Along with GoPro, Contour is one of the two big names in extreme sports ‘action’ cameras — small, simple video recorders with weatherproof bodies, designed to be strapped to a snowboard, a motocross helmet or a pair of scuba goggles.
The ROAM 2 is an evolutionary upgrade from the original ROAM, and addresses some of our concerns while not really changing the two main compromises we disliked in its predecessor.
The ROAM 2 is visually similar to the aforementioned ROAM and its grandaddy, the Contour+ — it’s a bullet-shaped design, with an ABC plastic chassis surrounded by brushed aluminium.
Our review unit was a bright satin red, but the ROAM 2 also comes in blue, green, and black. We’d encourage you to read both the Contour+ and ROAM reviews for an idea of how solid the construction of the new ROAM 2 camera is.
Functionally, the ROAM 2 is very simple. The front of the camera houses the 170-degree-field of view wide-angle lens, which rotates over a 270 degree range — what this means is that you can have the ROAM 2 mounted upright, on its side, or upside down, and still shooting video with the correct orientation (that is, sky-up).
The top of the camera has a single switch — slide it forward to start shooting, slide it backwards to stop. There’s no power button on the ROAM 2, since it’s always in an instant-on sleep mode, waiting to start shooting when you click that switch forwards. The switch can be locked on or locked off to avoid bumping. Contour claims 3.5 hours of battery life from the internal, non-removable battery, which should be long enough to fill any size of memory card at maximum quality.
The back of the camera is one big sliding door, covering a few important buttons and ports. When the door is closed, the back of the Contour ROAM 2 has a single button which activates a single laser line, which corresponds with the rotation of the lens — you can use this to make sure you’ve got the ROAM 2 set up to shoot video straight. The door also has a locking latch to stop it popping open accidentally.
Underneath the door, from top to bottom, you’ll see a reset button (to restart the camera if it’s stuck for any reason), a mini-USB port for charging the battery and connecting a computer, a button to quickly format the camera’s memory card, and a slot for that memory card — microSD cards up to 32GB are usable, which gives you around three hours of recording in the maximum quality 1080p mode.
To set the camera up, you’ve got to connect it to your computer and install Contour’s Storyteller program. It’s available for PC and Mac, and lets you view and trim the videos you’ve recorded, as well as letting you change the ROAM 2’s video settings.
The Contour ROAM 2 can shoot video in a number of settings, with three selectable video modes and a still photo mode. The best possible quality comes from the ROAM 2’s 1080p (1920x1080pixels) video mode, with either 25 or 30fps available. You can also shoot in ‘Tall HD’, the 1280x960 resolution, at 25/30fps. There’s a lower-quality 720p (1280x720) video mode, but the big advantage this offers is the ability to record not only at 25 or 30fps, but also at 50/60fps — for video that is twice as smooth.
The still video mode records at 5 megapixels, and can be set to snap a picture every 1, 3, 5, 10, 30 or 60 seconds. It’s a smart way to cut down on the amount of storage and battery used — we had the ROAM 2 running for six hours straight capturing a picture every minute without it running out of power.
In its 1080p highest quality video mode, the ROAM 2 captures video with a 125-degree field of view. It’s sharp, detailed, has enough dynamic range to capture reasonable shadows and highlights, and at 30 frames per second it’s reasonably smooth.
Arguably more useful is the 60 frames per second option of the ROAM 2’s 720p video mode, though, which records over a 170-degree field of view. This introduces some blurring and purple fringing on the edges of the video — an artefact of the very wide field of view — but the trade-off is well worth it for the impressively smooth motion capture. If you’re handy with a bit of video editing software, the 60fps option also gives you the ability to slow the video by half — showing off your snowboard jumps (or spectacular crashes).
There’s a good degree of adjustability in the Contour ROAM 2’s settings, which you can unfortunately only access by connecting the camera to your PC and loading the Storyteller software. We would have loved a two-spot switch for changing between preset profiles — this would make changing between 1080p and 720p modes possible while using the camera, or for enabling still photo mode once you’re running low on storage space.
As usual, our main gripe with the Contour ROAM 2, like any of these action cameras, is that the internal microphone isn’t fantastic. With any kind of speed above about 30-40km/h, wind noise overwhelms the camera’s internal mic and you won’t be able to capture any usable audio. If you’re keeping to lower speeds — most mountain biking, skiing or a similar sport — the microphone is fine.
As simple action cameras go, the Contour ROAM 2 does a perfectly good job. It’s easy to use, rugged enough to withstand punishment, and captures video that’s good enough to show off. It’s not without shortcomings, though, but you can learn to live with them.