"It's been great," says grad student Melanie Johnson. "It's convenient. It's small. I use it for school projects as well as home videos. You just press the red button and record."
Johnson's camera is a Flip Mino HD, issued to all Multimedia Communications students at San Francisco's Academy of Art University. It is one of a new breed of camera that is changing the field from education to recreation. The newest is the 125V from DXG; preceded by the Z series from Kodak; the Vado by Creative Labs of Milpitas; and the Mino from San Francisco startup Pure Digital.
The Mino owns 15 percent of the market already. Cisco liked it so much that they bought the company this summer. If you are in the mood to buy, shop carefully. None of these uses tape, but other features vary widely.
All charge through a built-in USB extender except the Kodak. All have removable batteries except the Mino. The Kodak and DXG have removable memory cards. The Mino is the only one with Mac software. It and the Kodak upload directly to YouTube. The Vado and Kodak come with an HDMI component video cable. The Vado is the only one with a real zoom and can broadcast live.
Because of their size and weight, these cameras introduce one new capability, stealth.
"They think it's a cellphone," says Johnson. "They don't really know that it's a camera or that I'm recording them."
Wes Cho, a fellow student, agrees.
"I once hid my Mino in my backpack like this and I walked into a store, and I got some great footage. And clerks… nobody there knew I was shooting them. "
So, smile. You could be on Clandestine Camera.