Contour HD Helmet Cam Review


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | December 1, 2010      

Helmet cams are terrific for backcountry skiing. They are small and light, and you can get cool footage with minimal hassle. I’ve tried numerous helmet cams in the past few years, and they have all had various pros and cons. Along with the fun of getting POV adventure shots, I’ve had the frustration of lenses that are too tight, exposure compensation that doesn’t work, difficulty of basic things such as turning the camera on and off… Yep, POV helmet cams run the gamut from fine to frustrating.

The Countour HD is well made, the black brushed aluminum housing feels sturdy. As is essential for outdoor use, it is dust, water and shock resistant, uses a mini-sd card, and receives its juice from a proprietary rechargeable lithium ion battery. The camera has a 135 degree wide angle lens, and shoots in 1080 p high definition.

Contour HD powder skiing from Louie Dawson on Vimeo.

Backcountry powder skiing near Whistler, filmed with the contour hd helmet cam.

A few features make the Contour HD stand out from others. The lens rotates within the camera, so if it is not mounted at the right angle, a simple twist of the lens levels the image. On either side of the lens are two laser pointers, which serve both to make sure the camera is pointed in the right direction, and tell you if it is on. Making sure a helmet cam is pointing the right direction is always a pain — I usually use trial and error to find a position that works. The lasers make it much easier to get the angle right on the first try. They turn on when you press a button on the back, and stay on for a few seconds so you can adjust the position. They also provide some sci-fi like entertainment while your waiting for your buddies to catch up. The record switch is a large slider on the top of the camera. It can be operated with gloves, and a quick feel lets you know if your in recording mode or not.

Contour HD helmet cam for backcountry skiing.

Contour HD helmet cam for backcountry skiing.

On the back is a small switch that allows you two toggle between two video modes that you can preset in the included software. I found this feature to be truly useful. For most of the helmet cam footage, I wanted the camera to be set to the widest angle, which unfortunately won’t work with full HD, so I set one setting to that. The other position I set to be full HD and not as wide an angle, so I could use the camera as a handheld camcorder.

Included with the camera is software that allows you to easily get clips of the camera and edit and share them. It also is how you adjust some of the settings on the camera, such as exposure compensation. I only used the software for downloading the clips and editing out some of the unusable sections, and still used Adobe Premier for the real editing since most helmet cam software simply does not provide the options of a full-on video editing suite such as Premier or Final Cut.

Before the snow arrived here in the PNW, I took the Contour HD mountain biking a few times on Galbraith mountain, above Bellingham. Both times it was raining hard, and by the end me, my bike, and the Countour HD looked like a chocolate Easter bunny. All that mud was a pretty good torture test in terms of dust and water resistance. Some of the cam’s buttons still felt a little gritty, but everything still works fine. The dark timber didn’t lend itself to filming, and all the shots were too dark to use. The second trip I slid the exposure adjustment to the limit, but it still only got a few seconds of usable footage. I’m not sure what was going on with that (perhaps I missed something), but can conclude that this camera is not exactly intuitive when it comes to getting action footage in lower light conditions.

Next I used the Contour HD while getting some early season turns on Skyline Divide near Mt. Baker. I accidentally left the exposure turned up from mountain biking, but it still managed to get some okay footage, probably since it was a cloudy day. I used the included goggle strap mount so I could let different people use the camera, rather than using one of the permanent sticky attachments.

Next test was bakcountry skiing at Whistler. I remembered to set the exposure back to normal, and as a result got some nice video of the day. The included video is all from that weekend. The big slider switch worked well, allowing me to quickly stop recording to save battery and memory. The lasers didn’t show up on white snow, but they did on my gloved hand, even in bright sunlight, they worked well for aligning the camera, as well as being a good indicator if the camera was on or not. The battery and memory easily lasted for filming almost every run, and there was still plenty left at the end of the day. Being able to snap the camera onto my helmet and turn it on quickly allowed me to keep up in the mad dash to get more pow.

Filming while backcountry skiing is difficult, and you only have one chance to shoot the cool stuff. Having a simple, reliable helmet cam makes documenting your sweet line even easier. Based on use so far, I’d recommend the Contour HD.

Shop for this and other POV cameras.



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Comments

29 Responses to “Contour HD Helmet Cam Review”

  1. sherryb December 1st, 2010 10:45 am

    Thanks, Louie, for the great review! I haven’t had the chance to use ANY cameras yet but would love to buy one. The issues you brought up were not even on my radar. Buyer beware and shop informed!

