Beyond the lens: the real power of the Flip Camera

I have owned my Flip Mino camcorder since August 2008, and I’ve carried it with me daily. Most days I have it in my front left pants pocket, where it is within reach for a quick video, should the need arise. I’ve posted an quite a few videos on the web, and I’ve even started a separate video blog. As I’ve become more proficient at using the Flip Camera, I’ve become tempted by newer and flashier cameras.  It’s easy to see a new HD video camera and think about how much better my videos would look with a newer piece of hardware.  A new camera would bring new issues to resolve, such as dealing with new video codecs, finding the right video editor for various video formats, or even buying a new computer for more video editing power.  For now, I’m sticking with the Flip Mino (the non-HD version). The Flip is a snap to use, even if the video quality is not as good as the newer HD cameras.  However, an often overlooked (and perhaps one of the most robust) features of the Flip Camcorder is the FlipShare software. I have found FlipShare to be a fantastic feature of the Flip line of cameras.   It’s not iMovie, Adobe Premiere, or Final Cut Pro, but it does a great job at editing and producing video with very little effort.

As soon as you plug in your Flip Camera to your PC, the Flipshare software automatically launches. (Note the software does not work on Macs). The software will show you all the videos that you have on your camera, allowing you to browse quickly to the video that you’d like to edit.  Since the software is installed on the camera, you can install this on other computers to edit video (assuming you have the rights/permission to do so).  This means that you can shoot video while on vacation and use you in-law’s computer to edit and upload the video to the web.  No need to worry about software licenses, as the software is on the camera.

Screenshot of the FlipShare Software
Screenshot of the FlipShare Software

While not terribly robust, FlipShare does allow you to trim the beginning and end of a video clip.  If you’d like to clip more sections of  a clip, I’d suggest making a copy of the clip in Flipshare and saving the clip back to the camera.  If you need multiple tracks from the same clip, just trim the duplicate clips at the desired places.  It’s not as easy as splitting a clip in other applications, but once you do it a couple of times, it’s pretty easy to do.

It's easy to trim clips with FlipShare
It's easy to trim clips with FlipShare

To arrange the clips to make a movie, all you have to do is drag and drop into the Arrange menu.  You get a small preview so you can see how your movie will flow between clips.  While it’s not perfect for advanced storyboarding, the simplicity of arranging items this way is very convenient.  It’s made for putting together a movie quickly and easily, and it excels in that purpose.

Arranging clips is easy
Arranging clips is easy

On the title screen, you can add basic titles and credits to your movie.  I’d love to see an option to put titles on individual clips, but that is not a feature.  There is a workaround, however.  When I needed a title transition between clips, I actually rendered the second and third title clips separately from the main movie. Then I pull the other rendered movies back into the movie to make what amounts to three movies in one. It sounds more complicated than it actually is.   In  cases where I need a lot of title transitions, I typically just use Windows Movie Maker to edit the file.  Bear in mind, however, that Windows Movie Maker for XP will not edit the video files from the HD Flip Cameras.

It's easy to add simple titles and credits
It's easy to add simple titles and credits

While many would argue that WMV is not the best video format, it works fine for my purposes.  It uploads easily to all of the major video sites, and it’s compatible with all of my Windows computers.  Another cool feature about WMV is that it works great with my Xbox 360, allowing me to stream family videos from my PC to my television over my wireless network.  My kids love seeing themselves on the big screen TV via the Xbox.

The FlipShare YouTube window
The FlipShare YouTube window

The FlipShare software has the ability to upload directly to Youtube, but I found that the quality suffers when using this feature.  It’s hard to explain what happens, but it seems the sound quality is degraded significantly when using this option. I’d recommend saving the video to your hard drive via the Create Movie option, rather than the Share Online option, then uploading to YouTube via the web interface.

Another feature if the software is the built-in music tracks. There are seven music files built in to the software, and four for them are actually worth listening to.  If you don’t want to use one of the tracks, you can select an mp3 track from your computer.  I tend to try to rotate the included tracks rather than worry about trying to find a copyright-free piece of music to use in my videos.  You can select whether you’d like the music to be softer than the audio in the movie, to be louder than the audio in the movie, or to simply exclude the audio from the video footage.

Take a snapshot from video
Take a snapshot from video

A final feature that I really like is the ability to take a snapshot from a movie.  If you’re using Blip.TV or Vimeo to host your videos, those services give you the option to upload a custom thumbnail for your videos.  YouTube just takes a snapshot of the video after you upload it to the site, and you get to choose from three very random snapshots from the video.  If you’re using Blip or Vimeo, you’ll want to upload a custom snapshot, and FlipShare makes it really easy to do that.  Simply select a clip and browse to the frame in the video to choose a snapshot.  Once you have that, you can upload it to Blip or Vimeo for the custom thumbnail.  If you’re using YouTube, you may just have to deal with the default snapshot (which for me is when I have the goofiest look on my face).

In this post, I’ve attempted to point out some of the features of the FlipShare software.  There are videos all over the web demonstrating the video quality of the Flip Cameras, but few have attempted to explain the software features of the camera.  While a camera’s video quality should be reviewed before purchasing a camera, it’s also important to look at some of the other features, including ease of use.  The FlipShare software is a major selling point for the Flip line of cameras.  It works well for its intended purpose (assuming you’re on a PC) and will enable you to create videos quickly and easily.  If you’re in the market for a pocket video camera, please take the time to look at more features than just the lens.

4 thoughts on “Beyond the lens: the real power of the Flip Camera”

  1. I wanted to thank you for your posting this information. We were very disappointed in the sound quality of uploaded clips using the FlipShare application and were on our way to discovering your same workarounds. You saved us a lot of time and trouble.

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