Monthly Archives: December 2008

The Flip Mino in the UK

Regular readers will know that one of the things that I’ve been getting more into this year is video editing (see the page that I’ve just added as a teaser for things to come in 2009). This has been driven by the increasing ease-of-use of online services, the capabilities of the machines and software I have, and the gadgets I’ve been playing around with. In January I looked at a cheap USB video camera, and since then I’ve had even nicer toys to look at :-)

Interview

Back in October I was invited to talk to the EMEA President of Flip Video, Ray Sangster, at the press launch of the Flip Mino in London. I imagined at the time that my earlier blog posts about this category of devices was at least partly responsible for the invitation.

Before the visit I’d canvassed some questions from my friends on Twitter, and I had some ideas and thoughts of my own that I wanted to discuss. For instance, why bother with a USB camcorder like a Flip when mobile phones are increasingly able to record video and connect to the Internet? Why are the Flip cameras later coming to Europe (typically several months behind the US launch?). Would the Flip cameras get external mics, or other accessories to make them more useful to journalists?

Ray kicked off the conversation by showing me some sample video made by college students in the US… and immediately also pointed out that the target audience for the camera is primarily the 14-25 age group who use the web more than TV, and also particularly with the Mino (which is slimmer and sleeker than the previous Flip Ultra) more slanted towards women, who capture “memories” more than “video for editing”.

The answer to my core question around the value of the device compared to, say, a mobile phone was a great one – Ray offered me his phone and suggested that I try to find the controls for recording video. It’s true that right now, it is relatively difficult to do that (and impossible on the iPhone, which still doesn’t support video, or have a decent resolution)… The very simplicity of the Flip is the selling point. It is reflected in the design of the hardware (big lens, big record button, flip-out USB connection, that’s about it!) and the use of the software, which I’ll talk about in a moment.

The time-delay on release was put down to the time needed to convert to European standards and languages, which is fair… although I remember when the original Flip came out, I got very frustrated waiting for the UK release. It would be great if they could reduce that window for future models.

The accessories include tripod, underwater casing (for the Ultra… I’ve not seen that for a Mino yet but I’ve not looked hard)… but it doesn’t seem likely to me that items such an external microphone are coming along, given the focus on simplicity and the consumer market.

I was interested to learn that the Mino is being used, in the words of the PR company, “from the catwalks to Kandahar” – they are being used to record fashion shows from people like Stella McCartney, and covering war stories in Afghanistan for upload back to the UK over a telephone modem.

A very enjoyable afternoon!

Hands-on

The Flip Mino itself is delivered in a smart box reminiscent of Apple packaging (particularly that of the iPhone). You get the camera, a soft carrying pouch, and that is it – all you need to get going.

You get a simple camera with no batteries to fiddle around with. It’s a fixed 2Gb capacity (60 minutes recording time), unlike some other devices on the market which can support additional storage like SD cards. You record your clips, plug in to a computer, and the software can upload directly to YouTube and MySpace… I was somewhat surprised that it doesn’t support other services like Viddler and Facebook too, given their growing popularity.

If you’re curious to see what I thought of the hardware and the Mac software, take a look at the short clip below.

A number of small things bother me about the Mac support for the Mino, some of which I mention in the video. Firstly, I notice that the software is PowerPC and therefore runs in Rosetta on an Intel Mac – why not ship a Universal binary? It doesn’t support logging in to YouTube with a Google ID (iMovie 08 does). The Save to Album option puts the videos into [homedir]/Documents/My Flip Video Library – which seems strange – why not use the Movies folder, or just use drag-and-drop on a Mac to copy the movies straight off the USB drive (which is actually what I ended up doing, and editing with iMovie). Generally, I’m left thinking that they could have done a better job of the Mac support. It works with OS X though, and that’s a step forward from previous models.

I also took the camera out with me on a weekend break with friends in November. It was a good opportunity to see how it performed outdoors, and also to see what others in the target age group thought about it. Here’s a chance to see what kind of audio and sound quality you get.

As for opinions: generally, friends were commenting that the screen was too small, and shared my impression that phones are moving into the same space, so many were doubtful that they would buy one… but they also don’t make many videos at the moment anyway. In all honesty, their reactions were not strongly positive.

By the way, you can also see those videos on my YouTube channel, along with some other examples of footage shot with the Mino.

So where is the “but”?

So far I’m probably sounding reasonably positive, and the fact is that I do like the Mino, despite the faults I’ve observed. It’s small, convenient, and “good enough” in most respects. My issues with it are that I think it’s somewhat expensive given the competition from alternatives like the bulkier and AA-battery-driven, but 720p-capable Kodak Zi6 HD; and that right around the corner are some other rather nice-looking HD devices. DSLRs are also increasingly getting HD video recording capabilities, so the market space for these devices is potentially narrowing. That said, there will always be something better on the horizon!

