Flip UltraHD Pocket Camcorder Review

Image Quality, Performance & Software

It is important to note that the Flip UltraHD uses a significantly smaller sensor to capture video than most traditional--and more expensive--camcorders. You should not expect to see the same level of image quality from the Flip UltraHD as you would from more expensive camcorders. That said, we were relatively satisfied with the image quality that the camcorder generated. As long as there was ample light, captured video was bright with crisp colors. When compared to HD footage captured with higher-end camcorders with larger sensors, however, footage captured with the Flip UltraHD appeared a bit softer. The Flip UltraHD did a decent job of capturing footage in relatively low light conditions as well, but not without adding a noticeable amount of noise to the captured images. Using the 2x digital zoom also introduced some additional softness and noise to captured video as well.

A relatively static shot, shot outdoors in bright sunshine.

We were impressed with the audio quality of the Flip UltraHD's integrated, stereo microphone. It did a very capable job of picking up audio sources that were both very close and as well as those from a relative distance. As with most omnidirectional microphones, however, it tends to pick up sound from more sources that you might desire, such as that from the wind. Unlike more expensive camcorders, the Flip UltraHD does not support using external microphones.

The clip was shot indoors in subdued lighting; some noise is evident in this clip.

While we were satisfied with the video and audio capture quality, the Flip UltraHD suffers from a significant Achilles' heel, and that is its lack of image stabilization. The problem with handheld cameras is that most peoples' hands are not very steady. We're used to seeing blurry pictures from still cameras where the picture taker moved the camera while the camera's shutter was open and capturing the image. The same thing can happen with video; but in addition to potentially blurry shots, unnecessary camera motion can also make for some very jerky-looking shots. Many cameras and camcorders today come with built-in image stabilization that helps to minimize this problem; unfortunately, the Flip Ultra HD is not one of them.

This clip was shot outdoors on an overcast day. This clip is an example of how the
Flip UltraHD's lack of image stabilization can cause shaky-looking video.

The result is that much of the footage we captured--including that when we were standing still and trying to keep the camera as still as possible--has an annoying shaky feel to it. As to how much shakiness can be tolerated is in the eyes of the beholder; so what annoys us, might not bother you at all. If you find that you have very steady hands, then you might have better luck than we did. Some video-editing applications, such as Apple's iMovie '09, have image-stabilization features that can potentially help smooth out some of the footage's jerkiness.

This shot shows the Flip UltraHD's 2x digital zoom in action.

Captured videos are stored in the Flip UltraHD's memory as MP4 video files. When you connect the camcorder to a Windows or Mac computer, you have the option of installing the FlipShare software onto the system directly from the camcorder's memory. You do not have to install the software in order to retrieve the video files from the camera; the camcorder appears to the OS as an attached USB drive and you can simply copy the MP4 files from the camcorder's memory to your computer. However, in order to view the video on you computer, your computer must have the necessary video codec installed. As the Flip UltraHD uses the common H.264 codec, there is a good chance that most Windows Vista and Mac systems already have the requisite codec installed. If not, then installing the FlipShare software will automatically install the needed video codec.

 The FlipShare application.
 Captured video clips are stored as MP4 files.

The FlipShare program is a fairly simple application that is meant to help you watch captured videos; save videos to your computer; share videos in the form of e-mails, greeting cards, or online video-sharing sites; and create movies, snapshots, and DVDs. The Windows and Mac versions of the software operate nearly identically.

 QuickTime's Inspector details of a captured video clip.
 When you "e-mail" a video clip
to someone, you are actually
uploading the clip to the Flip
Video site and sending an e-mail
invitation for the recipient to view
the clip hosted on the Flip Video site.

FlipShare tells you which video clips stored on the camcorder have not been saved to the computer yet. You can copy clips to your computer as well as delete clips from the camcorder. You can also trim clips to remove unwanted footage from the beginning or ending of the clips. The built-in e-mail and greeting card functions allow you upload videos to the Flip Video Web site and send e-mail invites to others to view your videos. Videos are hosted on the Flip Video site for free and can be accessed by anyone with the correct URLs for the clips. FlipShare also lets you upload videos directly to MySpace and YouTube.

 "Creating" a movie in FlipShare entails little
more than adding titles and credits.
 You can upload video clips to
MySpace and YouTube directly from
the FlipShare application.

The movie creation portion of FlipShare is very rudimentary: it doesn't offer any editing functionality--you can only add additional clips, a title, and end credits. Any real editing of footage captured by the Flip UltraHD will need to be done with a third-party video editing application. FlipShare's DVD option copies selected videos and places them in a new folder on the desktop. From there, you use your own third-party DVD burning app. FlipShare also includes the option to "order a professionally-produced DVD" of your videos--selecting this option opens up a Web browser page on the Flip Video Web site, which walks you through organizing and setting up the DVD for production. DVDs currently cost $19.99 each plus shipping; also note that HD footage is down-converted to a lower resolution and will appear in a letterbox format.

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