Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Flip Video

In my two previous posts you've seen the two videos I've made with my Flip Video, one made indoors, one outdoors. Even though I have no innate talent for visual arts, and these are my first efforts at creating video, they at least look decent. That's just one of the amazing things about this little camera.

Another is that it is really little, about the size of a cell phone. Ease of use is incredible. There's a power on/off switch, a small screen so you can see what you're photographing, a red button that you click to record and stop recording, and surrounding that red button a circle you press to zoom in and out. There is a Play button and a Discard button, and on the right and left of that circle are "Forward" and "Back." And that's it!

You can't adjust the lighting, but you don't have to. I've gone around the house trying to find conditions under which it can't take a decent picture. The room has to be very dimly lit in order to appear dimly lit, and the only room in which it could not produce a picture at all has no windows and no lights on.

I'm hardly the steadiest person in the world, but if you look at my videos (see the two posts previous to this one), you can see that some kind of steadi-cam must be built into this tiny package. Definitely built in is all the software necessary to edit your footage and create movies from it. For each of the videos I've made so far, I shot approximately half an hour of footage, then edited it down in one case to five minutes, in the other to eight.

To download your footage and edit it into a video, a USP connector pops out of the side of the camera. The camera must be plugged into a USP port while you're editing, because the software is in the camera. The method is intuitive and simple, and if you want to you can add the music that is supplied, or music you have saved on your own hard drive.

You can save up to an hour of raw footage in the camera, but if you then want to shoot more you have to delete something. The Flip Video company claims that they will never build a version of this camera that takes a memory card (some nonsense about not being able to put the editing software on the hard drive if they added a memory card, which even someone as ignorant of such things as I am knows is nonsense -- adding memory cards does not cause hard drives to lose their software in any other electronic equipment). As a memory card slot is the one thing everyone wants, I predict that we will see that feature by the time next Christmas rolls around. I want to take this neat little camera on vacation, and not have to drag my laptop along in order to bring home more than an hour of footage -- and so does everyone else.

Which brings me to how I know that the company is currently claiming they will never give users the one thing everyone wants. Yesterday I had reason to test Flip Video's claim of 24/7 service by phone or email. Guess what? The claim is true!

Yesterday was Christmas Day. I spent the day with friends, and then in the evening decided to do the update on the Flip that I had been asked to do the last time I had it plugged into the computer. As last time I had video to download and edit and didn't want to risk problems, I didn't allow the download at that time.

So I emptied the video in the camera to my hard drive, and then downloaded the new software and started the installation process. It did its thing for a while, and then told me to disconnect and reconnect the camera. I did so. After the beeps I was told to expect, nothing happened, and nothing happened, and nothing happened--until after six or seven miutes up popped a box saying "Your camera is in an unknown state. Call Customer Service for help." And it gave a toll-free number.

It was 9pm on Christmas Day. You can imagine how much hope I had of getting Customer Service. But I called, expecting to at best be allowed to leave a voice mail message.

Imagine my astonishment when, upon my punching the number to talk to someone, a live person came on the line instantly! She was friendly and helpful, and talked me through manually putting the new software -- which had successfully downloaded to my computer -- on the camera's hard drive, then testing it to make sure it was working properly. All this, by the way, without requiring me to prove that I owned the camera or give her any of my personal information before getting help!

Then she asked me how I liked the camera and what improvements I would like to see. When I told her that the only improvement I wanted was a memory card slot, that's when she told me that in spite of that being what everyone wants, the company has no plans to provide it.

Except for that one point -- flatly refusing to provide the one improvement every user wants -- my experience with the Flip video camera has been wonderful. The camera is incredibly easy to use, and the service unbelievable. If you long for the days of the Instamatic camera, and have never mastered all the bells and whistles of your digital still camera, I can heartily recommend this neat little easy-to-use video camcorder.

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