Contour HD 720p; from C cam to A cam in one day…

Nov 30, 2009 2 Comments by

It’s been a crazy couple of months in RadRaven’s land… I have now approximately 99.5% of “Road to Red” in the can and a 2h30m rough-cut, growing on 3…

Two major things should be mentioned about this last unit:

1. I didn’t resist! I used my 5D to shoot several pieces for my film, which was mostly shot with an HVX200. I so wish I had a 5D MKII back then… more on this in a future post.

2. I convinced my producer to allocate budget for a Contour HD 720p (the 1080 wasn’t ready to ship… if only I knew someone inside…) and if for some reason he wouldn’t have liked the idea, I don’t know how I would have shot one of the most action packed scenes of this film!!!

This little diabolical thing is absolutely amazing!!! It surpassed all my expectations, even when it fell off the bicycle I was riding up banked walls of this massive ditch we were shooting in.

On the first morning at the ditch I was experiencing real fear… I have recently broken the front truck of my electric skateboard trying to ride Paul Revere’s banked walls (famous high school in Pacific Palisades for it’s rideable banked walls), which resulted on me taking a pretty nasty fall. If you have ever caught a stone under your skateboard wheel, you have a rough idea of what I’m talking about… the big difference is that coming to an abrupt stop, as my truck gave in at the end of dropping a banked wall, the ground was right there waiting for me, like a wall with the earth’s gravitational force pulling me in… ouch!

Looking at these 10/15 feet walls made me pretty insecure… and after a few attempts to transition from wall to wall, feeling my trucks reaching the limits every single time, I had both topped out my adrenaline levels and reached to the conclusion that I would not be able to shoot this scene from my electric skateboard…

Luckily, anticipating this problem, I brought a mountain bike with me and in minutes I was doing my first attempts to ride this ditch on 2 wheels. Although still overwhelming, I have never gone through the experience of breaking a bike frame… so until that happens, I guess I can feel a lot more confident on one of these… With the adrenaline pumping through my heart and brain, I convinced myself; This is going to work!!! I can do this!!!

My head was racing through every possible way to mount a camera to this bike! The HVX was way too big and heavy, so my first choice out of my 5 Camera kit option was a little Sony CX-7. With it’s efficient (optical) super steady shot and a fish-eye adapter (slightly zoomed in to hide the extreme distortion) I thought I had my problem solved…

Reaching my bag of PVC pipes I started looking at the bike to see how I could find ways of mounting this camera to capture some good angles. Not long after, I was putting on my pads and getting ready for the first test run…

Everything went according to plan except the weight of the camera with the adapter was too much for the PVC pipe to hold steadily under such radical conditions… what was I to do?!

I had bought the Contour HD with the idea of mounting it on the skateboards our actors and Pro Skater double would ride, to get some unique shots for inserts, but it was starting to be obvious I was going to be cornered into using it a lot more…

Without any prior tests, as I had just gotten it before the shoot, I had many concerns (still do!) about quality and look, to use it as my A cam for this scene…

The feeling that vibrations had been cut down to a mere fraction, was immediately assuring. At 4.2 ounces, it’s like it wasn’t even there… The lack of view finder or any playback capabilities, made it kind of challenging to figure out the framing, as we had to avoid seeing the tires of the bike, as well as the shadow I would cast while riding…. but the first few seconds of footage playing on my laptop made up for any inconveniences…

I truly couldn’t believe my eyes!!! It looked absolutely amazing! The motion was smooth… the color rendition and highlights handling just blew me away!!! I couldn’t stop  thinking about how lucky we were to have gotten this camera right before the shoot…

The incredible results were so inspiring, we soon had figured out 3 more places to mount the little wonder…

We started then fine tuning my bike riding to the skaters riding and viewing the results on my laptop. I kept being blown away with what was coming out of such a tiny device…

Frame Grab

The second day had come and after looking at the footage at night, there were no more doubts about the Contour HD for this scene! It was officially the “A cam” on this scene!

I kept charging harder and harder and the results kept inspiring us to go further, until… I hear this frightening noise, the actors screaming my name… The little Contour HD had fallen off the mount, got hit by one of the skateboards that followed me and was tumbling down the spill way…

Game Over, I thought…

Racing all the footage I had in my head, trying to figure out, how I would shoot the rest of the scene from there on… My laptop was far, at this point, so the ride back was filled with sweat, both from pushing up those walls and from the stress of  thinking  about how I would finish the rest of the shoot… The blemishes on the camera weren’t too bad, but then again, the clever design of the Contour HD isn’t prone to suffer much damage… the lens seemed fine, but the back rubber cover didn’t hide what just happened, though…

I plugged it in to my laptop and it mounted immediately… I downloaded the footage and as soon as it was done, went back to watch the final clip, so we could see what happened during the fall… it kept rolling without a single hiccup throughout the whole thing, only stopping record on command.

I quickly recorded a clip just holding the camera in my hand and as I plugged it in, there it was, a new clip like nothing ever happened… So with a big yeah of all surrounding us, we hit the ditch once more, to finish this epic scene.

If this whole story hasn’t convinced you that the Contour HD 720 isn’t a solid MUST buy… i don’t know what will?!

The trickiest part was actually using the camera how I initially had intended to… and that wasn’t because of the camera itself, but because of the dedicated suction cup mount I bought for it. No matter how hard I would lock it down, the rig just doesn’t seem to have the desired sturdiness for a camera that has been designed to be mounted in the most difficult spot, under the most extreme conditions…

The arm kept loosing it’s initial positioning while riding these walls… we ended up figuring out a way of pulling it off, but I was definitely disappointed with the mount.

On the other hand, mounting the camera to the bottom of the board was as easy as duct taping it down and rotating the lens 90 degrees, which I find it to be the most clever feature they could have thought of, to add to this camera! This way you can mount the camera sideways and get your image straight! Brilliant!!!

The other clever feature worth mentioning is the 2 lasers on the front of the lens, that can be activated to help you frame your shot! In this case I was using my hand and the front truck, to make sure the camera was both centered and leveled. Works perfectly!!!

The other thing I was also amazed by is that I never managed to go through a battery… I don’t know if it was because we kept connecting it to a computer to check our footage and it recharged while we were doing it, but the truth is that we would shoot all day and the batteries never died…

By the end I had only noticed one little problem with the footage…

At a certain angle the sensor didn’t seem to be capable of handling direct sunlight, displaying these odd magenta streaks, as you can see in the image above. It’s odd, because shooting directly at the sun it handled the image beautifully… as you can see from the frame grab bellow.

All in all, the Contour HD is a fun, robust camera with an amazing quality, easy to operate, so simple but yet complete! So well conceived you gotta have one! And for roughly for $300 it’s a no brainer!!!

Next toy I’ll be playing with is GoPro’s new 1080 water proof camera! So stay tuned for some wet winter action, as I head back to Portugal for Xmas!!!

T ; )~

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2 Responses to “Contour HD 720p; from C cam to A cam in one day…”

  1. Christian Tillmanns says:

    …the Go Pro HD really really kicks ass. We used the Countour HD for a TV production and we found it really suffers edge sharpness. The Go Pro HD is sooo much better…

    kind regards,

    Christian

  2. Nuno says:

    I just hope the 1080p version coming to me this Christmas to be as good as this one ;)

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