When we looked at the Contour+ video camera we were impressed with its video quality and size, but of more value was its miniature construction — it easily fit in a pocket, or could be thrown in a backpack. What made it great was the extra Bluetooth functionality that turned a smartphone into the camera’s viewfinder, allowing easy position and exposure adjustments. Contour’s new ROAM doesn’t have this feature, but it is the same convenient size and is also waterproof to a depth of one metre. We put it through a few tests to see how it performed.
Contour ROAM: Design and setup
The Contour ROAM is largely similar to the Contour+ in design. It’s got a bullet-shaped chassis that’s constructed from aluminium and strong ABS plastic, with a single sliding switch up top and a single button on the rear — tap the rear button to turn the camera on and power up the alignment laser, and slide the top switch to begin and end recordings.
The ROAM has two rails on its sides, which can be used to attach the camera to Contour’s wide range of accessories. To test the ROAM we used a windshield mount and one of the flat surface mounts we tested the Contour+ with. There’s also a 1/4” tripod screw in the camera’s base.
The plastic surround for the rear button pops up to reveal the camera’s innards, exposing hidden buttons to reset the camera and format internal memory, as well as a slot for the MicroSD memory cards that the Contour ROAM records onto. There’s no battery slot as the ROAM’s 1350mAh cell is inbuilt. You can use MicroSD cards of up to 32GB in size in the Contour ROAM, although for recording Full HD 1080p video you’ll want them to be Class 6 or faster (this means a few extra dollars). It’s not a huge expense to buy a card or two, though.
Tap the button on the rear of the camera, and a bright red alignment laser shines from the front of the Contour ROAM just above the lens. You use this to set the correct horizon and angle of the camera and its lens — which can rotate over a 270-degree range of motion, working well with the ROAM’s three possible mounting points to almost always allow a perfectly level field of view. We did notice that the alignment laser was not very useful in bright light, though; if you’re setting the ROAM up in bright light you might find it difficult to fine-tune what it’s looking at.
Contour ROAM: Use and video quality
The crucial difference between the Contour+ and the cheaper ROAM is the budget camera’s waterproof body. While it’s not good for diving (it’s only rated to one metre deep), it’s perfectly suited to surfers, ocean swimmers or waterskiers that want to record their exploits. While we weren’t able to test it on Sydney’s sunny beaches we did immerse it in a bathtub for an hour with no ill effects, and we’re confident that it’s up to the task.
With no built-in Bluetooth and no option to add in a Connect View card, it’s impossible to use your smartphone as a viewfinder for the Contour ROAM — setup is guesswork with a little help from the alignment laser. Similarly, you won’t be able to adjust the ROAM’s video settings on the fly; the only way to change video saturation, sharpness, exposure and exposure metering is to hook the camera up to a computer and use Contour’s Storyteller software. This is a problem if you are the kind of person that wants to check and adjust video settings each time you start recording — if you’re not, it’s no trouble since the preset modes and standard exposure metering works reasonably well. We did set the camera to Exposure -1, so that it didn’t blow out the bright areas in the video we recorded.
We were hard-pressed to find large differences in the video quality of the Contour ROAM and Contour+, making the ROAM a very good value miniature video camera. It handled low light situations quite well, with only a small amount of grain when we were recording in dusk and post-dusk conditions. Bright daylight recordings look excellent with a good amount of detail visible (although setting Sharpness -1 does make fine detail look a little less over-sharpened and jagged). We did notice that there aren’t any white balance or exposure presets for underwater videography, so you’ll need to make a guess when you’re setting it via your computer.
The Contour ROAM’s 170-degree wide lens is reasonably good across the centre of the video frame, although wide edges can suffer from some visible purple fringing especially during bright exposures. The wide lens is able to capture a very wide field of view in The camera can record at 1080p in 25 or 30fps, at 720p at 25/30 or 50/60fps, and at ‘Tall HD’ (1280x960 pixels) at 25 or 30fps. You can compare all of the features of Contour’s cameras here.
Contour ROAM: Conclusion
The Contour ROAM has the main features of the Contour+ at a much reduced price. For taking videos wherever you are — as long as that place isn’t more than a metre underwater — it does a good job. Setting it up correctly is the main impediment to getting a good video and with some time and effort, you’ll have this obstacle overcome.