Contour2 review the best consumer helmet camera on the market

It's been a little while since the two major players in the helmet cam industry, Contour and GoPro, refreshed their wares. Contour launched its Contour+ and Roam models last summer, while GoPro delivered the HD Hero2 late last year. As our extensive testing can attest, both companies put out great cameras, but with Sony about to get in the game with its $199 Action Cam, the pair need to raise their games -- and that's exactly what Contour is doing with the Contour+2.

This logically named follow-up to the Contour+ is a big step forward on many levels, still delivering 1080p recording while offering many design and software improvements, including the ability to use your smartphone not just as a viewfinder, but to start and stop recording, too. Plus, at $400, it's $100 cheaper than last year's offering -- and that's despite coming with a fully waterproof case. Join us as we put it through its paces.

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Contour+2 review

Hardware

The Contour cameras have maintained their familiar shape, but with each iteration, they've gotten better and better. The Contour+2 is the best yet.

We've been tracking the evolution of this camera series since the company first hit 1080p with its ContourHD line back in 2009. Since then, the cameras have maintained their familiar shape, but with each iteration, they've gotten subtly better and better. The Contour+2 is the best yet. It's a small and unmistakably cool-looking thing, the dark plastics working well with the brushed metal barrel that holds the camera internals. The branding printed on the side is sophisticated and doesn't detract from the overall clean look.

Up top is the most important control: the Contour's trademark slider. As before, knock it forward and the camera starts recording. Slide it back and it stops. The raised slider is textured and easy to find, even with gloves on, and there's still the reassuringly loud beep to let you know that you have, indeed, started filling up your memory card. Now, though, the power button is moot. You no longer need to even think about turning the camera on before filming. Just pop that slider forward and you're good to go.

That slider has been augmented with a manual lock, so you can ensure your recordings stop only when you want them to, while a series of three status LEDs are now situated behind it. From left to right, there's battery, memory card and GPS. The left two turn from green to red as they are slowly exhausted, while the GPS indicator blinks when searching for a lock. The Bluetooth toggle button still sits ahead of the slider, but now it's thankfully far easier to press than before.

Contour2 review the best consumer helmet camera on the market

On the back, where once was a power button there's now one called "Status." Tap this and all three indicator lights will illuminate, so you can see how you're doing, and the alignment laser up front will pop on, too. Yes, the front-mounted laser makes a triumphant return, shooting out a red line to help you quickly orient your camera.

The camera's largely cylindrical shape belies the clever, twistable innards that spin 270 degrees.

That's important thanks to the rotatable nature of the Contour line. Like before, its largely cylindrical shape belies the clever, twistable innards that spin 270 degrees. So, regardless of how you mount it, you can ensure your footage is right-side-up.

Below that barrel is the same grooved extension, shaped the same as all the older models to enable compatibility with old mounts. Thankfully, there's now a threaded receiver built into the bottom, meaning you can just screw this onto any standard camera mount and ignore those grooves altogether if you like.

Also on the bottom is an audio input, covered by a rubber door. This means you can run your own mic solution if the internal microphone isn't up to your standards (and there's a good chance it won't be). On the back, two more doors flip open to expose a mini-USB port for charging (still no micro) and a mini-HDMI socket to get a direct, digital feed of content. Furthermore, the whole back flips open to expose the 1,050mAh battery (same as before), as well as the microSD card (a 4GB unit included is in the box). Finally, there's a mode switch, so you can quickly toggle between two configurable video presets.

Software

Contour2 review the best consumer helmet camera on the market

Connectivity with the Contour line mostly happens courtesy of the same old Storyteller software, which remains little changed from before -- that is to say, it's kind of clunky and sluggish. But it's thankfully been granted some additional functionality that makes it rather more usable, especially on the sharing side.

Before, if you wanted to share your Contour footage and include the GPS metadata -- map, altitude, speed and such -- you had to use a proprietary embed. You couldn't bake it right into the video itself. That changes with the +2. The new version of the software will let you add an overlay to the video showing the map, altitude and speed -- or, if you'd like to hide any of those figures, you can. You can choose which corner of the video contains the overlay and then push it straight to YouTube, if you like. You can also get a GPX export of the coordinates recorded by the camera, which can then be fed straight into any of a number of tracking applications, like Strava or Endomondo.

The mobile apps have also been updated. Well, the iOS app has been updated -- the Android version will get a fix soon, we're told. With the iOS app you can still use it as a remote viewfinder, connecting over Bluetooth and getting a live stream of the footage to help you get the camera perfectly aligned. Now, though, you can start and stop the footage remotely. So, if you've mounted the camera somewhere out of reach, like the roof of your car, you can start or stop it without having to release your racing harness. (Or, you could just ask a member of your pit crew to do it for you.)

