Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: Contour GPS

So some of us may think that we have our priorities straight when it comes to disaster preparedness and response, we have our EDC squared away, bug-out-bags filled and stowed, pantries stacked and indexed but here's the thing. When people (and by people I mean the people I see doing this online, on the news and myself...) see something heavy going down, they often whip out a camera, take some snaps, maybe film some to go up on YouTube and then deal with the situation however they may. There are those who go out of their way to see exciting thing up close and personal, and when they do, sometimes having your hands free to deal with the situation is more important than getting it fully in frame with the right aperture settings.

For those people (myself now included) there are the helmet-cams! These little, robust cameras are designed to be strapped to ones person, their kit, or whatever, and give you an "I was there view " of the action they put themselves in the way of. Here is my review of the one I recently purchased and put through its paces. This is the Contour GPS. This little nugget of technology houses a 135o lens, and will capture video at 720p at 60 frames per second or 1080p at 30 frames per second. It will also take continuous stills and has some smarts to auto-adjust for lighting conditions. It features built in GPS and has a Bluetooth option. The Bluetooth option allows you to configure the cameras settings, and check the alignment with your iThingy acting as a viewfinder.

An omnidirectional mic allows the sounds of the action to be recorded too, and its gain is also adjustable to cut out high-speed wind noise. The body of the camera is a well machined aluminium tube, which houses all the electronics, the GPS antenna and the Bluetooth card slot. The lens is centrally located and is built into a 180o rotatable swivel, to allow you to mount the camera and adjust the angle of its capture. Twin built in laser-sights allows you to level the picture as there is no view-finder, or any display options internally. The removable battery is USB rechargeable, and the micro-SD slot takes up to a 32Gb card. There is a toggle switch to move between pre-set setting options.
The case is marketed as water-resistant but it is NOT sealed, the end cap is plastic, which slides and locks into place but it by no means watertight, or even dust-proof. That's not to say it doesn't fare any worse than other camera battery-covers, but not what i'd hoped for in an otherwise rugged camera. So, i also bought the waterproof case. which is rated for dives up to 60m deep. It latches down at the front, and has a magnetic induction slide-switch to operate the camera (only works to turn it ON, with mine though however ... very disappointing bug). The back-cap is the Achilles-heel of this device.

Both the waterproof case and the main camera share a rail-attachment system, that allows for a number of kinds of mounts to be fitted. The camera comes with an adjustable goggle-strap mount, and two adhesive "flat-surface" mounts. that slide and lock into place along either side of the camera. I've mounted this to the side of my kendo men helmet, to the shoulder of my Platatac Bravo hydration pack and so far have managed to only get a few "straight" shots. Learning is part of the fun. What ISN'T fun, is the difficulty I've had getting the camera to actually film when I want it to. There are four sets of indicator LED's on the main body; a battery indicator, a memory indicator, a "status" indicator and one for "recording". Between these, and the press-button power button, and "slide-to-record" switch, you'd think someone tech-savy would have a breeze getting it going. Not so much. The combination of "press-and-hold" and "secret extra un-labled button" make for a clumsy system that requires getting used to before you capture that big exciting event. Like several hours of laser-tag, (which I missed the exciting parts of) or some good kendo footage (also didn't record when i thought it was...)

I did however get several hours worth of Tough Mudder footage, which although askew by about 30o due to how I mounted the camera, and required a battery change "in the field" to get a total of 5 hours of the 5 1/2 hours I was doing the challenge, and am really impressed with how both the camera and waterproof case held up.

So, clumsy user-controls, and non-water proof body aside, this is a fun toy, and I plan to film a lot of things with it.

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