Contour+ vs. GoPro HD Hero 2: through the desert and into the skies


Engadget Show segments come about in any number of ways. Sometimes it's a no brainer, with some awesome new gadget just aching for some air time. Other times it's a matter of our wanting to do something cool, like, say, flying a plane. The GoPro / Contour segment from the last Engadget Show was a little bit of both. The ultra-rugged camcorders were a perfect fit for our desire to take on some extreme activities in the Nevada desert.

We started out by taking Polaris RZR for a spin on some sand dunes around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. And while we didn't really anticipate that it would be windy enough that day to ground planes at nearby McCarren Airport, the 50MPH sandstorms certainly did their part in testing the mettle of the devices -- and our camera crew, for that matter. We strapped both to the roll bar of the all-terrain vehicle and took off into the desert.

Things were thankfully a bit calmer when we took to the sky the following day with help from the folks at Sky Combat Ace. The camcorders joined us in our respective cockpits, proving that they could take the punishment of a several G ride -- even if we didn't hold up so well. So, which of the two camcorders fared better? Tim and Brian hash it out after the break.

Brian: Let's start with the good. We put both of those cameras through hell, and both survived.

Tim: Yes, and more importantly the two of us survived, though I think I'm even less dust-proof than the Contour+ proved to be. Shall we describe our candidates? I spent most of my time wearing the Contour+, which is the latest camera from the company. It's a 1080p model that follows the same design as the Contour GPS and ContourHD before it, with a rotating barrel that makes it easy to mount in just about any position and a streamlined shape.

Brian: I had the big, square HD Hero2 -- I assume these were meant to be extensions of our personalities. Mine also does 1080p (hence the name), but if you want to keep it out of harm's (ie sand's) way, you're going to want to stick it that little plastic aquarium of a case.

Tim: Yeah, in fact you need to always have that polycarbonate case on the thing if you want to use any of the mounts the camera offers, which adds a lot of bulk. It's pretty fragile and flimsy on its own, but inside that case it's almost bulletproof. I know of one that was run over by a tank and survived.

Brian: And it didn't end up as crunchy as yours. We're still having some trouble flipping the switch on the Contour.

Tim: Yes, it's less durable out of the box for sure, but you can get a waterproof case for it for those times when you really need to dive into a mud pit head-first.

Brian: An important point for all of the amateur wrestlers out there. I think the main thing here, aside from sheer aesthetics, though, is the fact that the oblong Contour is just much less conspicuous when wearing it on your person. The Contour is also a good deal more aerodynamic.


Tim: I've actually used both of them on my helmet when riding my motorcycle. At high-speeds you can absolutely feel the difference between the two. Plus, with a GoPro stuck up on top of my helmet I always feel about 10 times more conspicuous. This is also true when snowboarding. The goggle strap mount from Contour is very discrete. And it's also a lot easier to use with gloves on, thanks to the big slider on top.

Brian: It's not all about looks though. For one thing, the HD Hero2 is a fair bit cheaper. The bundle (there are three different basic configurations) will run you $299, including the camera, various mounting options and the aforementioned transparent case.

Tim: It is significantly cheaper, and we found image quality to be slightly higher. The actual resolution is the same, but the color balance was far more accurate in the GoPro than on the Contour+.

Brian: The color balance issue really came into play in the desert. The GoPro's default balance was just far more natural. The Contour gave the sand an artificial blue hue. I expected a sand worm to leap out at any moment.

Tim: To be fair, you can manually tweak the color balance on the Contour+, but that requires a bit of fiddling. That's made easy, though, thanks to the use of Bluetooth connectivity to a smartphone. Using either Android or iOS apps you can tether the camera to your phone and use it as a live viewfinder. This way you can always make sure the camera is pointed in exactly the right direction and also made on-the-fly tweaks to exposure settings. Plus, it has a GPS module, so it'll track exactly where you were and how fast you were going when you had that epic yard sale on the bunny slope.


Brian: A point for the GoPro: you can do a full screen at 1080p.

Tim: Yes, the GoPro maintains its 170 degree good looks even at full resolution. The Contour+ does 170 degrees as well, but sadly only at 720p or lower. If you step up to the full monty 1080p you drop to 125 degrees. That gives you a lot less perspective, but a lot less distortion too, to be honest.

Brian: Well, if you're curious about what you're going to get with the GoPro, you can always opt for the LCD BacPac. $80 more will get you an attachable screen for previewing what you're shooting. And yes, it'll fit in that ever important plastic casing.

Tim: Well, only because it comes with a bigger plastic case that's compatible. It does make it a handy way to review your footage in the field, though, if you don't want to swap out SD cards all the time.

Brian: Especially in a 60MPH sandstorm. Speaking of add-ons, the Wi-Fi BacPac lets you control the thing wirelessly, in case you want to, you know, attach it to the wing of a plane.

Tim: Which we did! That I think was my favorite shot from the entire segment, the wing cam. And I suppose we should mention that we filmed a lot of the footage in that segment on the original GoPro HD Heroes, which doesn't necessarily speak to their greater quality, but at least speaks to which is more popular on the film production scene.

Brian: It certainly speaks to the power of those suction cup mounts. We didn't drop any cameras on anyone's heads.

Tim: For those wondering we used Panavise suction mounts, the single-cup units no less. You can pick 'em up for about $25 and stick 'em on just about anything. Anything that's smooth and roughly flat, anyway.

Brian: Even your dog? That's the next great adventure for the GoPro, right?

Tim: Hmm... I'm thinking the helmet strap mount affixed to a doggie backpack would probably be more effective there. I'll do some research and report back.

Brian: I don't know about you, but I don't think there's a clear winner here today -- just two ultra rugged cameras that do their jobs fairly well.


Tim: Well the winner is the consumer who partakes in antics that are extreme enough for them to want to share but not so extreme that they wouldn't want them captured on film. The quality and performance of both really blew me away. But, for sure, the Contour+ is the preferred model for a helmet mount. It's just far more discrete and flexible.

Brian: And the GoPro will save you some cash and will arguably stand up to a bit more than the better looking Contour.

Tim: This is true, but if cost is a concern there is the ContourROAM. It's waterproof, still 1080p, loses the Bluetooth and GPS but only costs about $200.

Brian: I guess we're going to have to go out and test that one next month, huh?

Tim: Bungee jumping? Paragliding?

Brian: A leisurely nap in the park? Lots of options on the table.

Tim: I can't wait... but I think I'll up my life insurance first. Just in case.