Saturday, October 26, 2013

Obsolete? Not my Flip!

The word 'obsolete' bothers me, especially when talking about cameras.

Film cameras, at least at the consumer level, have been obsolete for a while.  But plenty of people still use them and still enjoy them, and not just hipsters and Luddites.  Film will be around as long as there is still a demand for it, even though the prices will surely make it less popular.

Digital gear, like computers, are practically obsolete before you get them home.  Unlike computers, though, obsolete digital cameras and camcorders can still be a lot of fun.

What follows here is not so much a review as it is a love letter to outdated technology.

The Pure Digital Flip Camera probably falls under the 'obsolete' label.  The one I have was one of the first models, and I bought it new sometime in 2007.

I rarely buy cameras new, because I'm cheap.  But this one seemed like something special;  no tape, no moving parts, just dead simple.  It was perfect for kids or tech-phobes or even your grandmother.

Too bad for the Flip that it didn't come out a few years earlier.  It existed in that brief moment before smartphones were powerful enough to shoot decent video, but after analog tape cameras had declined into their own obsolescence.

Before you think that I'm shooting through my rose-colored filter, I'm happy to admit there was lot to criticize about the Flip, too.

Let me give you my list:
  1. No manual focus.  I hate this on just about every consumer level camera.
  2. No optical zoom.  It has a digital zoom, but all it does is to make a mediocre picture unwatchable.
  3. No mic input.  Another feature that early analog cameras often had, but now is hard to find outside of high-end gear.
  4. No removable media.  Some of the later Flips had more on-board memory, but mine is limited to 30 minutes.  Then it's either download, delete, or you're done.
  5. You better hope that there's no breeze if you're shooting outside.  Otherwise, the wind noise obliterates any other sound.
  6. It's nearly unusable in low light.
Anybody who used this camera could give you more, but these are some of the biggies.  Later models added a few more features, as well as HD recording.  My older model is still standard definition 640x480.

Why did I drop $100 in 2007 money on this?

Look at it!  It's built for fun!  Don't bother trying to get perfection with the Flip.  It's the digital video version of Lomography.  It's the 1990s version of the PXL-2000.

Take it outside, film the cats, the kids, the bugs on the fence.  If the batteries run down, don't screw around with recharging for hours - it runs on AA's (later models used rechargeable Li-Ion power).  Put the video in Movie Maker and run every stupid effect on it; you can hardly make it worse.

Even better, since the Flip has been out of production for years, it's dirt freakin' cheap!  I've seen them on eBay for less than $20.  If it gets lost or broken, at least you're not out any serious money.

And since there's no media to change and the USB plug is built in, as long as it will power up, it'll never be really obsolete.

Here is a compilation of  video taken with my Flip over the years.  The first bit is from a family trip to Charleston, South Carolina.  You can hear how the wind overpowers most any other sound.  Also, notice how the digital zoom degrades the picture.  Otherwise, you can see the Flip is perfectly capable of capturing a vacation, entertaining nosy cats, or documenting my killer homemade biscuits and gravy.

At the risk of sounding like an old guy, man I wish these had been around when I was a kid.  I might have gone outside once in a while.

The Flip was doomed even before Pure Digital was bought out by Cisco in 2009.  The Flip line was discontinued in 2011.  Think of the Flip as being like a netbook: it was a good idea, but had the twin problems of being too under powered to compete with laptops, but too big to compete with tablets.  It was just the wrong time.

I don't use my Flip much anymore, but it's just too cute and too much fun to let it go.  As long as it still works, it's not obsolete to me.

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