Deep thoughts about camcorders

By Mir
October 8, 2009

The very pretty Katie writes:

I need some help. I am going to get a camcorder for my hubby for Christmas. Do you have any recommendations? The primary use is to videotape my child being funny so we can black mail him later. Like at Prom. I know you have posted stuff about the Flip, are there any others? Should I wait until closer to get a better deal?

The answer to “are there any others” is “of course there are.” The reason the Flip is so popular and gets so much press is that:
1) It’s relatively inexpensive.
2) It’s small.
3) It’s idiot-proof.
4) The quality is astonishingly good for a device of its size/price.

We own two Flips. I pink puffy heart them. But let’s do a little more investigation….

In addition to the Flips we own, my husband—who teaches video, amongst other things—often has a super-expensive, professional-level Sony camcorder laying around. Every so often he brings one home to play with it before he needs to teach his students something. And all I can tell you is that when it’s time to tape the children doing something humiliating ’round here (I like the way you think, Katie!), he always grabs a Flip over the other camcorder.

The biggest difference between a Flip and a fancy high-end camcorder is going to be in the sound, not the video. If you were going to be taping Very Important Things, you might want a camera with an audio input and so that you could invest in a good microphone and use that as well. But for typical family/hobby usage? Not necessary.

In fact, I absolutely love this piece comparing the Flip to the Canon XH-A1. Definitely worth a view if you’re not convinced.

Now, the difference between the Flip and another compact, pocket camcorder…? I don’t know. I feel like the Flip is sort of tried and true, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t another brand out there that’s just as good. But again, given the relatively low price point and frequent sales, I’d probably go for the Flip over another brand, at this point.

Will there be sales closer to the holidays? Of course. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a Black Friday deal or three on whatever the latest/greatest Flip is by then. But there are plenty of deals throughout the year, so I don’t know that you necessarily need to wait.

[For example, today at the 60 minute Flip Ultra in pink is available as a refurbished unit for $70 shipped; for comparison, that unit is selling for $175 at Amazon, new. I’m guessing your husband wouldn’t be pleased with a pink camera, Katie, but I just thought I’d point it out.]

There are always deals to be had. It’s just a matter of deciding which unit you want, and being patient.

I hope that helps, Katie!


  1. What about the need or desire to zoom in? That’s what keeps my husband far away from the Flip — is he wrong?

  2. the flip does zoom a little bit – love mine and use it all the time. I actually think people are annoyed we are always posting videos online of our kids doing silly things. we had a traditional video camera and used it for a few years but only watched the video a few times. too much trouble setting it all up to share!

  3. Lisa is correct; the Flip does allow for a limited range of zoom. Again, if you want to record something really far away, this isn’t going to work all that well… but most casual users don’t need that functionality.

  4. I also have a flip (bought at a discount thanks to Mir)and I LOVED it!! Wondering about the past tense? That would be the only drawback…the flip is so convenient and compact it kept being misplaced until, about a month ago, it disappeared completely. I know it’s here somewhere…hoping to find it again by the holidays…

  5. To pick up the zoom thought just a bit, all the video cam makers hype the zoom. First of all, watch out for crazy zoom amounts if the camera isn’t image-stabilized, or everything will bounce enough to make you seasick when doing those close-ups.

    However, what comes up as a problem time and time again is not the zoom capabilities but the wide angle. Frankly, I can generally move close enough to get what I want on a video camera with limited zoom. I can’t always move far enough back, though. Go wide.

    Having said all that, the Flip is awesome. I’m about to rig one of the wide-angle lenses on it (a net search will find what you want) to improve on its limited wide angle, but, really, for a budget video cam, it’s tough to beat.

  6. I hate my flip! I don’t know if I got a lemon, but as soon as I have one or two short (like 2 minute) videos on there, it freezes up and either I can’t see anything on the screen at all or the movement sticks so much I can’t tell if I even have the subject in view any more. Sometimes it turns on when I push the power button and sometimes it doesn’t. I wouldn’t buy another.

  7. I have a Flip and another small-sized video camera. It’s a hybrid, which means…er…something or other to do with the way it can record two ways. You see how I didn’t write the brand name here? That’s because I can’t remember it. And THAT’S because I’ve never used it. So many buttons, so many settings…I don’t have time to figure all that out. You have no idea how embarrassing it is for me to admit that.

    BUT. The Flip I understood right out of the box, including the zoom. I can catch my preschooler singing or dancing or saying something cute, because I keep it right in the kitchen. I guess, perhaps, maybe, one day, if my child is in some Major Production, I will want to use the “big” camera so I can Capture Every Moment, as my Flip only records up to 30 minutes. But then again, maybe not.

  8. We just bought a Sony Webbie (dumb name) and love it! It’s the same size as a flip, I think, and has easily interchangeable memory – we upgraded so that we can now record 2+ hrs on one chip. Now the problem is with storage space for the downloaded video, but it’s been a great purchase!

  9. I love, love, love my Flip.

    Every now and again I wish that it had more zoom but that is FAR outweighed by the number of times that, pre-Flip, I wished that I had a video camera handy and didn’t.

  10. Thanks Mir! That does help. The comments too. I have been leaning towards the Flip, and since my son likes to get rillyrilly close to any camera, I think the zoom is not going to be a big issue.

    And I am totally gonna try and rock the pink one.

  11. See, I’m not convinced about the flip, and I’ve been looking at video cameras for about a month now. I don’t like how there’s nothing covering up the lens on the flip, and how there’s no image stabilization – when I see many videos online with the flip they’re really shaky. I’m looking at the Canon FS200 right now, as it has image stabilization in it and a bunch of other features that make me feel a bit more comfortable with it.

  12. I just picked up a Flip Ultra HD to finally catch the kids in all their wackiness. Yesterday I was able to get it for $162 (instead of $199) *and* I scored a free accessory. Shipped yesterday, too, with free shipping. Can’t wait to test it!

  13. We got a shipment of flips at the office for a project we were working on with kids. Gave all of them flips and sent them out to document their day. Was totally easy and needed no instruction how to use (these were 5-10 graders). They are pretty much the perfect camera for at home “capture the moment use”. That said I’ve only used it a couple times. I keep meaning to bring one home to test out the editing software on my home computer. The video from the flips were AVI format, which I would have to convert for like final cut. I’ve never really used i movie so I’m not sure if it’s a good format for that. I’ve heard the editing software that comes with it is pretty good though.

    I’d love to hear why or why not for HD. I’m a videographer/editor by trade and I’m a loser and won’t spend the money for HD. If you’re just using it for at home and for uploading to say facebook or youtube I think SD would be fine. You’re going to loose generation in the conversion to the web anyway. The only time I’d get HD is for broadcast via cable company or something.

  14. I love our Flip’s ability to capture video in low light; truly amazing compared to our old video-in-the-digital-camera clips. The Flip is perfect for catching the toddler singing in her crib by the glow of a night light!

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