The Great Haydini

Flip video cameraLast Friday we conducted a really fun workshop on using the Flip video camera.  The workshop was also supposed to have also contained a module on using Windows Live Movie Maker to edit together several  videos, but, of course, there was not enough time to include that element in a 2-hour format.  This post will concentrate on lessons learned, and give a little advice to those who might want to use the Flip video camera for academic projects.  Tomorrow I will post the various “how-to” screen videos related to the Flip camera itself, using the FlipShare software that comes with it, and using Windows Live Movie Maker–for those who wanted to see an example.  First, sit back, relax, and prepare to be amazed by Dr. Haydn Davis, Professor of Magic and Mystery:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.5475383&w=425&h=350&]

If you care a great deal about video quality, you are no longer reading this post.  For the other 99% of us,here is the story.

The workshop was intended for those who had never used the Flip video camera before,but were curious and were equally curious about its use in academic settings.  The Great Haydini stunt was done so that they would all have something to photograph.  I edited the video presented here from three separate cameras.  The quality is not great.  True.  It could be much better.  True.  But it does get the point across, which should be take-away lesson number 1.  The Flip is exceedingly easy to use and makes it easy to quickly capture, edit (in very basic ways) and upload video to YouTube or, in this case, a video service of my choice: (presented here via VodPod).

Before the participants were given the cameras to use–and I was very surprised to find that three of them actually brought their own Flip video cameras to the workshop, and a much earlier version than the Flip Mino I expected to use in the workshop–they were shown an introductory video on using the Flip.  The video discussed a few basic dos and don’ts, like do turn on the camera and give it a little pre-roll time before beginning to shoot your subject, and don’t shoot into a backlit sccene (like someone standing in front of a bright window) and don’t wear stripes or checks unless you want those hallucinogenic Moiré effects.  What the video does not discuss are maybe the two most important take-away lessons from our workshop related to using the Flip camera:

1.  The audio it picks up from across a room is not great.

2.  The camera’s field of vision is rather narrow.  In order to take in a wide scene (more than a simple head shot) you need to be far away enough from the subject to make number 1 a problem.

For the sake of the movie above, I had to enhance the sound in a video editing program.  The audio levels as they came from the camera were unacceptably low, and there certainly is no audio enhance features in the very basic editing software that comes with the Flip.

With those two points out of the way (but not forgotten) the Flip was a big hit and is a terrific product.  Our department checks out Flip cameras to faculty members for their student projects, and we’ve seen some excellent ones.  The cameras are so easy to use.  Believe it or not, there is not a single word on the back of the Flip camera where the controls are located–they are that universally designed.

We currently distribute two models of the Flip camera, the original Ultra and the Mino.  This semester we hope to add another crop of MinoHD models to our circulating inventory.  The primary difference between the Ultra and Mino is that the Mino contains a sealed battery charged via USB, while the Ultra runs on AA batteries which need to be swapped out periodically.  To find out more, take a look at the outstanding specs page at the Flip camera web site.

The most problematic part of the workshop, in fact, did not involve the Flip camera at all, but rather YouTube.  One of the exercises we planned (and actually performed) was to upload each individual’s Great Haydini video to YouTube.  Before that could happen, all but a couple of the workshop attendees had to create a YouTube account.  My advice to those planning a Flip workshop is to communicate with your participants in advance, if possible, and request that they make their YouTube accounts before the workshop begins.  What seems so simple in the office gets tangled in the classroom.  We had to spend about half an hour on this activity rather than on the more substantial learning activies we had planned (like learning a bit about Live Windows Movie Maker).

After YouTube account creation, the next most problematic part of the workshop involved those cameras that individuals brought to the workshop.  I did not realize that they would be bringing them, but that’s not a big deal, since we are used to improvising during our workshops.  What was a big deal was that the owners of those cameras had never connected them to a computer, and therefore never updated the software on them.  They all had the ancient MuVee software on them–the software that came on the first generation of Flip cameras–rather than the much more sophisticated (and easy to use) FlipShare software that now comes on the cameras.  We had to get them connected, but could not take the time to update them.  We ended up then, having to use two sets of slightly different software, which made for a bit of confusion.  The moral of the story is, once again, anticipate that attendees may bring their own cameras, and ask that they update them in advance–or at least make time for them to come early and attended an upgrade session so the rest of the class will not be affected.

I don’t want to give the impression that it was not a successful workshop, or that the attendees did not have a positive experience.  I believe most were happy with the way things went.  I will say, however, that we learned some practical lessons about how to go about presenting one of these workshops, including scaling back the agenda to concentrate on the camera, photography, and the FlipShare software in part 1, and add a second workshop for editing the footage using Movie Maker or some other video editing product, and to devote a little time to free software that could be used to enhance audio.