Gadling Gear Review: ContourROAM 2 Action Camera

The ContourROAM 2 action camOne 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.

The ROAM 2 is so simple to use that it is pretty much the epitome of “point and shoot.” A single switch on the top of the camera powers the device on and toggles it into video recording mode. The device is quick to start up and it rarely misses any of the shots you’re trying to capture, which is especially helpful when you’re taking part in fast paced activities or when faced with the opportunity to record an event that is fleeting. I was continually impressed with how quickly this camera was to power up and begin capturing what ever it was I was pointing it at.

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.

ContourROAM 2 action cameraWhile 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]

Cisco kills the Flip and travelers just move on

cisco flip camera videocamera camYesterday, Cisco announced that it would be closing down its Flip camera operations as part of an effort to refocus on the company’s core business. Cisco bought Flip a mere two years ago and quickly made it the most recognizable brand of consumer HD video cameras. Suddenly, every Tom, Dick and Harry (and Mary, too) could record their kids, vacations and random acts of police brutality in 720p HD video. Travelers embraced the Flip because it was small, had no extra components to pack and allowed them to record their trips in stunning HD. Well, stunning assuming that the conditions were perfect (read: well lit and no background noise). However, as more and more smartphones and consumer cameras added HD video capabilities, the idea of having a second video device quickly became archaic. Why tote around a Flip when your DSLR, point and shoot or, heck, even your phone can do the exact same thing? And, with one simple press release yesterday, Cisco pulled the plug on the Flip. It burned hot, it burned quickly and now it’s gone. But, does anyone care?I own a Flip. Many of the videos that I have recorded for Gadling were made using the Flip. However, I always recognized and bemoaned the tiny camera’s limitations. The editing software that was bundled with the Flip was useless. I always deferred to iMovie and, more recently, Final Cut Pro. The internal microphone on the Flip was abysmal. It required you to be uncomfortably close to the camera or to speak in an unnaturally high volume. The lack of a port for an external microphone was an issue that users complained about from the Flip’s inception. The Flip also necessitated optimal lighting conditions to record anything even close to watchable.

All of that said, for your average traveler, the Flip was a revelation. When the conditions were right, consumers could record lasting memories in a quality never before imaginable to anyone other than professional videographers. The Flip was affordable, tiny and simple to operate. Sadly, it never evolved while other segments of the technology market surpassed it.

If you’re looking to point fingers in the death of the Flip (and don’t feel like blaming it entirely on Cisco’s poor management of the brand), look no further than the iPhone 4. Apple put an HD camcorder inside its already popular smartphone and showed that merging all of your key portable devices did not require sacrificing any single one of them (except for maybe call quality in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco…but that’s another story). Now, Android phones have HD, consumers are more comfortable upgrading to DSLR cameras that shoot HD and many point and shoots, including the popular Canon S95, put HD video in the palms of people’s hands. And since travelers rarely want to carry extra gear, the Flip, that simple unitasker, is no longer necessary.

Would phones and consumer cameras have upgraded to HD video as quickly as they did if the Flip hadn’t become so popular? It’s hard to say. The Flip certainly did change people’s thinking about video quality and made HD a consumer standard rather than just the professional standard. Cisco, it seems, was either lazy or unmotivated. Other companies with handheld HD video cameras such as Kodak never seemed interested in pushing their products through marketing the way that Cisco did in recent years. Perhaps they realized that the market for pocket HD video cameras had a ceiling and that it was reached almost immediately.

Are travelers sad to see the Flip go? Probably not. Cisco says that their transition plan will support current Flip customers. However, most people who are now interested in taking better videos – people who may have been inspired by using the Flip – have probably already moved on to a new product. Most likely, their phone and/or camera already does what the Flip did for them before.

In the history of travel gear, the Flip is but a blip. Its influence, however, may be underrated. We can all shoot in HD now. Most of our trip videos are still boring and poorly edited, but boy do they look sharp.

RIP, Flip.

Nomading Film Fest seeks travel filmmakers

Ever wanted to make a movie about your travels? Perhaps you already have? The Nomading Film Festival wants to talk to you. From now through April 2011, this new travel-focused film festival, based in Brooklyn, NY, is accepting submissions from aspiring travel-focused filmmakers everywhere.

The idea behind the Nomading Film Festival is simple. The fest’s creators “believe that stories caught on film, while traveling, are some of the most entertaining, educating, beautiful, and authentic. These are stories which should be shared, acknowledged, and awarded.” Their film festival is the embodiment of this ideal, and they’re striving to get everyone and anyone who likes travel to submit their own entry. Think you lack the movie-making skills to enter? Think again. The philosophy of the Nomading Film Fest is that we are travelers first and filmmakers second. Anyone with a simple point-and-shoot digital camera, Flip or iPhone, a love for travel and some basic editing software is encouraged to enter.

If you’ve ever dreamed of turning that vacation video or backpacking documentary into a reality, here’s your chance. Upload your 15 minutes-or-less video here (along with a nominal entry fee). Selections will be finalized by May next year and the festival will be held June 17th and 18th of 2011 in New York City. Get those cameras rolling!

New waterproof Kodak Mini Video Camera goes small – very, very small

Kodak just announced a new camcorder to their successful lineup, but did so without too much fanfare. Their new “Mini Video Camera” is not all that impressive in the specifications department (sticking to old fashioned non HD content), but what it lacks in specs, it makes up for in sheer miniaturization.

As you can see in the photo, their new camcorder is about the size of a credit card. Now, Kodak is by no means the first to make a really small camcorder, but they’ll probably be the first to mass market one.

Recordings are made to a 2GB MicroSD memory card (included) or to its internal 128MB of memory. Zoom comes from a depressing 3x digital zoomer and audio is mono – bottom line is that this camera is probably best for capturing things you’d miss if you left your real camera at the hotel.

