhone using Bluetooth, while Android phones should be able to connect via the camcorder's built-in Bluetooth feature (without the need for the ConnectView card).
The provided battery pack fits snugly into the back of the Contour+, right next to the other ports and the memory card slot. The ConnectView card slides in right above the battery pack as well. Loading the battery can be a bit annoying, but the red locking mechanism keeps it in place well. You must charge the battery via USB while the battery pack is in the camcorder. Find out how the performed in our battery life test./r:link_to_content
Look closely at the photo below before you make assumptions about the compatible media for the Contour+. That's not a regular SD memory card in the picture, it's a smaller MicroSD memory card, which is the type of card that works with the Contour+. The benefit of MicroSD is singular—it's small. Too small for our taste, actually. The disadvantage of its tiny size is that the cards are easier to lose than the more substantial (but still very compact) SD memory cards. MicroSD cards are also harder to find for purchase and tend to be more expensive than traditional SD or SDHC media.
The good news is Contour provides a 2GB MicroSD card with the Contour+, so at least you're ready to shoot right out of the box when the camcorder arrives from the store. MicroSD cards go up to 32GB in capacity, but they're called MicroSDHC for ones larger than 4GB. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of various media types.