A little more than a year ago, action-cam maker Contour closed its doors. Though it had a couple of the best cameras around in the Roam2 and Contour+2 , it couldn't keep up with the marketing muscle of GoPro or the onslaught of less-expensive competitors.
The situation seemed bleak, and the shutdown seemingly left a lot of Contour's customers in the lurch, especially those who were stuck with a broken camera still under warranty, as well as anyone who had sent one in for service.
Luckily Contour was able to find some investors, and the company is on its way back, trying to square up with its past customers (check its Facebook page to see what I mean) and looking to make new ones with its first new camera, the Roam3.
In light of all this, you might have expected Contour to make a big splash and update its flagship product, but the Roam is its entry-level camera with a price of $199 in the US and AU$299.95 in Australia. (Pricing for other regions was unknown at the time of this review, but it will be available in the UK as well as 46 other countries. For reference, at the current rate its US price converts to about £121.)
One of my main issues with the Roam2 was the inability to change resolutions or shooting modes on the fly. Just to take a picture you had to connect to a computer to switch from capturing video to photos. That changes with the Roam3.
The other big addition is waterproofing, or should I say, the amount of waterproofing. The Roam2 was good without a housing down to 3.3 feet or 1 meter. You can take the Roam3 down to about 33 feet or 10 meters -- still without a housing.
Design and features
If you're not familiar with Contour's cameras, they have a few design features that help them stand out from the crowd. Unlike GoPro and other box-shaped action cams, they have a low-profile design so they fit closer to your helmet.
The lens rotates 270 degrees (180 degrees to the left and 90 degrees to the right), which gives you more positioning options and no need to mess with settings or flip the video with editing software.
Above the lens is a laser level. Since the Roam3 has no screen or built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to connect to a mobile device, the laser helps you set up your shot, so it's not crooked. Just push the Status button on the back and it kicks on for 15 seconds.
The Status button also lights up some LEDs on top of the camera to give you a rough idea of the remaining battery power and storage amount. This button now works as a shutter release for snapping off photos, too. Just press and hold the button for a few seconds and it will switch on the camera, then press it again to take a picture. The photos have a 4:3 aspect ratio, though, which means you'll have to crop them if you want to drop them in with your videos and match their 16:9 aspect ratio.
The Roam3 gives you two options for mounting: You can use Contour's sliding rail mounts (aka Trails) or take advantage of the tripod mount in the bottom. Included with the camera is a flat adhesive rail mount as well as one that rotates and locks in place. The latter is nice to use on top of a helmet, letting you shoot in front of you and then you can quickly rotate it to capture behind you or off to the sides.
Starting a recording is as easy as sliding the big switch on top of the camera forward. The slider has its own switch, which is a lock so you don't accidentally start or stop a recording. Beneath the lens barrel are the camera's mono mic and an activity light.
At the back is a slide-up door that covers the microSDHC card slot (cards up to 32GB are supported; an 8GB card is included), Mini-USB port, and reset and format buttons. What you might notice missing is a removable battery. While its battery life is very good at up to 3.5 hours, you need to charge it for nearly that long to top it off again.
What you will find is a switch that lets you change between two different recording resolutions. This is new for the Roam3, trickling down from the +2; the Roam2 required a computer to change resolutions.
The default settings for the switch are 1080p at 30 frames per second and 720p at 60fps. You can also set them for 960p, 720p, or 480p video at 30fps or 480p at 60fps or 120fps. Photos can be taken one at a time or can be set to snap continuously with photos taken every 1, 3, 5, 10, 30 or 60 seconds. These settings are all handled with Contour's Storyteller desktop software.
The software can be used to make other changes like adjusting the mic level and turning off camera beeps, as well as adjusting contrast, exposure, sharpness and metering. You can use it to trim clips, organize your library or share clips on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Vimeo.
Video and photo quality
If your main need is to share clips online, the results from the Roam3 are definitely pleasing, with nice color and detail. The 1080p video is recorded at a variable bit rate between 14 and 16Mbps, which is good for its price range, and it results in better detail than you'd get from lower-end models.
Viewed closely at larger screen sizes, though, you'll see compression artifacts, especially at high speeds or in complex scenes. You also see some lens flare and a bit of purple fringing in high-contrast areas. And, low-light videos are noisy and soft. However, these things are typical of action cams, even more expensive models, the GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition being an exception and that camera is $200 more expensive.
You definitely lose some detail when you record at lower resolutions, but when viewing at small sizes you likely won't notice that too much and, again, the results are overall very nice-looking.
Audio quality is OK and sounds a little muffled, likely because of the camera's waterproofing. Basically, it's good enough to record someone talking at a normal volume a couple feet from the camera. I found it handled wind noise reasonably well, but chances are you're going to want to throw some music over the video.
Photo quality isn't anything special, but if the Roam3 is the only camera you have handy, it'll do. As I mentioned earlier, it captures 5-megapixel shots, but they're in a 4:3 aspect ratio, so if your plans are to drop them into your full-HD movies, you'll probably want to crop them to 16:9.
The Contour Roam3 is an excellent action cam if you don't want to worry about housings and can live without features like Wi-Fi or the ability to preview what you're about to shoot. The video quality is very good for its price, but if you need the best video, you'll want to spend more money.