Recently in conversation, the topic of using the Flip HD and the Kodak Zi8 mini-camcorders came up, and specifically, how well do they work with Apple products, like iMovie. As it happens, I own both the Flip and the Kodak camera, so I put down a few thoughts on them. For anyone who might find this comparison helpful, here then in a slightly edited and revised version of those thoughts.
I’ll start by saying that, as a camera, I prefer the Zi8 in virtually every way to the Flip HD with the exception of the shape of the bottom of its case, which is, I admit, a rather trivial – but valid – complaint.
As far as I can see, picture quality, macro ability, picture format options (30 or 60 fps, for example), SDHC card compatibility, spare battery capable, low-light ability… in every way, the Zi8 surpasses the Flip. It’s my “go to” HD camera – although I use my iPhone 4 often because it is always with me; however, as a camera, the iPhone 4 is still pretty limited.
My complaint about the “bottom” of the Zi8 is simply this: It’s rounded. Both have tripod sockets, but with the Flip, the flat bottom means you can, in a pinch, stand the camera on a table. The Zi8′s round bottom makes that virtually impossible, making a tripod mount absolutely necessary.
So, as a camera, the Zi8 is my preference, but if the question is: Which camera works best with a Mac (or, perhaps I should say, “Apple products” then I’d have to say that the Flip is somewhat more compatible.
First, let’s look how it works with the iPad.
I’m starting with the iPad because it is probably the most inflexible environment to use the camera with and supports a narrow range of formats as opposed to the Mac.
If you want to use a camera of any kind with the iPad, you must have the iPad Camera Connection Kit, which is a pair of dongles for the iPad. One is a USB dongle, which allows you to connect a standard USB cable to the iPad and then connect that to a camera, just as you might connect your camera to your computer. The other is an SD card reader, for plugging SD cards directly into your iPad. (These dongles can only be used to get stuff onto your iPad, not back off of it.)
Both the Flip and the Zi8 have built-in USB connectors so that they may be plugged into a computer without having to carry a cable. This is a great feature, but a little awkward depending on what other USB devices you have and the configuration of your computer. The Zi8′s is flexible and allows slightly greater freedom in connecting the camera to a computer. The Flip’s is fixed and I always have to disconnect all other USB devices from my MacBook Pro before I connect it. You could, of course, use an extension cable, but that defeats the purpose of having the connector built-in.
Using the camera connection kit USB Connector the Flip connects and the videos can be imported directly into the iPad. Under the same circumstances, the Zi8 causes the iPad to complain that it needs “too much current” and it will not recognize the device. Score one point for the Flip.
Using the camera connection kit SD Card Connector the Flip cannot connect because it doesn’t use SD cards. The Zi8′s cards are easily read and imported. Score one for the Zi8.
I’m going to make a note here that under each camera’s appropriate connection method, you can see thumbnails of the videos. That’s good because you sometimes don’t want to import every picture or video and you need to see a thumbnail to decide which ones to import.
However, once the videos have been imported into the iPad… you can no longer see the Zi8′s thumbnails… you get a generic icon that says “movie”. The Flip ones have thumbnails and can be watched on the iPad. You cannot see a thumbnail or play the Zi8 video on the iPad. That’s 2 points (thumbnail and playable video) for the Flip and non for the Zi8.
So, if you’re using the Flip with the iPad exclusively, I’d clearly recommend the Flip as the superior camera in terms of usability with the computer equipment. This is especially likely to be important if Apple ever releases iMovie for the iPad. Flip videos may be immediately editable. Zi8 videos almost certainly will not.
The Mac and iMovie
Let’s ignore everything I said about the iPad now and concentrate solely on the Mac. In this instances, I am referring to the iLife ’11 series of software. I was using them on older versions, but I’ll confine my remarks solely to the current version.
If you plug either camera in, iPhoto sees them as cameras and will import and play the videos. No problem and this is how I use both cameras, importing the videos directly into iPhoto ands then using them in iMovie from within iPhoto. They both work fine.
The Flip comes with some nasty video management software which is, at least, fully Mac compatible. I don’t like this software, but it does work. It is not necessary and can be ignored. On the other hand, this software also does the firmware updates to the Flip, so ignore it at your peril. There have been several updates since I bought the Flip. I do like the fact that the Flip has a planned mechanism for updating their firmware.
The Zi8 has none of that, and, as far as I can tell, no firmware updates since I bought it, nor does there seem to be a user-friendly way to do the updates when they do happen.
However, iMovie also has the capability to import directly from the camera, selecting only the clips you need, if you prefer to work that way. iMovie recognizes the Flip as a camera, it does not recognize the Zi8 as a camera. You have to get your Zi8 videos in from iPhoto or direct file import. Score one for Flip.
Otherwise, all things are about equal.
So… if I and my iPad were on the road without computer, and I need to view my videos, the Flip would be the better way to go.
On the Mac, since I use iPhoto to organize my videos anyway, this isn’t an issue and I use the same workflow for both cameras, therefore I prefer the better and more flexible Zi8 as a camera.