Do you remember your first photo camera? I do remember mine. To be honest, it was my parents’ camera - Polaroid. I was ecstatic that the photo appears in no time. Something I saw around became a cute neat picture in a few minutes. There was great magic for me in this process, but when I grew older it was lost. The technical progress goes on. When I was a kid I couldn’t even dream of the cameras that are available today.
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I really like the Flip video cameras. I reviewed the original Flip Mino back in June and recommended it for anyone who wanted to shoot more than a couple of minutes of video at a time or who wanted to reserve the space on their camera's memory card just for pictures. The Flip Mino is a handy, compact, easy to use video recorder. And the Flip Mino HD (Amazon) is virtually identical in every way except one---it records 720p HD video.
Everything I liked about the Flip Mino I like about the Flip Mino HD. The body and controls are identical. You can't even tell them apart visually except for the "HD" logo on the back. They operate exactly the same and feel exactly the same in my hand. Everything I wrote in my earlier review about the Flip Mino applies to the HD version. So let's get on to video quality.
The video and sound quality are quite good. Video is recorded in H.264 format at 30 frames per second. Audio is recorded in AAC format at 44.1 kHz. The average bitrate is about 9 Mbps which lets the Flip store about 60 minutes of video on its internal 4 GB memory. Previous Flip models recorded MPEG4 AVI files. The Flip HD records H.264 MP4 files.
Like the previous models, although the video quality and sound are good, it's hampered by a cheap fixed-focus lens. Images aren't incredibly sharp or vivid, but honestly, I think it does what anyone should expect from such a low-cost device. Video from this camera is easy to watch full-screen on a 21" LCD monitor or TV. But really, like previous models, the videos from this camera are designed to be uploaded to YouTube or other video sharing sites.
One problem I noticed with the Flip was a weird visual artifact caused by shaking of the camera itself. You can see it clearly in the second video below in tall vertical lines like the street lamps and trees. When the camera shakes quickly they go all wobbly. I think this is an artifact of the underlying hardware and how the data is read off the sensor. There's probably a name for it but I don't know what it is or exactly what causes it. Any AV experts out there please weigh in in the comments. It should be noted that under normal circumstances this effect isn't a problem at all.
Having just bought a Nikon D90 I wanted to compare the video quality between the two cameras. They both record 1280x720 video. I give the edge in video quality to the D90 because it gives you much more creative control over the video and the lens is always going to be better. Beyond that, the D90 is a big black camera and the Flip is, well, a tiny black camera. The D90 can only record HD video in 5 minute clips. The Flip can record for up to 60 minutes all at once. The D90 uses removable storage media but with the Flip you're stuck with its 60 minute internal memory. The Flip has a fixed lens and the D90 is a digital SLR with interchangeable lenses. The Flip HD is a little over $200. The D90 kit is over $1,100.
So which is better? As you can see, they are really completely different animals. The Flip is a dedicated video machine that can record high quality video for long periods of time. It's a nice companion to any still camera, even to the D90 which can shoot video itself. I found that it's ease of use was perfect for situations where I didn't really care about getting "creative" and just wanted to record something quickly and easily. And when you've got to record something between 5 and 60 minutes, it wins hands down.
The Flip HD is a nice camera. If you have an original Flip but you want higher resolution video, this is a worthy upgrade. For those looking for a new digital video recorder, start here.
Below I've got two full-resolution sample videos. I shot the first indoors under fluorescent lighting in a typical usage scenario. The second is slightly less typical... I clamped the Flip to the bars of my scooter and went for a totally legal ride (in which no traffic or safety laws were broken for the entire 40 second clip).
Click the link beneath each one to download the original MP4 file (warning: they're big). Don't judge the video quality based on the re-encoded flash video below. The originals are much nicer and smoother. Download the full-resolution original videos to get a real measure of their quality (courtesy of blip.tv).
