Admit it—you’re a video fiend just like us! You spend more hours than you’d care to admit surfing the web for automotive videos, specifically ones that feature the beloved “H” badge. So the question is, why aren’t you making your own road and race videos? There are a number of HD cameras now available to the public, and that’s helped to not only push the prices down, but also pick the quality up—good news for a consumer like you.
We were granted three cameras for testing, and we reviewed everything from mounting options to ergonomics to video/audio quality, and in the end, we were pleasantly surprised by the performance of all three. It seems that everyone I’ve talked to is either using, about to buy, or dreaming about picking up a mini-HD camera. Hopefully, this article will help highlight some of the best features about three of the most promising cameras currently available.
Camera: Contour GPS
Format: Micro SD card
Full-HD 1080p 30fps
135 degrees wide angle overall
Rotating lens for angle mounting, upside down, etc.
One-touch, no-look recording
Built-in, multi-directional mic
Micro SD card
iPhone mobile connection
Contour’s jump into the HD camera market was established in the snow and extreme sports segment, but recently the company has taken aim at the performance motorsport genre with its HD, GPS, and + camera options. We were given a GPS unit to test, and the very first thing we noticed is its unique shape. Encased within a black-anodized, brushed-aluminum body, the Contour features a very aerodynamic design that’s essentially an extension of the lens. Placement options upon the interior or exterior of any vehicle are plentiful.
To get set up properly, a dual laser pointer built in to the unit shines brightly (even at high noon) and allows you to level out the shot using an easily adjustable swiveling lens head. Simply turn it to the desired position, and you’re ready to record. One of the other standout features on all of the Contour cameras is the simple one-touch recording. On top of the unit is a rectangular plastic switch that need only be pushed forward, which is followed by a “click” and an audible alert, and your recording begins. This feature is very helpful, especially if you’re already strapped into your race seat and you have gloves on, or if you’ve mounted the unit very low on the body of the vehicle and you can’t see a tiny “record” button.
Real-time viewing is something the Contour’s body doesn’t reserve space for. Well, sort of. When the unit was created, the design team left a little room for expansion. Behind the battery door on the rear of the camera is a very small slot, intended for Contour’s very inexpensive “connect view card.” The card, along with a free firmware update, gives your iPhone or Android phone a live view via the Bluetooth connection. You can view the cameras angle, make adjustments to light sensitivity, audio, etc.
The “GPS” portion ties into the name of this model due to its ability to auto-map your location, speed, and elevation. This means it will synchronize with your footage to create a continuous track of coordinates, and provide a replay of your run via Google Maps. A cool extra feature that other units don’t currently offer.
Included with our kit was a suction mount that offered the firmest grip on any of the cameras tested. The camera securely slides into a track and is then further tied down using 2 provided screws that can be turned for even more security. Set up was easy and pain free, and the one-touch recording button made things even easier.
How It Did
The streamlined body of the Contour is a major key to its appeal. Able to be mounted in places that its competition can’t is certainly a strong quality. The “connect view” Bluetooth option is very cool, but there were a few times that we lost connection and had to start the process over. For the 17 people on Earth who don’t already own an iPhone or Android, live view simply isn’t an option at this time. That means you’ll be guessing as to what’s in the frame. The good news is, if you’re facing the camera toward the driver, the road, a wheel, or the like, the frame width (127 degrees in 1080) is so great that you probably won’t need to pinpoint anything. The bad news is you won’t know for sure until you can get to your computer and take a look.
In the ergonomics department, the Contour GPS makes life easy with it’s one-touch sliding record button, especially when you’re wearing gloves or the camera is mounted in an awkward position. The rotating lens cap is just plain awesome. It includes a white arrow that tells you when you’re facing the shot upright, so there’s no guessing, and with 360 degrees of rotation, the mounting options are infinite.
Looking for the most streamlined design and easy one-touch on/off recording, as well as GPS tracking and live view (iPhone/Android users only)? You’ve found it with the Contour GPS.
