Monday, June 06, 2011

Can smartphones replace ultralight videocams like the Flip? Pros, cons and resources

Although the high-tech crowd credited smartphones with the demise of the Flip camera, the jury's still out on whether you can really replace the Flip with your phone. For starters, smartphones aren't prevalent enough, yet. New York Times tech reviewer and Flip fan David Pogue notes: "Of the one billion cellphones sold annually, a few million are iPhones. The masses still have regular cellphones that don’t capture video, let alone hi-def video. They’re the people who buy Flip camcorders." And as easy as they are to use, smartphones have a way to go to match the Flip. Pogue notes "I’ve got all these great videos of my toddler son in the back seat of the car, because he’d suddenly start singing a hilarious made-up song, and I’d grab the Flip from the center console, hit the button, and I’d have it. I would not have had a prayer of getting those songs if I’d had an app phone."

Another stumbling block: Sharing video on smartphones isn't simple.  In a recent roundup, the New York Timesoffers a pithy summary of "why most of us resort to sharing video by holding our phones in front of other people’s faces" -- many current apps involve hard-to-find multi-step upload processes that thwart the user. There's hope here. The article also reviews more recent apps that make video uploads from your phone easier, including Socialcam, Thwapr, and Skype's Qik Video Connect.

On the plus side, smartphones--always at the ready--have proven that they have a face for radio .Live reporting with iPhones can be heard on NPR in some circumstances, and you'll want to follow that link for the details on how they use it so you can replicate those tactics.  And the visuals can be theater-quality, given enough time and editing software. This roundup of 7 superb films shot with mobile phones shares the ideal. I'm guessing these took plenty of time to put together, but speed and convenience aside, you'll get a good idea of the possible from these short films. Smartphones will continue to get smarter in this way, as speculation builds about 1080p camera sensors and other enhancements ahead.

To go this route, I'd want smartphones to start adding the things that made the Flip useful: An external mic jack, a tripod mount jack to stabilize the camera and make it hands-free, and one-button operation. For group trainings, however, only a simple ultralight camcorder will do; I need to be able to hand cameras on one platform to many participants with varying skill levels, and still get video back that's quick to upload and share. So I'm looking at some newer camcorders that go beyond the Flip and will have updates for you soon. If you've had good experiences using the smartphone instead of an ultralight camcorder, please share the details in the comments.

Related posts: Flip camera users to get sharing, support until end of 2013

Here it comes: Flip cameras start to limit sharing

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