Monday, September 20, 2010

FLIP Ultra HD for Pro Use

This summer I bought a FLIP Ultra HD camcorder to take to Mexico for family vacation shooting and perhaps a few blogs. In the back of my mind I was also thinking I may be able to use this camera on wedding and other professional shoots. My review of this camera will be geared toward that use.

For vacation and fun video it's pretty useful being quick and easy to carry and pop out when you want to catch something on the move. To use it in any professional capacity you will need to know about it's limitations.

The FLIP Ultra HD has no bells & whistles, nothing that will allow you to control the camera such as focus and zoom. It has an internal white balance and is small. You will become frustrated with it quickly if you are used to cameras with much more control. However, it can be used to catch great shots for your pro shooting jobs. Read on...

The image on the Flip Ultra HD is quite good. Stacked up next to a Canon HV-30 for example it held it's own. In a well lighted situation the camera will perform well. However most of it's good points will end there.

Framing will be a problem. The viewfinder is on the back of the camera and if you plan to shoot yourself, you will need someone to frame the shot. This is probably my biggest pet peeve as I often need to frame myself for interviews.

Covering the lens is a plastic shield for protection. This shield is prone to get touched and transferring grime from your fingers to it is common. You should clean the lens cover before every shoot. It has a digital zoom but I do not recommend using it much.

Basically you will want to use this camera as a static device catching wide shots.

Panning and moving the camera produced some clipping in the video where movement is jittery. Being so small you will forget your training and whip this thing around like any amateur. So if you plan to move it, do so slowly for the best pans. Slow controlled pans and tilts will look ok.

It does not work well under low light and it's size again is a factor for trying to keep it steady. It's a box, and hard to hold and maintain stability. On a tripod it will do much better. For me this would be a good camera to place in a balcony of a church and let it roll for a continuous wide shot I can cut to when needed. If the church is well lit you will be happy with the results.

In the hands of a skilled shooter it could also be used to get some close ups of the crowd, but the user will need to be wary of it's limitations. The FLIP Ultra HD onboard audio is okay for home movies but no where near the sound you can get with external microphones so don't even try to use it. The sound is hollow and tinny.

Since I have had the FLIP Ultra HD I've used it on location for a couple of interviews. For that it performed well. I set the Canon HV-30 on a tripod aimed at my guest and the FLIP aimed at me and conducted the interview. The sound from two lav microphones was mixed through the HV30 and I didn't use the sound from the Flip even though it did catch sound from the entire room adequately. For an interview it worked great!

In fact I have now assembled a portable system for doing interviews like this using my Canon and the Flip. Mics, mixer, tripods, lights and all are small enough to get through airport security and baggage with no issues.

I found that the camera will shoot continuously for 1 hour and 3 minutes on a single charge before having to restart. However recharging the battery seems to take forever so I keep some AA batteries handy to replace the rechargeable ones when needed. You will need them, just sitting idle the battery will lose it's charge. This camera will gobble up batteries!

I would not try to shoot an entire production with it, but for specific use in certain situations it can be a good addition to your video arsenal. Perhaps a backup or unattended camera. Simply set it up, turn it on and walk away getting shots from another camera while it records a wide shot you can cut to later in post.

During a reception after the wedding you could use it to grab candid shots and maybe even get attendees reactions to events. Keep your sound in mind here. It is portable and easy to use so this could be a good way to grab b-roll in a pinch. And because it is so small many may not even know you are shooting. Because of it's size you could hide it in a plant or on some object close to the bride & groom and get seemingly impossible shots from near the alter. If you get creative you may find even more uses for it!

I use MAGIX Video Pro X and its built in multi-cam function to mix video from the HV30 and the Flip, this works well to keep the two video files synced up. VPX will mix up to nine cameras in post. Below is an interview I recorded in Mexico for my online TV show, Conundrums. The shots of the guest (Jamie Maussan) was shot with the HV30, the shots of me with the Flip HD Ultra. After the interview I mixed them in VPX and added the lower thirds and other elements. You can watch to see the quality.

This is one way the Flip Ultra HD camcorder was very useful! I employ this setup for my on location shoots for the show. It's fast and easy to set up and I don't have to carry around my larger cameras.

Can you use the Flip in your professional shoots? Yes, but don't expect to have much control and make sure whoever is using it knows how to get the most out of it.

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