There was a minor blip on the web a couple of weeks back but you may not have noticed it. David Pogue — Mac reviewer extraordinaire for The New York Times — reviewed a small video camera called the Flip. It’s funny, the camera has been around for a while already, but it seems that since its release in May last year everybody missed it in some sort of HD-induced rage.
The easiest way to think of the Flip is as a digital camera that only takes those dinky web-style movies and doesn’t take still photos at all. And so you ask the question, why wouldn’t I just use a point-and-shoot digital camera instead? Well, because unlike a point-and-shoot camera, you don’t need a manual. All you do to use the Flip is turn it on, start filming (by hitting the red button), and then, you guessed it, hit the red button when you’re done. If you don’t like that bit of footage you just captured hit the Trash button to delete it. And that’s all there is to it. Literally. No mucking around with resolutions, white balance, focus, fade-ins or anything else that makes $1K-plus video cameras so complex.
The Flip captures video to internal memory (not expandable) so you’ll need to choose the right size Flip for the job. The cheapest Flip, at $US119 can record for up to 30 minutes and has 512MB internal memory, and the largest has 1GB which is good for 60 minutes. There’s also a newer model, called the Flip Video Ultra that comes in the same two sizes but improves on the video bitrate (2.8Mbps for the regular Flip, and 4.5Mbps for the Ultra). The 1GB Flip Ultra costs $US179.99.
You get your movies off the Flip by "flipping" up the internal USB adaptor, connecting to your computer and literally copying off the video files. The only software required is the installation of a special video codec so your Mac understands Flip’s video format. Once off, the AVI files can be dropped in to iMovie, or you can use another bit of Mac software that Flip provides to re-arrange video, and upload to YouTube or AOL Video.
The Flip is relatively tiny (10.4cm x 5.7cm x 3.2cm) and, like point-and-shoot cameras, is small enough to fit in your pocket. So, if the Flip is really small, and really easy to use, what’s the downside?
Well, first, unfortunately the Flip isn’t available in Australia yet but can easily be purchased online in the US or through Target, Best Buy or Wal Mart — so you’ll either need to get one while overseas, or ask a US comrade to go and buy you one.
Second, if you’re a video aficionado you’ll probably be a little disappointed with the quality of the 640×480 resolution that the Flip offers. And third, this probably isn’t the camera you’ll want to take away with you on a long holiday, because unless you take your computer too, 60 minutes of video just won’t cut it.
But, if you are looking for a small video camera that’s easy and fast to start using — and you can throw around a little bit — the Flip might just be perfect.