So I’ve been living with a little Flip Mono HD for the last week and a bit. It’s just the size of a candy bar phone, slips in your jacket pocket weighs only 3.3oz (around 95g) and can capture an hour of HD quality footage.
At the flick of a button on the side, the USB plug flips out from the top ready to download your video onto PC/Mac and recharge the built in battery. Being the latest model available in Europe (the US have just launched the Flip Ultra HD which I guess will hit these shores before Christmas) it comes with the latest simple editing software already on the internal drive – for both PC and Mac, so you can install without downloading.
Technically it’s capturing HD at 720p resolution, 30 frames per second, 16:9 widescreen (1280 x 720) onto it’s built in 4GB flash memory. The battery powers the unit for around two hours, and it takes three hours to fully recharge via USB.
I loved its handy form factor. It’s smaller and lighter than it’s main rival, the Kodak Zi6. From the point you hold in the power button, it’s ready to record inside a couple of seconds. The screen on the back is never going to be clear enough to check if an HD image is in focus! But it’s good enough to browse through clips and delete the dud ones.
Let’s look at a real life application. I used the Mino HD to capture footage at BarCamp Belfast.
Snippets of talks, voxpops with attendees and speakers, general background footage of the venue and surroundings. It coped well. It’s discrete enough that its presence isn’t as off-putting as a camcorder or professional broadcast camera.
I’d half expected that I'd be able to hook the Mino HD up to a computer with a USB extension lead to power it, and allow me to beat the two hour battery life. But no: once hooked up to a computer, it switches over to being a USB drive, and the camera function is disabled.
The audio it captured was of good quality (mono), but at a very low level. So you’ll have to boost the level in your editing software if combining with louder footage from other sources.
It’s a small, lightweight handheld (fingerheld) camera – so it wobbles. It doesn’t have built in image stabilisation, so unless you jam yourself against a wall, or mount the Mino HD on a camera tripod (it does have a standard tripod mount on the bottom) expect the pictures to be a little shaky. But packages like iMovie 09 can come to the rescue offering video stabilisation of imported clips.
The BarCamp Belfast video was shot entirely on the Flip Mino HD, and edited in the older iMovie HD. Nothing fancier required.
I was surprised when I paused the imported content just how sharp a still from a clip could be. I pointed the Flip out a train window on a sunny day in London and realised that I’d be able to use a still from the footage as a background image (at 1280 x 720 anyway). Good vibrant colour. If you pan around from a very bright scene to much darker scene, you’ll notice the white balance correcting and adjusting. And I was impressed with the quality of lower light shots.
To transfer the images off the camera and onto your computer, just plug it into a USB2 socket. The built in FlipShare software allows you transfer clips on and off the camera, trim clips and then sequence them, before adding a title and credit, and exporting the finished movie as a .MOV (H.264, AAC). It can upload directly to Youtube and MySpace, though doesn’t have the settings for Flickr yet! The software ran quite happily on my Atom-powered Dell Mini 9 (running XP) and Mac Mini. For more sophisticated productions, just import the clips into iMovie, Final Cut Pro, Pinnacle etc.
Part of me would love the Mino HD to boost its gain and capture audio at a louder level – or offer a jack to plug in an external mic. It takes a surprisingly long time to transfer footage off the Flip and onto your computer. Even using USB2, 1GB is a lot of storage to shift around. If pushed for time, popping out an SD card and replacing it with a fresh one would have been faster. Given that the camera recording HD, it’s a shame that the video out (cable supplied) is only a Component video feed.
But for most of the scenarios that you’d want to use a pocket sized HD camera ... you can live without those features.
It’s not really intended for shooting a feature film – though some enterprising filmmaker will try! It would be ideal for voxpopping – short head shots, no need for zoom and close enough to the subject to use the built-in mic and not get too much background nose. Would love to have a go in the summer with Tech Camp and send out one group with the normal shoulder-mounted DV camera, the other with a Flip, and then compare the results.
An hour of footage is normally plenty. And I quickly got used to the shake and the audio. Years ago, people took perfectly good photos with Kodak Brownie cameras. And today, it’s possible to capture excellent video footage with a Flip. While I found that it did reduce the number of photos I took, the size and usability of the Mino HD balanced out some of its constraints and downsides. Retailing for £169.99, it seems pretty good value.
Any bigger or any heavier, and I don’t think I’d carry it around! So for me the Kodak Zi6 and even the promised Ultra HD (with its AA batteries, stereo mic and two hours recording) would be too big and heavy for my pocket.
But for now, the Flip Mino HD is back in its box, wrapped up, and speeding back to London in a padded envelope. I’ve never owned a camcorder – no embarrassing home movies for Littl’un to worry about! – but I’d seriously think about getting a Flip. It appealed to my (normally well hidden) inner filmmaker.