Whether it's the Walkman, Photoshop or the GoPro, every now and again a product comes along that so perfectly epitomizes the form, that its name is taken to represent the entire category of products (whether its maker likes it or not). For a couple of years, the Flip Video pocket camcorder was just such a device. The dead giveaway being that you can probably picture what I mean by 'Flip Video' but not by the phrase 'pocket camcorder.'

In a manner similar to GoPro, the Flip wasn't necessarily the most technologically innovative product, but it represented a novel arrangement of components in such a way that it heralded a new class of devices. Rather than making you carry around a full-sized camcorder, the Flip squeezed a small sensor, a battery and some memory together in a genuinely pocketable package.

The first units captured VGA resolution, which wasn't as undesirable as it now sounds, since standard (1950s) definition TV still ruled the world in the mid 2000s. In fact the Flip Video grew out of a device so simple that could only be used once, with the expectation that its output would be transferred to DVD (which, for all their 'digital quality,' are essentially 'widescreen' standard definition discs).

A video camera, in your pocket!

In the classic 'it only has to be good enough' fashion that Allison highlighted earlier this week, the Flip was a raging success. The first version, launched in 2007, captured a claimed 13% of the total camcorder market within a year of launch and for a while they seemed like the only video devices anyone was buying.

By 2009, though, the Flip Ultra HD brought 1280 x 720 video and, with its 8GB of internal memory, could capture 2 hours of footage. A flip-out USB connector allowed this footage to be offloaded and some basic sharing software was accessed in the same manner. Above all, though, it remained simple. There was a tiny screen and a big red button to start recording. Beyond this there were directional buttons to activate the digital zoom, buttons for play and delete and that's pretty much it.

No need to carry cables or software: you could just connect the flip-out USB socket

The speed with which the Flip phenomenon emerged meant the whole sector was comparatively mature by the time DPReview conducted a roundup/introduction. By 2010, Flip itself had dropped a little off the pace and rivals such as Panasonic, JVC, Kodak (remember them?) and Sony (whose 'Bloggie' branding just didn't pass into common parlance as smoothly as Walkman had) had not only started to muscle-in, but had already moved to Full HD capture. Imagine that!

The Flip Mino HD shot 720p video: resolution so high that not everyone had a TV that could show it, yet.

As is probably very apparent from the footage included in our introductory article, I knew nothing whatsoever about shooting video, but since all you could do is hold the camera up the right way and hit the big red button, that didn't really matter. We were all going to be the next Kubrick. Or, at least, were going to imperil our friend's mobile data limits by taking advantage of Facebook's newly-added video capabilities.

Flip finally flops

This talk of mobile data already hints at what would eventually wipe out the entire class, but interestingly, I think, the Flip itself didn't die as a result of the challenge from smartphones. Smartphones with video were still comparatively rare (though clearly visible in the offing) and the Flip was a successful product in a comparatively buoyant market when the plug was pulled.

The quality wasn't great, but pocket camcorders could be pretty fun

Instead, its downfall was that the company got bought by the wrong buyer. Network infrastructure company Cisco bought Flip Video in 2009, during a period in which cash-rich companies were diversifying into just about anything that seemed internet-related. But just two years later, under pressure from shareholders, it closed most of its consumer division to refocus on its core business. Interestingly, there doesn't appear to have been any attempt to sell the business, which suggests there was already a significant question mark hanging over it.

The pocket camcorder class would persist for another couple of years but would soon enough be rendered irrelevant by the camcorder you already have with you (sound familiar?). Perhaps there were lessons the wider camera industry could learn from the brilliant but short-lived impact of the Flip Video. You can bet GoPro has given it plenty of thought.


The Flip cam: My first time filmmaking

by Dan Bracaglia

Still image from 'They Dream,' a short film I shot on the Flip Mino (close to actual resolution) in 2008. While Richard was reviewing cameras for DPReview, I was busy getting my degree and making (bad) artsy short films.

I remember the Flip fondly, specifically the Flip Video Mino which debuted in the summer of 2008.

I was an undergraduate at Rutgers University and the editor in chief of our student newspaper, the Daily Targum when MTV reached out to me, along with editors of other college papers with a proposition: we’ll send you a Flip cam to keep if you use it to make and submit a short film back to the network (specifically MTVU). Having shot, but never edited video footage before, I was intrigued and obliged their offer.

The device, capable off 640 x 480 video seemed way ahead of its time. It could capture up to an hour of footage on 2GB of internal memory, offered a built-in microphone, a postage stamp-sized LCD, digital zoom, and best of all, had a built-in USB for charging and off-loading footage.

The day it arrived I brought it out to a university-sponsored concert to get some test shots even though there was a strict no-video policy. I figured the Flip was small enough, no one would pay me any mind. I was wrong, as I was instead bombarded by curious classmates, eager to check out the strange new device.

'The Flip cam removed a major mental barrier for me in terms of making movies.'

The short film I ended up submitting, titled 'They Dream,' represented my first foray into the world of video editing, and was hacked together over the course of an all-nighter using iMovie. Without giving too much away, I warn you that it is both amateurish and embarrassing. But artsy cliches and bad editing aside, The Flip cam removed a major mental barrier for me in terms of making movies. Suddenly, the labor of getting the shot became as simple as pulling the Flip out of my pocket, turning it on and pressing record.

I still own the Flip cam and it still works. In fact I recently plugged it in and found a whole cache of questionable college-age footage, shot by both me and by friends. Another reminder of how simple it was to operate (and how wild my college years were). So thank you Flip cam, for introducing me to the wide world of video capture and editing. By today’s standards your footage may be bad, your audio crap and your digital zoom laughable, but at the time, you were the bees knees and and integral part of my visual development.