PureDigital Flip Ultra Video Camera

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Product: Flip Ultra Video Camera
Provided By: Flip / PureDigital
Price: $149.99 MSRP

 

Introduction:

Today we have a look at a video camera that is making waves around the 'net and we'll find out if the Flip Ultra video camera is really all that Ultra.  This little unit has an MSRP of a mere $149.99 - making it perhaps one of the most affordable video cameras on the market today.  It is small, light and operates on a couple of standard "AA" batteries.  It is a far cry from the video cameras of yesteryear, and you will have to sacrifice some features when going with one of these units.  Ultimately, the question is whether or not you need a fancy video camera or if a simple point and shoot video camera will be a better fit.  Remember, the best video camera you have is the one you have with you.  The Flip Ultra is certainly easy to throw in your camera bag, your pocket or your backpack and is ready to go when you are.

Pure Digital recently announced that their entire product line is now available in Canada, so if you aren't satisfied with this 640x480 version of the Flip Ultra, you can always snag the Flip UltraHD.  It will set you back another $50, but allows you to capture 720p video.

Box Of Flip
Box Of Flip 

 

I knew the Flip Ultra was small, but I expected it to come in a bigger box.  The box itself is not much bigger than a brick and the hardware inside is even smaller than I thought.  The Flip Ultra measures in at 10.7cm x 5.6cm x 2.9cm and weighs 170gm.  Although it's small, the Flip Mino is even smaller and lighter.

Flip Bundle

 

As you can see above, the Flip Ultra comes with a audio/video cable, some documentation, a wrist strap and even a nice bag to put the camera in to protect it from scratches.  There is no software CD included as the software resides on the camera and auto plays when you plug it into your Windows XP, Vista or Win7 system.  It will also work on OSX for you Apple lovers out there.

 

Closer Look:

Before we jump into the specs and details of this little unit, we'll take a quick tour before we get going.

 Flip Profile Power Button
Flip Profile Power Button
 Flip Rear Profile
Flip Rear Profile
 Flipped Out
Flipped Out

 

The layout of the Flip Ultra is simple and effective.  On the one side of the camera is a power button and a hole for the wrist strap.  On the other side is the flip-out USB connector and an audio/video output jack.  The bottom of the camera has a place for a 1/4" tripod and the back consists of the screen, a play button, delete button, left, right, plus and minus controls on a "D-Pad" and a large red record button.  Without any help from a manual, virtually everyone can figure out this camera is less than a minute.  The simplicity is wonderful.

On the next page, we'll take a look at the camera specs and the software before we jump into testing.

 

Features and Specs of the Flip Ultra:

The Flip Ultra series feature 4GB of memory and come in several colors including black, white, yellow and pink.  It has a 2.0" screen with a nice high resolution of 960x240 - a vast improvement over the Flip Mino's screen of 1.5" and 528x132.  The Flip Ultra produces 640x480 video using a 1/4" VGA CMOS sensor and has low light detection.  It features the Flip Video Engine 3.5 for compression and shoots at 30 frames per second.  Typical video is 4.0Mbps and it compresses everything using the H.264 video compression with AAC audio compression in the MP4 file format.  The lens is a nice bright f2.4 and has a fixed focus with a smooth digital-only zoom.

Flip Screen
Flip Screen

I'm amazed at the battery life of the Flip Ultra.  It uses a standard pair of "AA" batteries and can record for up to 4.5hours on a charge.  There is an optional rechargeable battery pack available, but I think that standard alkaline or rechargeable batteries will work fine for most people.

Both my wife and I really like the simple buttons on the back of this camera as well as how fast it is to power on and record.  The stated time is less than four seconds, but it honestly seems faster than that.  Because you don't have to spin up a hard drive or focus and zoom, you're ready to go much faster than other traditional video cameras.  All Flip cameras have a built-in USB arm as well as a built-in speaker for reviewing your video clips.  The Ultra series has a stereo microphone to boot.

 

FlipShare Software:

I believe that one of the big features of the Flip Ultra camera is the FlipShare software.  We live in a connected world but often it's not simple to share video clips and images with your friends.  Traditional cameras require that you offload the video onto your computer, use some third-party software in order to compress the video then you can upload it to YouTube, MySpace or just email it.  The FlipShare software takes care of pretty much everything and even gives you basic video editing all within four clicks or less.

 FlipShare Main
FlipShare Main

 

FlipShare is sort of like the Picasa for your Flip videos.  It organizes and indexes all of your videos and you can display them with details or just as thumbnails.  I prefer the view shown above as it give me more info on the length, size and date taken more easily.  The Flip Ultra doesn't take pictures all by itself, but the software allows you to snag a video still from your footage.  This is easier than performing a print-screen from your favorite media player for sure, but the picture quality isn't impressive at a mere 640x480 on the 1/4" sensor.

