The news was shocking to the community of Flip camcorder users. Cisco announced they were discontinuing this popular product. The last time I checked (November 2011), prices seemed to be rising on Amazon. For alternatives to the Flip, see the end of this article.
If you want to capture high quality video when the moment strikes, and if you care about every ounce of weight you carry around, then you may want to check out a pocket camcorder. In my world, technology is beautiful and small technology is even more so.
I recently got the Flip UltraHD camcorder as a gift and quickly got hooked. It was perfect timing because I was leaving for a trip overseas and the camera seemed so practical.
Now that I have one, I bring it with me anytime I’m going somewhere even mildly interesting. And I see why it’s currently the #1 product being sold in Amazon’s High Definition Camcorders selection.
Personal. In terms of personal uses, the Flip camcorders are built for mobility. They’re small enough to easily carry while traveling (I took mine to Northern Spain for a presentation) and you’ll tend to grab it when you’re running out the door.
Work. I also think the Flip will be useful for work to record just-in-time videos. For example, I could imagine using the UltraHD while visiting a client’s organization to record interviews with experts or employees. It would also be great for capturing on the job procedures and processes that need to be taught, in order to remember how everything works. I know it won’t replace hiring a professional for complex productions—it’s a pocket-sized camcorder.
USB Connector. Perhaps the coolest thing about the camera—aside from its compactness—is that it has a flip-out USB arm that connects directly to your computer. This allows for easy video uploads.
Battery. Another convenience is that the rechargeable battery (which gives you 2 hours of recording time) can be replaced with 3 AAA lithium batteries. Like an iPod, the camera recharges while connected to your computer or you can buy a power adapter for use with a wall socket.
Accessories. There are a lot of accessories that expand the capabilities of the Flip UltraHD. Inexpensive accessories include very small tripods, HDMI cables, a power adapter and storage pouches.
High Definition. The most important aspect of a camcorder is the video quality and here the Flip really delivers. Its high definition video is crisp and the color is excellent. See the sample below that I shot in Spain—hope you’re not prone to dizziness. I laid a music track in the background with Final Cut Pro.
For Geeks Only. As to the specs, the high-end model (8GB 4 hours) uses the high def 720p scan rate (1,280 x 720) at 60fps. The framerate of the lower model is 30fps. The video compression standard is H.264 and files are in the MP4 format.
External Mic Capabilities. The high-end Flip UltraHD (8GB 4 hours) now comes with a connector at the bottom, the FlipPort, for adding accessories. It’s difficult to still find accessories, such as microphones, that fit this port now that Cisco has discontinued the model.
Internal Mic. The Flip UltraHD uses an internal mic and provides decent sound quality, but not professional quality. The audio compression is AAC, which is a standard in most new devices.
Really, I’m not obsessed with carousels, but coincidentally, I recorded a carousel in DC. Now you can hear the audio quality of the camcorder’s internal mic. (You may want to turn down your volume first—it was a loud scene that day.)
Size and Weight. The high-end model of the UltraHD measures 4.16” x 2.11“ x 0.88”. Some reviewers used to complain about the 1.2″ thickness of the camera, but they’ve slimmed this model down even more. I have a slightly older one and have to say that the thickness feels good, like it’s not going to slip out of my hand. The rubbery coating improves the non-slip quality even more. I guess if you wanted to carry it in trouser pockets, it could be bulky though. For a super thin pocket video camera, check out the Panasonic Ultrathin. It’s slimmer and lighter but I don’t think the video quality is quite as good.
LCD Screen. The LCD screen is a good size for a small camera. It measures 2″ on the diagonal and the resolution for watching videos on the screen is 320 x 240.
Memory. This model comes with 8GB of internal memory, which provides up to 2 hours of recording.
Controls and Connectors
The Flip controls are spare and well-designed. The camcorder powers up quickly with a “Ready” message. Pressing the Big Red Button on the back starts the recording process. Other controls include a trash can for deleting, Play button to view the video, volume controls, and arrows for searching through your recorded videos. The zoom is 2X and it works well, but a more powerful one would be nice.
On the side there’s an HDMI output for HDTV connections. You can choose to get an HDMI cable by purchasing through Amazon and getting it as a free accessory.
The software that comes with all of the Flip products, FlipShare, provides unlimited private video emails, video greeting cards and direct upload to MySpace and YouTube. I haven’t been inclined to try the software yet, because I’m so used to doing everything manually. So I can’t report on its quality.
If you’re looking for a camera that’s not discontinued so that you can get continued support, here are a few options:
- Toshiba Camileo S20 (full HD video, decent audio, reasonably priced)
- Panasonic TA-1 Ultrathin (full HD video, decent audio, reasonably priced)
- Zoom Handy Q3HD (excellent audio, can use external mic, decent HD video, more expensive)
- Olympus LS-20M (excellent audio, can use external mic, good HD video, more expensive)
Amazon is still selling the 3rd generation Flip UltraHD, however.