Just Shelley

Review of Flip Ultra Camera

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

A couple of months ago, Amazon invited me to participate in its Vine program, where customers are given books, gadgets, food, and other items, in exchange for reviews (either positive or negative). In the month that I participated, I received a couple of books, a nice laptop bag, and the second generation Flip Ultra Camcorder. I was happy to receive all the free goodies, but the Flip Ultra was an especially nice item, as I’ve wanted a camcorder for some time.

The Flip Ultra, and its higher end cousin, the Flip UltraHD, is a hand held camcorder about the same size as most cellphones. It’s a very simple to use gadget, and you can be taking your first videos about five minutes after you open the box.

With 4GB of memory, you can record up to two hours of videos with the Flip Ultra, which can be uploaded to your computer, and to the internet via the included software. Unlike the higher end HD device, I found the Flip Ultra worked with all of my computers, even my much older Powerbooks. You transfer videos to your computer via a pop-out USB attachment, which attaches directly to your computer, or use a USB extension, as I do (the USB extension is not included with the camcorder).

I find the camcorder to be very comfortable to hold and use. It fits into a pocket of my camera bag, so I take it with me whenever I’m out shooting photos. The Flip Ultra adjusts easily to differing light conditions, though I have found it works best in well lit indoor light, or outdoor in lightly overcast or clear days (but not in direct light or in extreme conditions of light and shadow). The LED is more than large enough to easily see what you’re recording, and viewable in bright daylight.

It’s an exceptional device for recording people, or anything that’s approximate 5 to 15 feet from the camcorder. It would be a very good device for podcasting, or filming your daughter on the piano, or your son doing his homework. Farther out than that, though, and people become too small. There is a zoom built into the camcorder, but the resolution of the zoomed image isn’t very good. I don’t recommend depending on the zoom.

The camera shoots 30 frames per second, with a resolution of 640 x 480. The light sensitivity is not as good as the HD model, but sufficient in most cases. The sensor is a 1/4″ VGA CMOS sensor, 5.6 µm pixels, and the bitrate is 4.0 Mbps, with an auto-adaptive algorithm. What this means is that the quality is good, but don’t expect the same quality as a higher end camcorder. But then again, don’t expect to shell out the same $1000.00 you’d need for higher end camcorder, either. (See the Flip Ultra camcorder spec page for more details.)

As for audio, the sound quality on the device is very good. In fact, the pickup on the device is surprisingly good, considering that the microphone is towards you, and the camcorder is such a small device.

It runs on two AA batteries, which last about 3-4 hours, filming and uploading. Included with the camera is a component cable (for connecting the camcorder directly to your TV for playback), a little carrying bag, wrist strap, batteries, and software that allows you to email videos directly, do some minor editing and store and catalog the videos, as well as upload directly to YouTube.

No, it’s not an iPhone

Recently Michael Arrington wrote in Techcrunch and in The Washington Post that Flip has little chance in an iPhone World.

The new iPhone takes very good video (640 x 480). That isn’t as good as the Flip, but it’s still able to shoot perfectly good videos on the go (example), which is exactly what the Flip is for. And the iPhone has something that the Flip will never realistically have, cellular and wifi connectivity that lets you upload your videos immediately. No need to sync back with your base computer to edit the video and upload it. You can do basic editing right on the iPhone, and publish it to YouTube immediately. As an added bonus, that video can be geo-stamped via the phones GPS capability.

That makes it significantly more useful as a video device than the Flip, and worth the reduction in quality. You already have to make some quality tradeoffs with the Flip anyway, so if you are going to have a second video device after your iPhone, it may as well be a slightly bigger video camera that you keep in your bag. I just don’t see people grabbing that Flip when they run out the door.

Actually, I do grab the Flip when I leave the house with my camera case, since it’s included in a pocket of the case.

The mistake Arrington makes is that he’s assuming we’re all running around with high-end cellphones. Though the iPhone is popular, it is still a niche market item. What the Flip provides is a very inexpensive camcorder (I’ve seen prices ranging up to $128.00 US), that’s extremely easy to use. It would make a great gift for new parents or old parents, alike. It would also be a nice gift for a friend or family member heading off on a long trip, or on some other new adventure.

Best of all, it doesn’t come tethered to a two year cellphone contract that costs upwards of a hundred bucks a month.

Audio Slideshows

I found one other purpose for the Flip Ultra, and that’s as an audio recording device.

I’ve long been interested in trying my hand at audio slideshows, but didn’t have a voice recorder small enough to carry around with me. The Flip Utra is small enough to fit in my camera bag, and the good sound pickup works about as well as a small audio recording device. When I get home, I separate the video and audio (using Quicktime Pro), and then use the video part to help me catalog the locations associated with the sound files. A simple sound only recorder wouldn’t provide that visual cue.

Frankly, I’ve had a gas with the little device. There may be a day when I’ll want to go with a higher end camcorder, but the Flip is more than sufficient for my current needs.

You can see some of my playing around with the Flip Ultra out at my new Youtube channel (YouTube channel…my, aren’t I precious). My first try at creating an audio slideshow is below, with photos and sound grabbed from the Shaw Nature Center, just outside of St. Louis. Typically you have a different sound file for each slide, but it’s a start.

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