Hack your Flip

(Originally posted on Epicurean Cyclist, but I thought it would be appreciated here too. -Russ)(Note: All footage in above video were shot with my modified Flip Ultra…pretty darn cool!)

I’ve had my Flip Ultra for a few weeks now and I feel like I can give a good review of it. There’s a lot to like and as long as you don’t expect it to act like a Canon XL2 then I think you’ll be okay.

What really piqued my interest about this nifty device was this post by Kirk Mastin on his. In it, he literally tapes a Flip to his pro video camera to capture the same footage and edits it the same way. The result? Well, it looked pretty darn good (for web use) when stacked upon the pro gear. The lesson is that technique/compelling content will trump technology every time.

I’m not going to go too deep into the geek spec review details, but talk about it in practical use.

All about the battery..
Firstly, I chose the Flip Ultra over the newer Mino because of the battery. The Ultra takes AA and the Mino has an internal rechargeable battery (that must be charged via USB). When I’m on a bike tour, I can’t really tell when I’ll run into a USB port in the wild. However, I’m pretty sure I can track down a gas station to buy some batteries.

On my recent tour (just 3.5 days), I went through 4 pairs of rechargeable AAs. I didn’t run into a free standing USB port anywhere on the trip.

The form factor is pretty small and it fit (unmodified) in the breast pocket of my seersucker shirt and would also probably fit without a problem in the back pocket of a jersey. This is great if you want to record your riding, your commute or some cager doing stupid. When I ride, I use a Joby Gorillapod (the SLR model…which btw CAN”T hold up an SLR) wrapped around my handlebars. The mass of the camera is low enough that it holds it pretty steady.

Now for the fun stuff.

Making it a Flip Ultra WIDE…
The lens on the Flip is about a 38mm by most reports (yawn). It’s a pretty boring/normal focal length. Not quite the length for narrow depth of field and not wide enough to make dynamic feeling wide shots.

I’m a photojournalist at heart and I see everything wide. If I could live with one lens it would probably be a 24mm.

So….I did a few things to my Flip to better accommodate MY needs.

First, I knew when I was going to edit the video I would do it in a 16:9 aspect ratio. So, I took some electrical tape, cut it in half and taped an approximate crop on the screen. No harm. No foul. Your warrantee is still good :)

BUT, I wanted the optics to be wide too. So, I bought a cheapie wide-angle lens adapter kit made for more sophisticated camcorders (the one I bought was made by Sunpak). The wide angle lens kit I bought came with a series of step-down rings. I took one of the rings and roughed it up with sandpaper (from a patch kit) and super glued it to the front of the Flip (be sure to glue it so you can still remove the battery cover!). This gave the front element some threads so I could screw on the wide angle lens!

What follows is pure awesomeness. Not quite an Oscar worthy for Technical Achievement, but close :)

Now you have a Flip Ultra that can shoot a “normal” focal length that you can convert into a wide-angle action machine. It gives your footage a bit more dynamic feel and it also mitigates the small camera shake quite a bit!

I used this set up for my recent trip and it worked great. I did note some possible and simple room for improvements on the Flip for action based Videography. Flip, if you’re listening..here they are:

-a red indicator LIGHT on the BACK as well as the front that tells the user instantly it’s recording! I found myself losing some time checking the screen and making sure the counter was red, which was a hassle while I was riding my bike.

-an INSTANT on/record setting, so you can just use the jog button to turn it on and record simultaneously. I was late for a few shots because I had to turn it on, wait for it to load, then hit the red record buton.

-the addition of a simple Mic IN would be AWESOME!

I think the Flip is a great tool for bike tourists and photojournalists. The HOLGA camera of the video world. In the right hands it can produce some great content!


  1. Ghost Rider September 8, 2008 2:55 pm 

    That’s awesome…I’m running out to get a wide-angle kit RIGHT NOW! Anything to reduce the shake of that device is a good thing.

  2. ac September 8, 2008 6:47 pm 

    Is the Flip’s case metal or plastic?
    Is there any chance one of the magnetic lenses would work also? I’m totally unfamiliar with this, and I assume the bike could shake the magnetic lens off, but would prefer a less permanent option.

  3. Ghost Rider September 8, 2008 8:07 pm 

    The majority of the case is plastic, with a non-magnetic metal (aluminum?) ring around the lens.

  4. Bob September 9, 2008 12:45 am 

    I like the wide angle hack. This is the first time I’ve viewed video from a bicycle using the camera and it’s excellent for using online.

  5. Chad September 9, 2008 5:56 am 

    Have you considered the Aiptek HD? They are about the same size and cost; I have one and it is great. It shoots in HD and 16:9 by default. I have used it the same way you have (Gorillapod around the handlebars).

    It also uses SD for its storage media. I usually carry 4 2GB SD cards with me. That gives me about 6 hours of HD recording time.

    It does have a USB charged battery pack, but I have a Black and Decker VPX USB charger that I use to rejuvenate the batteries while out on the road. The VPX system is charged using AC so you could carry the charger with you as well for really long trips.

    Now I need to go find the wide angle lens you used and add it to my camera. :)

    The video you shot was amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Russ Roca September 9, 2008 8:25 am 

    I saw the AipTek HD and was intrigued by it, but went with the Flip because it was so small and didn’t have a whole lot of parts to break. I WISH the Flip would do HD…maybe in the future. But for now, given what it is, it’s not so bad.

    The thing about the camera is that it just IS. It doesn’t pretend to be anything better. It knows its limitations and works well within them.

  7. twodeadpoets September 9, 2008 10:52 am 

    This is great information, thanks!

