Sunday, June 2, 2013

Contour HD Gen1 Review

In October 2011, I participated in the first Run For Your Lives event, a 5k in which the runners are chased by zombies. Since it was the first one, I wanted to film it for this blog, and I decided to get a sports camcorder to wear while I ran. There were only two notable sports camcorders available at the time: the GoPro and the Contour HD. I chose the first generation Contour HD over the GoPro because the Contour had a simple switch on the top of it to start recording. It also sits on the side of your head instead of on the front. Here is a summary of my experience with the Contour HD:

Battery Cover:

The company claims that the camera is mud-proof. Under extremely gentle conditions, it is. The biggest problem is the design of the battery cover. It's a rubberized piece of plastic that slides over the battery/USB port/microSD slot to keep mud out. Unfortunately, there is no seal on this piece and it will let water in with just a light rain. It snaps on and off(there's no latch or button to secure it), so if the cover is bumped against anything, it will come off. To be fair, although the camera has let water in, the water did not cause any problems with the circuitry. The company recommends their waterproof housing if you want to submerge the camera.


The sliding REC switch on top of the camera was Contour's most marketed feature. It's a good idea, because unlike a button, you can feel the position of a switch without taking the camera off of your head. However, the switch has very shallow stippling and the other surfaces of the camera are completely smooth. For the switch to be secured in either position, they made it really stiff. This make it really difficult to turn on the camera with gloves or with mud on the camera. To make matters worse, if you put any pressure on the battery cover when sliding the switch to the "off" position, the battery cover comes off. Seriously that battery cover is a POS design.


The Contour HD comes with two lasers attached to the rotating lens assembly. When activated, these allow you to rotate the head to make the camera level, as well as point it in the right direction. These do help a lot, since the headband(separate product) tends to point the camera towards the sky. The lasers are just arbitrarily positioned toward the middle of the frame, so you get no sense of what is in frame or out of frame. Still, it's better than GoPro's method of guess-and-check. I think some newer Contour cameras let you stream to a smartphone to aid in framing.


There's only one button on the outside of the camera. Hold to power on(sounds one beep), hold to power off(sounds two beeps). Press once while powered on to activate the lasers for ~15 seconds. There is a green light on the front of the camera that you can see out of the corner of your eye, so you know when the camera is on and ready to record. This light turns orange once the camera starts recording. If you take off the battery cover, you will find a small switch that allows you to choose between two recording settings(you set these in the software). That's all you really need. I actually really like the interface.

The included software is required to adjust the recording settings for the camera. You can choose video resolution, shutter speed, and lighting options. The camera doesn't come with a wall charger, so you have to use the USB port on your computer to charge the battery. Unfortunately, plugging the camera into your computer automatically launches the Contour Storyteller software. It's annoying, but you can turn it off in Preferences. Another annoying aspect of the software is that it requires you to create an online account. You have to create the account before it will let you adjust the settings on your camera. Why is this even a thing? It's just stupid.

Would I recommend this camera to a friend? No. Not until they fix the idiotic battery cover. And it really wouldn't take much effort for them to make it waterproof. Seeing how quickly digital cameras are evolving, I'm sure these sports cameras will be exponentially smaller and lighter in the next few years.

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