Accessories

Contour2 review the best consumer helmet camera on the market

Inside the box, the +2 comes with a fully waterproof case, a first for the series. If you've used the Underwater Mount Kit you'll be familiar with it. It's good down to 60 meters and allows you to start / stop recording with the slider on the top and also access the status button on the back. Two latches will lock it onto any sliding mounts and we're happy to report it's far easier to pop open than the GoPro's crack-prone latches, but it still feels secure when closed.

You also get a low-profile adhesive mount, good for sticking on smooth surfaces like motorcycle helmets, and another adhesive mount with a rotating base. This allows you to spin the camera around to point in the opposite direction, should you be so inclined. Both of these mounts use double-sided 3M adhesive, which we've found over the years to be highly effective at sticking on at extreme speeds without damaging the finish beneath.

If that doesn't provide you with enough options, Contour will be making available a series of mount kits. We checked out the Moto kit, which gives you two more of those low-profile adhesive mounts (one for each side), another rotating flat surface mount, a flex strap mount that's great for handlebars and roll cages and a PanaVise suction cup mount. We've used these PanaVise mounts extensively on shoots in the past and found they stay stuck even when your speeds are well into the triple-digits -- like, say, on the wing of a stunt airplane.

Finally, the kit also comes with a little pouch to carry all that mess.

Testing

The Contour+2 is a great package. Given the choice, it's the one this author would slap on his helmet.

Cameras like this are meant to move, so we didn't waste much time before slapping the +2 on the side of a helmet and taking it for a ride. First, though, we charged it up over mini-USB and hopped into Storyteller to tweak some settings. We opted for 720p60 recording for a stint on a motorcycle, then dropped down to 720p30 for a more leisurely bicycle ride. We left the GPS on in all situations, and bumped it up to 5Hz mode for better precision (sampling five times per second, rather than the usual 1Hz that most GPS units record).

After we took the camera outside, we were pleasantly surprised to see that a GPS lock was acquired after only a few seconds of green blinking. So, without further ado we flipped the recording slider forward and hit the road. We tried the rotating helmet mount first inside the waterproof case, then switched over to the PanaVise suction cup mount and ran that both with and without the case. Finally, we wrapped the strap mount around the handlebars of a road bicycle and went for a ride.

We stuck with 720p recording for the most part as that gives the widest field of view at 170 degrees. The camera cuts down to 125 degrees at 1080p, and we didn't find the increase in resolution a worthwhile tradeoff for the restricted field of view. Default is 60fps recording at 720p, but you can select 30 if you like or, if you really want to capture every moment of the action, there's a 120fps mode -- but only at 480p.

Contour2 review the best consumer helmet camera on the market

Captured footage looked bright and clear, though a bit heavy on the compression. Naturally the tiny sensors found in these cameras do best when there's plenty of light to be found, and indeed that's the case here. Riding around on a sunny day resulted in plenty of beautiful footage of the fields and trees that whisked by on the sides. But, even on the dark, morning bicycle ride, dodging in and out of long shadows, the camera coped quite well.

In bright sunlight, we did notice some visual aberrations when using the waterproof case. The corners of the video showed a hint of distortion from the edges of the lens and a bit of internal refraction of the sunlight was also occasionally apparent. So, you'll want to leave it off whenever the sun is shining, which means you'll unfortunately have to make do with some excessive wind noise.

Sadly, the biggest problem of the Contour line is still here. Audio quality still falls a bit short, with the front-mounted mic picking up a good deal of wind noise at anything above about 20MPH. So, it should be fine for snowboarding and skating, but for motorsports you'll want to rely on an external mic should your +2 be mounted out in the wind. We'd hoped that the new waterproof case would help, and it does to some degree, but it also mutes just about everything else.

Again, though, the presence of a line-in for audio means you can fix this with a cheap external microphone. Put it somewhere out of the wind and distortion-free audio can be yours.

Wrap-up

Contour2 review the best consumer helmet camera on the market

This helmet camera doesn't take any big steps forward with audio or video quality compared to the competition. Then again, with 1080p recording in a package this small, and a line-in for audio from whatever source you want, it could be argued there's not a lot of headway to make there. The improvements here lie elsewhere, with the addition of a fully waterproof case, better wireless viewing and control from mobile devices over Bluetooth, easy video sharing and an MSRP that's $100 cheaper than last year's model. While it's still about $100 more than the GoPro HD Hero2, the wireless functionality and GPS tracking here more than make up for that.

The Contour+2 is a great package. Given the choice, it's the one this author would slap on his helmet.

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Contour

Contour+2

Pros

  • Great, discreet design
  • Rotatable lens
  • Wireless connectivity
  • Quick, accurate GPS

Cons

  • Middling audio quality
  • Still pricey
Summary

Contour's latest POV camera is the one we'd choose for helmet-required action sports.