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Video in a Snap 

by Bernard Gorman

Handheld digital video camcorders in the $300 range are more than adequate for home movies and those in the $500 range rival those used in TV news broadcasts of the last decade. As an owner of both early VHS camcorders and sleeker digital ones, I’ve taken some memorable clips. However, when I became a proud grandfather two years ago, I realized that I wanted to have video memories of my granddaughter but I didn’t want to lug cameras with me to the point of being enslaved by my gear.  I wanted to be able to take video snapshots with video equivalents of the pocket-sized Kodak Brownie cameras of my childhood.

I’ve tried and reviewed several pocket camcorders over the years. While they were innovative, they were either badly-made toys or they were incredibly expensive.  As I could afford those in the “toy” category, I found that they had very poor resolution; they had very poor battery life; and they performed badly under ordinary room lighting.

Being both hopeful and cynical, I stumbled upon a camcorder that’s both affordable and incredibly useful. In fact, after buying one myself, I’ve been buying them as gifts. The camera, shown in the picture below, is the Flip Video Camcorder, Model F160, (www.theflip.com), made by Pure Digital Technologies.  It weighs about the same as a cell phone. At  4.12” x 2.25” x 1.25”, assuming your trousers aren’t too tight, it can easily fit in your pocket. The F160 Model costs around $100 and is available at many department stores, box-box electronics store, and by web purchase.  A deluxe model has a manufacturer’ suggested retail price of around $150.

Flip CameraOther than its size, why do I like it?  For one, it’s so simple than even confirmed technophobes (like a certain department chair who shall remain nameless) can master it in five minutes. It has a small microphone in the front  and a small speaker in the back. A glimpse at the back of the Flip, shown below, reveals a small monitor and only eight buttons: power On/Off,  play, delete, record, zoom in, zoom out, and forward and backward.  It takes about an hour’s worth of VGA video at 640 by 480 pixel resolution under ordinary lighting using two AA alkaline or NIMH batteries. The enclosed manual is coupon-sized and about six pages long. If you want more help, then the Flip Video website and customer services will answer most of your questions. 

 When you’re finished shooting, you press a button on the side of the camera and a USB arm pops out. You then plug the camera into a USB port on your PC or MAC computer  and it will install editing, viewing, and Internet file-sharing software. If you choose not to use Flip Video’s software, you can use the camera as you would use any other 1GB flash drive. Your files will be in the MP4 format and can be converted to other formats to make standalone DVD’s. If you wish,  the Flip Video has a composite NTSC (red, white, yellow RCA plugs) video sockets and cables which you can attach to any TV monitor or video recorder.

 The deluxe model has a better monitor; somewhat higher processing speed,  better battery life, and a tripod socket. Friends who have the deluxe model enjoy these features.  In my “wish list” for future Flip Video models, I’d like to see removable high-capacity SD or HD cards. While the built-in USB memory is fine for a one-hour video, you have to transfer the files to a computer and then erase the clips to make room for new videos. This arrangement is fine for day trips and nearby family visits but if I were on vacation, I’d like to be able to pop removable chips in and out without having to go back to the computer. Although I haven’t played with one yet, the RCA EZ201 camera seems to be similar to the Flip Video and has removable memory.

 In all, the unit is a delight to use. It’s portable, simple,  and gives high-quality videos. ‘Nuf said!


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