You’ll Flip over this little videocamera

14 Sep

The Flip video camera plugs into your computer and downloads MP4 files, ready for play or editing.

September 14, 2009

By Geoff Meeker

Regular readers of this column know I have an affinity for gizmos. And this week, I’m in gadget heaven!

On a friend’s recommendation, I discovered the Flip high definition (HD) digital videocamera.

The camera is surprisingly small, about the size of a cell phone, and extremely light – lighter than my iPod Touch. However, don’t prejudge the Flip, and lump it in with the ‘movies’ captured on typical cell phones and handhelds (which too often are grainy and blurry).

The Flip is not just a real videocamera – it represents the next generation of video camcorders. It is competitive in terms of quality, and breaks new ground for price, convenience and simplicity.

Let’s get quality out of the way first. To be clear, the Flip does not capture images on par with professional-grade, triple-chip videocameras. However, it is comparable to most consumer level camcorders. I watched video playback on a 42” plasma TV, and the quality was great – images were sharp, movements were smooth and colours were rich. It was everything I’d ever need in a home movie.

Then there’s convenience. The Flip is small enough to fit in your pocket or purse, and, because it is solid state, you won’t be afraid to actually do so.

This is an important point. The Flip has no motor, belts, moving parts, or little trap door that opens to reveal those fragile gears inside. It is one solid piece, and it can take a bit of banging around in your glovebox or backpack. To me, this is something of a breakthrough as, too often, my decision to take a videocamera is based on whether or not it can survive the wear and tear.

Simplicity is another breakthrough. Some people are intimidated by the various buttons and controls on a camcorder, which are often needlessly complex. The Flip makes it all simple, with a power button and a record button. That’s really all you need to know, though more adventurous types might want to use the zoom button as well.

Downloading the video clips is also easy. They are saved in MP4 format, in a separate file for every shot taken. A hidden USB port plugs the Flip into your computer, in a position that looks almost amorous. A folder opens to display your video files, which you click and drag to your desktop – then to the video editing program on your computer.

As an aside, iMovie for Mac and MovieMaker for PC are easy to use programs that make video editing fun. Believe me, if you can change the ribbon on an Underwood typewriter, you can figure out these programs.

And then there’s price!  The basic Flip is $179, and the HD version – which I would strongly recommend for the improved image quality – is just $249. That’s a good price for a camcorder (you can buy at Staples, Futureshop and Walmart).

There are two downsides; compromises likely made to achieve this size and price.

The camera does hot have image stabilization, which means every movement, every twitch of your hand, is captured. It can make for jerky video. You can overcome this by bracing yourself or the camera against a solid object while shooting, or you can buy an optional little tripod, which is the cutest thing.

Also, the camera has a digital – rather than optical – zoom, which means you are enlarging pixels, not actually ‘zooming’ in with the lens. This is obvious during playback on a widescreen TV, where you can see the rough edges on the zoomed images. It’s an annoyance, but not a showstopper.

The Flip is not unique – Kodak is also releasing the new Zi8 mini digital camera in Canada, and this one looks even better. It has an SD card slot, allowing you to insert up to 32 GB of storage space, which can hold about 10 hours of video (the Flip can shoot 2 hours, on 8 GB of built-in memory).  The Kodak also has image stabilization, which is a major plus. However, I’ve read online reviews that the Kodak device has major bugs in the software and built-in microphone, so wait a few months before making a purchase.

Just for fun, I shot a little home movie with the Flip, which I edited and posted on youtube. I took a physically demanding hike to the top of Topsail Bluff, not a place I would normally tote a videocamera.  It’s hard to gauge the image quality because the video has been compressed for web streaming, but you do get an idea of its portability. To watch, go to and search for Flip Topsail Bluff.

The Flip is highly recommended. That said, quality is only going to get better, features will improve and price is not likely to go up. So do some research, shop around and don’t rush into your purchase.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at


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