You're seeing it here first folks!
I've had my Flip Ultra for a few weeks now and I feel like I can give a good review of it. There's a lot to like and as long as you don't expect it to act like a Canon XL2 then I think you'll be okay.
What really piqued my interest about this nifty device was this post by Kirk Mastin on his. In it, he literally tapes a Flip to his pro video camera to capture the same footage and edits it the same way. The result? Well, it looked pretty darn good (for web use) when stacked upon the pro gear. The lesson is that technique/compelling content will trump technology every time.
I'm not going to go too deep into the geek spec review details, but talk about it in practical use.
All about the battery..
Firstly, I chose the Flip Ultra over the newer Mino because of the battery. The Ultra takes AA and the Mino has an internal rechargeable battery (that must be charged via USB). When I'm on a bike tour, I can't really tell when I'll run into a USB port in the wild. However, I'm pretty sure I can track down a gas station to buy some batteries.
On my recent tour (just 3.5 days), I went through 4 pairs of rechargeable AAs. I didn't run into a free standing USB port anywhere on the trip.
The form factor is pretty small and it fit (unmodified) in the breast pocket of my seersucker shirt and would also probably fit without a problem in the back pocket of a jersey. This is great if you want to record your riding, your commute or some cager doing stupid. When I ride, I use a Joby Gorillapod (the SLR model...which btw CAN"T hold up an SLR) wrapped around my handlebars. The mass of the camera is low enough that it holds it pretty steady.
Now for the fun stuff.
Making it a Flip Ultra WIDE...
The lens on the Flip is about a 38mm by most reports (yawn). It's a pretty boring/normal focal length. Not quite the length for narrow depth of field and not wide enough to make dynamic feeling wide shots.
I'm a photojournalist at heart and I see everything wide. If I could live with one lens it would probably be a 24mm.
So....I did a few things to my Flip to better accommodate MY needs.
First, I knew when I was going to edit the video I would do it in a 16:9 aspect ratio. So, I took some electrical tape, cut it in half and taped an approximate crop on the screen. No harm. No foul. Your warrantee is still good :)
BUT, I wanted the optics to be wide too. So, I bought a cheapie wide-angle lens adapter kit made for more sophisticated camcorders (the one I bought was made by Sunpak). The wide angle lens kit I bought came with a series of step-down rings. I took one of the rings and roughed it up with sandpaper (from a patch kit) and super glued it to the front of the Flip (be sure to glue it so you can still remove the battery cover!). This gave the front element some threads so I could screw on the wide angle lens!
What follows is pure awesomeness. Not quite an Oscar worthy for Technical Achievement, but close :)
Now you have a Flip Ultra that can shoot a "normal" focal length that you can convert into a wide-angle action machine. It gives your footage a bit more dynamic feel and it also mitigates the small camera shake quite a bit!
I used this set up for my recent trip and it worked great. I did note some possible and simple room for improvements on the Flip for action based Videography. Flip, if you're listening..here they are:
-a red indicator LIGHT on the BACK as well as the front that tells the user instantly it's recording! I found myself losing some time checking the screen and making sure the counter was red, which was a hassle while I was riding my bike.
-an INSTANT on/record setting, so you can just use the jog button to turn it on and record simultaneously. I was late for a few shots because I had to turn it on, wait for it to load, then hit the red record buton.
-the addition of a simple Mic IN would be AWESOME!
I think the Flip is a great tool for bike tourists and photojournalists. The HOLGA camera of the video world. In the right hands it can produce some great content!
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