Personal Technology

February 23, 2012 7:32 pm

Cool cameras for the great outdoors

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As smartphones offer ‘good enough’ cameras for many people, makers of dedicated stills and video cameras are offering more features and appealing to niche audiences. This week we look at the equipment for those wanting to make films as they fall out of aeroplanes or shred the ski slopes.

Contour+ 3/5

I fear for my friend who uses the Color app on his iPhone to beam me live video as he follows and films his kids on the ski slopes in the equivalent of texting while driving.

What he needs is a camera with a simple on-off recording switch that fixes to his helmet – the Contour+ ($500, £400) could be just the trick. Such sports-focused devices are favoured by skydivers, surfers and skiers and are one of the few fast-growing camera categories.

I like the size, shape and feel of the Contour+ (pictured, above). It is no bigger than my LED bicycle light and slides on and off the side of a helmet using a plastic mount that is provided. A simple slider switch that turns recording on and off is easy to locate and activate by feel, even when wearing gloves.

The lens can be rotated to any angle and there is a 170-degree field of view through the fish-eye lens, with very little distortion. The picture quality is excellent – the Contour+ is capable of 1080 pixel
high-definition at 30 frames per second and 720p at
60 frames a second to help create slow-motion effects. A GPS chip means that location, speed and elevation data can be matched with your footage.

There are some fiddly aspects to this pricey camera. It has no viewfinder, and although you can turn an iPhone or Android device into a wireless viewfinder with a free app that connects
via Bluetooth, I found the connection flaky and you can use the viewfinder only to preview.

However, I was impressed with how its view and settings could be seen inside a pair of ski goggles provided by Recon Instruments that incorporate a micro-optics display showing a dashboard of different apps.

GoPro Hero 2 5/5

I tested the Contour+ along with the better-known, updated GoPro Hero 2 ($299, £299), helped by
my teenage son and his friends on a skiing trip in the California Sierras.

Having filmed the same scenes, we preferred the GoPro video for the greater detail, slightly richer colours and better picture stabilisation. The GoPro does have a more pronounced “barrel look” through its 170-degree lens, but my son found this cool.

He also loved the choice of mounts – it is easy to fix this squarer-shaped camera on, say, a ski pole or even your chest, as well as on a helmet, and it comes in a waterproof plastic housing.

The GoPro also has a small display for scrolling through menu options and a connector for adding other features, such as a snap-on LCD monitor for previewing and reviewing shots that is not dependent on the vagaries of Bluetooth.

It lacks GPS and I found the number of waterproof housings to cater for extensions a little fiddly.
A second “bacpac” can add extra battery life while a
WiFi bacpac combined with a remote, due in March, will allow remote-control and live streaming of video from the camera.

Sony Bloggie Sport 4/5

For the sporty casual user, Sony has developed the Bloggie Sport ($180, £200), whose special feature is operating in wet conditions or underwater.

It lacks the aficionado’s paraphernalia of mounts and add-ons, but it does have good image stabilisation, 1080p video and a 2.7in colour touchscreen that is fully operational down to 16ft underwater.

The device’s ruggedised rubber exterior means it does not need any special plastic housing to do this.

While missing the fish-eye wide-angle views available on both the Contour+ and the GoPro Hero 2, it does have 4x digital zoom and an LED light for low-light shooting.

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