Gadling Gear Review: ContourROAM 2 Action Camera
One of the fastest growing segments of the consumer electronics market over the past couple of years has been in the action camera category. These small, super-durable video cameras are used to capture footage of everything from family vacations to the latest crazy extreme sport. The leader in this burgeoning market is clearly GoPro, a company whose name has become synonymous with the term "action camera." But there are alternatives for the aspiring filmmaker who is looking for a high quality, fully featured cam that won't break the bank.
One such alternative is the ContourROAM 2 from Contour. This unique and rugged camera has all the tech specs you would expect out of any action cam all wrapped up in a lightweight metal body that is designed to absorb all the punishment you can throw at it. The ROAM 2 features a 5 mega-pixel sensor for capturing solid, if not outstanding, still photos and it even includes a time-lapse mode to snap shots at a variety of predetermined intervals. But you don't buy this type of camera to take still photos, as shooting video is where it truly excels. Contour has given the ROAM 2 the ability to capture video in full 1080p at 30 fps or 720p at 60 fps. A third, intermediate mode, shoots video in a resolution of 1280 x 960 at 30 fps as well, giving users a happy middle ground in terms of image quality and file size.
The ContourROAM 2 is far more than just a collection of video resolutions, however. The camera also features a custom glass lens that shoots in a wide 170° angle and can rotate up to 270° to catch just the right shot, even while mounted on a helmet, bike or other stationary point. The camera uses MicroSD cards to record the captured footage and Contour includes a 4 GB card in the box. That's enough storage to get you up and running, but you'll definitely want to invest in higher capacity cards when you get serious about using this device. The ROAM 2 supports memory cards up to 32 GB in size, which is enough to hold about five hours of footage when shot at the camera's highest resolution.
Unlike most traditional consumer video cameras, action cams don't always come with an LCD screen to help you see what it is you're actually shooting. Because these cameras are often mounted on a mountain bike or snowboard helmet, such a screen is not all that useful to begin with. Contour has come up with a clever solution to help us shoot just the right scenes, however, as the ROAM 2 has a built-in laser that comes in handy for making sure our shots are level and that we're actually aiming the camera in the right direction. It doesn't completely replace a viewfinder but it is an effective approach none the less - particularly when the camera is actually mounted on something and not actually in our hands. Contour's upscale model, the Contour+ 2 also ships without a built-in screen but it gives users the option to connect to a smartphone via an app, which then can serve as a remote display screen. This alleviates the issue of not having a screen in a very innovative way.
While simplicity is one of the ROAM 2's greatest strengths it also presents some challenges too. For instance, since it doesn't have a built in screen of any type, users don't have quick and easy access to configuration menus either. Instead, the camera must be attached to a computer to update various mode settings. That can be problematic when heading out into the field, as you'll either have to lug a laptop along with you or keep the camera configuration the same the entire time you're using it. Considering the fact that there are so few settings to choose from, this may not seem like a big deal, but if you decide to switch down from a resolution of 1080p to 720p to save memory card storage space, you'll first need to connect the camera to a computer. Again, the more expensive Contour+ 2 gets around this issue by allowing the user to adjust settings via the mobile app.
The ROAM 2 ships with two different mounts that can allow the user to attach the camera to a variety of surfaces. The profile mount is perfect for attaching the camera to the side of a helmet for capturing footage while rock climbing, snowboarding, mountain biking or just about any other activity. Alternatively, the rotating flat surface mount serves as a do-it-all option for just about any other type of surface. Both of these mounts feel a bit flimsy but manage to get the job done surprisingly well. Contour also offers a wide variety of other options for just about every users needs, including specialized mounts for your handlebars, the dash of your car, a headband and many more. Each of those mounts allows you to capture high-quality footage from a relatively stable platform, often from unique perspectives.
I was impressed with how solid and durable the Roam 2 feels in your hands. Contour has built this cam to stand up to a lot of punishment, which is necessary for any action cam to actually try to compete in this increasingly crowded market space. This camera is even waterproof up to a depth of 1 meter, which may not sound like a lot, but it does provide good piece of mind in wet environments and allows the user to capture some underwater shots without the need for an extra case. That is provided they don't go particularly deep on their aquatic adventures. If you're a scuba diver however, you'll certainly want to invest in a decent case if you want to use your ROAM 2 in deeper water.
Of course, all of these features and functionality doesn't amount to much if the camera doesn't shoot good video footage. Fortunately, the ROAM 2 delivers in that department as well, capturing crisp, clean images that look great at every level of resolution. For a sample of what this camera is capable of, check out the video below.
Audio is a bit more of a mixed bag. The internal mic does an adequate job of capturing voices and other ambient noises, but add a little wind to the mix and things start to get a lot more muddled. Once again, the more expensive Contour+ 2 can alleviate the issue to a degree as it includes the ability to attach an external mic. That improves sound quality greatly and it would have been a nice addition on the ROAM 2 as well.
For amateur filmmakers, the ContourROAM 2 video camera is an excellent entry-level product. It delivers great visuals and performs well in all kinds of difficult conditions. On top of that, it is built to withstand just about any kind of punishment that you can dole out. Its rechargeable battery is good for about 3.5 hours of shooting time, which is excellent for this type of camera, and all of the extras that are included in the box (memory card, two mounts, etc.) make it a bargain at $199.99. It is even available in four different colors for those who want to add a little character to their device. In contrast, the Contour+ 2 that I mentioned several times in this article costs twice as much, but does offer a lot more functionality and comes with built-in GPS capabilities, a waterproof case and even the ability to live-stream directly to the Internet. That camera is aimed at the more advanced user, but packs great value as well.
Either way, I think you'll be impressed with what Contour has brought to the table here. They may not have the same name recognition of someone like GoPro, but their cameras are fantastic alternatives and do some things that even the competition can't. If you're looking for a quality action camera to capture your own adventures, it is extremely tough to beat the ROAM 2 – especially at the same price point.
[Photo Credits: Contour]