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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.