GoPro vs Contour

It’s probably been remiss of me not to have reviewed some of my most heavily used and battered pieces of kit since this site went live. And when I say battered I mean literally tested to destruction. Numerically speaking we have 11 minicams in total, made up of 9 GoPros and 2 Contour GPS’s. Four of those GoPro’s no longer operate at ‘optimum performance’, mostly because they’re broken.

At first glance this could look bad for GoPro with a near 50% failure rate but trust me when I say, statistics do lie.

I first came across the GoPro as a tool we KiteSurfers were using back in about 2009 to get some pretty special footage out on the water. Shortly after that they went HD and more by accident than design, changed the minicam game for ever.

Before I continue let me explain the failure rate of my GoPro’s. Two were written off by Runners, having been dropped on their lenses, one was re-engineered by us as an IR camera for a ghost hunting shoot and the last one was attached to a tree which was fired out of a mortar. Doesn’t everyone do that?

Ironically I had just finished saying to my assistant that we needed to push the cameras a little harder as they were proving indestructible. To put it into context we had just put one, ( not for the first time ), inside an explosion when bringing down a tree using detcore. That was shortly after having two placed in the top of a tree and cutting that down by hand. In fact their indestructibility is probably their downfall.

In the early days what we all loved about them was their stability. You could place them on a surfer or skier and no matter how much shock or movement they suffered there was never any picture breakup. It’s a testament to solid state recording that we expect that only two years after their adoption.

Up until this point I’ve strapped, screwed and stuck them to almost every imaginable thing that moves, flies or submerges. We’ve even put ours into Space and recovered them wth no ill effects other than an odd sulphurous smell. Space it seems, smells like rotting eggs.*

There isn’t much to choose between the Contour or the GoPro, although the GoPro pips the Contour slightly on picture quality. We have both as it comes down to form factor that decides which we go with on the day. When we shot Toy Stories, The Great Train Race, and joined the two towns of Barnstaple and Biddeford together by model train, we chose the Contours due to their lower centre of gravity. It was a simple matter of physics that decided that. In the case of our short trip into space we had little choice but to use the GoPro simply because the flight time was expected to be 4 hrs and GoPro offer the optional battery expansion pack.

Back in the day neither had any practical monitoring solutions until GoPro released the LCD backpack. Contour responded by releasing a Bluetooth smartphone transmitter. Both are as good as they are bad. The GoPro back more or less halves battery time while the Contour’s Bluetooth monitor cuts out once you put the camera into record mode. I love the fact my iphone can connect to the Contour, especially when its in positions my head is unable to reach, although it is far from perfect and in our case trying to switch between multiple cameras is all but impossible. In recent times Contour has been advertising some impressive upgrades to their lineup including an HDMI tx/rx unit amongst other things which I already have use for.

In fact Contour have really stepped up their game, having been slow to consider the 25fps market. No matter how simple transcoding is sometimes you just have to keep it dead simple for the client. One of my good friends shot with N-Dubz for a season at 30fps and the Post facility took the liberty of charging ¬£20k to ingest the footage! GoPro definitely got the upper hand when they released the 25fps firmware upgrade late last year. Productions have become used to seeing GoPros on set and have no trouble including them in their workflow, it’s not been so easy with Contour.

Neither camera is a magic bullet however and both fail miserably in low light. Their automatic settings ramp up the gain and render them unwatchable. If picture quality is the absolute overriding feature this is not the arrow to pull from your quiver. Both do cope extraordinarily well with contrast and bright sunlight as they should but don’t be fooled, they have their limitations.

I’ve personally always preferred Contour’s form factor, largely because it’s the type of thing you can have in shot without standing out or looking odd. Contour also has some useful functions in their App but the GoPro wins on simplicity and ease of use, and more importantly it still wins on picture quality.

That said, one look at the Contour website suggests that wont be the case much longer.

Either way, Im uncomfortable on a shoot without a set of either cameras these days. You just never know when you’re going to blow something up in space.


*Ok, for the nerds amongst you, technically speaking it’s the troposphere that causes the sulphurous smell and it’s picked up as the equipment falls through it. The kit obviously experiences some extremes, both heat and radiation but the smell only lingers for a few days.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.