    I use a Nikon Coolpix L12 that I got originally for my wife (sorry no gluing anything on this camera) and am now wondering what would be the best setup for shooting video from a bike via Gorilla Pod (which I borrow from my son). There are a lot of camera’s available but what ones would be the best for biking with and which can easily be adapted for wide-angle shots.

    Care for a video camera review?

  8. john September 10, 2008 5:21 pm 

    Hi, can you please tell me which model of wide angle lens you are using???

    will Sunpak CAM-2110 fit in the flip video ultra ??

    thanks for answer!

  9. Guy September 17, 2008 11:30 am 

    Great post. Is the internal memory removable? Hate to carry a laptop just empty out a full Flip.

  10. Ghost Rider September 17, 2008 12:03 pm 

    Guy, good point, but no…the memory is not removable, and there’s no port to slip in a larger-capacity card.

  11. Guy September 17, 2008 2:00 pm 

    Ghost Rider… Thanks for the answer. We can put that on the wish list.

  12. nancita October 5, 2008 7:59 am 

    Great post and cool suggestions. Especially your point about battery vs usb rechargeable. Most of my shooting is done outdoors so that’s a big consideration. Based on your review I’m going to buy a Flip. Excellent.

  13. Natalie November 23, 2008 4:29 pm 

    Great news there is now a Flip HD widescreen. See it here.

    It still may be a problem since it’s a Mino so no batteries.

    Great post! I have passed it on to others.

    I did a Squidoo lens on Flip accessories. There are some great ideas for filming from bikes. Maybe some of you may be interested in.

    I just may have to try your widescreen lens idea on my Flip Mino.


  14. Alejandro December 26, 2008 10:55 pm 

    Cool idea. I guess you can attach a telephoto lens too. that would be cool since the zoom in the Flip is only 2x and it is a digital zoom.

  15. Jan McLaughlin December 27, 2008 8:02 am 

    Okay, that’s pretty darned fabulous, to be sure.

  16. Jan McLaughlin December 27, 2008 8:10 am 

    Great hack; thanks for sharing.

  17. Joe Chase December 27, 2008 12:29 pm 

    Cool hack. I have the same dislikes. Love the camera though

  18. galvo February 22, 2009 8:36 am 

    i started with a flip video and then got a dxg-567v That was on sale at costco, think it was under 150 last summer.
    i like the dxg much better than the flip since it uses sdhc cards, which can be had supper cheap nowadays, 8 gig cards for 15, which equals about 4 hours of video. i carry a bunch of sdhc card sand enelloop AA rechargeable batteries. with this setup you are unlimited by battery or media capacity.
    With the flip i would forget to dl the video and than either had to delete the video in the camera or not record that day. the removable media comes in real handy .
    i use the gorrilipod as my attachment in my car, i use the flip video bicycle/helmet attachment on the bike. i reinforce the stock velcro with a wrap of good velcro on the handle bars and add locktite to the screw and it is a rock solid attachment.i use these camera on my bike and car to record everything.
    oi think they are a great safety device or can be useful as evidence for bad motorist behavior.

  19. Nick March 14, 2009 4:43 pm 

    There are a few hacks I’d love to see someone pull off, especially with the new Flip Mino HD. For instance, how sweet would it be to put a 35mm Adapter, Mic input, and external screen on one. It would easily be the best little camera for ALL internet videos. With those hacks, there wouldn’t be anything you couldn’t do with it.

    I have the knowledge to do the hacks, I just don’t have a couple hundred bucks to drop on a camera, especially considering I’d be voiding the warranty so quickly.

    …Anyone want to donate one to the cause? 😛

  20. Advancing the Story Making Flip cams do more September 28, 2009 6:03 am 

    […] the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention and photographer Russ Roca say he needs to have wide angle options on his cameras.  So, he modified the Flip. I bought a […]

  21. Making Flip cams do more | b-roll.net September 28, 2009 7:48 am 

    […] the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention and photographer Russ Roca say he needs to have wide angle options on his cameras.  So, he modified the Flip. I bought a […]

  22. David January 4, 2010 3:56 am 

    I was very impressed with the featured video at the beginning of this article. I just bought a flip hd and will be adding the wide angle hack soon, and I am considering opening it up and removing the internal mic in exchange for an audio input jack so I can add a boom mic or whatever I deem necessary.

    As for now, my question is: What is the song at the beginning of the first video posting? I want it now! Please share!

  23. David January 4, 2010 5:03 am 

    Ha! Nevermind, it’s stateradio… Found it and then saw it was posted at the end of the video after I hunted it down. 😛

  24. jesus February 26, 2010 6:16 pm 

    It’s a mod…not a hack

  25. Ghost Rider February 26, 2010 6:47 pm 

    Straight off the Wikipedia entry:

    “The terms ‘hack’ and ‘hacking’ are also used to refer to a modification of a program or device to give the user access to features that were otherwise unavailable” — such as wide angle videography in this case.

    It’s also a mod, of course.

  26. Raiyn February 27, 2010 12:39 pm 

    Someone needs to go polish his bowling ball.

  27. Ghost Rider February 27, 2010 3:54 pm 

    Ha ha…which one?

  28. Raiyn February 27, 2010 10:02 pm 
  29. Jake January 13, 2011 2:16 pm 

    Just wanted to leave a “thank you” for your post! I was looking for something just like this to do to my Flip Ultra and your post immediately opened a search for me. I found the Bower .45x magnetic lens on Amazon for $32 and it works great for me! Thanks again for your post!

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