The Contour+ isn't a normal handheld camcorder. No, not in the slightest. Strap it to a dog. Strap it to a skateboard. Strap it to your head.
The Contour+ isn't a normal handheld camcorder. No, not in the slightest. Instead, it's part of the growing trend of wearable adventure cams, which means it is meant to be mounted (on a helmet, car, skateboard—whatever) and used to record video hands-free. The Contour+ has the ability to record HD video or take continuous 5-megapixel still photos, but it's also missing a bunch of features that are normally found on consumer camcorders. There's no LCD or visual display on the camcorder itself, so to adjust controls or settings you instead must use the roundabout method of hooking the camcorder up to a computer and making changes via Contour's free software. Or, if you have a smartphone, you can link the Contour+ to your phone via Bluetooth and change settings using Contour's free mobile app.
The Contour+ has an MSRP of $499, and that price includes 3 mounts, a 2GB MicroSD card, an HDMI cable, and a 3.5mm cable extender for connecting an external microphone. Contour sells additional adventure cams as well—like the ContourGPS and the ContourHD—at lower prices, but the Contour+ is the current flagship model from the company.
Design & Usability
Using the Contour+ is entirely different than working with a traditional camcorder.
Even if you're a pro at using camcorders, you may still have trouble working with the Contour+. The camcorder is simply that different in the way it functions, and it requires the knowledge and use of certain technologies that goes beyond the traditional camcorder realm. The Contour+ is also not meant to be held like a traditional camcorder. In fact, the mountable plates that ship with the camcorder are meant to be its primary “handling” method (i.e. the camcorder is meant to be mounted, not held in your hand). The mounts that came with the Contour+ were generally effective and durable, but I was very disappointed that the package lacked a basic tripod mount of any kind.
By all means, the Contour+ is a light camcorder, but it was hefty enough to tilt my helmet in an awkward direction while riding. You could correct this by mounting the camcorder to the top of your helmet, but the provided mounts don't make that too easy—they're specifically designed for mounting to the side of a helmet. But wait, that's where the camcorder's rotatable lens comes in perfectly handy. It doesn't matter how you mount the camcorder, as you can just rotate the front of the lens to record at any angle you want. So, if the Contour+ is mounted flat on its side, you can turn the 90 degrees to record an image that is right-side-up!
Pairing the Contour+ with your smartphone is a fantastic idea on paper, but we found plenty of flaws with the system.
The buttons on the Contour+ are terrible, but the good news is the camcorder only has a few of them. There’s the power button, which you can almost never tell whether you’ve pushed or not, and there’s the Bluetooth button that is used for syncing the camcorder with a mobile device. Thankfully, the most important button, the record button, functions by sliding the large button on the top of the Contour+ forward. It lights up when recording begins, so you can avoid that awkward moment where you are unsure if you’ve pressed the button hard enough to begin recording.
One thing that really bummed me about the Contour was the fact that you can’t start or stop recording using your smartphone. In fact, once you start recording with the camcorder, you lose the Bluetooth contact with your mobile device, so you can only use your phone as a remote viewfinder prior to recording video. This is really lame. Actually, the entire Bluetooth-phone pairing system with the Contour+ is really lame. The feature just didn't work consistently in our testing. According to Contour, the camcorder had an 80% success rate with synching to an iPhone 3G. With our iPhone, the Contour+ synched about 20% of the time. Even when it did work, the image shown on my iPhone was incredibly sluggish and low-quality. The delay was around one full second from the time you move the Contour+ before it would register on the iPhone, and I also repeatedly lost connection between the two devices. To re-synch, usually I had to restart either my iPhone or the Contour+ itself.
If you don't have a smartphone, you can still connect the Contour+ to a computer and adjust settings that way. A free application, called Contour Storyteller, lets you make all sorts of adjustments to things like white balance, exposure, and record modes. Especially cool is this: the camcorder has a little onboard switch that lets you switch between two pre-set modes. For example, position one could be set to take continuous still photos, while position two could be for video. That's one way to get by without using the phone-synching feature.
The Contour+ had some major struggles with motion and low light performance.
Performance may not be the most important factor with a camcorder like this, but we put the Contour+ through our rigorous tests anyway. The results that came out weren't always pretty: tons of noise in low light, choppy motion video, and drastically overexposed images. In all of our tests, there was only one area where the Contour+ outperformed your average $500 camcorder—wide angle. By design, the Contour+ records with a very wide field of view so you don't miss any of the action in your shots. How wide, exactly? The Contour+ lens sees and records an image roughly twice as wide as your average camcorder.
The Contour+ has some strong competition from GoPro in the adventure-cam market.
The Contour+ is such a unique camcorder that you probably already know—without our help—whether its the right model for you. There aren’t many camcorders out there that have an ultra-wide-angle lens, a durable design, and a mountable body like the Contour+. And if none of these things pique your interest, then you should stay away from the Contour+. This is a product for people who want to be able to mount their camcorder on a helmet or vehicle right out of the box, and it is not for people who want a simple video recording device.
Let’s be clear: the Contour+ has plenty of flaws and glitches that wouldn’t fly on a more orthodox camcorder. It doesn’t have any kind of LCD or visual display, its videos are very noisy in low light, and its controls must be set using external software either on your mobile phone or computer. The roundabout control system and the lack of an LCD (or viewfinder) make the Contour+ a challenge to use, although some people may like the amount of techie know-how using the camcorder requires.
With a $499 price tag, the Contour+ is pricier than other ultracompact camcorders we've tested, but it's definitely a more powerful product. One thing to note about that price is this: Contour's most direct competitor, GoPro, sells its HD Hero2 camcorder for around $200 less than the Contour+. We haven't reviewed the Hero2 yet, but its budget-friendly price tag alone makes it worth a look.
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