Blogging 130: Video Blogging with Flip and iSight

Note: Every required course in the Social Media University, Global curriculum is free. In this one, I’m reviewing a product for video blogging that isn’t free, but it’s certainly inexpensive. Because of the cost, however, this course is an elective, not part of the core curriculum. But please at least do the course reading below, even if you’re not able to complete the homework assignment.

For the last several years I’ve been using my miniDV camera for producing amateur movies, whether for fun work projects or family videos. In fact, I have a huge drawer full of miniDV tapes that have captured many of my family memories, and which I have used to create high school graduation retrospectives for my two oldest kids, and for some wedding videos. And although I’m a self-taught producer, I’m pretty pleased at what I’ve been able to create with relatively simple tools.

One thing that makes producing these videos, well…a production is the need to digitize the footage, connecting the camera to the computer via Firewire, and playing the whole tape to import files that can be edited in iMovie (or one of the Final Cut versions.)

But thanks to recommendations from Steve Lubetkin and Monty Flinsch, I’ve recently (this weekend) begun exploring the Flip camera as a video blogging alternative. My one-word review:


I’ve seen Scoble do his Qik gig, and it’s pretty cool to have “a TV station in your pocket,” which you can use to stream video live to the web. But while I personally find my life really interesting, I think most of my readers would prefer the edited version. And besides, the quality of the live video stream (even from a 3G phone) still needs some work.

That’s what’s so compelling about the Flip: for a ridiculously low price ($119 for 30 minutes, $149 for 60 minutes), you can get a camera that records 640 x 480 video with decent sound into files that you can edit instantly and upload to YouTube or another video blogging platform, or to Facebook.

In fact, I started shooting the segment you see below at 7:15 p.m. CDT Tuesday, using a Flip Ultra and a cheap tripod. It took a couple of tries to say something close to what I wanted. So I was done recording by 7:20. Then I plugged the camera’s built-in USB extension that flips out (Get it? Flip?) into my computer’s USB port, and completed the editing by 7:25 using QuickTime Pro. I exported at 30 frames per second and best quality, which took about four minutes for this 75-second clip. By 7:32 I was uploading to YouTube. Total time from shooting to uploading: 17 minutes.

Then my youngest son asked me to go out for a run (with him on his scooter), so I took a blogging break. I’m not sure how long the upload took because I was away while it finished, but that will vary for you anyway, based on your Internet connection speed.

One hour later…

I’m back after taking John for a two-mile run (and a stop at the A&W for a medium root beer float that undid any of the caloric benefit gained by my exercise), and my Flip video is now processed. Here it is:


I can’t use the Flip to take video of itself (although I guess I could have done it in the mirror), but fortunately I have a built-in iSight camera in my MacBook, so I recorded and uploaded a demonstration video using YouTube’s Quick Capture feature. That recording process was pretty straightforward, but it’s much lower quality than what you get with the Flip, as you see below:


The one positive of the lower resolution is that the encoding is faster, so it’s a quicker way to get video to YouTube. A drawback for Quick Capture is that you can’t edit your video as you can with the Flip; if you make a mistake you need to cancel and try again.

The quality of the video I get with the Flip is excellent, at least equivalent to what either of my two miniDV cameras offers. It does have limitations, however. It uses two AA batteries, which is both a pro and a con. The negative is that you need to spend money for batteries or purchase more expensive rechargeables. The positives are that, unlike the toys of my youth, batteries are included (at least the first pair), and you don’t need to charge the battery overnight before the first use, as you do with the iPod or many other digital devices with built-in batteries, such as cell phones. When the juice runs out you just pop in new batteries and continue recording. No recharging time.

Other Flip limitations include the fact that the zoom function only goes to 2x, and there is no audio jack that would let you use an external microphone. Still, as Kirk Mastin has demonstrated, with an adapter for your iPod you can record an audio track that you can synch with the Flip video. And the video he produced with a Flip is virtually indistinguishable from what he did with a $3,200 HD camera. Even if you can tell them apart, it would strain credulity to say the HD version is 21 times better than the Flip.

So, at least for close-range web video (which is what most video blogging is), the Flip is a high-quality, cost-effective, fast alternative to miniDV or higher-end tape formats.

I wonder whether Pure Digital would extend its $15-per-camera educational discount on the Flip to students at Social Media University, Global? I’m pretty sure they offer some volume discounts, too. If you’re interested in getting in on a bulk purchase, let me know in the comments below, in the comments on the video in the SMUG group in Facebook, or by e-mail.

Optional Homework Assignment:

Do I really need to spell it out? Get a Flip video camera, and start exploring by creating a video greeting to your fellow SMUG students.

Then upload your video both to YouTube (as a response to mine) and to the SMUG Facebook group.

If you have a webcam, try Quick Capture in YouTube.

For everyone, whether you do the hands-on camera work or not, please share your comments and thoughts below.

Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

10 thoughts on “Blogging 130: Video Blogging with Flip and iSight”

  1. Looks really cool. I’m looking for a phone that does the same and allows me to upload directly to the web. My Samsung Omnia does almost all of the above, except that it records in 320×240 at 30fps, but the only drawback is the Audio is in AMR quality at 5kbs
    Horrible 🙁

  2. I wanted to order The Flip in bulk (15 of them) and was trying to find a place that would offer a discount on that type of order.
    Any ideas?

  3. I haven’t done that. If you were getting for educational purposes, I think you can get something like a $15 rebate from the company. I’ve also heard you can get them cheaper at Amazon.

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