My overall feeling is that if you want a simple, straightforward video camera that is easy to use, portable and “good enough” then absolutely, check out the Flip Mino. And if you don’t want my opinion, then Scoble reckons the Flip was the best gadget he “stole” in 2008… although commenters on his post also note that the Kodak is a contender. You can also take a look at Julia Roy’s video review.

Available from Amazon in black or white (which, weirdly, is slightly cheaper!)

About these ads

Parental Guidance advised

200px-BBFC_PG_2002.pngAs per the UK Government’s somewhat bizarre suggestion that websites could be given ratings for content, I thought I’d pre-empt the idea.

Seriously, how can this even work? The minister seems to think that he can implement this through negotiation with the incoming US Administration? Hmm!

So, anyway, I’m awarding my site a PG rating. Hope that’s reasonable. You never know what I might say around here, after all…

Update: check the request for comments by Tom Watson MP – at least one MP is demonstrating a little tech-savvy.

IBM (still) green in 2008

A nice little nugget of news I came across today is that IBM has topped a recent survey on Corporate Governance and Climate Change for Consumer and Technology Companies (PDF link to Ceres site). This is certainly something that we’re working hard on and as I’ve mentioned when talking about the Smarter Planet initiative, it is something that runs through from grassroots activities right up to strategic vision.

The light tent, and understanding white balance

Several weeks ago I had an email from a lady called Gwen Hartley who had read my articles about my self-assembled light tent (parts 1, 2, 3) but was having some issues with the colour of the images that came out. I’m reproducing our correspondence with her permission, as I think this is useful information.

Gwen wrote:

… all the pictures we take (without flash, right?) are YELLOW & people cannot see the true color of my husband’s artwork (he’s a glassblower).

… We’re currently using a larger, taller lightbox, as he needed to be able to put taller pieces in it to photograph for customers. We have 11 lights now — with 100 watt compact fluorescents in them, and they STILL look yellow & are not a true reflection of the piece’s color.

I attached 2 pics of the pieces we took yesterday… notice how YELLOW they look?! We even tried to brighten them in PhotoImpact… NO LUCK! What are we doing wrong? We are supposed to NOT use a flash, right, so we don’t get the light spot? It looks SUPER bright to the eye, but when we photograph it — it’s YELLOW.

IMG_8002.jpg    IMG_8007.jpg

At this stage I didn’t really have enough information make a definite diagnosis, but I thought it would be a good idea to work through the problem with her:

What kind of camera are you using to take the photos?

You need to set your white balance to compensate for the lighting conditions. If you are using a DSLR you can usually shoot in RAW and then change the white balance in your photo software. For a compact, sometimes they have an “indoor” or “tungsten / fluorescent” light setting… otherwise you can use some software to set the neutral colour – I’m not familiar with PhotoImpact though.

I use software called Lightroom which is intended for DSLR users primarily… by using the eyedropper white balance tool and tweaking the brightness and clarity / contrast settings the images look a little better to me.

Again, I don’t know enough about your specific situation, but basically you want to work out the colour temperature of the lamps you are using and compensate for it – lots of photo software has white balance or neutral balance tools – you just click on the bit of the image you know is white, and it rebalances the image for you.

I also attached some edited versions of the images she had sent me, which looked like this:

IMG_8002.jpg    IMG_8007.jpg

Gwen was pleased at the changes:

[we have a] Canon PowerShot S2 IS – 5 megapixels… I don’t need anything fancy – just TRUE COLORS of the pieces & non-yellow-looking images!

… I’ll check into the white balance… there HAS to be something on one of the many settings on this camera!

Now, luckily, if you don’t have a DSLR then something like a PowerShot S2 is just the kind of compact camera you’d want for this kind of photography, as it has the right level of manual control to allow adjustment of white balance etc.. I did a bit of research, and came up with the following advice:

A PowerShot is a nice flexible compact camera.

Looking into the details about the camera you have, I found this review.

It looks like if you set the camera to P or Av mode, and then go into the function menu, the second option down will be White Balance – try the Tungsten and Flourescent light settings (if you have the manual for the camera you’ll probably be able to learn more about this). That would help for getting the right colours straight off the camera. Custom WB would be even better, in this mode you usually photograph something you know to be white, and then tell the camera to use that as a marker to where the white is in the image.

I also did some reading up on the software you have, PhotoImpact, and I found this. This describes doing basically what I did with your other images – you get an eyedropper to pick a colour from the image that should be “white”, or the software can try to fix it in Auto mode.

I have to say that Gwen’s husband Scott does produce some truly beautiful artwork – check out Infinity Art Glass to take a look. I’m really glad to have been able to help them.

Marking a milestone

A very short note to comment that I nearly forgot about this blog’s third anniversary a couple of weeks back. I guess it has just become part of the furniture :-) well that, and also my online presence has become more dispersed across “the Twitter“, YouTube and elsewhere.