Anyone who has read my past blogs knows I’ve been no fan of the Flip Video line of handheld cameras. So it should come as no surprise that I’m not exactly weeping over the news today that Cisco is shuttering the brand it bought two years ago for almost $600 million. So why have I constantly recommended against Flip Video cameras? Two major flaws — design and price.
They may have, more or less, pioneered the pocket-sized HD video camera sector, but their inability to break out of the “cute, sleek and sexy” design was its major downfall. Many first-comers suffer from this inability to adapt in the face of competition. Yes it may be easy-to-use and cute, but there are plenty of other great cameras out there now that run circles around Flip at much lower prices.
When other cameras offered virtually unlimited expandability via SD card slots, Flip insisted on built-in flash memory, forcing a USB off-load when you run out of room. For someone who shoots a lot of video, that’s a lot of babysitting, especially when SD cards have gotten so incredibly cheap and plentiful. Many Flip models relied on an internal rechargable battery, when rival cameras let you swap in additional, inexpensive batteries to keep the camera rolling longer.
I’ve never been a fan of the video quality that pocket HD cameras produce, but especially Flip models. Flip never really broke out of the 720p box, even when most of its rivals were able to produce at least psuedo-1080p — either 1440×1080 resolution or interpolation of video from sensors that weren’t “true” 1080p. Does this truly matter to most social media content creators? Perhaps not. But I’ve never understood why Flip couldn’t strive for better quality in subsequent generations of product lines.
But my main gripe with the Flip was the pricing. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how Cisco could sell any of these cameras with MSRP’s between $130 and $230. With the key features Flip Video cameras lack, I think these cameras were at least $50 too expensive in comparison to better-equiped rival models. Other manufacturers were adding things like optical zoom, better stabilization and bigger, more flexible screens. They couldn’t even double as still cameras when almost everybody else in the sector could — albeit badly in some cases. Why price these Flips like Apple products when they lacked the whiz-bang features that warrant such prices?
So why were they so popular while they were around? They were marketed as dead-simple (which they were) and within the reach of everyone. With the advent of social media, anyone could publish (supposedly) high quality video with no real effort or outrageous cost. Where’d that get us? A social media landscape awash with a ton of really awful video. Really, really terrible stuff. Call me a social media elitist with a media production degree, but I don’t consider a video executed with the effort of a Disney World vacation video “professional quality.” I’ve been banging my head against the wall telling people this for the last couple years — good social media video takes effort, but can still cost peanuts. Really.
There have been — and still are — way better options than the Flip. Unfortunately, the Flips have been put front and center in every electronics department and most people don’t bother taking the time to research their options. If you’re looking for social media video on the cheap, Kodak Zi8’s can be had as low as $60 if you catch the right online specials or refurbished deals. They’re still my choice for the thrifty social media videographer, because you still have great flexibility in shooting and audio, or the dead-simple operation if that’s your thing.
If you’re spending more than $200 on a camera — and if you’ve hired an agency who hasn’t spent $200 on their video camera, fire them — seriously look at one of Canon’s great Vixia camcorders. They’re not much more than a Flip UltraHD 8GB model and produce fantastic results. They’re packed with features, bigger pickups, great lenses, and are still really simple to use. Used correctly, either of these camera lines can turn out monumentally better results than the Flip.
So no, I don’t weep for the demise of the Flip. It was nice for its place and time. I was hopeful when Cisco bought them a couple years ago, because they are great at video and do great consumer electronics. But the Flip failed to evolve with the sector and price itself competitively. Social media is ever-changing, and if the demise of Flip makes people sit up and take a serious look at what’s out there for social media video, I’m all for it. The quality of video can only improve, or so I hope.