  2. Lou December 1st, 2010 10:53 am

    Sherry, the biggest issue we’ve seen is probably poor exposure compensation. Beyond that, I wish these consumer and prosumer cams had a manual exposure setting. Perhaps not many people would use it, but for those that did, it would result in frequently getting much better results than having the camera exposure wracking in and out as the cam points at different things.

    Getting the cam pointed correctly is the other biggie. The lasers on the Contour are super useful for that.

  3. Ben December 1st, 2010 11:15 am

    Has anybody at Wildsnow tested the GoPro Hero HD POV system? if so, I’m curious how you would compare it to the Contour HD.

  4. Lou December 1st, 2010 11:52 am

    We used some early GoPros and were not that impressed, but I think they’ve improved since then. We’re not really in the business of testing much camera gear, but perhaps I can get Louie to review a GoPro sooner or later.

  5. Lee Lau December 1st, 2010 11:56 am

    Ben – don’t want to spam but I reviewed the Contour HD vs the GoPro in an article on feedthehabit. Do a search and its there.

    One other thing I’ll mention for on-snow usage of the Contour is that the goggle mount has a fair amount of shake which shows up as jittery video even in soft snow. There are two sources of play in the system; (i) goggle straps move around especially when there’s a camera on the goggle – even when the straps are tight; (ii) The mounting rails of the goggle strap and Contour develop a bit of play over time; its an inherent problem with the mount.

    The way to fix (i) is to tighten the strap a lot if you’re wearing a hat. Unfortunately even if you tighten the strap so much that its annoying you’ll get some play If you’re wearing a helmet you can also affix some velcro to the goggle mount and velcro to helmet. That’ll give you a bit more of a secure mount as it won’t just be goggle tension.

    The way to fix (ii) is to put another velcro strap over the entire Contour/goggle mount assembly. Granted, it’s a bit of a pain but if you have to share the camera with friends you can swap goggles. Hope that helps.

    The Drift HD170 has manual exposure settings. As Louie noted, Contour doesn’t. You have to have access to the software to change exposure; or you embed exposure changes in a microSD card and swap cards but really, who’s going to do that.? GoPro also doesn’t have exposure adjustment

  6. Skyler Mavor December 1st, 2010 12:31 pm

    +1 to Lee Lau’s comment.

    The camera came with a sticky helmet mount that we used for the mountain biking filming. With this mount, any excessive shaking was reduced significantly (and these weren’t exactly smooth trails). Personally, I would recommend the helmet mount over the goggle strap mount. The downside is that the mount cannot be removed and re-stuck to another helmet.

  7. Louie December 1st, 2010 1:11 pm

    A while ago I tried the original GoPro, before they had HD, and before they had the wide angle lense. I didn’t like the user interface, and the battery life wasn’t very good, along with the lack of a wide angle lense, those things made it not very usable. I haven’t used the current version, however, which they have improved significantly. A few significant advantages with the gopro are the fact that it uses a full size sd card, and normal AAA batteries.

    I haven’t had too many problems with the shakyness of the goggle mount, as long as the goggle strap was tightened alot. It wiggled a little bit, but didn’t seem to be noticable in the video. Once I get some more sticky mounts I think I will start using those. I like the fact that the countour mount is low profile, I feel like it might be less likely to get ripped of in a fall, and it looks a little less goofy. I have known quite a few people get their GoPros ripped off in a fall. I guess we’ll have to wait till I do some good tomahawking with it on.

  8. Lee Lau December 1st, 2010 1:30 pm

    Louie – you’re right. The GoPro mounted on the helmet has a huge touron factor. The newer GoPro HD still has the same UI, not very loud or convincing on/off sounds but it now uses a LiOn battery as does Contour. Battery life is a sawoff there as theyre both good.

    GoPro has the chest mount option which is nice and reduces the gaper box on the helmet factor but it gets clogged in powder and not everyone likes having their hands in the video. Basically, like all things in life, there’s no definitive answer as to which is better for skiing GoPro or Contour or Drift HD. It’s largely personal preference

  9. Frank K December 1st, 2010 1:47 pm

    The GoPro HD doesn’t use AAA batteries, it uses Li-Ion. I have yet to drain the battery even when using it multiple times without a recharge.

    I haven’t used the contour, but I have been extremely happy with the GoPro. My only complaint has been mentioned- you can’t change the exposure settings. This really comes into play when biking from sunny open field to dark forest and back again- the camera can’t catch up.

