By February 28, 2011

Flip Ultra HD camcorder review

flip-mainThe first of Cisco’s Flip camcorders brought about a whole new section to camcorders – that Flip Video camera was small and simple to use, and since then many other manufacturers have released their own ultra portable camcorders. This new Flip Ultra HD builds on the success of the Flip Ultra with new features such as HD recording and image stabilisation, while keeping a very similar design. Other notable features include recording at 50 frames a second which results in much smoother video than you’d find on a high end HD capable smartphone, plus the integrated flip out USB port that’s now on every Flip.

There are two versions, both available from Dabs.com, a basic model with 4GB of inbuilt storage and one with 8GB that packs a few extra features, and it’s that one we have for review today. Is it good enough to warrant carrying yet another device on your travels? Read on to find out.

What’s in the box?

  • Flip Ultra HD video camera
  • Rechargeable 1300mAh battery pack
  • Wrist strap
  • Soft case
  • User guide
  • Safety and warranty information

Take a look at Matt’s unboxing to see what you get in more detail.

 

Flip Ultra HD specification:

  • Video Recording: 720p
  • Resolution: 1280 x 720
  • Sensor: 1/4.5 inch, 1.6 megapixel CMOS sensor (2.2 x 2.2 µm square pixels)
  • Frame Rate: 50 frames per second (constant frame rate, progressive scan)
  • Average Bitrate: 8.8 Mbps (auto-adaptive algorithm)
  • Video Format: H.264 video compression, AAC audio compression, MP4 files format
  • Lens Type: Fixed-focus (1.5m to infinity)
  • Aperture: f/2.4 (fast lens for great results in low-light environments)
  • Zoom: Smooth multi-step 2x digital
  • Battery: Flip Video Lithium-ion Rechargeable Battery Pack (3.7 Volt Li-ion rechargeable through USB) (included) or 3 AAA Lithium Batteries
  • Dimensions: 106 x 54 x 22 mm
  • Weight: 170 grams
  • Connectors: USB, Micro HDMI, Flip Port
  • LCD Screen: 2" 320 x 240 pixels

For the exhaustive list of every specification, see here.

 

General

The top of the flip is just a clean edge, while the bottom houses a standard screw hole for mounting on tripods, a FlipPort and the lock switch for the back cover. The FlipPort is a proprietary port for additional accessories such as the HDMI cable for viewing video on your tele.

Flip-bottom

 

The left side conceals the USB port – simply slide down the catch and out pops a full size USB port. Magical.

Flip-in

 

The right hand side isn’t quite as exciting. There’s a power button up top and a lanyard hole for the wrist strap.

Flip-side

 

Moving onto the back, there’s obviously the camera lens which protrudes around 2mm out from the thickest point. On each side, there’s holes for the microphone and underneath the right one, there’s a red recording light.

Flip-back

 

Flipping over to the front, you’ll find a crisp 2 inch QVGA screen; above it is the speaker grill for use during playback and below it there’s the dead simple array of buttons. The play button on the left allows you to view your clips, and the bin button on the right lets you delete them from the device. The plus and minus buttons control the digital zoom during shooting and the speaker volume during playback. The left and right allows you to cycle through different clips, and I’ll leave you to figure out what the big red one in the middle does.

Flip-screen

Highlights:

  • Fast boot time
  • Sturdy built-in USB port
  • Uses both AAA batteries and lithium battery packs

Lowlights:

  • Large unprotected lens
  • No SD card expandability support
  • Proprietary HDMI port

 

 

Review

Although the Flip series of camcorders were the first to popularise ultra mobile camcorders, they have a lot of competition. Despite this, the main design has stayed mainly the same and for good reason. The Flip Ultra HD is slightly larger than the Mino line but the similarities between them are quite obvious. The candy bar design is sturdy and solid, even though it’s made of plastic -the only evident metal on the Ultra HD is the ring around the camera lens. Thanks the to the lack of any moving parts such as a flip out screen, there’s no creaks and feels as if it can take a few hits. Even the flip out USB port is well made and should easily last countless connections with a computer. It might seem like a small thing, but not having to fish around for a cable makes transferring video to your PC makes the experience as simple as possible. Not only is the whole camcorder well built, but it’s easy to use too. Press the on switch and within 4 seconds, you’re ready to start shooting. No messing around with the settings, everything is designed to be impossibly easy to operate thanks to the large buttons. The buttons aren’t the only element to get a size boost. The screen has been upped from a  1.5″ to a 2 inch display, which makes it much easier to see what you’ve recorded. It’s not half bad either – it may still be on the small side, but it’s clear and viewable outside.

