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Review: Kodak Zi8 – Gift or Garbage?

This is a complete review of my new pocket HD camcorder, the Kodak Zi8. Since my unboxing of this HD cam a while ago, I have taken so much footage with this baby it will make your head spin! Since I’ve spent so much time with it now, I have a good idea of what this camera can do, so here is the review!

[play video below for the quick version :mrgreen: ]

Pros

Pocket-Sized

This camcorder is tiny! Its size was one of the many things that attracted me to it; the idea that a camcorder can be “grab-and-go” and still take decent video is still a new concept today. Despite being only as big as your wallet, the display screen is larger than any pocket cam I’ve seen at 2.5 inches wide.

Easy Navigation

The buttons are very straightforward and everything is clearly labelled for the novice camera user. Basically, the controls are placed in a format where you would place them. This makes operation very natural, causing you not to notice the slightly sluggish response when pushing them.

Storage and File Transfer

The video camera comes with a USB cable as well as having a built-in USB plug for charging and file transfer. The data is stored on a removable SD card. Though some people disagree with me on this I enjoy having my videos saved onto a card, as I can change it with a flick of the wrist without worrying about transferring files immediately. There is no internal HDD, so buying an SD card is required as one does not come with the camera.

1080p Video

When this camera came out in September, it boasted 1920 x 1080 resolution at 30 FPS and 720p at 60 FPS, the higher frame rate allowing for fast motion shots. At the time most other models in this class only had 720p (1920 x 720) at 30 FPS. When it was released no camera could compete with the Zi8’s specs.

External Audio Capability

I could go on and on about the external mic jack feature. There’s just something about having the option to go above and beyond with sound and not have to worry about sync issues. Unlike any pocket camcorder before it you can improve the otherwise marginal audio of the Kodak Zi8 by plugging in your own recording device. I tested it with a wired lapel mic and a wireless microphone device, both times being blown away with the quality.

Price Point


Retailing initially at $180, this HD camcorder almost instantly dropped in price, being available even in retail stores at a low cost of $150. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, this is an amazing quality to price ratio.

Cons

No In-Camera Tuning Options

Though you can adjust the brightness with this Kodak model, you can’t adjust contrast, color, or white balance. People often look color-less in natural lighting, as well as unusually grainy in low-light situations. Having no ability to tweak these settings in-camera leaves you powerless to change the outcome of the video until you get to the editing phase.

Bad Digital Image Stabilization

When Kodak advertised this they remarked:

“Get sharper videos and less blur thanks to built-in image stabilization, and capture your friends in their best light with smart face tracking technology!”

The bottom line is that neither of these features changed the footage to any noticeable degree. If you’re moving and not steadying yourself on something the playback will be bouncing around like a ping-pong ball, and there’s no real observable auto object focusing. This was a disappointment.

1080p!

How can this be a pro as well as a con? Well, though this small HD cam does record in the resolution it claims, you would never want to actually show your video on “the big screen” in 1080p despite what the manufacturer says. The video quality comes out grainy and unclear, and you’ll end up shrinking it down to 720p anyway.

Unrecognised Sound Format

This was the biggest hassle I encountered with this handheld camcorder. I ended up wasting hours and hours trying to import the video into an editor that the audio codecs were compatible with. I tried Sony Vegas Pro 8 (a professional product), Kdenlive, Windows Movie Maker and more. This camera is really only designed to work with the (awful) software that it comes with. I ended up transcoding the files to a more desirable format just so I could use the software that I wanted to use.

The Verdict

I wanted to love the Zi8, I really did. Perhaps if I wasn’t promised high quality, stable videos with amazing color, I would have. Don’t get me wrong; it is certainly worth all 15,000 pennies. It may be worth even more than that to you if you mount it to a tripod and capture landscape footage, or set up your own lighting when in a “human setting.” However, if you’re looking for a camera that captures people nicely in natural light, you may want to spring for a real “hybrid” camcorder. If you give it a bit more time and catch the 2nd generation HD pocketcams, you’re sure to get an even better bang for your buck.

  • Excellent review. The Samsung is more along the lines of what I’ve been looking at.

  • Cokelogic

    Thanks for the heads up. The Zi8 looked too good to be true and I guess it is. I just want that cheap and easy jump to 1080p, but it looks like it’s going to be a little longer. Just don’t want companies to get lazy make let 720p the standard.

  • I think that the major problem here is that you expected too much. Sensor is too tiny and noise can quickly cause problems in low-light setting. I think that decent 1080p will start when you multiply the price by 10.

  • Noobs

    The .mov format is a mac qiucktime format, do you have a mac to test it on?
    Seing most players even have had problems handling it i suppose even less can edit.

  • bpx

    See i just would never be able to tolerate something that doesn’t even have the common decency to use an up-to-date or commonly recognised audio codec. Even with 1080p love inside, its just not something i would spend my money on.

  • Randy

    Nixie, How is the Linux support? Is it possible to get the video off the device from Linux?

