The Flip v. My Cheap Canon Camera: Flip Loses Across The Board

The Flip Mino, the third version of the popular Flip video camera, launched today to a torrent of well orchestrated press coverage.

We’ve been a little harsh on the Flip in the past, so I was pleased when they reached out to us under embargo to write about the new launch. The only problem was, they wouldn’t send a test unit until after the embargo was over. We declined. But I noted that nearly all of the press coverage today dutifully followed the suggestive comments given in the press information. The WSJ writer frankly sounded like she wanted to quit and go work for the company.

So I haven’t actually tried out the new Flip Mino. But I’ve spoken with people who have, and I used the Flip Ultra, which launched late last year, for a while before abandoning it. And I just can’t figure out why people like this thing.

None of the reviews compared the Flip to it’s core competition: normal digital cameras. Instead everyone focuses on the fact that Flip has sold nearly a million units, saying that’s 15-20% of the camcorder market – and the Flip is a fraction of the price of most of those competitors.

The Flip’s video quality (640×480) is much lower than most people would expect from a camcorder. But it happens to be exactly the same resolution as most digital cameras, almost all of which now offer video as well. And nearly 40 million of them sold in 2007. Canon alone sold nearly 9 million digital cameras last year.

As I said, I abandoned my Flip Ultra soon after buying it. The main reason is that it just doesn’t play nice with Macs, and editing video requires a number of extra steps. This is because Flip insists on encoding video in a proprietary format that iMovie can’t handle directly. Why they do that is beyond me – everyone is moving to Quicktime at this point.

I now happily use my Canon SD750 for basic video footage (example is here). Not only does it take great pictures, it matches or beats the Flip Mino in every category. And the Canon SD750 costs $3.39 less than the Flip Mino.

Both devices record at 640×480. The Canon has a 3 inch screen, The Flip Mino is 1.5 inches. The Canon has 3x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom; the Flip has only 2x digital zoom. The Flip has just 2 GB of storage and 60 minutes of record time. The Canon, with a $20 2 GB storage card, matches that. But you can also bring spare storage cards for the Canon, you can’t for the Flip. Same with the rechargeable batteries. The devices are roughly the same size – the Mino is longer and the Canon is wider and fatter, but they’re very close. Both easily fit in a pocket.

Here’s another problem with the Flip Mino I’ve been hearing – there’s something wrong with the sound. As in, the sound is awful. The test video the WSJ did seems to support this, although it was windy in that video.

Some people will argue that the Flip is dead simple to use, which is true (except when it comes to editing the video). But my Canon is pretty darn easy to use, too. And the video editing is smooth sailing.

At the end of the day, my camera has better video features than the Flip, costs about the same, and takes really good pictures, too. There is no way I’m going to drag two devices around when I only need one: The Flip loses.

And they have more competition on the way. More and more mobile phones take video now, too, and can use wifi or cell connectivity to stream the footage to the Internet. That means Flip is getting hit from three competitive directions: mobile phones on the low end, decent camcorders on the high end, and tens of millions of everyday digital cameras that outperform it on video.

So tell me why you love the Flip so much again?