November 13, 2008
As the regular reader will be aware, I’m a big fan of the Flip Ultra camera, in part because its relatively large sensor offers surprisingly good performance in low light. The Flip is rarely a great video camera, but it’s a decent one in a wider range of conditions than anything else for the money. Kodak’s Zi6, for example, can produce some terrific images at much higher resolution than the Flip Ultra/Mino, but its anti-shake is lousy and its low-light performance sucks rocks.
Not so fast. The specs page does indeed quote better low-light sensitivity than the non-HD Mino, but those figures may not mean what one might assume. The HD has a physically smaller sensor, note, which means the individual pixels are dramatically smaller — if the ‘2.2µm’ figure is the length of a pixel’s side, they’re about one sixth the area of the previous model’s. That’s a lot less light per sensor pit.
So how can one explain the greater claimed sensitivity?
Gain. Which I’m guessing is what they mean by ‘automatic low light detection.’ No point detecting it unless you’re going to do something about it, and with just shutter speed to play with otherwise, tweaking gain is the only exposure control in hand.
Now, this may not be a bad thing. We’ve seen from Panasonic’s HMC150 that even quite high gain levels can give smooth images with H.264-derived codecs. We also know that the Flip folks have consistently made smart decisions in their software. But I’ll be waiting for the reviews before leaping for joy over this — finally, physics may not be on the Flip’s side.
Two other things to note:
H.264, yay. However, this may be the final nail in the coffin of Windows Movie Maker. The lack of reliable, compatible, and up-to-date entry-level video editing tools on Windows is baffling at this point. For all the grousing about iMovie’08, it’s a wonderful tool for lashing together footage from these sorts of cameras, and for getting it on YouTube, fast.
Without a microphone jack and a properly usable screen, this will still be a troublesome camera for filming things rather than people. For all its faults (notably: terrible low light performance), the Canon FS100 is still the cheapest flash media camera that’s properly versatile.