Over the past several weeks I've been monkeying around with the new Flip Video Ultra and Sony GC1 Net-Sharing Cam. Both are pocket digital camcorders for $200 or less. Both are designed to make it easy to shoot digital video and upload clips to YouTube and other video sharing sites. Here's my take:
> Video quality. Both shoot video clips at 640 x 480 pixels, 30 frames per second (fps). In my tests, the Flip Video Ultra clips had more accurate color and better image detail than those shot with the Sony. Once you upload the clips to YouTube, the quality differences are diminished but still noticeable. (YouTube is known for reducing video clips to their lowest common denominators.) Check out the two videos below--the same scene shot with both camcorders. Notice the color of the ocean in both versions and the details in the landscape. To my eyes, the Flip camcorder video captured the ocean's colors more vividly and with sharper detail.
> YouTube uploads. The Flip Video Ultra's software made uploading to YouTube easier than the Sony's software. But trust me: With trillions of amateur videos, it ain't all that difficult to upload to YouTube to start with.
> Zoom. The Sony camcorder has a 4x digital zoom, while the Flip is limited to a 2x digital zoom.
> Still images. The Sony camcorder includes a flash (for stills only) and can capture crisp images at up to 5 megapixels. Flip Video Ultra only lets you capture stills from video footage, which are fairly low-resolution.
> LCD. Even in bright daylight, the Flip Video Ultra's screen is sharp and perfectly legible. The Sony screen is dark and murky in those conditions, which makes shooting video outdoors a challenge.
However, the Sony screen can swivel, so you can hold up the camcorder and video yourself and a friend. The Flip screen is lodged in the body of the camcorder and its position can't be adjusted independently of the camcorder.
> Storage. The Flip camcorders are limited to their internal storage capacity, which is either 512MB in the 30-minute versions or 1GB in the 60-minute models. The Sony camcorder has a small amount of internal memory for emergencies, but stores stills and video clips on Sony's Memory Stick Pro Duo cards. The upshot: You can add a 2GB or larger card, so you can keep shooting without having to upload your videos to free up space, as you must do with the Flip camcorder. (The other option is to delete your videos to make room for more.)
> Ease of use. A newborn baby could operate the Flip Video Ultra. The Sony camcorder will most likely force you to consult its poorly written manual.
> Price. A 1GB Flip Video Ultra can be had on Amazon.com for $150 (for the white, 60-minute version) or $180 (for one of the colorful 60-minute versions). By comparison, the Sony GC1 camcorder is $200 on Amazon. But you'll also have to buy a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, too. A 1GB card is $17. Total price: About $217, versus $150 for a plain white Flip Video Ultra.
The Flip Video Ultra is ideal for kids or anyone on a budget who wants the easiest possible camcorder to use. If the Sony camcorder had a screen you could see in bright sunlight and were easier to use, it would pose a significant threat to the Flip. As it is, the $217 (or more) the Sony camcorder will cost you might be better spent on a $200-ish digital camera that also shoots 640 x 480 video clips at 30 fps--which many digital cameras today do.
Note: The top video was shot with the Sony camcorder; the bottom one with the Flip Video Ultra. Notice how the sun turns into a black ball in the Flip Video Ultra clip. Also notice the impact the Sony's more powerful zoom makes and the difference between the two clips in the colors of the ocean.