"Flip" Camera with Microphone Jack

DIrector's SlateFlip Video cameras continue to be popular in classrooms. They are simple to use, and there's no tape or cables to fuss with. There is, however, one big disadvantage to using Flip cameras versus other digital camcorders: the lack of an external microphone jack.

Audio is usually oh-so-important to video productions. Movies made by teachers and students often involve speaking. In fact, what is heard in the video is probably more important than what is seen. We've all watched videos where we could barely hear the person speaking--there are hundreds of them on YouTube and TeacherTube.

One way to improve the audio is to make sure the camera is very close to the person speaking. This doesn't mean just zooming into the speaker. In fact, don't zoom at all. Get the camera as close as possible to the talking person. To add variety to the video, you can back away from person speaking in between the bits of dialog. This way establishing and re-establishing shots are inserted between speaking parts.

Lapel Mic Amazon sells lapel mics. They can even be wireless.

The best method to improve audio in your videos is to use an external microphone. When I make videos with students, we use lapel microphones. A clip-on mic can be placed much closer to a speaker's mouth than the built-in microphone found on Flip cameras. Lapel mics can minimize background noise that built-in microphones pick up.

Check out these Explorer Interviews. Watch carefully to see if you can spot the microphones (we used a splitter so we could use two mics at a time). Listen to how clearly the audio comes through. (My favorite out of the bunch is the Ferdinand Magellan interview.) Those Explorer movies were from 2003, so they were not made with Flip cameras. Instead, we had to deal with rewinding tapes and Firewire cables.

What I'd like to use to make movies is a Flip Video camera with an external microphone jack. Unfortunately, none of the Flip cameras have this feature. Fortunately, Kodak's new Zi8 Pocket Video Camera does! The Zi8 has a swing-out USB port like Flip cameras. It records in HD and has a rechargeable battery. The big difference is that microphone jack. You can connect a lapel or handheld microphone so that your viewers can actually hear the person talking in the video! The Zi8 will be released in September 2009.


Flip Video Camera

Flip Video CamerasTeachers have been flipping over the Flip video camera. I've had one for months and really enjoy it. What's so special about this camera? First, the camcorder stores video in its internal memory. That means there are no tapes to rewind, record over, or lose. Secondly, the camera couldn't be easier to use. It only has a few button because it only has a few features. In fact, the Flip video camera seems like a Fisher-Price product because it is so simple. Another awesome thing for classrooms is that the camera requires no cables or cords. You don't need to worry about a power adapter because it uses 2 AA batteries (I recommend getting 4 rechargeable AA batteries so that one pair can be in the camera and the other can be charging). No computer cable is needed because a USB plug is hidden on the side of the camera that flips out when you need it.

Because the video is stored in flash memory, there is no tape to rewind when importing into the computer. The Flip comes with software loaded on it to help you download the video from the camera. You need special software because the camera records in its own DivX MPEG-4 format. As a Mac user, I've installed the free Perian component for QuickTime. This allows my computer to play the movie file in QuickTime, iTunes, and other programs. I can use the video in iMovie HD, but the new iMovie 8 won't recognize the video format.

The Flip does not have a microphone jack. While its built-in mic is pretty good, users need to make sure that if they are capturing someone talking, that person needs to be very close to the camera. We've all seen many teacher and student-produced movies where you barely hear what is being said. To get around this, I would move the camera far back to get a silent establishing shot. Then I'd reposition the camera to get a tight shot so that the camera is close to the person while he or she speaks.

Zoo VideosI took my Flip camera to Omaha's Zoo. Here's a clip of fish in a massive aquarium. I zoom in at the end and you can see the image becomes blotchy when zoomed because it is a digital (not optical) zoom. The video is 640 x 480 pixels large. I converted the video format from the Flip's .avi format to an equivalent .mp4. Otherwise, those you without the Flip software or Perian wouldn't be able to see it. Here's the same video uploaded to YouTube. You'll notice the original is larger in size and higher quality than what YouTube displays. Just for fun, here's another video from the zoo's Desert Dome. And here's the YouTube version. Like most cameras, you'll notice that the Flip records much better in sunlight than in semi-darkness.

The Flip currently comes in three different models. The model that records up to 30 minutes of video is $130. $150 will get you a camera that records up to 60 minutes. For $30 more you can get a sleeker 60 minute model.

The Flip is not the only small, cheap, tapeless video camera around. There's the RCA Small Wonder, Creative Vado, and Kodak Zi6. These cameras are very similarly priced to the Flip and have similar features. All include only a 2x digital zoom.

Why have a handy, easy-to-use camera in the classroom? Besides making videos of educational skits, the Flip camera could be used to document field trips and science experiments. It could be used to record interviews and class discussions. The videos could be uploaded to sites like TeacherTube or as a video podcast. Here are a few TeacherTube videos about or made with a Flip video camera: Reflection on Flip Project, Instructions for Using Flip Video Cameras (Windows), and Chinese Greetings.

Save & Convert YouTube Videos

Perhaps you checked out the video I posted yesterday. It's hosted on YouTube, the free video sharing service owned by Google. YouTube offers no way to download video as they'd prefer you to visit their website each and every time you want to view a movie. If you do manage to download the video to your desktop, YouTube videos are in Adobe Flash format (.flv), which requires special software for playback.

There is software that will download and covert YouTube videos for you. YouTube to iPod Converter is free for Windows users and PodTube is $5 for Mac users. Or, for $15 Windows or Mac users can use TubeSock. Whatever software program you use, you simply paste the web address of the YouTube video you wish to download. The software will pull the video from YouTube's site and then convert it into a friendlier format of your choosing. I prefer videos to be in MPEG-4 format because then I can play them in QuickTime, on an iPod or PSP, or in The Core Pocket Media Player (free) for Palm or Pocket PC.

If you don't want to mess with software, you can use the online service Vixy.net. Like the software options above, you paste the YouTube URL into Vixy's web page. Vixy will convert the video for you and then save it to your desktop--no software required. Don't be fooled by the option that says MPEG-4 for iPod/PSP. Even if you're viewing on a Palm, Pocket PC, or desktop computer, that's your best option. It does take a while for Vixy's servers to convert your video, but you can't beat the price and convenience.

007 Video

I repeated the "Make Marvelous Movies" workshop here at the Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE) conference in Spokane, Washington. Just like in Minneapolis, I showed participants ways to film and edit video to make movies better. With just over an hour of work time, one of the groups of four educators created the video below. Although they used only one digital camcorder, they stopped, repositioned the camera, and then continued recording to give the illusion of multiple cameras. The theme of this year's NCCE conference is 007: Agents of Change and the theme inspired the teachers. Check out the two-minute video via YouTube: