Review: Contour’s simple, slick ROAM video camera
Note: When playing, bump videos’ resolution up to 720p for a better feel for the ContourROAM’s picture quality…
As much as I am amazed by and enjoy new electronics, I’m not usually one to incorporate them into my rides. Still, there have been dozens of times over the past few years when I’ve ridden a particularly perfect stretch of trail and wanted to have the ability to share it with friends and family. That’s why, when Contour asked if I’d like to review their entry-level (read: simple) ROAM bullet-shaped video camera, I jumped at the chance.
Touted as “the easiest video camera in the world,” the ContourROAM retails for $200, is waterproof to 1m, and can record full 1080p HD video. The camera comes packed in a small plastic carrying case with a couple of adhesive-backed mounts and a micro USB cable. The ROAM will record on MicroSD cards up to 32GB- though those need to be purchased separately. Read on for more videos and more review…
With a 2GB MicroSD card installed and the battery charged via the USB port, the rear hatch can be buttoned up, leaving the ContourROAM with only two controls. The first, at the rear of the camera, triggers a laser level-style line, which, along with the 270-degree rotating bezel, allows for easy aiming and leveling in low-light conditions. With one adhesive mount on my helmet and another on the side of my mountain bike’s downtube, I was able to fairly easily aim the camera indoors. The second, a slider at the top of the camera, starts and stops recording. Both controls trigger a beep, especially useful when the camera is helmet-mounted.
Using Contour’s Storyteller software (a free download for PCs or Macs), the ROAM’s video can be downloaded to a computer and the camera itself configured. Videos can also be uploaded to Contour’s website or exported for sharing on other sites. Given my small generic MicroSD card, I opted for computer-friendly low quality / 780p resolution. Doing this provides 30min of video per GB and an impressive 170 degree field of view. Bumping things up to the high quality / 1080p setting quarters the video time per GB (to 8 minutes) and reduces the field of view to 125 degrees.
Also configured via the Storyteller software is the microphone sensitivity. For mountain biking, I found any audio to be largely overwhelmed by wind noise and the occasional thwack from a branch. For anyone who hasn’t already, I’d recommend muting the attached videos before playing.
As you can see from the videos, the ContourRoam produces surprisingly good video (which looks even better on my screen) in decent lighting conditions. The weight of the camera was enough to overwhelm most helmets’ retention systems and make for video that can actually be rougher than that shot from the frame. The inability to preview video will lead to some trial and error when it comes to aiming (especially from the helmet), but once the adhesive mount is in place, that shouldn’t be a problem. Once sorted, I have found that marking the bezel’s ‘helmet’ and ‘bike’ positions with a silver Sharpie makes it easier to switch between the two on the trail.
That said, the ROAM can’t really keep up in wildly varying light conditions- most of my videos shot while quickly in and out of tree cover haven’t been worth sharing- but that’s hardly a Contour-specific problem. Similarly, leaf-strewn fall trails that I can pick out easily while riding become a sea of brown, meaning that the ROAM was largely set aside from October until early December. No camera, of course, can compensate for a boring subject.
Though the included adhesive-backed Profile Mount initially worked fine on my frame, a decent knee strike (what I wouldn’t have given for rounded edges at the back of the camera) knocked the mount from its adhesive backing. Contour’s $30 Flex Strap mount really is a better solution for mountain bikers. Similarly, anyone who doesn’t want a mount permanently attached to their helmet will want to drop the $20 for the available Vented Helmet Mount. Both work well, but together add a surprising 25% to the price of the Roam- a package deal oriented toward mountain bikers would be a welcome addition to the Roam website.
While riding, the Contour Roam is easy to use. The large sliding switch and audible tone make it clear when the camera has been turned on. About once every other ride the camera does tend to freeze up, though. After talking to the Contour folks and doing a good deal of Internet searching, the problem was attributed to my cheap MicroSD card- don’t skimp, kids, and remember to use the ROAM’s format button before starting. I also regularly find myself wishing for a wireless handlebar remote- there are lots of sections that I’d love to have captured on video- but where I was unwilling to take my hands from the bar- but that’s the type of thing that could only be expected from a higher-end unit.
All in all, the ContourROAM is an impressive package. It seems solidly built and puts out video that’s more than adequate for Internet sharing. The package purchased for the $200 headline price will leave most riders wanting though- plan on spending $230-260 for the camera, a MicroSD card, and a couple of accessory mounts. All in all, the ContourROAM is a competitive little camera for casual users who don’t need the complexity or cost associated with GPS, video preview, or wireless capabilities.