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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gadget Bag: Compact HD Cams

They’re small, they’re light, they produce outstanding footage, and they’re everywhere. Why you should have one in your bag.

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Into The Elements
Since their respective launches, the compact HD cameras have been available with an array of housings to protect them from mud, rain, impact and underwater use. The cameras and their housings are incredibly durable. In fact, filmmakers can use these little cameras as inexpensive crash cams to get some stunning footage during wild stunts. You're probably not going to use one as a crash cam, but these small cameras can be beaten up quite a bit and they'll still work. This is an area where your DSLR simply isn't an option.

Snorkelers embraced small HD video cameras early on, but they quickly learned that the underwater housings didn't allow for the best imagery. Eventually, a cottage industry of garage tinkerers started modifying the factory housings with flat ports instead of the usual curved port. These modified housings did a much better job underwater, and snorkelers, scuba divers and others have flocked to these units (check out www.backscatter.com for excellent aftermarket underwater housings).

Both Contour and GoPro now make their own flat-port underwater housings that do a fine job. What's especially nice about these little cameras in their housings is the ease of setup. For shallow-water use, like snorkeling or even shooting fish in the shallows of a river or stream, drop the camera into the housing, attach to a mini-boom, if necessary, and you're off. If you're a scuba diver, you'll probably want to use some auxiliary lighting, but even then it's not nearly as complicated or expensive as a large video camera housing.

If you want to explore making your own 3D videos, these compact HD cameras are pretty tough to beat as far as the price-to-performance ratio. If you tried to shoot 3D with DSLRs or even standard video cameras, the costs go up in a hurry. GoPro makes its own 3D rig for $99 (the kit takes two GoPro HD sports cameras, not included), and there are aftermarket solutions for Contour and Midland cameras, as well. If you're thinking of experimenting with some 3D video, this is a great way to get started.

The $499.99 Contour+ camcorder can record 1080p video and 5-megapixel still images, and features a built-in fixed-focus ƒ/2.8 wide-angle (170°) lens, which can rotate 270° for just the right angle. Video specs include 1920x1080p at 30 and 25 fps, 1280x960p at 30 and 25 fps, and 1280x720p at 60/50 and 30/25 fps. You also can do one photo every 3, 5, 10, 30 or 60 seconds. Video is H.264, .MOV. A 2.5mm jack accepts an external microphone. Bluetooth turns your mobile phone/device into a wireless viewfinder, or you can stream HD to a monitor or TV. The camera runs on three AA batteries (or optional AC adapter); files are stored on microSD cards up to 32 GB (a 2 GB card is provided).

Unlike other compact HD video cameras, the Contour+ incorporates GPS video mapping, recording speed, location and elevation twice each second. And, via the optional Contour+ Cerevo Live Shell, you can do live streaming easily—just plug the camera in via HDMI cable, and turn the power on. No need to deal with streaming software or drivers. With the optional AC adapter, you can stream video 24/7; with three AA batteries, about three hours.

The Contour+ is water-resistant, but for submarine use, there's the accessory Contour+ Waterproof Case, which can handle depths of 197 feet (60 meters). There's a variety of body, gear and vehicle mounts, as well.

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