Format: SD card
1080p 30fps (full-HD 140-degree view)
720p 60fps (Slow Mo 95-degree view)
Native 1080p CMOS sensor
Advanced software processing
Real-time video enhancement
Lens distortion, vignette, and softness correction
Clip tagging on unit or from remote
In-field exposure control
Exposure compensation—improve color saturation and contrast
Exposure metering—set the automatic control sampling area
Shock-, dust-, and waterproof (1m/30min)
External (adjustable) microphone
The POV.HD unit carries a completely different look and concept when compared to the other cameras being reviewed. The foundation of the unit is its unique LCD control box, powered by four AA batteries. Armed with a small LCD screen, the box allows you to record and play back video in the field, which we loved. Additionally, the POV.HD gives the user the power to make exposure, audio, and recording changes on the fly. Recording in the middle of the afternoon usually means blown-out skies and backgrounds, but with a few adjustments on the control box, you can actually compensate for the bright conditions in just a few seconds. The lens itself is linked to the box using a multi-pin cable, and is incredibly light and compact. For motorsports, mounting the camera on the windshield or body, and being able to place the control box inside the car is actually a huge bonus. Rather than starting your recording, then jumping into the car, strapping in, heading out to your starting point, you can skip all the wasted card space, and simply click “record” from behind the wheel whenever you’re ready to begin. No need to get out of your car to shut down the camera and jump to a playback screen, it’s all on the control box. Even if you couldn’t reach the box, there’s a remote control included for you to begin or conclude your recording. Additionally, the microphone is attached to the connecting cable, and can be slid closer to the box, or the lens, depending on your preference. Eliminate wind noise altogether by placing the mic inside the car, or slide it toward the subject you’re recording, like an exhaust or turbo.
The number of mounting options offered by the company is staggering, but for our testing purposes, we relied on its suction cup mount for both the lens on the outside of the car, and the control box on the inside window. The lens mount features two plastic half circles that sandwich the lens, and then screw onto a metal post-equipped suction cup, while four rubber arms and a solid base cradle the control box.
How It Did
Video colors, saturation, and overall clarity are where the POV.HD really shines. Its small, lightweight lens and feature-packed control box will give you plenty of flexibility in all types of lighting situations. Recorded audio has a bit of an edge due to the fact that you can mount the lens in a windy exterior position, while placing the microphone inside the much quieter cabin if need be. Ergonomically, the controls are simplified to a point in which most would probably disregard instructions and figure it out on their own. The playback option, remote lens mounting, and ability to adjust the exposure and delete unwanted videos to free up space were the four strongest aspects to the POV.HD during our testing.
The only downside that we saw to this system in comparison to the others tested was its overall size. While some would disregard the size in exchange for the outstanding video quality, others might only be looking for a small, single unit.
Want outstanding visual and audio recordings and the ability to play and edit video, as well as correcting exposure while out in the field? POV.HD is the one for you.
Camera: GoPro Hero (with LCD BacPac)
Format: SD card
1080p 30fps, 127 degrees
720 60 fps, 170 degrees
Protective clamshell casing
Built-in microphone with auto-gain control
Capture shots in 2, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds
LCD BacPac with real-time viewing and playback
Upside-down mounting option
The GoPro Hero is probably the most popular of the bunch, with ads shown in just about every media type, sponsorships, and a heavy presence at monster events like the X Games, the company is unquestionably at the forefront of the mini-HD camera wave. A very compact and lightweight body is the basis of the GoPro, and while it does fit in some incredibly tight spots, it’s not exactly the most aerodynamic of the units tested. Nevertheless the stubby body hasn’t remained stagnant since its assault on the movie-making market—GoPro has introduced its BacPac system, which gives users the option of adding an additional battery or, in our case, a very user-friendly live-view screen. Rather than guessing, or making changes on your computer, you simply scroll through a pretty easy-to-understand menu and make your adjustments on the fly. Need to mount the camera upside down but don’t want to deal with flipping it in post processing? No worries, the Hero has an “upside down” mode available for you. Though the LCD screen (or add-on battery) will in fact add some size to the camera, the ability to mount the camera properly for footage, and to see what you’ve just recorded is invaluable.
For our testing, we used the suction mount that perches the GoPro’s plastic clamshell upon a plastic, multi-joint stem. The suction is strong enough to hold to the body of the vehicle (given that the curve of the body isn’t extreme), and it was rock solid against the inside or outside of the front windshield. There are sticky mounts included that allow you to position the camera in the front grille, in a small vent opening, etc. Also available are rollbar mounts, helmet mounts, and a number of other options through GoPro.
How It Did
As expected, the GoPro was tiny, tough, and with the LCD BacPac, full of features, including: live view, playback, and a bevy of menu options. Its plastic clamshell case keeps the camera safe and allows you to attach the Hero to a number of different mounts. Audio on the GoPro wasn’t quite as clear as the Contour or POV.HD, possibly due to the plastic case that it sits inside. The ergonomics are straightforward with three buttons covering all of the menu, recording, and power duties.
Searching for the smallest overall sized HD camera with options galore including LCD and backup battery add-ons? GoPro Hero suits your needs.
See For Yourself!
Each of the three cameras performed exceptionally well and exactly as their respective manufacturers described. All three are suitable for motorsports, and each one offers its own distinct advantages, and in some cases, disadvantages. Log on to www.hondatuningmagazine.com (Tech tab) for video samples of each camera in action, how they mounted, and some of the features we found to be most helpful.