The last time we saw an action camera come out of Contour, it was for the Contour+2. Image quality was pretty good, but the mounts were way too fragile. And, under the shadow of GoPro's colossal market-share, Contour shuttered its doors. But now it's back! And its first product back is... a slight improvement on its entry-level camera. Which is weird.
Meet the Roam3. It is very, very much like the Roam2. In fact, visually, it looks like the exact same camera. It still has a lot of nice features, like a one-touch, lockable, slide-to-record switch which is very easy to use; a 160-degree lens that rotates to keep your shots level; a laser level; and a standard tripod mount on the bottom. The biggest improvement seems to be that the Roam3 is waterproof to 9m deep without the need for a case, which is up from just a metre deep on the Roam2.
The problem is that the waterproofiness seems to be the only noteworthy improvement. It still has a very sharp lens — arguably sharper than the GoPro Hero 3 Black — but the image sensor is just not up to snuff. This is especially obvious in low-light situations, but the camera really struggles with dynamic range. Look at me face in the audio test at the end of the video for an example. Indoor footage looks grainy too. The camera also maxes out at 1080p 30fps and 720p 60fps, same as it did two years ago. Even Sony's entry level cams (which come in around the same price-point) can do 1080p 60fps and 720p 120fps.
While the minimalism of the Roam3 is great in some ways, the lack of wi-fi means that to tweak any settings at all (other the flipping between "Mode 1" and "Mode 2") it has to be done by connecting your camera to your computer and using Contour's software. Very few people have the patience for that. There is a new photo mode with burst options, but we're not sure how big of a draw that is. Contour claims that the microphone is improved, but the company has its gain present very low in mode one, so it certainly sounded like the GoPro blew it away, but more testing would be needed to confirm that (it was set to be much more sensitive in 720p mode. Again, we do not understand why). The bottom line is that most people aren't going to want to deal with the software hassle of trying to get their mic to sound right, they just want it to sound right.
Also, next to the Hero 3+, the Roam3 is really big, and really heavy. We hope Contour has upped its game in the mount department, because something this hefty will demand some solid hardware to keep it affixed. Also, this isn't the kind of thing you'll put on and forget you're wearing it, and I found its shape — while streamlined — made it more difficult to mount. Granted, the Hero 3+ Black may have been an unfair comparison for the Roam3 considering it's roughly twice the price, but consider, too that that camera is no spring chicken and yet it's still the best action camera we've seen yet.
Basically, it seems weird that a company trying to resurrect itself amidst competition that has never been more numerous or of higher quality would chose this camera for its grand coming out party. Yeah, $US200 is a decent price, but this is not how you come out guns blazing. The camera is available as of today and it comes with an 8GB microSD card, a profile mount (for the side of a helmet), and a rotating flat surface mount. We're a bit underwhelmed by the Roam, but we're glad to see Contour back, and we hope to see more and better stuff coming down the pipe from them soon. [Contour]