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If you select the "Video" tab, you'll find the option that lets you select the resolution and frame rate that are attributed to the "Hi/LO" switch on the back of the camera. This provides the user a way to switch between two frame rates and/or resolution settings while out in the field. Out of the box the "HI" switch is set to 1080p (30fps) resolution, while the "LO" setting is set to 720p (30fps). On the review camera I kept the high setting at 1080p (30fps), but changed the "low" setting to 720 (60fps), which is better suited for fast action videography.
Selectable Resolutions include:
To the best of my knowledge VholdR has not published the actual bit rates of each resolution setting, however, Cinematographer and D.O.P. , Tom Guilette, published a review of the ContourHD 720p and 1080p versions on his blog where he posted bit rate information he received from VholdR. Here are the numbers he was given:
* See illustration below.
Rotating Lens Keeps things Horizontal
One of the exclusive features of the ContourHD and one that should not be overlooked when comparing it to other models is the rotating front lens. This allows you to mount the camera at virtually any angle while rotating the lens to keep your video level. The camera even has two laser beams built-in that make it easy to aim and level the camera lens before you slide the record switch. Trying to mount a camera to real world objects rarely ends up providing a perfectly level platform. With the ContourHD it doesn't matter. If you can find a way to attach the camera (laying down, standing up, at an angle) you'll be home free with a quick turn of the front lens.
Designed for Action
The long & narrow design of the ContourHD makes it less prone to being 'pushed around' by the wind, which helps stability at higher speeds. Also, the large sliding RECORD switch on top of the camera is glove friendly - something you'll appreciate when it's 10° and windy. The camera provides an audible BEEP when the camera starts recording and a double "BEEP" when you stop recording. These features make it easy to activate the camera without having to take it off whatever it's mounted too.
Show it to me differently!
One of the main reasons to purchase a P.O.V. camera would be to capture visuals that you either wouldn't normally try to capture using a traditional video camera or to capture them from a whole new perspective. For me, it's the latter that makes the ContourHD an interesting product. So far, my favorite mount for the ContourHD is the automobile suction cup mount. I had originally purchased a Panavise version to mount my Canon HG10 camcorder to the inside windshield of my car - and it worked great, but with the small size and rugged body of the ContourHD I am now comfortable mounting the camera on the OUTSIDE of the vehicle. This allowed me to get angles and perspectives that I would never think of getting with a traditional camcorder.
In the video that I put together below, I used the ContourHD to get some moving vehicle shots from outside the car, under the car, inside the car, and even one outside the car aiming in through the open sunroof. There is also a video of myself getting a haircut that I turned into a time lapse by increasing the speed in Adobe Premiere CS4 and another clip where I mounted the camera to the inside of a shopping cart at the Christmas Tree Shop. I then used the shopping cart as a pseudo dolly. The video ends with a clip of my dog playing with a mini Joby tripod that he felt threatened by. The video rendered very smoothly, but it stutters quite a bit when played through Vimeo - You can download the original rendered file by clicking here. FYI. This file is 177MB in size.
This next video is only 47 seconds in length. In this video I kept the original audio from the camera rather than replacing it with music. The video was uploaded to YouTube in 1080p resolution, but to watch it in 1080p you'll need to do so over on YouTube - just make sure to click the HD / 1080p button in the player.
Laser Accuracy without an LCD
One of the downfalls of the ContourHD is the lack of a preview or playback screen. Without an LCD screen, aligning your camera would mostly be guesswork, but thankfully the ContourHD has a very forgiving 135-degree wide field-of-view, practically guaranteeing that anything in front of the camera will be recorded. VholdR has also included two bright red laser beams, one on each side of the lens, that automatically come on when you first turn the camera on. The beams show you exactly where the center of the camera is aiming and also act as a leveling aid.
For me, the lack of an LCD display makes relying on the ContourHD a bit risky. There were a couple of times when I was testing the camera out in Utah that the unit didn't record what I thought it had, despite having a charged battery and an empty memory card. I drove through Big Cottonwood Canyon twice, setting the camera up to record part of the drive. Each time the camera beeped when it started recording, yet when I got home there was nothing on the card. Even more surprising was that my laptop was showing that the card was full, despite no video files being present. I ran recovery software on the card, but still no video from the Canyon, only older deleted files that had yet to be overwritten.
Since the camera lacks an LCD, it was equipped with a series of beeps and lights that indicate different conditions where the camera may stop recording, of course this assumes that you can hear the beeps from where the camera is mounted and that you'll remember all the combinations of beeps and/or lights. For example:
While I understand the need to make the camera as small as possible, incorporating an LCD screen would make a huge difference in usability. Impact and water resistance shouldn't be much of a problem since digital camera manufacturers, such as Olympus and Pentax, already make shockproof and waterproof camera's that have built-in LCD displays. Actually, Kodak just announced a "Flip-style" pocket camera called the PlaySport (Amazon) that will record in HD, is rugged, waterproof down to 10', has a 2.0" LCD display, and takes 5MP still images - and will be priced at just $150 when it ships in April. No, it's not designed as a POV camera, but the technology is already in place to make a POV camera with a few of these missing features, so let's hope that they're already working on it.
I would have to say that the biggest advantage the ContourHD offers over other pocket size and POV cameras is its rotating lens. By allowing the lens to rotate, the camera can be placed on uneven surfaces, while rotating the lens to keep the horizon level. Just mount the camera and rotate the lens until the two laser beams are horizontal to each other. Just be careful not to rotate the lens in the wrong direction, otherwise you'll end up with upside down video. Easily corrected in post production, but just as easily fixed BEFORE you hit record. Just make sure to keep the printed words around the lens upright.