    • Yes, I retrieved the video files easily and edited them in Kdenlive, but there was a codec issue so I was forced to convert them. It looks like .mov (mac) formats don’t play nice with open source programs.

  • thanks for the review.

    hope you would do some more GNU/Linux related stuff 🙂

  • sulla

    Hi Nixie!

    It uses h264 video and aac audio in a quicktime mpeg 4 container.

    You can try just renaming the files to .mp4 …some programs have problems with certain combination of codecs and containers.

    hope that it works for you 🙂

  • .mov works with iMovie HD, iMovie 08/09, Final Cut Pro/Express, After Effects, and most all Mac editing programs. It’s more for the Mac side of things. I would assume that they decided to use .mov, because Macs are used more in the film world.

  • Jonn

    The video was just what I wanted to know about the camera not that I know if in fact that will work or not have you tried Xine I use it to convert things and play movies other than that I am not sure what it can do since I haven’t had much time to play with it.

    Merry Christmas dear if I knew the sound file it makes I might be able to come up with a good solution might not. Anyways have a good one and hope to see more in the future.

  • sorry it did not live upto your expectations. Live and learn huh? 🙂

  • Carl

    I got a zi8 shortly after you had first mentioned it as it looked way better than anything else in its class. I haven’t gotten to crazy with it just yet but I will say for my purposes it works just fine. Some caveats though. I use it on a tripod in a well lit room, face tracking and stabilization off (actually make scenes with motion way better) and an external mic. Under such controlled conditions its perfect and at the very least worth the $150. For those spur of the moment video needs I have an iPhone 3GS which is surprisingly good in many situations.

    As for using the actual video files, I had no problems editing with OpenShot or Kdenlive and they played fine in VLC and MPlayer with no conversion. I do usually install every single codec I can find from the Ubuntu repos, so its there somewhere.

  • diablo10000

    mov files can be converted hun check out winmpg.com there is a program there that can convert it. i use it all the time to convert avi to dvd-mpeg but it works for a whooooole lot more check it out

  • Bob

    Works with iMovie and Final Cut on the Mac.

  • Ryan

    Might I suggest the use of VLC (at http://www.videolan.org/) to play or transcode the H.264 and AAC files from the Zi8? It works with MacOS X, Windows, and Linux.

  • Hi Nixie,

    i have files from this cam too, and i m not able to work with it.
    First i decode some files with kino. this works but i have so much files that i try to edit them directly with kdenlive. i dont need all the sound,so maybe you can tell me what kind of properties i have to take to edit them in kdenlive?

    thx
    Ina Blaubeer

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  • Nick

    I HAVE THE SAME PROBLEM WITH THE AUDIO CODEC TOO!!!! I use Corel VideoStudio Pro X3 to edit my videos and i love that program, I started using it with my old Standard Def camera until i recently got the Zi8 for my birthday. It pissed me off when I was editing a video for about 30min and then it gets an error and that it couldn’t be specified! and it happened right when I started playing the video back. I was trying different ways to see what the problem was; one way was that I played the video back (on the editor) with the audio on mute, and i didn’t get the error. Then i un-muted it and as soon as I started playing it back, it gave me the same error…

    So is there an audio converter that I can use to change the audio codec and still keep the same quality video?

  • smilechen

    How to convert Kodak video to Windows movie maker avi wmv, zi8 to movie maker?
    Read full article visit http://www.kodak-converter.com/Kodak-zi8/convert-Kodak-zi8-to-Windows-movie-maker-Windows.html

  • smilechen

    Kodak video to Keynote Converter for mac is an excellent video converter boasting of impeccable features and user-friendly interface along with excellent efficiency in handling.
    http://www.kodak-converter.com/kodak-playsport/convert-kodak-playsport-to-keynote-mac.html

  • smilechen

    Kodak video to Keynote Converter for mac is an excellent video converter boasting of impeccable features and user-friendly interface along with excellent efficiency in handling. It can convert HD mov to mpeg-2 format that Keynote supports, such as Kodak Playsport to mpeg-2, Kodak zi6 to mpeg-2, Kodak zx1 to mpeg-2, Kodak zi8 to mpeg-2, it can also support for batch loaded files with its easy-to-use interface.

  • Amy S

    Thanks for the review!

    Which wireless audio devices do you recommend with the zi8. I want to film teachers from the back of their classrooms — audio is important! THANKS!

    • Did you ever get this info? I have a zi8 and am looking into wireless mics.

  • Troy

    Hi there!

    This review was helpful on the super-dooper level. I was debating getting the Zi8 with studio lighting for podcast/web presentation purposes on my new site. However I love your set up.

    Would you be willing to let me in on your production secrets? 😉 I’d love to know what camera you are using to capture 720p in the above video and if you are using 3-point lighting (and the wattage per lamp). Soft boxes or umbrellas or none of the above? Or perhaps it’s just that the talent looks so amazing 🙂 on her own! haha!

    i’d love to know your secret! 🙂

    thanks again for this review! but i like your “look” oh so much better!