I have shot with the entire range of HD cameras -- from HDV all the way up to Genesis and RED. The first thing that people should know is that the FLIP MinoHD does not compete with these cameras in any way. You can't get professional quality(or even prosumer quality) for 200 bucks. The MinoHD is basically a toy. However, there is something very charming and unique about having a HD camera that will fit in just about any pocket you have. This blog called the FLIP MinoHD the Holga of video cameras. I can agree with that. I have spent several weeks playing with this camera. Here are my impressions:
A camera's lens is one of the most important factors for image quality. If you take into account the cameras cost and that the lens is made of plastic, you can feel free to be impressed by this lens -- but it is still a plastic lens. The most impressing thing about this lens is it's speed. Flip says it is an f2.4 which is quite fast for what is basically a pin hole lens. The lens has a fixed focal length and fixed focus. Flip's specification page says nothing about focal length, but I have compared it to having the equivalent field of view of a 50mm lens on the 35mm format. The focus range is from one meter to infinity. Although, I have noticed that objects slightly closer than 1 meter are acceptably sharp due to the very deep depth of field of the camera.
From the specs page: The sensor is a 1/4.5" sensor with 2.2µm pixels. Compared to ther Standard Def Mino(5.6µm), these pixels are tiny. However, they claim that the HD has lower light sensitivity than the SD version. I am not the kind of guy to do technical tests, but I have been impressed by the low light response of the camera. However, a small pixel size will increase the signal-to-noise ratio of any camera. This is probably the main cause of compression artifacting that I will talk about later. The other thing I have notice about the sensor is its skew. CMOS sensors commonly use rolling shutters, meaning they record horizontal lines from the chip in sequence during a frame. If this read-reset time of the chip is too slow, you can get a 'jelly skew' effect on scenes with fast movement or pans. This is because the top part of the frame is recorded slightly before the bottom. The jelly skew effect of the MinoHD is quite noticeable, especially for such a small chip. But if you are careful, you can avoid it. (Hint: use a tripod, or stabilize the camera somehow)
Sound is record in Mono at 44.1kHz and encoded in AAC. The microphone is located just to the right of the lens and is fairly tiny. These aren't the best sound specs in the world, however actually listening to the sound is more than acceptable. It has a tendency to be tinny, and sometimes peaks out.
The LCD screen on the Flip is probable its worst aspect. The 1.5"(diagonal) screen is tiny! It is squint worthy. Also, the screen resolution is 528 x 132, which is less than half of the recording resolution. The means you can't see all that you are recording. When filming a far off flock of birds, I was just guessing where they were. Also the viewing angle is pretty bad -- If you are not looking straight at it, its difficult to see what is happening.
The MinoHD is the size of a small cell phone. This is great for portability, concealablity and camera mobility. However, holding the camera is a little bit challenging for adult hands. You hold it by the bottom vertically like you would with a standard 'candy-bar' camera phone. The small size, low-weight and vertical format makes it difficult to keep steady while hand holding. The sensor skew can be noticeable with these little hand held shakes. A pocket tripod of some sort is very helpful.
The controls on the Flip MinoHD are minimal. They consist of 1 big red record button, 6 multi-purpose capacitive touch buttons, and the power button. The center button is solely for record and stop. There are 4 buttons around the center button. They are left and right arrows(used for navigating the playback menu) and plus and minus buttons(for volume control during playback and digital zoom during recording). The two buttons above the others are a play/pause button(used to play and pause playback and also as an "enter" button for some functions) and a trash button(used to delete individual clips, all clips and by holding it down for 2 seconds, locking and unlocking the ability to delete.) The power button is on the right-hand side of the device. A well designed feature of the touch sensitive buttons is they are back lit. The back lighting turns off for buttons that cannot be used at that time. For instance, while recording, the only the plus and minus buttons are lit because the other buttons have no function during recording.
The flip MinoHD has 3 modes. Record mode, Playback and setup. You will probably only use setup once. It is accessed by holding the record button when he device is starting up. Here you can set the date, time and whether you want the device to make any sounds. Once the device boots up, it starts in record mode. You can do two things in record mode. First, record and pause a recording. While recording you can use the 2x digital zoom. You cannot use the zoom while the device is not recording however, which I find kind of lame. The second thing you can do in record mode is delete the last clip by pressing the trash button. You can enter play back mode by pressing the play/pause button. While in playback mode you can watch clips, navigate between them, delete particular clips, change the volume(with plus/minus buttons), and fast forward and rewind(by holding down left/right buttons). You re-enter record mode by pressing the record button.
The camera is powered by an internal lithium-ion battery. You cannot remove it. The Flip specifications page says that the battery lasts two hours of continuous use. I haven't done any scientific tests of this, but have found that you will probably fill the devices memory before the battery runs out. The device is charged via USB either by connecting it to a computer or by purchasing the optional AC adaptor. It charges in 3 or 2 hours depending if it is connected to a computer or to wall power respectively.
I imagine the name "Flip" comes from the action of releasing its hidden USB connector. A switch on the left-hand side of the device causes a full-size USB connector to flip out of the top like a switch blade. The allows you to plug the camera directly into a computer -- no worrying about forgetting cables. When the device is plugged in, it will appear on your computer like any USB storage device. The Flip MinoHD comes with some basic editing software on its memory which you can install. This software is very basic and easy, I won't say much more about it as I don't find it very useful for my needs. For a absolute beginner to video however, it should work fine. The clips are stored in the DCIM folder which means that many software like iPhoto or Aperture will recognize them for importing. I prefer to manage the files manually though. The clips are named VID00001.MP4 in sequence as they are shot. I have found these clips are easily editable in iMovie, FCP 6 and FCP 5(with a little trick). In FCP 5, however, you will have to render the audio.
Quicktime calls the flipvideo codec "AVC Coding", which I imagine is a version of Mpeg4 that has been modified by flip to work specifically with the camera. The bit rate is a healthy 10mbits/s. The pixel size is truly 1280x720 square pixels. Despite the decent bit rate, the video doesn't look that good when viewed in its full size. I think this has to do with a combintion of factors. The small pixels, the lens, and some in-camera sharpening all lead to a less than ideal image.
The FlipMinoHD is an awesome little toy video camera. The key word there is toy. If you are expecting to do professional work with it, prepare to be disappointed. If you just want to catch moments of your life in HD, or experiment with video -- it is an awesome gadget. That said, I can envision some professional implementations of it. It would be great for undercover journalism, shooting 'amateur video' for storytelling purposes, or getting a camera in a space that is not possible with a larger camera. I have also recently used to quicly pre-visualize an upcoming short film. I am sure there are more. Am I happy with my purchase? In one word, Yes.