  10. Louie December 1st, 2010 1:49 pm

    Yeah, I guess the battery is one thing they’ve changed since the original version. That’s good, cause the AAAs did not last long at all.

  11. Brooks December 1st, 2010 4:03 pm

    I like my contour. My only gripe is that when i go to stop recording (slide the top switch rearward), I usually pop open the rear door with my thumb inadvertently. Wish there was a better latch.

  12. Jon Moceri December 1st, 2010 7:56 pm

    I just picked up the Contour, after being impressed by its quality video that a guy in my Las Leñas ski group shot in August.

    I think one solution for the poor goggle mount and sticky mount is to use 3M Dual Lock. It is the same stuff that connects the Contour mounting unit to their goggle strap mount and the sticky mount. It seems a no brainer to purchase a little 3M Dual lock, stick it on your helmet. Then do a little dremel work on the camera mount so the surfaces match and just stick it on. Then you can easily have multiple mounting places and easier to let friends mount on their helmets.

    Google 3M Dual Lock to see where to buy it at.

  13. JakeS December 1st, 2010 8:05 pm

    Nice sound track Louie! :mrgreen:

  14. Lynden Don December 2nd, 2010 3:14 am

    I’ve been thinking about getting one, thanks for the info.

  15. Alex R December 2nd, 2010 1:33 pm

    Has anyone gotten thier hands on the VIO POV.HD yet? I am curious to see how it stacks up. I have used a POV 1.5 quite a bit and like the form, fit, and funtion, but it lacked the resolution to compete. I can’t wait to see how thier HD compares.

  16. skian December 2nd, 2010 10:30 pm

    I use the vio pov. IMO its the best. I also use this for moto photography in the summer. Little shake chacing athletes at 90 mph. Not cheap but super quality. Lou if you want i have a new HD go pro if you want to review.

  17. Patrick Odenbeck December 3rd, 2010 12:20 pm

    Some friends of ours at the Ranch made this vid with a HD Contour. http://vimeo.com/channels/mrra#16355451

    They used the goggle mount most of the time and it remained stable even on the straightlines.

  18. Lou December 3rd, 2010 12:24 pm

    The question is, will it remain stable when I do my Euro bunny hops? Straight lining is not the problem (grin). Of course, Dave taught me to turn less, so that’s been good…

  19. Spamanie December 6th, 2010 4:33 pm

    That is such an interesting article !

    I came across this article which states the top 11 powder slopes in North America – The Helmet Cam would most definitely catch some great footage on these slopes !!

  20. Tom Stark February 24th, 2011 3:25 pm

    I really like how easy the ContourHD is to use. Although, the goggle strap seems like it would shake when skiing/riding on rough terrain. Do you have any issues with that? It also does look a little dim when cloudy, but could be doctored…

  21. Lee Lau February 24th, 2011 7:07 pm

    Tom- unfortunately the goggle mount is subsceptible to shake. I am told that the new improved mount is better. The new software/firmware which comes bundled with the Contour GPS improves exposure and solves the dimness problem.

  22. Tom Stark February 24th, 2011 7:44 pm

    Ok, thanks for the quick reply. Can that firmware be updated/added to the standard ContourHD?

  23. Lee Lau February 25th, 2011 10:03 am

    Tom,

    It can be updated and downloaded via the manufacturer website at http://www.contour.com

  24. Tom Garth April 4th, 2011 7:38 pm

    Thanks for the update link, glad to be able to update the firmware. Still loving the laser sights on this cam!

  25. epectir July 29th, 2011 9:32 am

    hi, was wondering what specific settings in premier you used to edit. I can not get mov files to play correctly from contour HD cam. thanks in advance for any help.

  26. Louie July 29th, 2011 9:47 am

    I usually import the clips using the software that came with the Contour, and then simply place them in Premier, doesn’t seem to have any problems. I’m not much of an expert at video editing though.

  27. Lou July 29th, 2011 10:05 am

    Ep, you probably need the correct CODEC installed on your computer. Google it. Lou

  28. naginalf January 26th, 2012 11:24 am

    Now you can see what your camera sees in your goggles. Recon and Contour are teaming up for recording awesomeness (double entendre intended).
    http://www.engadget.com/2012/01/26/recon-instruments-partners-with-contour-makes-mod-live-into-ski/

  29. RePlay September 24th, 2012 9:29 am

    Nice work mate, this video has convinced me to get a helmet camera to show my work colleges and friends the recent slopes I have took on, thanks.

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