Who says money can't buy happiness? Not me, for sure. Because $179.99 just bought me some considerable gadget-fueled joy in the person (or rather, plastic and metal) of a Flip Video Ultra.
My good karma was kicked off by a recent Mark Morford column. He started off his rant about a bizarre Tom Cruise video with:
Here is something you can do. Set up that nifty little Flip Video camera you got for Christmas just over there next to your couch.
I didn't read the rest of the column. Instead I thought, "Hey! I didn't get a nifty little Flip Video camera for Christmas. What the heck!!??"
My next thought was: "Also, what's a Flip Video camera?"
Answer – a cool super easy to use camcorder that shoots up to 60 minutes of video and stores it on 2GB of flash memory. (The Ultra, at least.)
I've got a fancy Sony camcorder that does a lot more stuff. But it's also much more complicated to use. And it's not easy to upload videos to You Tube with it, or even to get a video onto my laptop.
By contrast, getting shots of me, Laurel, and the dog crooning "Happy Birthday" to my daughter was wonderfully simple.
It took me a bit longer to figure out how to set up an AOL Flip Video account and use the camera's built-in software to upload my work of art to a private video sharing page (accessible only through a link).
As an experiment I also uploaded the video to my You Tube account. The sound quality seemed quite a bit better on AOL.
That was important, because this is a weak spot of the camera. When I spoke while holding the camera, the sound was fine. But talking normally on the couch just a few feet away from it, you can barely hear us. (Except for the "Happy Birthday" – a mixed blessing to the non-tone deaf, given my singing ability.)
Update: My daughter said the audio sounded fine to her. When I played the video on my new Lenovo Y510, which has much better speakers than my ThinkPad, it was indeed clearly audible. So I take back my criticism of the Flip Video microphone, replacing it with criticism of ThinkPad speakers.
Otherwise, the Flip Video Ultra looks like it'll be a part of my life from now on. I've already relegated my still digital camera to a drawer in favor of carrying around the Flip Video.
You can generate JPG stills from a video, though the quality isn't great. So I'm sacrificing higher quality snapshots for the ability to make a movie anytime I want.
The day I got the Flip Video I drove around Salem, waiting expectantly for something newsworthy for happen. I figured I'd quickly make my $179.99 back by selling footage of the Worthy News to CNN.
I'm still waiting. But I'm ready…
Regarding the price, you can get the camera cheaper at Amazon and other places. I bought it direct from Flip Video central, partly because of the 90 day return policy.
And I'd noticed that some of the generally highly positive comments on Amazon about the camera had mentioned problems with a firmware upgrade. I was wary when I attempted to download the upgrade, so was happy to find that my camera already had the most recent version. That could be a benefit of buying direct from the manufacturer.
A few tips and observations:
--Video files are large. My five-minute Happy Birthday video started off at 132 MB, if I recall correctly. Not very emailable. The Flip Video software truncated my masterpiece when I checked the "email" option. It might have a size limit on email attachments. So I ended up sharing the video with my daughter via AOL and You Tube.
--Expect the AOL/You Tube uploading process to take a while, especially if your video is more than a minute or so long. The camera's built-in software reduces the size of the video file before it uploads it. That takes time, just as it does on Windows Movie Maker. So don't expect instant sharing.
--Along this line, I thought the Flip Video was stuck when it kept showing its uploading progress at "20%." I thought the program might be frozen but found that the progress bar suddenly jumped when it had finished reducing the size of the video and started the actual uploading. Again, be patient.
--When you set up an AOL Flip Video account, it isn't activated until you respond to an email that AOL sends you to validate that you're a real live emailable person. Not realizing this, I couldn't understand why the Flip Video software couldn't log into my newly created AOL account. Tip: check your email for a message from AOL and click on the link.
--The minimal (because the camera is so simple) instructions should emphasize that the camera needs to be "unloaded" from a Windows computer before detaching it from a USB port – via the Safely Remove Hardware icon. This guy's You Tube review of the camera mentions this, which redeems his cheesiness somewhat.
Bottom line: for $165-180 this is a great way to capture video. What the camera lacks in fancy features it makes up for in smallness and simplicity.
I'm getting my daughter one. She has the same Sony camcorder that I do, but says that she doesn't use it very much – even though my granddaughter is hugely cute and almost a year old. The Sony is too complicated.
Well, after a Flip Video Ultra arrives at her doorstep soon, I'm expecting to see a lot of charming child videos. I'll return the favor with what probably will be an endless series of cute dog videos.