Ease of Use
VholdR has made the ContourHD 1080p simple to use. Just press and hold the on button (back of camera) for a second and then slide the record button (top of camera) forward. That's it. When the camera first turns on you'll hear a beep and the two laser beams will shoot out beams in order to help you align the camera. The laser beams initially only stay on for two seconds, but a quick press of the power button will turn them on for an extended period of time (approximate 13 seconds) to help with placement and alignment.
One of the unique features of the ContourHD is the sliding mount system that is integrated into both sides of the camera body. VholdR sells camera mounts for ski goggles, helmets, handlebars, and tripods, each that slide into the grooved slots on either side of the camera. The ContourHD includes a goggle mount, flat surface, and helmet mount in the box. The goggle mount is probably the best of what's included. It is designed to allow a strap to pass between the mounting base and camera, allowing the camera to aim forward.
Water Resistant, not Waterproof
The ContourHD series have been built to take some abuse, however the camera is not waterproof. VholdR does now offer a low-cost watertight housing for it ($39), which I would probably recommend purchasing just as extra protection for the camera itself. If a mount ever fails, replacing a $40 case is much better than having to replace a $300 camera. Plus, you'll have a blast with it at the beach or in the pool.
Overall I liked my experience using the ContourHD. The ContourHD is the first and only point-of-view camera that I have tested to date and I was pleasantly surprised by it's image quality. It doesn't have the image quality of a traditional HD camcorder, but it's quality is still pretty good under the right conditions. On sunny days, the video looks sharp and exhibits vivid colors and good contrast, however on cloudy days the image quality was less exciting, with low contrast and dull colors. Some of this can be corrected in post production, but not dramatically.
Audio quality was a mixed bag. Indoors and inside my car, the audio quality was actually pretty good, but when mounted to the exterior of the car all you hear is wind noise, especially once speeds reached 20 MPH. On a windy day you'll get wind noise even standing still. For me the audio quality isn't all that important, since I'll almost always add in my own choice of soundtrack after I've edited the footage together, but there's a definite need to improve the wind reducing abilities of the microphone.
After a situation in Utah where the camera didn't record my trips through Big Cottonwood Canyon I became frustrated with the camera's lack of an LCD display for playback. It's a good thing I didn't write my conclusion to the review at that time. :-) After watching all the other video clips that the camera successfully captured my opinion of the camera had once again turned positive. I especially liked how smooth the footage was that I recorded going up the Snowbird Tram.
The camera ships with a few basic mounting options, but for me, the most versatile mount is one that isn't included - the tripod mount. With the tripod mount, you'll be able to use the camera with a wide variety of standard camera accessories such as windshield suction cup mounts and clamps, Joby "gorillapods", monopods, extension arms, and tripods. The goggle mount that's included with the camera works by sliding the straps of the goggle through the special mount. The only problem with this is that Goggle straps are flexible and the camera tends to wobble as your head moves. Thanks to the 135° wide field-of-view this didn't impact the video too badly, but I would recommend using the included helmet mount instead - assuming you were a helmet.
Since a sturdy mount is the most important aspect of capturing great action video, I would like to see a wider variety of mounting options included with the base kit. The mounting capabilities, round body design, and the cameras rotating lens is really what sets the ContourHD apart from just using a rugged digital camera with video capabilities. The flat surface mount included with the ContourHD 1080p allows you to mount the camera to non-vented helmets and other flat surfaces thanks to its weatherproof adhesive pad, but the package only includes one adhesive pad, so you tend to hold off making a decision on where to mount it since you only have that one shot. I would like to see the ContourHD ship with at least a few extra pads to provide some mounting flexibility.
The real question is whether the ContourHD is right for you. If you have been itching to record your bike trips, bungee jumps, skydiving adventures, snowmobiling, ski or snowboarding adventures but haven't had a camera small or tough enough to mount, the ContourHD might be the right choice. Just try to have a goal in mind when ordering so that you'll know which mount(s) you'll need to add to your order to make your first experience with it a good one.
The other thing I feel is important to mention is that the P.O.V. camera space is about to get more crowded. Kodak has just announced the new Kodak PlaySport shock and waterproof video camera that will sell for only $149 when it ships in April. The camera will offer 1080p HD video recording, a 2.0" display, 5MP still capture, electronic image stabilization, and is waterproof down to 10ft. It also features direct playback from within the device and will include HDMI and AV cables in the box. Kodak also announced the availability of the PlaySport adventure mount for helmet, handlebars, and more. So while not everything is known about this new model and it won't even ship until April, it could be a game changer thanks to its feature set. Olympus has also announced an addition to it's TOUGH series of digital cameras (Stylus TOUGH-3000) that will offer 720p (30fps/60fps) as well as 1080i video recording in a freeze proof, waterproof, shockproof body. It will also take 12-megapixel stills as well. It will be interesting to see what happens in this market over the next year.
Even in it's own space, the ContourHD 1080p has a competitor called GoPro HD Here. Both are similarly priced, but the GoPro HD Hero doesn't feature a rotating lens so it must be mounted horizontally (upright or upside down), but does come packaged in its own waterproof housing without having to buy anything extra. It still lacks an LCD display and any playback functionality, but does feature a 5MP still capture mode that is lacking in the ContourHD. One of the big advantages that the ContourHD has over the GoPro HD Hero is its round tubular shape, which makes mounting the camera in tight spots much easier than a square body that needs to be kept horizontal.
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