The New Age of Video Cameras & Understanding

People do not take time to write down much of what they witness so much of what we understand about the world is from what we see or what we watch that others have recorded. The rapid proliferation of video recorders and Web video sites, though, is rapidly expanding our options for this form of understanding. There are special species of video camcorders that have made "simplest possible" their central design criterion which has radically driven down their price. The real question is whether the results and the features are good enough. As millions of Flipcams have been sold, apparently many have found that model satisfactory for many uses. Their price puts them within range of being standard equipment in school classrooms. They at least deserve some use and testing to determine what range of educational needs can be met by this level of video quality. The optional videoclips below review 3 different competing models. The even lower quality cell phones that have the capacity to record video and audio will also be discussed. The value of such video has been greatly enhanced by Web sites that now share such video for free online. My bet is that years from now all such features will be embedded in smartphones, but more importantly that video communication is now going far beyond television and will become deeply embedded in our literature. The quality across all video recording technologies is continually improving. This is an intensely competitive market area so expect rapid upgrades of features and prices in the years ahead.

Such devices have no motors, use no storage tape, fit in a pocket, have radically fewer features compared with traditional camcorders, and focus on the simplest levels of user interface. They either come built in to cell phones or sell from $90-$230. All these camcorders share the use of Flash memory chips to store video and sound. Many come with the USB connector built in which flips out for connecting to a computer. Most of the competing models have focused on being the cheapest camcorders available, which also meant at the introdution to the market their quality was lower than than of the standard consumer grade camcorders that have long been available.

The Basic Technology

This YouTube videoclip review below of a Flipcam model is over 8 minutes but of high quality audio, lighting and editing production values. Watching the first 3 minutes will give you the basic idea. It is also a great example of what Web video can look like if done with higher quality video equipment and video composition skills.


The Competition

flipcam camcorder with usb in out positionPureDigital entered the market first in May of 2006 with the Flipcam (picture on left), which captured 640x480 image pixels per frame at 30 frames per second (fps). This caught on quickly and stimulated a number of competitors. The most significant challenge came from Kodak which responded in July of 2008 with the Kodak Ki6 (pronounced Kicks), a High Definition (HD) camcorder. An HD camcorder captures frames at 1280 x 720 pixels at 30 fps, sometimes abbreviate by just its vertical dimension, 720p. PureDigital then responded with the Flip Mino HD. Apple entered the market in September of 2009 with iPod Nano 5G, adding a video camera to a device that is also an excellent digital music player and FM radio player.

Gizmodo produced a wonderful comparison table of 7 competing models: Kodak Ki6, Flip Mino, Flip Ultra, Creative Vado, DXG-569V HD, RCA Small Wonder EZ 210 and EZ200. The reviewer gave, the Ki6 a grade of A and best of class standing as of September 2008; see Kodak Zi6 Pocket Camcorder Lightning Review. Since that review, other HD cameras entered the race, the EZ300 from RCA and Flip Mino HD. Kodak's web site provides the "best of class" Ki6 camera specifications and other information. In brief, it weighs 3.9 ounces, sells for about $180 and is 2.5 x 4.5 x 0.9 inches in size. It has a memory card slot expandable up to 32 GB, uses 2 AA batteries, a front mirror to help those shooting themselves, a macro mode and a much larger screen display than the recently released Flip Mino HD.

Kodak has been announcing their upgrade at the same price, the Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera, which became commercially available September, 2009. The review of features below is 2:25 in length. One interesting feature of the videoclip is that it was actually shot with the Kodak Zi8 itself. For more, search YouTube for Kodak Zi8.

The iPod Nano 5G also received a September 2009 market release. Apple announced the conversion of their iPod Nano (review) into a Flipcam competitor with the addition of a lens and video playback screen, greater storage capacity and a whole host of other features. The 42 second feature overview YouTube clip below provides a quick view of its video operations and a couple of its other features. For more, search YouTube for Nano 5G review or iPod Nano 5G features.

Feature Evolution

The movement from standard 640x480 pixels per frame to HD (1280x720) represents one more important step up in video quality. Flip's web site reported that "the Flipcam Mino HD weighs 3.3 ounces, sells for $230 and measures 1.97 x 3.94 x .63 inches. It features 720p HD video recording capability, and incorporates a 1.5-inch anti-glare LCD display. The internal lithium ion battery automatically recharges when the USB arm is connected to a host computer. The Flip Mino HD sports 4 GB of built-in storage capacity." Though lithium batteries are great batteries, this does mean that if the camera is taken out on a shoot, the laptop may need to go along with it. The only way to charge the Flip Mino HD is to plug it in to a USB port instead of dropping in a couple of fresh AA batteries as with the Kodak Ki6. The Flipcam HD's major advantage remains its single-minded simplicity of operation.

Though this genre of camcorder development is valuable, it is not the only approach to "in your pocket" video. The most recent major players are the smartphones which are approaching or have matched the Flipcam's recording quality of 640x480 pixels at 30 fps. The pre-HD flash camcorders capture 30 frames per second at 640x480 pixels, identical to the iPhone. How can you find out the video capture quality of your cell phone?

The quality of the lens and internal microphones are the key ingredients in producing better quality video. What is needed is a comparison of the video capture qualities of these low cost camcorders compared with the growing capacity of the lens in handheld computers, including smartphones such as the iPhone.

