Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
Contour's HD camcorders have been among our favorite action cameras since the original ContourHD was launched three years ago. However, the old ContourHD (while still a good camera) is getting a bit long in the tooth. So, we're pleased to hear that Contour's entry model is up for replacement. Meet the new kid on Contour's block, the ContourRoam.
Let's start with the important bit: the lens. Where Contour's previous entry-level model packed a 135-degree wide-angle lens, the ContourRoam sees the world through an ultrawide 170-degree field of view, which brings it on par with the GoPro Hero cameras and Contour's own top-of-the-line Contour+.
Where the ContourHD's lens was flanked by twin laser pointers, the ContourRoam only has one laser. However, rather than emitting a single point of light, this laser emits a line of light that can be used to help level the lens when positioning. Speaking of positioning, the Roam's rotating lens assembly features a full 270 degrees of twisting articulation (up from the old camera's 180 degrees). This is good news for those who like to mount their cameras upside down. And speaking of mounting, Contour's rail-mounting system remains intact and is joined by a threaded tripod mount.
Around back, located on the back door, the ContourRoam features a status/laser button that illuminates the status LED icons for battery and available SD card space. Unlocking the door reveals the Mini-USB port that is used for charging and syncing data, the microSD card slot (card not included), and two tiny buttons for resetting the camera's settings and formatting the inserted SD card.
You'll notice that we haven't mentioned a power button. That's because there isn't one. To use the ContourRoam, simply push the record slider forward and the unit powers on and begins recording. Slide the slider backward to stop recording and turn the unit off. Contour claims that this not only makes the already simple-to-manage Contour camera even easier to use but also increases battery life by eliminating all of the standby time between recordings.
With the rear door shut, the ContourRoam has one trick up its sleeve that no other Contour camera before it could boast: an IPX7 waterproof rating. That means that the ContourRoam can be submerged for up to 30 minutes at a depth of 1 meter without ill effects. If you need to go deeper than 1 meter, there is an optional waterproof case that's good for up to 60 meters of submersion.
Software and features
Plugging the ContourRoam into a PC or Mac for the initial charging of the battery prompts the installation of the Contour Storyteller video-editing and organizing software, which is a free download from Contour's Web site.
Recording modes and settings are all adjusted using Storyteller. Aside from tweaking settings and updating camera firmware, the Storyteller software can be used to download and edit captured video from the connected Contour unit. You can trim the beginning and end from a video, keeping just the good parts, by tapping the new Awesome button at the best part of your video to initiate the trimming mode. On the video's timeline, selection handles will appear around the point where the button was pressed. Simply drag the handles to the points where you'd like the clip to begin and end and Storyteller will automatically crop the video for you.
The ContourRoam has three video recording modes, a still photo capture mode, and an array of options for each.
Full HD mode captures 1080p (1,920x1,080-pixel resolution) video at 30 frames per second. Tall HD captures at an odd 960p (1,280x960-pixel resolution), also at 30fps. Original HD steps down to 720p (1,280x720 pixels) at 30fps. Missing from the Roam is Contour's Action HD setting that would have captured 720p video at 60fps--that setting has been omitted to keep price down. All of these video modes are for the NTSC standard, but the ContourRoam can also be set to record PAL video at 25fps.
Each recording mode also has three quality settings (high, low, and medium); automatic or user-set white balance; three metering modes (center, average, and spot); and adjustable contrast, exposure, and sharpness settings. Microphone sensitivity can be adjusted.
The still-photo mode captures 5MP JPEGs (2,592x1,944 pixels) at intervals of 3, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds.
In sum: Performance and quality
Interestingly, the ContourRoam seems to crop the first and last second or so of a recorded video automatically, which all but eliminates the need to trim the shot of your hand reaching in to start and stop the recording.
Also, because the Roam is missing the Bluetooth connectivity and dual recording modes of the ContourGPS and Contour+ cameras, the only way to change recording modes is with Contour Storyteller, so there's no way to switch between video and photo modes while recording in the field--unless you bring along a laptop.
The quality of video recorded using the ContourRoam is quite good, but there's a slight graininess in low-light situations that isn't present in video recorded on the Contour+. Then again, at an MSRP of $199 ($50 less than the old entry-level model) comparing the ContourRoam to the $499 Contour+ seems a bit unfair.
The combination of ease of use, durability, quality of video, and low cost makes the ContourRoam a great first camera for the budding action videographer.