I've just returned from a little jaunt to Portugal and I have to say there is little else that gets me as eager to get my camera out as wandering around a city I've never seen before. And of course, in the age of the compact digital camera pretty much everyone takes a camera with them when they travel these days. But how do you come back with photographs your friends and family won't have to feign interest in? Here's a few basic tips:
1) Be selective. It's tempting when you're surrounded by new things, impressive architecture, beautiful landscapes, and photogenic locals to go nuts and photograph everything ten times over. Especially when you're using a digital camera and can tell yourself you'll delete half of the photos later. While there's nothing wrong with taking lots of photos make sure you scale it down a bit (i.e. do the deleting part) before you showcase your holiday snaps. Even Great Aunt Maude is going to struggle to feign interest in 200 photos of a church, however architecturally brilliant it is.
2) Try a little originality. If you're photographing an iconic site see if you can come up with a more original way to photograph it. A different angle, in different light, or different weather. Whatever you can think of to make it look less like you just photographed a postcard. Adding people to the shot, whether tourists or locals, can also make it more interesting. That way the iconic feature is the background to something less commonly photographed.
both of which were taken in "off the tourist map" areas of Porto. Not only will you get more interesting photographs but you'll get to see more of the real culture of the area too.
4) Plan before you leave. If you want photography to be a central part of your travels think about the equipment you're taking before you leave. For the Portugal trip photography wasn't my main aim but I knew I would want to come back with a few good shots so I opted for my digital SLR over my compact camera. But since we would be moving around a lot and the airline I was flying with had tight luggage restrictions I chose to leave the tripod and extra lenses at home. Think about your destination and the type of photos you might want to get. For example if you're heading to Paris and thinking you'd like to get lots of night shots of the city then don't abandon the tripod. But if you're backpacking and mostly going to be taking shots during the day you'll probably want to save yourself the extra weight.
5) Get some aerial shots. If you're flying to you destination this is your chance to do some aerial photography. It can be tricky to get good shots from a commercial airplane but it is certainly possible. It's easiest if you have a seat forward of the wing so that vapours from the aircraft's engines don't appear in your shot. Wipe the window off first to get rid of all the grimy fingerprints, and put the camera near the centre of the window to avoid the effect of the curved perspex. On longer flights the flight crew will often make announcements when something of interest is visible from the plane but it's worth keeping an eye out yourself too. Take off and landing are great chances for photography but be aware that some airlines may ask you to turn off your digital camera during these times. These were both taken on commercial flights:
6) Don't be afraid to photograph local people or fellow tourists. But if you can ask permission first. If you ask politely you'll find that most people will say yes. It's worth learning to ask this question in the local language but often holding up your camera and smiling will get your intention across just as easily. If someone does say no respect their answer and don't photograph them. In some places, especially poorer communities, you may be asked to give money in exchange for taking a photograph. And people will often ask you to send them a copy of the photograph. If you agree to do this, make sure you actually do! Don't automatically try to exclude other travellers from your photographs, often the interaction between tourists and locals can make a great shot.
7) Photograph your travel companions! As much as your family and friends back home will enjoy your photographs of the local landscape, culture, and wildlife they will probably be most interested in photos of you and your travel companions enjoying your trip. This is especially true if you're traveling with children and showing the resulting photos to the grandparents or other extended family. To get some nice photos to show off put as much effort into the family shots as you put into the rest of your photographs. If you're taking a posed photograph look for the best background, arrange the people into a good pose, and consider using a relatively low DOF so the subjects stand out from their background. Remember though that you are on holiday and your kids probably won't appreciate too much of this kind of activity! Get unposed shots of your travel companions as well, think about the composition for these too but they may need to be a little more hurried so you don't miss he moment.
8) Don't forget insurance. Before you set off make sure your travel insurance will cover your camera equipment should it get lost, damaged, or stolen. Many travel insurance policies only cover single items worth up to £100 or £200 so if you're traveling with your digital SLR and extra lenses you may need a separate policy for them to be covered. If you're a UK resident E & L offer specific photographic equipment insurance that's cheap and provides good worldwide cover.
If you have any tips of your own, let us know in the comments section.
One of the techniques people most often ask me to teach them is making a photograph like the one on the right that is black and white with one other colour.