Oh, and did we mention that it is waterproof? That completes the equation for “take it anywhere you go” – because it’ll be just as happy in the swimming pool as it is filming your drunken antics at the bar.

The camera is available in red and black, is expected to ship starting September 6, and retails for $99.95.

10 travel related things you just don’t see any more

Feeling nostalgic? I’ve compiled ten travel related things that are no longer around, including a couple of things that really brought back some memories of trips from the past.

Read through the 10 things I could think of, and leave a comment with anything you no longer see when you travel.

Smoking or Non Smoking?

With the possible exception of a few smaller airlines, you won’t find an airline in the world that still asks whether you want a smoking or non smoking seat on your flight.

I’m not that old, but I can still remember sitting in the back of the plane with all the smokers so my dad could light up.

Smoking is banned on any flight in, or destined to the United States, and an overview of the rules on worldwide airlines can be found here. In 2006, a German entrepreneur announced he was starting an airline where anyone would be free to smoke, but the concept never took off.


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Travel agents

In ancient times, booking a flight involved making a trip to your local travel agent. You’d often pop in for a stack of brochures, then you’d head back in a couple of days to make the actual reservation.

The booking involved filling in forms, and an agent calling the airline to check for availability, or if they sold enough trips, they’d use their green screen computer to check for availability. You’d then pay, and 2 weeks later your travel documents would be ready to pick up. Usually neatly stacked in a nice vinyl pouch.

There are still some travel agents around, but most of them have disappeared. The local travel agent is just another victim of Internet booking sites and airline cost cutting measures. Those still around tend to cater towards specialty trips, package deals or cruise vacations, where they can still make a few bucks in commission.

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Color TV! Phones!
Cable!

Sure, some less luxurious places may still have the old sign out front, but “color TV” is not the big selling point it used to be. Nowadays guests want 100 channels of HD, as well as a nice variety of pay per view flicks.

Access to your own in-room phone is also no longer a perk worth advertising, even though the phone has now become a major money maker for many hotels.

I haven’t been around long enough to know when “color TV” actually became something worth advertising, nor have I ever been to a hotel where the TV was not in color.

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Payphones

Let me admit right away that this one hasn’t completely vanished – but the payphone is most certainly not as common as it used to be, nor do that many people want to use them.

In a way, I kind of miss the hassle they offered, because they meant people had to stop and drop some coins into the slot in order to make a phone call. Nowadays it seems like everyone is on their phone, and the worst offenders seem to have their Bluetooth headset glued to their skulls 24/7.

The last time I made a call from a payphone was in 1998, when I arrived at Dulles with a dead phone battery. Nowadays I can use my cellular phone in almost any corner of the globe.

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Real room keys

We can put a computer inside your phone, and develop a car that runs off battery power – but for some reason we seem unable to make a magnetic room key that always works when you need it.

I remember when the room key hung on a big board behind the front desk, and you’d hand it in when you left the hotel for the day. The large weight on the key would usually remind you not to go out without leaving it behind.

The best part about the real key is that it always worked. You never arrived at your room at 2am to discover it was encoded incorrectly by a clueless night desk clerk, nor would you be able to receive a key for a room already occupied.

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Carbon copy ticket stock

This one is closely related to the travel agent – remember when airline tickets did not roll out of your home printer? You’d get them on airline ticket stock, in a cool red carbon print.

The carbon copy ticket still exists for a couple of airlines, or for trips too complicated for online ticketing (usually round the world tickets with over 10 segments).

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Affordable duty free shopping

To many, a trip to the airport never took place without first passing through the duty free shops. The stores themselves are still around, but they are not the deal heavens they used to be. In the past, the duty free shop was where you’d pick up a bottle of the “good stuff” for about 30% less than the liquor store in your town. You could always tell who traveled a lot, by the size and quality of the booze in their cabinet.

Nowadays duty free is just another overpriced way the airport tries to squeeze some more cash out of you before you fly. In Europe, duty free shopping between EU members was abolished in 1999, and most duty free stores in European airports sell only regular priced (luxury) items. Airports like Amsterdam Schiphol and London Heathrow have 100’s of stores, but only a handful of true “duty free” options.

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Film roll kiosks

It didn’t matter where you were – if it was something tourists enjoyed looking at, there would be some poor guy selling rolls of film in his little kiosk. If you were part of the new revolution, you’d buy your Kodak Disc cartridges from him. If you were really hardcore, you’d carry your Polaroid 600 with you, and get instant gratification!

Once you got back home, you’d have to drop all the film rolls off at the local photo store, and wait a week to get them back. That then changed to same day processing, then one hour processing, and nowadays we just stick a memory card in our computer and make our own prints.

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The VHS video camera

I still remember hauling a large bag with us on our trips. It contained a JVC video camera and VHS recorder.

By the time we had loaded the padded bag with batteries, a charger and a stack of tapes, the thing weighed about 60lbs, but at the time it was a marvel of technology.

It went everywhere we did – to the zoo, to the bar and even to the beach. After years of vacations, we ended up with 100’s of hours of video we never once watched again.

Nowadays the video camera inside many mobile phones is able to make better quality video than this thing did, which is probably why you don’t see anyone dragging one around any longer.

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Cheap plastic luggage

Nowadays, the big unknown by the baggage carousel is to see whether your baggage actually made it to your destination, but I still remember the days when the big surprise was whether your cheap luggage made it in one piece, and how many of the handles were still attached.

These crappy bags were often made of vinyl glued onto cardboard, and you were lucky if they survived the trip to the airport, let along a long haul flight abroad.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I suspect luggage quality has improved in recent years, and very few people actually still travel with the old fashioned suitcase.