Last week, Cisco announced a partnership with the NHL in which the company's popular Flip cameras will be offered with logos from any of the 30 NHL teams. Fans can even win a team-branded Flip camera through a Facebook Fan Contest.
I heard about the promotion through some of my colleagues at SBN, and I immediately offered to review the product. I've been debating whether or not to purchase a Flip camera since this year's Draft, when SBN blogfather Tyler Bleszinski captured this HD video of Cam Fowler with his Flip and I was left with audio only.
That's not to say that I'm unhappy with my Edirol R-09. The thing's a tank and a professional piece of recording equipment, but it was much more attuned to my job as a reporter in the music industry than it is to blogging hockey. Professional and portable recording equipment is rarely a conversation starter or anything likely to earn me 'cred' in the hockey world.
So I'm changing with the times, and I have my review of the Anaheim Ducks branded Flip MinoHD 4GB after the jump.
As you can see from the above video, the Flip ad campaign has been very aggressive this holiday season. The message seems to be that famous and ordinary people use the camera to capture extraordinary and ordinary moments . . . in HD quality.
I should open by noting that I am reviewing the MinoHD. That's not to say the Mino is all that different from the Ultra and Slide Flip cameras. Far from it, as the specifications on the Flip website note that the video quality and many of the features are identical. However, for anyone looking to this review as representative of the entire Flip line, it's important to note that I've only spent time with the MinoHD 4GB.
The first thing that struck me about the camera was the level of plug and play simplicity. There are literally FIVE options in the Settings Menu: Set Language, Set Date, Set Time, Tones On/Off, Recording Light On/Off. The machine has three standard buttons: the Power Button on the right side of the screen, the USB latch on the left side of the screen (which releases the camera's USB arm to connect to another device), and the big red record button. The camera then has six touch-sensitive buttons: Play, Delete, Up, Down, Left and Right.
At the bottom of the camera, you have a tripod mount, an HDMI port and then to the side, a spot to attach a lanyard (included). That's it. That's everything. If you're technologically challenged, this camera is absolutely for you. There are no settings to fumble or ports to figure out. The camera is sleek and simple.
Now, I'm NOT technologically challenged. So, I was immediately suspicious of this thing. High tech cameras have settings because situations require different settings, and to get the most out of a camera, you sometimes want to keep your options open. My concerns were as follows: Battery Power, Video Quality (especially in Zoom), Microphone Quality and Image Stabilization.
I might be dating myself, but I'm from a time when conventional wisdom favored AA batteries. It just makes more sense to carry a hundred AA batteries with you rather than worry about finding an outlet (if you buy the Flip charger) or a USB port. And Cisco caters to paranoid dinosaurs like myself with their Ultra line, which uses AA batteries and battery packs.
The MinoHD 4GB uses an internal battery, and so my primary concern was whether or not it had the battery life to manage its maximum recording time of 1 hour. And I'm happy to say that it does. I captured about 45 minutes of video over about an hour and a half of time, and I'm not really past the halfway mark in terms of battery power. The manual says it will give you about 1.5 hrs of recording time in between charges, and I can vouch for that.
Video Quality (especially in Zoom)
My second concern was my healthy disdain for digital zoom. To test this, I brought the camera to the Rink Tour Speaking Series today, and voilà.
The video quality without zoom and with maximum zoom isn't far apart.
I also used the above video to test microphone quality. I stood in the back of the room hoping to gauge how well the camera's built-in microphone picked up the speakers. Unfortunately, my plan backfired as the Ducks event team didn't set up the stage well for the noisy Corona rink, and some early feedback encouraged Hiller to control his volume.
Remarkably, however, you can still pick up what they're saying. Listening to the video, it's actually a little clearer than what my ears were picking up standing at that distance.
So I have to give the sound quality the thumbs-up in terms of approving it for most purposes. However, as an audiophile, I don't see how a microphone input could hurt either.
I like that the camera comes with a tripod mount, but with any handheld recorder, and especially with one this small, you're hoping for some generous image stabilization.
The Flip camera definitely delivers that. From the above videos, I can tell you that the shootout question happened very early in the presentation, the Mask question much later, over a period of about a half an hour. During that time, I was pointing the camera at the stage with my arm resting against a window sill. My arm was noticeable tired by the end, and my hand was shaking, but even from the viewfinder window, I could tell that the Flip was not registering its jittery cameraman's fatigue. So, yeah, incredibly effective steady-cam in addition to the above.
The charm of the Flip camera is its unparalleled ease of operation. Unlike most tech devices, there is no learning curve. Its standard equipment and standard settings can record the same quality video now, right out of the box, that they will after you've used the thing for a thousand hours. It has the feel of a Polaroid instant camera in that respect.
The software, which installs from the device, is just as simple. I uploaded the two videos above through Flipshare rather than by signing onto YouTube, and I have to say that I prefer the former process to signing onto YouTube.
And as far as the Ducks branding, the logo and jersey are very well done. It's a textured print, which acts as a bit of a grip on the camera, and it's a high quality print right onto the body of the device, not some sticker which you can peel off. If you're looking to buy something with a Ducks logo for that very special fan in your life, you could do much, much, much-much-much, much worse.