The Full HD Contour+ has the best picture quality of any helmet cam we’ve tested but it’s let down by poorly designed mounts and it’s very expensive. It uses the same sleek brushed-alloy and plastic body as its predescessor, the ContourGPS, but this time with a smart raw finish and a wider angle lens (170 vs 135°).
There’s a large sliding ‘record’ button up top, which is easy to operate with gloved hands, along with a rotating lens so you can mount the camera at different angles. There’s no screen but you can connect the Contour+ to your iPhone or Android mobile via Bluetooth and use your phone as a viewfinder, after downloading Contour’s app.
We tried this on both types of smartphone and found it works well. It’s not as convenient as a built-in screen though, and we found it often takes a few tries to get the connection working. Another selling point of the Contour+ is the built-in GPS receiver, which tracks your filming location, speed and altitude, and can then display this information alongside your footage on your home computer using Contour’s Storyteller software.
This too works well enough – see our review of the ContourGPS for more on this – but it isn’t a feature that we found particularly useful. It can be turned off to save battery life but we’d rather Contour ditched it altogether and brought the price down a bit. The microphone jack is a good idea, though, and the HDMI output means you can watch your footage on your TV.
All of these ports are hidden under a flap at the back of the camera, along with the microSD card slot and Mini USB battery charge point. This doesn’t seem particularly well sealed and, while we didn’t have any problems during our three-week test period, we’d question how well it would stand up to prolonged rain. (A waterproof case is available separately for £42.99, and Contour are about to launch a new waterproof helmet cam.)
When it comes to filming quality, we’ve no complaints. The Contour offers a 60 frames per second ‘Action HD’ mode at 1,280 x 720 pixels, plus ‘Tall HD’ (1,280 x 960, 30fps), ‘Original HD’ (1,280 x 720, 30fps) and stills (5MP) modes. However, most of the time we left it on the 1,920 x 1,080 / 30fps ‘Full HD’ setting.
The resulting footage takes up quite a bit of memory so you’ll need to swap the supplied 2GB card for something larger. Our replacement 8GB card was ideal, with space for around an hour of footage, by which time the battery was starting to run out anyway.
Image quality is excellent, with a crisp look that easily outdoes the Contour’s peers. The Contour+ handles transitions from open fields to dark woodland well and offers faithful colour reproduction. Testing took in everything from dank British woodland to sun-drenched hillsides in the Alps, and the camera handled everything with aplomb, once we’d sorted out a decent mount.
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The footage above was filmed using a helmet mounted Contour+ in Les Deux Alpes, France. When judging the image quality, bear in mind that the file was automatically compressed when we uploaded it to our video player
And that’s our main beef with the Contour+: the mounts. We tested Contour’s Vented Helmet Mount (£16.99/$19.99) earlier this year with the ContourGPS and weren’t impressed, finding that the tilt feature built into its base resulted in unacceptable levels of play unless we resorted to home-made bodges. This time, we thought we’d give the XL Handlebar Mount (available separately for £24.99/$29.99) and Rotating Flat Surface Mount (two are included with the camera) a go.
Play wasn’t an issue with the former, but we found that no matter how hard we tightened it, the camera would tend to come lose during the course of each ride and end up tilting over. Mounted on a downhill bike, we found that vibrations through the bar also had a tendency to make the lens rotate, again resulting in a wonky picture. On top of this we had the same problem experienced with any bar-mounted camera: constant steering inputs by the rider result in a shaky picture.
The Rotating Mount fared better. We attached it to a Fox V3R downhill lid with trepidation, expecting the glue to become unstuck at any moment and send the camera hurtling to the ground or, worse, into our face. But much to our relief, it remained affixed, even when wrenching on the camera to remove it for charging. In fact, it’s still stuck solid now and we have no idea how to get it off.
While the connection between mount and helmet is solid, there’s still a bit of play between the mount and the camera, even when it’s locked in place; not enough to make the footage unwatchable but enough to cause unwanted shake. This would be easy enough to sort out with some creative use of foam but again, homemade bodges shouldn’t be needed with a £500 camera.
It’s a shame, because in every other respect the Contour+ is impressive. If Contour could sort out a decent mount, they’d be onto a winner. As it is, rival cameras with better mounts are available for a couple of hundred pounds less. The Contour+ is available in the UK through Ultra Sport Europe.
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We’re not sure how weatherproof the Contour+ will prove in the long run but we’ve no concerns about general durability – it can certainly take a knock or two, as we found out at the top of Alpe d’Huez