Flip-out

 

There are a few issues with the design though. The large camera lens sticks out the back and is very exposed. It might make it easy to clean, but it also makes it just as easy to scratch. Recessing the lens into the ring would help prevent scratches, though there’s nothing like a protective shutter like you’d find on traditional camcorders. Fortunately, a soft velvet pouch is included so you’d want to store it inside to prevent any damage to the lens.

The Ultra HD comes with a 1300mAh battery pack which is supposedly good for 90 minutes of recording. The quoted time is actually surprisingly accurate – after a full recharge, it sat there recording for 88 minutes before it turned itself off. If you’re out and about and want to record more than that, you have the option of switching it for another battery pack or three AAA batteries. Having the option for both would be very useful if you’re out and find yourself away from a power outlet for a long amount of time. However, the 8GB internal storage can store up to 2 hours of video – even if you have all the batteries in the world, you’ll need to find a computer to offload your video to before you can start recording again because it lacks any kind of expandable SD card storage. This is a bit of a shame as the ability to keep swapping batteries and memory cards would allow you to film to your hearts content on long trips without a computer.

Flip-angled

 

The software side is where technology usually trips up, but not with the Flip. The software is just as easy to use as the camcorder – just open the USB port, plug it in, and within a few clicks you can upload your video to YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. Alternatively, you can just copy them over to your computer which is just as easy to do, and all the software you need is stored on the Flip’s internal storage so there’s no installation discs to mess around with.

Even so, the Ultra HD is supposed to be as easy to use as possible and it most certainly is. The lack of a memory card slot doesn’t do it any favours, but it definitely makes up for it with its simplicity and that spring loaded USB port I can’t stop fiddling with.

Although the Flip is very easy to use, the main concern would be whether the video quality is actually any good. The Ultra HD records in 720p at 50 frames a second. The built in image stabilisation uses pixels out of the frame to try to cancel out an unsteady hand which does actually work quite nicely; it can only do so much but it’s there nonetheless. The fact that it records at 50 frames per second means that video is much smoother than your average mobile phone at 30 or so frames. This makes a much bigger difference than the resolution would if it was a full 1080p. It’s likely that Cisco traded the small gains in quality that 1080p would give, for a more conservative file size. Only when viewed on a very large HD television will the difference be clearly noticeable. It’s worth noting here that if you want to do that, you would need to invest in an HDMI cable as the proprietary FlipPort cable from Flip isn’t included in the box.

As you would expect, video in bright daylight conditions is excellent, and the sound isn’t bad too. The microphones pick up sound very clearly and they’re very sensitive too, meaning they pick up wind noise very well (though nearly every camcorder is guilty of that). Low light performance is just also just as you would expect – quite poor. The frame rate visibly drops and it just swells into a grainy mess, but then again a camcorder like this isn’t designed for low light shooting; you’d have to pick up a bigger (and more expensive) camcorder for that. The test video demonstrates a more unusual lighting situation where the Ultra HD actually performs quite well. It’s still smooth, though the 2x digital zoom is nothing to shout about -the away crowd in the video get noticeably grainy when fully zoomed in. Check out the video below and see for yourself if the quality is up to scratch.

Flip-front

 

Conclusion

Of course, the Ultra HD has nothing on a proper camcorder in terms of video quality, but that’s not what the Flip is about. It isn’t supposed to compete with fully fledged camcorders in terms of features, but instead fill the gap in the market for small and portable camcorders for capturing moments which you would otherwise miss. It’s about having a pocketable camcorder that you can comfortably carry with you which can record decent video without breaking the bank. The Ultra HD and the entire line of Flip camcorders do this very well and with ridiculous ease of use – it really is a camcorder for dummies. That’s not to say that it’s the only one; plenty of other manufacturers have their own offerings, many of which are also easy to use and can offer great video quality. Although some can offer a bit more for your pennies, smaller things such as the flexibility of battery options give the Ultra HD the edge, though it’s lack of SD card support does lower it’s appeal. The question to ask yourself is whether you need to record more than 2 hours worth of video at any one time – if the answer is no, then the Ultra HD would make a great choice.

 

Posted by: Vince

Posted in: Reviews

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