Flash Camcorders

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<noads/> This is my review of a two flash-based camcorders that I have tried. The short answer is that I really like the Flip Video Camcorder. Email me] if you have any suggestions: [http://www.noah.org/email/ -- even if you found this to be totally useless!

Camcorders that record on tape or disks are stupid. They are delicate with all their spinning, moving parts. I like motorcycling and paragliding, and I needed something that wasn't going to skip or jitter when I hit a bump -- or just get completely destroyed when I eventually drop it on the ground.

Inexpensive Camcorder from Pure Digital

For a flash-based camcorder, the Flip Video is a gem. It's under $120! If this sounds good to you then support my site and buy one through Amazon:

 Flip Video Camcorder

I have two of these. I have an older model that only took 30 minutes of 320x240 video and I have this new model that takes 60 minutes of 640x480 video. I LOVE them! I have duct-taped these to my motorcycle and paraglider helmet. I've flown one on a kite. I really, really, want to send one up in a helium balloon, but I haven't figured out an easy way to recover it yet.

Here is a sample video of Anne on her Ducati Monster (17 MB download. Don't worry, I deleted the sound!):

 Anne's Monster

I made this by duct-taping the Flip Video between the left mirror and faring on my Ducati Multistrada. The camera is wedged against the faring, so the is nothing to protect it from vibration and shocks (besides the Ohlins dampers ;-). In this video, I'm driving down Valencia street in San Francisco, which is notoriously bumpy -- San Francisco has the worst streets of any major city I have ever visited. The Flip Video camera handled it perfectly.

The video is 640x480, so the quality is actually better than NTSC or PAL video. Of course, it's not HD, but for $120 I was astounded. For $120 you have no right to complain! This thing is tough and built well. It takes great video even in fairly low light. The camera makes no sound when it's running, so the audio recording quality is actually better than some mid-range disk or tape camcorders I have tried.

It's simple to use. It's has a little LCD screen on the back. You turn it on and push a button to record or stop. It has a little flip out USB jack. You plug it in to your computer and download the videos. It has some kind of software for Windows and Mac, but I never tried it. I just download the videos like it was any ordinary storage device. It works with Linux just fine.

I look for new things I can do with this camera. I've used this to take video notes of computer systems that I work on. It's small and light and fits easily in my jacket pocket. I don't have to worry about keeping it clean and neat like most of my cameras. Give them to kids and don't worry if they don't come back. Hand a few out at a wedding for a Beastie Boys style documentary (OK, maybe that's an obscure, mixed reference).

I'm just crazy about this thing. It's like candy. This is one of my top ten gadgets. This is one of those devices that inspires human love in inanimate objects. This must be how Mac people feel about their computers (or their iPhone...). Now I know. I'll never make fun of Macheads again.

Mid Range

Click the link below to see the Samsung SC-X300L:

 Samsung with external lens

This isn't a perfect camera, but for the price it's nearly there. I bought one. I like it; although, I still find myself using my Flip Video Camcorder. I'd buy one again. Maybe when they come out with a 1080P version in the next couple years.

Here is a sample video of my launching my paraglider (25 MB download, sound removed)

 Noah's paraglider launch

This comes with TWO camera lenses. One is built into the camera body, like an ordinary camcorder. The second one plugs into the body like a microphone. I taped this to the top of my Paragliding helmet. It comes with a strap that I guess you could put on your arm or something. It certainly didn't seem like it would strap to a helmet. There is a single button on the cord that turns the camera on and starts or pauses the recording. This is a good thing. Nice design. It's also supposedly water resistant. I didn't test this, but it looks like the external lense is water proof. I'm not so sure about the camera body. I keep that in my jacket in a plastic baggy anyways. The video is for sure better than the Flip Video, but not astoundingly better (maybe it's more fair to say that the Flip Video takes astounding video for the price). This Samsung takes 720p video, so it's better than NTSC amd PAL and the progressive mode makes it good for sports. For no good reason, 720i mode is the default. You have to manually set 720p mode. You also have to get decent SD memory for this. If you buy cheap, slow memory the camera will complain. One of my SD cards caused problems. I think a wider angle lens would make more sense for a sports camera. You need a wide view when filming nature. I wish they also had the feature to take still pictures, but they didn't add this feature. Instead, for some dumb reason, they give you a feature to play back MP3 audio like it was an iPod. OK, so this was designed by product managers and focus groups. Why do I need my camera to play music instead of take pictures?

Don't get me wrong, for a sports camera, this is probably the best out there in this price range. The video quality is very good. The camera didn't blink a bit when I came in for a hard landing in my paraglider or when I hit hard bumps on my motorcycle. That is the beauty of solid-state, flash based camcorders.

High End

OK, I don't have direct experience with the Panasonic, but from all my research it appeared to be the best in the High End range. It turns out that High End isn't my style.

 Panasonic Flash Camcorder

In the end I decided I didn't want to spend this much money on a camera I might destroy in a bad landing. Granted, it's probably tougher than old fashioned tape camcorders, but I've sure I could still smash this thing into a thousand pieces and for the price I'd be pretty sad about that.

This camcorder features a 3 CCD image sensor and 1080i recording. Unfortunately, 1080p isn't here yet. Most of the High Definition camcorders are only 720P, but I don't consider this to be true HD. That's only a little better than the $130 Flip Video camcorder! You need 1080 to be true HD. I wasn't convinced by the 1080i recording. I want 1080p. I have not found any flash camcorders that do 1080p. 1080i is the same resolution (1080 pixels high), but the frame rate is interleved. In other words, it is not as good for caputing smooth, fast action motion, which is really what I needed for Paragliding and Motorcycling. 1080i is probably fine for weddings and the like. I'll pass until 1080p is available.