Review: Flip MinoHD

The pocket camcorder market is heating up. Pure Digital Technologies got the ball rolling with its $130 Flip Video camcorder and eventually moved to the slimmer and higher-capacity $150 Flip Ultra. Not satisfied that the Ultra was slim enough, along came the $180 Flip Mino ( ), a camera smaller than the Ultra. Scant weeks later, Kodak jumped in with its $180 Zi6 ( ), a pocket camcorder larger than the Flip models but capable of shooting 720p HD video.

Flip MinoHD

Pure Digital’s response is the $230 Flip MinoHD—a pocket camcorder with little different from the Flip Mino other than the fact that it encodes movies as H.264 files rather than in the 3ivx format and shoots in 1280-by-720 HD (720p). Bundled with the MinoHD is a new and fairly limited editing application, FlipShare.

Because the operation of the Flip MinoHD is exactly the same as the Flip Mino, allow me to refer those who are curious about its workings to my Flip Mino review. And because you’re likely interested in how the MinoHD stacks up to the Zi6, might I suggest a look at that review as well?

Let’s get physical

If you haven’t yet decided which way to turn in this recent pocket camcorder war, you may wonder how the MinoHD compares to the Kodak Zi6. In terms of physical features, the Zi6 has the clear advantage.

While the MinoHD is a smaller handful than the Kodak camcorder, it lacks some of the Zi6’s attractive physical features. The MinoHD has an internal, rechargeable battery. When you run out of juice you have to jack its USB connector into a power source such as your computer’s powered USB port or a USB power supply such as one that comes with an iPhone or, optionally, iPod. The Zi6 uses two AA batteries, thus allowing you to swap in new batteries when you need them.

The MinoHD is limited to 4GB of internal memory—60 minutes of shooting. The Zi6 has paltry-to-the-point-of-useless internal memory but includes an SD slot for inserting a card with a capacity as high as 32GB. You can connect the output of each camera to your TV, but the MinoHD includes only composite video output. The Zi6 includes both composite and the higher-quality component video outputs. The MinoHD shoots at 30 frames per second. The Zi6 allows you to shoot HD video at either 30 or 60 frames per second (it will also shoot in standard definition). The Zi6’s display, at 2.4-inches, is larger than the MinoHD’s 1.5-inch LCD. The Zi6 can take still shots, the MinoHD can’t. The Zi6 includes a macro switch for taking close-ups. There’s no such feature on the MinoHD.

Vision and sound

But how does each camera's video look? They both shoot 720p video using H.264 yet their results are not the same. Each has advantages depending on the kind and quantity of light you have at your disposal and one has a clear edge when using the 2x digital zoom.

Generally, the Flip MinoHD’s video is warmer (yellower) than the Zi6, which tends toward cooler blue tones. It’s for this reason that when you shoot indoors at night under typical house lighting (which tends to be yellow to a camera and camcorder) your MinoHD video is going to display a yellow cast. The Zi6’s blue tendencies compensate for this yellow lighting and the results look more natural.

The Kodak Zi6 (left) and Flip MinoHD (right) under normal outside twilight conditions. Click to see a larger image.

Indoor shooting with Kodak Zi6 (left) and Flip MinoHD (right). Click to see a larger image.

But take the two cameras outside under a strong yellow light—say 20 minutes before sunset at a West Coast beach—and the Zi6’s video can be harsh, turning orange to yellow, for example. The MinoHD keeps a tighter rein on colors under these conditions.

The bright yellow sunlight at sunset blows out the Kodak Zi6 (left) while the MinoHD hangs on (right). Click to see a larger image.

The MinoHD also has the advantage with ultra-low-light shooting. Shoot in a very poorly lit environment with both cameras and you see far more grain in the Zi6’s footage than you do with the MinoHD.

As for the quality of the two cameras when zoomed all the way out, there’s no comparison. The Zi6 is the far better shooter, producing much crisper images. Zoom in with the MinoHD and you get very soft results.

Zoomed Kodak Zi6 (left) and Flip MinoHD (right). Click to see a larger image.

Neither camera gets points for image stability. Like the other Flip camcorders and the Zi6, the Flip MinoHD lacks any kind of image stabilization so handheld videos are going to be as jerky as the hands holding the camera.

And finally, sound. The Zi6 has a more sensitive microphone. The resulting sound is certainly not high-fidelity, but it's far richer than the sound recorded by the MinoHD.

Software and customization

The MinoHD has a couple of unique qualities. The first is that, like the original Flip Mino, you can customize its case, free of charge. As I outlined in Customizing the Flip Mino, you can tattoo a Flip Mino or MinoHD you order directly from Pure Digital using designs produced by the company, designs generated with a pattern generator found on the company’s website, or apply an image that you’ve uploaded to the Flip site. CafePress, the company responsible for the printing, embeds the design into the Mino’s plastic case so it can’t be removed. I’ve customized an original Mino with a photograph I took and the resulting camera looked great.

The other is that the MinoHD ships with FlipShare, a new editing application that looks more like one of Apple’s iLife applications than the previous Flip software. Like iPhoto, FlipShare organizes content in folders along the left side of the application window. From within the application you can download movies from the camcorder to your computer, play movies at full screen, and share movies via email, embedded in a greeting card, or to online services including AOL Video, MySpace, YouTube, or a site of your choosing.

The FlipShare software.

Within the Create area at the bottom of the window you’ll find a Movie button. Click it and you’re walked through the process of creating a movie. This entails joining clips together, adding titles and credits, adding music, and finally saving the movie. Creating a movie this way is very easy but the results are anything but sophisticated. You can’t change the font used in titles, when you attach a music file to your movie its sound cuts off abruptly when the movie concludes, and you can trim the beginning and end of clips but you can’t split a clip or trim out a hunk of video in the middle. These tools will get the job done but if you’re at all serious about editing your movie, you’ll opt for a tool such as iMovie instead.

But the software does have the singular advantage that a copy of it is on the camcorder at all times—in Mac and Windows versions. This means you can plug the MinoHD into any Mac or Windows PC you encounter and still use FlipShare to edit and share your video with the world. Complex it’s not, but it’s certainly convenient.

Macworld’s buying advice

The Flip MinoHD is a step ahead for the Flip family. Like its sibling, it’s easily packed into a pocket or purse, it holds enough video for its intended purpose, and the case-customization option is very slick and likely to appeal to the Mino’s target audience—young people looking for a fun-to-use, easy-to-operate camcorder. And it handles ultra low light better than the competition. If, on the other hand, you can put up with a slightly bulkier body, plan to edit your video in iMovie or Final Cut anyway, desire more natural results under indoor lighting, and crave the hardware enhancements it brings, Kodak’s Zi6 is the better choice.

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