One of the perks of my job is that I get to try to try out lots of new tech toys. One of our curriculum coordinators had requested one of the little Flip Mino video cameras. She graciously let me give it a whirl before giving it back to her.
Even though this device (or some version of it) has been out for about a year now, I hadn’t gotten very excited about it. High-quality video cameras are now very reasonably priced, and now even point-n-shoot cameras come with a video mode. The question was – Is the Flip redundant? Would you be better off applying the cost of the Flip toward a better point-n-shoot? I really needed to find out because I’ve got several others requesting these, and needed to know how best to spend our equipment funds.
The Flip is very small and light. It gets its name from the concealed USB connector that flips out so that the camera can be connected directly to the computers. It’s being marketed as easy to use, and that certainly is the case. Everything seems designed for convenience. On the back there is a big red record button and several touch buttons for zoom and reviewing videos on the camera – no fancy controls or confusing settings. The back of it actually reminds me of a game controller.
I was very impressed with the ease of setup. The entire unit comes in a neat little box. When you connect the unit to a computer, it sets itself up as a data drive. The setup files for the Muvee editing software is actually located on the device itself – there is no separate CD with the software.
I decided to do some side-by-side comparisons with my Nikon CoolPix S50, which also has a video mode. The first thing I noticed was the video review screen size. The Flip has a TINY screen, whereas the Nikon has a nice 3-inch screen. The vertical form factor just doesn’t allow for anything larger.
I took both cameras to the Furman-Citadel game and shot the same scenes holding one camera in one hand and one in the other. I shot at the widest zoom levels for both units for the same amount of time for each scene.
The first thing I noticed is that the Flip has MUCH more camera shake than the Nikon. It took awhile to get the hang of holding it steady, but eventually I got better at it. I also kept accidentally hitting the wrong touch buttons on the back. It was a bit distressing suddenly to be asked if I wanted to delete the video I had just shot because I’d hit the trash button by accident.
Below are the two videos, both showing the entrance of the Furman Paladins into the stadium. The first was shot with the Nikon S50…
…and here is the same video shot with the Flip…
The quality of both sound and video in the Flip video is far superior to the Nikon. However, there is lots more camera shake in the Flip video. I also noticed that both units tended to focus on the fans who were sitting close, while the subjects on the field were not in very good focus. This is one of the places where a full-sized video camera would have excelled.
Both produced files that were about 35 MB in size, but the Flip was a 640X480 Windows AVI file, and the Nikon was a 320X240 Quicktime MOV file. The screen capture below really highlights the differences in video quality.
To be fair, I did discover that the Nikon has a 640X320 video mode, but it would double the file size and cut the amount of video time available in half.
So, back to the pertinent question – is the Flip a redundant device? This comparison would seem to indicate not. Both the Nikon and the Flip can record up to 60 minutes of video, but the Nikon makes some serious sacrifices to get that amount of video. However, some more testing is required to fully answer the question. My S50 is a couple of years old at this point. The curriculum coordinator who requested the Flip has a Nikon S52, which produces 640X420 AVI files. A quick check of currently available cameras from other brands and similar tech specifications seems to show that this is now standard. Plus, I haven’t compared other factors such as available memory and battery life.
If you want a nice, portable device dedicated to video, the Flip will certainly fit the bill. If you primarly shoot still images with just the rare video (as I do) then you would probably get by with just a high-end point-n-shoot. I’m still waiting for them to put something with the performance of the Flip into a form factor about the size of my little Sansa Clip MP3 player. Then I’ll REALLY be impressed.