Digital World: Flipping out

For most people...the simplicity of the Flip is enough to get them to plunk down their money.

flip video camera 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
flip video camera 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When was the last time you used your camcorder? Maybe a family celebration or a school pageant, right? But what about the day-to-day events of life - the little things? Don't they deserve to get recorded for posterity? Yes they do, but few seem to bother pulling out the camcorder unless it's a really special occasion. As small and convenient to use as video cameras are nowadays, it seems that they're still too big and inconvenient for casual, everyday use - and are reserved only for "special" preplanned occasions. As if baby's first word (which is anything but preplanned) isn't special enough! I bet I'm pretty typical in that I don't even bother using my camcorder anymore - for anything. Instead, I just pull out my digital camera, which besides shooting still photos, can also do video. In fact, a camera's video capabilities has become, for me, one of the key features I look for nowadays. Recently I got a Kodak EasyShare Z712 (, which takes nice video - and in fact I use it as much for video as for still photography. Now, this camera is by no means one of those mini devices that fit into a pocket; it's more reminiscent of a full-size SLR, and it's only slightly smaller than the Samsung camcorder that we have lying around somewhere (I use it so rarely I've lost track of where I put it). So it's not just about size - it's about convenience, too. But what about quality? Aren't camcorders better than digital cameras for taking video? Yes they are, but for most everyday home shooting, the extra quality available with the camcorder gets trumped by the convenience of the digital camera. The buttons on the digital camera are easier to use, and the wheel selection for type of picture is pretty intuitive (although I think there are too many selections, as I usually stick to that standard settings anyway). Even in the case of the slightly smaller digital camera, the form factor makes a difference. I found that the ability of the camcorder to take photos wasn't enough to make me want to use it exclusively. And the Kodak takes far better photos and video than I could get with my cellphone, another option for taking video on the fly, and is a lot easier to snap pictures or video with. Speaking for myself, convenience - the ease of use and the size - is what determines which device I take on a family outing. But now there's a third choice - not quite a camcorder, but no digital still photos. It's called the Flip (, and it's taken America by storm. It's the top-selling video camera in the US today - having taken 13 percent of the market - and selling like hotcakes. And, it's only $129 at Amazon. The original Flip runs on 2 AA batteries, is about 10 centimeters high, and weighs about three ounces (smaller than many cellphones). Last week, the company announced a newer, even smaller version called the Flip Mineo, which uses rechargeable batteries. It's not available in Israel yet - indeed, most Israelis haven't even heard of it - but come September, after vacation season, you'll for sure be seeing lots of them at your kids' next school play. So what's behind the charm of the Flip? For one thing, Oprah, as in Winfrey, America's talk show goddess. Oprah introduced the Flip to America last year on her daily syndicated TV show ( and, well, flipped over the Flip. Oprah liked the Flip for the same reason I like my digital camera - small, easy to use and decent quality video. The most convenient thing about the Flip is the way you transfer video to your computer. All video is recorded and stored on a 2 GB memory card, sufficient for about an hour's worth of video. To transfer the video to your PC (it works with Macs, too, but some users have had trouble with using the Flip video with iMovie), where you can watch it, transfer it to a DVD (using a program that will convert the video from its native MPEG-4 format), or upload it to Youtube or Myspace directly (a feature provided by the Flip's included software). You can also connect it to a TV to watch fresh video on the big(ger) screen. The videos themselves are shot in full-frame VGA (640 x 480), 30 frames/sec (constant frame-rate), progressive scan. And when you're done filming, you just slide out the built-in USB connector, insert it into your computer and copy it to your hard drive. The reports on the Flip's video quality have been mixed, although most buyers realize they are not going to get the same quality as they would with $1,000 camcorders. Many users say the Flip performs well in low-light situations, but not in heavy-zoom situations (its zoom is only 2X, anyway). For most people, according to dozens of review Web sites, the simplicity (there are four buttons to choose from, and that's it) and the convenience (fits into a pocket easily) of the Flip is enough to get them to plunk down their money. What most of these buyers probably didn't realize before buying a Flip is that their digital camera most likely has the same capabilities as the new device - if not more capabilities. The specs for my Kodak, for example, also offers full-frame VGA (640 x 480), 30 frames/sec (constant frame-rate), progressive scan - plus QVGA ( It can also take up to 80 minutes of video on a 2GB SD/MMC card - but you can flip out the card and put another one in if you want to take more video than the memory card has space for before you unload it onto a computer. Not to mention its - are you ready? - 12X optical and 4.2X advanced digital zoom, with a total zoom range of 50X. And, of course, a 7.1 multipixel still camera thrown into the bargain (on the other hand, the Kodak is $188 at Amazon, as opposed to the cheaper Flip). So is a Flip worth the money? Well, before you buy, you can try and see how easy it is to deal with Flip sized and quality video - by using your digital camera to take video. Maybe you'll decide you have enough gadgets anyway, and that you can use that $129 for some other hobby - like eating!