Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why I Flipped to the iPhone

I shot my very first vlog in January, 2010, with a professional DV camera I owned.  Of course, that wasn't practical to use on a regular basis, so I turned to right away and bought the Flip Ultra HD, a simple "point-and-shoot" camera I felt I could take with me anywhere.  The quality, for a camera of its price, was exceptional, and I thought it could serve me well for quite a long time.  I even bought a second recharger and a couple of extra batteries.
Screen capture of Greg and I at Fort Point, shot with the iPhone 
Unfortunately, the Flip never lived up to expectations.  I actually returned the very first Flip I was sent - it simply wouldn't hold a charge.  I didn't think much of it at the time, and Amazon's return/replacement policy is quite generous.  In fact, a new camera was on it's way before I put the old one in the mail.  As I soon discovered, the new camera had battery problems of its own.  While I could charge it, the battery never would last as long as promised - though the camera could hold up to two hours of footage, it would be a near miracle for a single battery to allow for even an hour's worth of recording.  This, even as other tech devices advertised longer and longer battery lives.

After about sixth months of constant use, my  Flip stopped working.  At the time, I still liked the video quality over competitor's cameras, and had my supply of Flip accessories, so I decided to buy the same (albiet white) Flip Ultra HD, which by then had be cut in price nearly 50% from my first purchase.

While the new Flip was the same model, I would expect that some of the battery issues would have been alleviated over time.  That wasn't the case.  This camera suffered from the same battery life and charging issues as it's predecessor.  Though I could take it with me, I couldn't count on it for long term ease-of-use, and found that my vlogs in-the-field began to taper off.  Not surprisingly, Cisco announced that it would discontinue the Flip brand.

When I bought my iPad, I decided to begin using it for my office-based vlogs. I found that the quality - when the lighting was fairly good, was quite high.  It still wasn't practical for other types of vlogs, but I loved the fact that I could shoot - apply some simple editing on the iPad's iMovie app, and upload - all without exporting from the iPad.  It was a major improvement from the cumbersome transfer-convert-import-edit process necessary with video from the Flip.

Here's a vlog from this year's road trip - shot entirely with my iPhone 4

When the time came for this year's Road Trip, I was concerned.  I knew the Flip wasn't up to the task - it wouldn't hold a charge long enough for our day-long adventures.  I considered bringing along a package of batteries (the rechargeable batteries can be replaced with standard alkalines), but, once again, the entire process seemed too cumbersome.

I decided to give the HD camera on my iPhone 4 a try - and it met almost all of expectations.  As you can see in the vlogs, the video quality is exceptional, and the audio quality is at least as good as the Flip.  It's not perfect, of course - it isn't a dedicated camera.  The contrast isn't ideal.  It's sometimes hard to aim at myself if I'm vlogging, hold steady, and it's microphone is sometimes too sensitive to touch.  If I'm not careful when I begin shooting, the camera may think that I'm shooting vertically (high and narrow), and my entire image will be sideways.    The positives, however, are considerable.  The battery lasts a long time - I generally have no concerns that it will last during a particular shoot (and supplementary battery chargers are easily available).  When we left each location on our road trip, I plugged the phone back into the car outlet, and charged on the road.

Greg Checks out an outhouse in Bodie - iPhone video
The pathway to posting to YouTube was much faster.  For simple one-shot vlogs, I could upload directly from my iPhone, using the iMovie application.   For more complicated vlogs, I hooked the phone into my laptop, downloaded footage into iPhoto, do a quick conversion through Mpeg Streamclip (it seems that the iPhone Quicktime isn't perfectly compatible with Final Cut Pro), and could begin editing right away.  

I won't be abandoning a dedicated camera for some vlogging projects.  These phone cameras are, after all, limited in their capabilities.   For most situations, I'll be sticking happily with the iPhone.

More of my recent iPhone-shot vlogs are available on my vlog,


  1. The video quality of the road trip vlogs was very good, but I was bothered by the audio quality - wasn't sure how much was the wind and how much was the device.

    I'm still happy with my Sony pocket camera (similar to the Flip, but holds a charge), but realize that it's not going to last forever. My iPhone is the 3gs, so the video is not as good as the 4.

    If my Sony makes it past September, maybe I'll retire it and get the iPhone 5...

  2. The audio quality is one of those areas that iPhones and similar devices produce less-than-optimal results. Most of the locations on our trip - Manzanar, Bodie and Fort Point - were very windy locatiions. In fact, I had to reshoot or abandon shots occasionally because of wind issues. I think any of these phones (and pocket cameras like the Sony and Flip) don't reac well in hostile situations. External mics are available for the iPhone, but once we start attaching external devices, the entire advantage of using the device disappears.

    Your Sony, with it's rotating camera, still has an advantage - aiming the iPhone correctly when shooting myself is tricky.