Last week we found out that the two pocket camcorders most used by WITNESS and our partners, the Flip
and Kodak Zi8
(the Zi8), have been discontinued. First, blow-out sales prompted us to notice that the Zi8 is officially discontinued. Then, Cisco announced
that the entire Flip company will be closed. As we say good-bye, here is a look back on how we used these successful products in our work, some alternative models we considered and the features we like and hope to see in future models.
WITNESS has had a good relationship with Flip for a few years. We have conducted numerous video trainings and distributed hundreds of Flip cameras to human rights activists around the world. Here is an example of a video shot with Flips
; it highlights the International AIDS Conference in Mexico
in 2008. We liked the simplicity and robustness of the Flip. The option to use AA batteries in remote places without electricity was also an essential part of our choice to use the Flip camera. The lack of 1080p
resolution (Flip’s HD models record in 720p
) was not a deal breaker for us. However, as many users have pointed out, the Flip’s major drawback is the lack of external microphone input. Flip’s built-in mic is not able to capture clear sound when recording interviews, especially when background noise is present.
In 2010, we turned to the Kodak Zi8
camera. It had already become many vloggers
‘ tool of choice. Unlike the Flip camera, the Zi8 was capable of recording in 1080p resolution and, most importantly, provided an input for external mic
. The Zi8 was reviewed by just about any blog covering technology and was considered Flip’s main competitor (see a useful comparison of Flip and the Zi8
published by Videomaker magazine). Other features of the Zi8 that we particularly loved were its low cost, ergonomic design, use of SD/SDHC
memory cards, and capability to take photographs.
We deployed the Zi8 for the first time in August 2010. WITNESS staffer
Ryan Schlief trained LICADHO
, our partner organization in Cambodia, to integrate Kodak Zi8 cameras in their campaign against forced evictions (learn more about the campaign and the training)
. After the training, LICADHO produced this video
using Flip and Kodak Zi8 footage – it was screened at the international conference Land Grabbing in Africa – Dangers and Challenges.
The Zi8 camera packages we provided to LICADHO contained a lavalier mic
, two batteries, a 16gb memory stick, and a tripod.
Using lavalier mics with the Zi8 camcorders enables the capturing of good sound when recording interviews or testimonies. Alternatively, the Zi8 can be mounted on a bracket
with a shotgun mic, such as Sennheiser MKE 400, or with a video light
In the fall of 2010, Flip released the UltraHD 8GB
model, with the much-anticipated external mic option. However, the proprietary external mic made the device too expensive and the placement of the port on the bottom
of the camera seemed impractical for use in the field.
Around the same time, Kodak announced the Playtouch
with an array of promising new features (read a review),
such as in-camera editing, stereo jack shared between mic and headphones, and a larger LCD
. We decided to evaluate the pricier Playtouch for potential use in our upcoming video training in Uganda. We conducted a side-by-side comparison of the Zi8 and the Playtouch. We loved the Playtouch’s edit and share capability, slicker design and more sensitive face recognition, however, the Zi8 proved to be more cost-effective, and to have a more ergonomic design for shooting in the field. One interesting observation about the Playtouch (which is likely to become our next pocket camcorder of choice) – compared to the Zi8 (specs
), the Playtouch (specs
) has a smaller lens and CMOS sensor
while it actually covers a wider angle shot. This works well when shooting close up to a well-lit subject but the image becomes noisier once you pull back to a medium shot. Additionally, the external mic input located on top of the camcorder makes it possible for the mic cable to fall in front of the lens.
In December 2010, a WITNESS team
headed to Kampala with Zi8 camcorders and accessories. This time we included two memory sticks, 16GB each, and three batteries per kit as our partners would film in areas without electricity. A fully charged KLIC-7004 battery lasts for about 80 minutes of recording time. With three batteries our partners would be able to record about 4 hours of video before needing to re-charge.
In Uganda, our team, headed by Bukeni Waruzi, held a video advocacy training with seven women from the Greater North Women’s Voices for Peace Network
, an activist group focusing their advocacy around Uganda’s recovery plan for the Greater North area. For more information, read this post
or watch this video
highlighting the training and the campaign. Since the training, the women have been actively shooting with the Zi8 camcorders we provided – their footage is currently being edited into an advocacy video.
With Flip and Kodak Zi8 out of the picture, WITNESS will have to look for alternatives to update our pocket camcorder kits for the upcoming video advocacy trainings. The Kodak Playtouch is a likely candidate. The Zoom Q3HD
with its amazing mic and stereo input is very desirable but at $300 is unlikely. Perhaps, now is a good time to do a case study with video enabled phones instead of pocket camcorders, as my colleague Ryan Schlief suggested. In some areas where we work, a smart phone is not a practical substitute for a cost-effective pocket camcorder. Where there is no electricity or cell coverage, or where people have never used a camera before, a smart phone may prove to be unnecessarily complex, fragile and cost-prohibitive.
Cisco’s rationale for closing Flip is partially based on the idea that pocket camcorders can no longer compete in a world full of smart phones. This New York Times blog
questions Cisco’s reasoning, insisting that the pocket camcorder niche still exists. Similarly, CNET
points out that the Flip is the best selling pocket camcorder and its competitors, such as Kodak, Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung, just released new models that are Flip-like. In this post
, Sony states its dedication to its line of pocket camcorders, acknowledging the growth of mobile phone video but asserting that it is a separate market. It will be interesting to see whether other companies will follow Cisco’s lead or see a market opportunity opened by Flip’s demise. We hope they come up with new devices that fit our idea of the perfect pocket camcorder for video advocacy – low cost, external mic input, simple and intuitive controls, robust, and with no proprietary ports and batteries.