Cell Phones

The variety of cell phones that record video is far too numerous to discuss the features of all models. By being aware of a few critical criteria though, it is easy to make decisions about what would be useful. These criteria are: the pixel size of the video frames; the quality of the lens and pixel sensors; and the length of time of the video that can be recorded. Judged by these criteria, cell phones in general are a notch below the already lower quality of the "flipcam" competitors, but this may not last long.

Where "flipcam" models record at 640x480, 720x480 and have a high definition (HD) model recording at 1280 x 720 pixels at 30 fps, cell phones are often a tiny fraction of that size, rarely matching 640x480 let alone the HD quality. The color of the image is greatly impacted by the cheaper plastic lens and pixel sensors in cell phones. Also of importance, cell phone video recording is often limited to seconds or minutes while the flipcam genre has at least 60 minutes of recording. If the cell phone has interchangeable memory chips, then the storage problem can be largely eliminated. Battery capacity is also an issue. Where a the "flipcam" types can often be recharged by inserted a fresh pair of batteries, heavy shooting with with a cell phone can leave one without a functioning phone before one can get home for a recharge. Many video phones do not have a way to download video from the cell phone to a computer, which means saving or sharing the video will always cost cell phone minutes.

Where video quality on a cell phone is high, the phone may cost several hundred dollars, such as the Nokia N96 which records 640x480 at 30 fps, making it much cheaper to buy a flipcam and a cell phone. Others are undercutting that price though. Samsung has models that record at 720x480 at 30 fps with interchangeable memory cards on cell phone contract in the $200 range. The iPhone 3GS will record at 640x480 at 30 fps with the promise of being bumped up to 720x480 soon.

Cell phones come with a couple of big advantages in the long term. Because the cell phone is small enough to be clipped on a belt or kept in a clothing pocket, it is always available. The flipcam genre is a little thicker and so generally goes in an additional bag. Further, while "flipcams" make it very easy to upload to a Web site, there is a still a wait involved as the unit must be connected to a computer before than can happen. Because the cell phone is almost always able to immediately connect to a cell phone, it can uploaded as soon as the videoclip is recorded. Further, as the speed of the cell networks improve, the video will increasingly be sent to the Web live as it is shot.

Given the rapid improvements in video engineering, the only way to stay current with cell phone development to frequently scan for reviews of cell phone video.

Net Sharing Videoclips

In valuable partnership with low cost and simple camcorders are free to low cost Web sites for sharing videoclips. YouTube towers above this market. This in turn has created a new rich area for online search. YouTube is the second most searched Web site in the world after Google's standard search site. Yahoo is a distant third. YouTube searching is especially popular among school aged students. There are numerous competitors to YouTube. Vimeo is a web site like YouTube that allows video clip uploading. The Vimeo web site has responded to the increased use of HD camcorders by allowing HD size videoclips to be uploaded. The branch of their website for putting HD video online can be found at A month later, by December of 2008, YouTube was also allowing HD videoclips to be uploaded.

Educational Evolution

Education has long depended on the paper format of book, magazine and print out. The increasing use of image in our culture helped move comic book style communication to expand to the graphic novel (Wikipedia, 2009), which has played a useful educational stepping stone in bringing the illiterate and the alliterate (don't want to read) to greater reading motivation and proficiency (Buffy, 2009; Carter, 2007; Frey & Fisher, 2004; Harris, 2008; Schwarz, 2002). The Google Books site displays thousands of these graphic novels which can be previewed and purchased online, read in full on the computer screen or found with increasing frequency in your local library (Library Journal, 2009). The history of such story-based image communication has a long arc stretching from cave paintings of 40,000 years ago to story freizes of sculpture on Greek temples to woven tapestries hanging on castle walls in the middle ages to television to the first computer-video novel that was made for the CD-ROM technology (Frank, 1990).


The integration of video composition into our composition and thinking will accelerate with the growing integration of highly portable and inexpensive camcorders. The media-laden features of the digital palette, which includes video, can serve as the basis for predicting new forms of the novel that are digital based, for example a video novel. But a music novel is just as possible. Further, as world culture is now learning now to mix the full range of the media "colors" of the digital palette on the Web, we can expect a Web based media novel that leads the way in using all of its elements. It is not too soon to be thinking about composing one of your own. After all, somebody has to be first to do the comprehensive media novel. Does this evolution change anything about the way we teach and learn?



Comments or more news about this genre of camcorder? Please share at the Unimedia Composers blog site posting on Flash chip camcorders.



Buffy, E. (2009). Motivating Middle School Readers: The Graphic Novel. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 25(8), 56-58.

Carter, J.B. (2007). Transforming English with Graphic Novels: Moving toward Our "Optimus Prime". English Journal, 97(2), 49-53.

Choney, S. (2009). Cell phone video cams start to hvae 'reel' feel. MSNBC. Retrieved November 13, 2009 from

Franking, Holly. (1990). Negative Space: A Computerized Video Novel. Vers. 1.0. CD-ROM, videocassette. Prairie Village: Diskotech.

Frey, N & Fisher, D. (2004). Using Graphic Novels, Anime, and the Internet in an Urban High School. The English Journal, 93(3, 19-25. [full text available thru WCU library]

Harris, V. J. (2008). Selecting Books that Children Will Want to Read. Reading Teacher, 61(5), 426-430.

Schwarz, G.E. (2002). Graphic Novels for Multiple Literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46(3), 262-265. Retrieved September 12, 2009 from







Video Composition Chapter Parent Frame  | versio 1.0, 2008; 1.8 November 13, 2009 | Copyright: Houghton, page author.