Review: Flip UltraHD camcorder

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Short Version: Joining the ranks of the Flip family, the UltraHD is one of the easiest-to-use digital camcorders on the market. This version features 8GB of storage, high-definition video capture, the ability to use an included rechargeable battery pack or off-the-shelf AA batteries, and HDMI output.

At $200, though, it’s pretty expensive considering its feature set.

Long Version:

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Flip camcorders — no matter which model — aren’t for the budget-conscious shopper. They’re targeted at people who want to casually shoot video without fumbling around with a bunch of settings and memory cards and cables. And even though Flip camcorders are priced at almost double what you’d be able to pay for competing compact camcorders with similar features, they’re still selling like hotcakes. So, yes, they’re too expensive for people who know how to use camcorders and want a bunch of features at a decent price, but they’re apparently priced just right for everyone else. And so we dance.

Features:

  • 1280×720 H.264 video recording, 9.0Mbps average bitrate
  • 8GB of memory (not expandable), 120-minute recording time
  • 1/4.5″ HD CMOS sensor
  • Two-inch 960×240 LCD
  • 2x digital zoom, no optical zoom
  • Up to 2.5 hours battery life, 6 hour recharge time via USB
  • HDMI output (cable not included)
  • Built-in video editing software with YouTube upload
  • MSRP of $199

The Good:

The Flip UltraHD is a decent portable camcorder that features a big red record button, a four-way rocker, and play, delete, and power buttons. Put it in the hands of someone who rarely, if ever, shoots video, show them where the power button is located, and watch them go. It honestly couldn’t be easier to use.

The switchblade-style USB connector flips out for quick and easy connection to your computer and the included software (stored in the camera’s memory) makes simple edits and YouTube uploads a relatively painless process. Video quality is decent provided you have adequate light available. Audio quality is also acceptable assuming you’re not dealing with too much wind or ambient noise.

Again, the main focus for these cameras is ease of use and, in that respect, the UltraHD shines. You can do everything with one hand and the camera fits easily into an average pocket, purse, or small bag. The addition of user-replaceable batteries is a big plus; if the internal rechargeable battery pack runs dry, you can pop in a couple of store-bought AA batteries and you’re back in business.

The Bad:

While the ability to output video to your TV via HDMI is a nice, easy, and welcome addition, the UltraHD doesn’t come with an HDMI cable. And if you have an older HD television with RGB connections, you’re out of luck. Flip sells an HDMI cable for $25 on its website and considering the average person who buys a Flip camcorder probably isn’t all that technologically savvy, that’s going to be an unwelcome added expense. Even worse, I picture people buying this thing at Best Buy and getting talked into buying HDMI cables for $30 and up.

Also, aside from recording video, the UltraHD does little else. There’s no still photo feature (you can grab stills from video footage using the included software, though), the 2x digital zoom is an afterthought, there’s no optical image stabilization unless you mount the camera on a tripod, and taking videos of yourself is a no-go since the camera contains a fixed, non-swiveling LCD.

The Ugly:

Video quality, while decent, is certainly nothing to write home about. Your best bet for this camera is to shoot something outdoors with the camera mounted on a tripod, with as little side-to-side motion as possible. And while daylight and quality indoor lighting make this camcorder usable, low-light video is downright atrocious, producing a grainy mess.

Here are three sample clips. The first was taken outdoors on a somewhat overcast day with a bit of motion and some digital zooming, the second was taken indoors in my well-lit office with a fair amount of side to side motion, and the third was taken in a dark stairway, also with a fair amount of side to side motion. These are the actual clips from the camera, unedited and uncompressed.

Clip One: Outdoors, overcast

Clip Two: Indoors, well-lit

Clip Three: Indoors, low light

Conclusion:

The Flip UltraHD is an easy-to-use and very-portable camcorder that works well for casual video capturing by novice technology users. More experienced users, however, will likely find the camcorder’s high price tag, lack of features, and poor low-light performance to be a deal-breaker.

Flip UltraHD [TheFlip.com]

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