 Image Capture
Image Capture
 Online Uploads
Online Uploads

 

As mentioned previously, the ability to take a clip of video, or compile a video from several clips and upload them to YouTube or other sites is very simple with the FlipShare software.  Once you set up your account it is a two-click process and your video will be uploaded.


Creating a Movie or a DVD is also very simple - a four step process.  First, you'll want to grab the video clips you want in the final product.  Next, you can add titles, credits and even pimp out Flip by including them.  I'm glad to see that this box is unchecked by default.  Step 3 involves background music and you have a few choices - including your own MP3s.  Finally, you put a name on it and press "Create Movie".  If you are burning a DVD you'll have to use other software in order to encode it to play in a regular DVD player.  The FlipShare software just outputs a video file.  VSO-Software's ConvertXDVD does an excellent job of finishing the project by a simple drag-and-drop.  It's nice to see that one of the save options of your created masterpiece is in fact the Flip Ultra camera.  One major drawback is that it wasn't able to create a DVD all by itself.

 Create Movie - Step 1
Create Movie - Step 1
Create Movie - Step 2
Create Movie - Step 2
   
 Create Movie - Step 3
Create Movie - Step 3
 Create Movie - Step 4
Create Movie - Step 4

 

On the last page we'll cover a bit of setup as well as usage and final video quality of the Flip Ultra.


Setup & General Usage:

The setup process for the Flip Ultra is very simple and will have to be done initially - and when you change the batteries.  It basically involves setting the correct time and date as well as indicator sounds on button presses and a record light.  There is nothing else.  This makes it very easy for everyone to get started.  Flip video cameras are meant to be super simple and they nail it.  There are no manual exposure controls, white balance or night-vision modes.  Everything is automatic and this is somewhat limiting in certain situations.

 Video Playback Quality
Video Playback Quality

 

I like several things about the Flip Ultra.  It's size and weight are great and it makes it easy to take just about anywhere.  Also, with the built-in USB connection, you don't need to take extra cables with you.  Also having the software built-in is very handy as you can easily setup and use this on your laptop or desktop computer without downloading software or bringing the CD.   As we saw on the previous page, the software is easy to understand and use - even for those that have no experience with digital video.  The video quality is very good in good lighting conditions and the battery life is excellent.  You can fill up the camera twice on a single charge.  Most cameras run out of battery before storage.


It's not all roses though.  There are a few things that leave me feeling less than impressed.  The biggest is the lack of an optical zoom.  Digital zoom is always crappy, and is pretty much useless if you want to maintain any quality.  Also, there is no image stabilization so moving when holding the camera shows quite a bit of shake.  Finally, the lack of DVD creating capability is a bit irritating - especially since the FlipShare software shows that you can "Create A DVD".

My wife has never uploaded anything to YouTube before and I asked her to compile a few clips of video taken with the Flip Ultra and put up on the web.  She's computer savvy for sure, but not YouTube savvy.  She managed to complete the whole process - including editing the video, encoding it and uploading it in under 10 minutes.  With traditional camcorders, this is a process that would take longer and involve a lot more steps.

 

The video shows low light performance, cloudy performance, moving while holding the camera and even some digital zoom.  Keep in mind that YouTube destroys the actual quality of the video, but it still gives you an idea on how it performs.  It is best outside for sure . . . and no, those aren't all my kids playing Mario Kart.

 

Final Thoughts:

The Flip Ultra is quite an interesting product.  It's certainly not for everyone, but it is a great addition to your current camcorder or for those that want to capture a few memories without forking over a lot of cash.  If you're going to be doing some pretty extreme hiking or climbing and don't want to pack your $1000 camera, this unit would still do a nice job and even if it got damaged, you're not going to cry too long over a $150 video camera.  The reality is that the Flip Ultra is a nice little unit that gets the job done while leaving a good chunk of change in your pocket.  It has a few shortcomings as we've mentioned, but no real deal-breakers - especially for under $150.

 

Pros:

  • Super simple to use
  • Excellent video quality in good lighting conditions
  • Very good battery life on cheap "AA" batteries
  • FlipShare software is very handy and simple

 

Cons:

  • No optical zoom
  • Poor quality in low-light
  • Fixed focus doesn't allow close-ups

 

Overall, we rate the Flip Ultra 4GB unit pretty well and it is a worthy choice for anyone wanting to throw a video camera in their bag for a hiking trip, or to the kid's soccer game.  For $150, it's a great value.

BCCRating

If you have any questions regarding this review or would like to leave a comment, please post your feedback at the "Comments" link below.