A few years ago I was  kayaking with my friend Ken Hovie.  He’s the go to guy for news crews looking to get footage of downriver races from the competitor’s viewpoint.  Strapped to his helmet would be the forefather of the miniature camera. They were called “lipstick cams”  and they had a cable winding around to Ken’s back where a large uncomfortable waterproof pelican case full of hardware for the camera was strapped.  Ken still totes a camera for TV, but now the whole thing is the size of that tiny lipstick cam strapped to his helmet.

Miniature cameras have given the creative filmmaker and photographer new options that not too long ago would have been a great way to lose or destroy expensive cameras.  They have greatly reduced the number of “impossible” shots.  These little cameras have gone to space on weather balloons, and I’ve personally sent them hundreds of feet underwater on nothing more than some fishing line.

With the flexibility and low costs, everybody is picking them up for all kinds of uses.  Family ski trips and self-absorbed athletes overwhelmingly dominate the demographic.  I know of a number engineers that have put them on remote-controlled helicopters and robots, and photographers that use them to get new angles on old subjects.  The demographic that I’m concerned about and am writing for are the people who want the best camera for their money.  That’s everybody.

Before I started messing around with the Contour brand, I went online to review some of the other comparisons that are out there.  In truth, video quality coming out of these little cameras is all pretty similar.   The defining factors are in the build quality, the ease of use, and the specific needs of the user.

On a recent shoot where I spent 4 weeks working with a TV show that I’m not allowed to talk about I really tested the Contour+ that I’d brought with me, and I compared it to the three GoPro’s that they had provided.  The GoPro’s came with an LCD backpack, Battery Backpack, and pretty much every mounting attachment  that they make.  The Contour came as is, along with every mounting attachment that they make.  Both camera’s were set up with underwater housings.  I’d usually skip over the out of the box observations but I think they are pretty important to note mainly because it affected the rest of my shooting that I’d do with the cameras.  One of the Go-Pro’s front LCD screen had detached and was falling back into the camera so was nearly impossible to read.  Another wasn’t working consistently so I ended up side lining  it and using only a handful of times when I needed an extra.  Greatly contrasting the shape and confusing menu of the Go-Pro was the svelte and sturdy feeling Contour.  The buttons were simple to use, and sturdily snapped into place when recording started.  Instead of having an LCD screen like the optional one that can be attached to the Go Pro, my Contour links up to my IPhone via Bluetooth where I can preview my shot and change settings on the camera.  There’s an actual menu rather than the obscure letters and numbers that show up on the Go-Pro’s tiny little front LCD.

The Discovery Network owns everything I shot in Alaska so in the interest of not getting sued, I’ve shot a few other video’s and timelapses to show what it’s like working with the contour.

This first video is an example of using the contour to record b-roll and to document a photoshoot that I was on where I wanted to get video, but didn’t have the time or extra hands to hold a second camera.

This is the main reason that I want one of these cameras, I would have loved to have had a Contour+ Mounted to my shoulder on a recent shoot that I did in Haiti.  It would have been doubly beneficial because the + also records GPS coordinates and I could have used it to track my travels through Port Au Prince for this interactive piece I put together with Tomnod.

Most people however arne’t as interested in using these for photojournalism, but more for the self glorifying action shots that adventurous athletes love to upload to Youtube.   Now I’m not a great surfer, so I risked ridicule to bring you this next piece.

One nice thing about the Contour that is an immediate bonus over the GoPro is that it’s housing focuses underwater.   The GoPro can’t focus underwater with the stock housing.  It’s necessary to buy an aftermarket housing from a company like Eye of Mine in order to get usable underwater footage.  The savings you might have had buying a GoPro just went out the window.
Getting the opening shot of the duckdive would have been impossible with the stock GoPro.

The camera took a beating with my poor surfing skills, but none of the parts ever showed any weakness whatsoever.  The longer and thinner body of the contour also seems to be less affected by the water than the wide front face of the GoPro.

Can’t afford a boom for your big HD camera?  I just mounted the Contour+ on a painters pole to get some new angles of a famous boulder problem near LA called “Masters of Reality”.

Contour Vs. Go-Pro – Details

The Contour is sturdy, and well designed.  It is slightly larger than a Go-Pro and they have completely different forms.  The Go-Pro is a little box, modeled more off of a point and shoot camera.  This leaves its largest side facing into the wind, and water.  That’s bad for high-speed applications where drag can pull it away from the composition, but good when you want to mount it flat against a wall or something.   The contour is long and thin, easily pulled through the water and was my choice when using a painters pole to drag the camera through the water while the boat was moving.   Really though, the shape is a matter of taste.

Go Pro uses digital buttons and a little LCD screen, but figuring out what BoF P1 and R5 all stand for while getting bashed around in the waves took me a bit to get used to.  The good news is that the camera is adjustable on the spot and in or out of the housing.  The Contour is best adjusted when connected to your phone or computer, but gives you three presets to work with on the fly.  I almost never hook it up to change the settings as I have the three I use most dialed right in.  I prefer the sureness of a button that moves and locks into place over the digital buttons on the go pro.  I never missed a shot with the Contour because the button I never had any trouble with the buttons, I did miss shots with the Go-Pro.  The rotating lens on the Contour is a huge plus for me, allowing me to quickly level my shots regardless of how the camera is mounted.

Out of the box the Go-Pro is somewhat over exposed and the Contour somewhat underexposed.  You don’t have to decide between the lesser of two flaws though, as the Contour is adjustable.  Hook up your iPhone and Contour via Bluetooth and preview your shot and adjust your exposure.  Other than that the image quality itself is comparable.  Both cameras give you many options with HD, time-lapse capability,
30 or 60 FPS at 720 though the Contour is certainly built more for Video as it doesn’t have a “shutter button” to take stills.  I never used it on the go pro anyways.  I always put it on time-lapse, set at 1 photo every 3 seconds and worked a scene that way.  That way when the camera is at the end of a boom or in an awkward place (if it wasn’t I’d use my SLR) I didn’t have to pull it back in to take another shot.

Both cameras have a range to work with.  If you don’t need Bluetooth and GPS then you don’t need the Contour+ which is a bit more expensive than the Go-Pro.  They have models that don’t need underwater housings, and others that are just the basic camera.  The difference is that when I bought a Go-Pro I felt ripped off, but not when I bought the Contour.


About Ben Horton
Highly influenced by his love of travel and adventure and his constant search for something new, his imagery is vibrant with fresh and creative energy. Raised in Bermuda, Ben Horton has spent the majority of his life traveling and seeking out new adventure. Ben is the recipient of the National Geographic Society’s first Young Explorer award for research on Cocos Island involving shark poaching. This led to becoming a photographer for National Geographic, and has allowed Ben to continue his passion for adventure. Follow Ben on Instagram

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