Thursday, May 26, 2011

Practical Advice on Picking a Portable Camera for Schools

We are on the hunt for an alternative to the awesome Flip Videos cameras that Casio has decided to discontinue. Why, Casio? Why? This portable video camera is perfect for a school. It's durable, it used 2 double AA batteries, it's plug and play/download/work, super easy to use and has help up pretty well with the amount of  students we have using the devices.

There is a great list that someone from AISL emailed me
12 Fabulous Flip Camera Alternatives

The thing with the list is that it reviews the products but does not really take into account workflow and how these items are when used in the library, classroom and in an environment where there are 700+ users checking them in and out, plugging and unplugging them into computers, and where the librarians are maintaining them in addition to our daily tasks.

I posted a tweet, checked in with my friends' on various SNS sites, and posted to the list-servs. I did not get too many responses. However, I did receive the helpful link above and a few recommendations for Kodak's Zi8 video camera. I was also testing Sony's Bloggie Camera. However, it did not meet our requirements.

What are some of the factors we considered when testing video camcorders and/or looking at the specifications you wonder?
  1. Durability - this is key. We have over 700 students ages 11 - 15 with varying approaches of how to treat things they check out from the library. You know what I'm talking about...
  2. Easy of Use - kids just want to get the project completed ; can you plug and play? are there a lot of buttons to distract them? Do you need a separate SD card? 
  3. Charging/Batteries - can we use batteries? does it need to charge attached to a computer? is there an adapter? do we need to set up a charging station?
  4. Format - what is the video format? is it compatible with our PC school? Do we need to have our Computer Services set up the computers to deal with the format? 
I looked at a lot of specs since we cannot buy all these different devices. That's just not realistic so here is what I found:
  1. Though the Kodak Zi8 is great. It's going to be discontinued like the Flip. We definitely need something that will be around for at least a little while which means more than a year or two though who can control that? we thought the Flip would be around for a while.
  2. Buying up all those Flips out there is probably not a good option since out CS department does not seem keen on us using them anymore
  3. The Sony Bloggie - though pretty is more for a single user who really loves all the bells and whistles it has. 
  4. Mac products are just out (yeah..I know, we are freaks here and not on the Mac worship train)
  5. The other Kodak options listed on 21st Century EdTech and Learning blog - specifications wise were a bit too much for our users
  6. Smart phones - most of our kids have iPhones and those videos, when transferred to our computers, turns upside down and we can't "fix" them so those are out
These are the two I picked based on specs and considering our community:
  1. Creative Vado - simple to use; not too many bells and whistles; removable and rechargeable battery (we can order more chargers and batteries); built-in USB - the downside is the auto-sharing option which is now unavoidable on all these camcorders
  2. Samsung HMX-U20 though I am wondering if this will be around much longer.
  3. More point-and-shoots
Now, also, a lot of these cameras also use SD cards which for us is not a problem but for a lot of places would be. Hopefully, something comparable to the Flip will come out again soon because for schools it is pretty much a perfect portable camcorder.

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