Last year I reviewed the Kodak Zi8, an impressive pocket-sized video camera that offers HD video recording. Recently, I had a chance to review another Kodak video camera—the Playsport Zx3. This camera, which was loaned to me for the review, is another HD video camera that fits in your pocket, and this one is waterproof down to 10 feet.
Measuring 4.4 × 2.3 × 0.8 inches and weighing just over five ounces, the Playsport Zx3 is designed to be carried in your pocket. The back has a four-way dial pad that you use to navigate the various menus. The Record/OK button is located in the middle of the dial pad, and while this placement is somewhat intuitive, the button is not labeled. There are also four dedicated-function buttons for Review Mode, Delete, Settings, and Liveview/LCD Glare Shield. These buttons are a little stiff, probably due to the waterproof construction, so a hard press is required in order to make them respond. The way these buttons are laid out, the Playsport is definitely designed for right-handed persons. However, the same layout makes it very easy to operate the Playsport with one hand.
On the sides are waterproof doors covering the AV and mini-HDMI out ports, charging port, chargeable lithium ion battery and SD/SDHC card slot. Kodak is nice enough to include a HDMI cable with the camera. Furthermore, you have the option of charging the battery with a separate charger or charging the camera with the included USB cable charger.
I was impressed by the solid feel of the camera. Some cameras I have used feel cheap, but the Playsport has the feel of a well-constructed piece of electronics. The front of the camera has the fixed-focus lens and onboard mic. The lens does not have a cover, so you want to take care to avoid smudging it with your fingers or scratching it. There are also rubberized grips on the edges of the camera, which make it easy to hold, even when wet.
The Playsport offers four recording modes—1080 pixels (p) at 30 frames per second; 720p/60fps; 720p/30fps; and WVGA. The 1080p option is, in theory, a nice feature, but given the camera’s small lens and sensor, the picture quality is distorted when shooting at such high resolution. At 730p/60fps, you get good video quality without the distortion.
The Playsport has an underwater shooting mode as well, adjusting the picture for underwater videos. However, since the camera lacks an external light, you will want to be sure you are shooting in clear water and in well-lighted conditions. Despite Kodak’s claims that the Playsport offers “incredible low-light performance,” my experience was quite the opposite. Without sufficient lighting, stills and video alike were very dark, almost to the point of being indistinguishable.
Using the dial pad, you operate the 4x digital zoom. Without reading the manual, discovering this functionality comes through trial and error, and the zoom is not labeled. The lens itself is fixed-focus, meaning it can’t focus on things closer than 40 inches.
Sound quality from the onboard mono microphone is okay. It would be nice if the Playsport had an external mic jack like that of the Zi8. When I was filming outside, the Playsport’s mic picked up a lot of wind noise.
The camera also supports five-megapixel still photos. The picture quality is about that of a typical cell phone camera. I definitely wouldn’t buy the camera for taking stills, but having the option is nice.
The Playsport is truly a point-and-shoot camera, with fully automatic focus, exposure, and white balance. The camera also has Playsport EIS—electronic image stabilization. This does an above-average job of keeping your images stable while shooting.
Before you start using the Playsport, you will want to get a SD/SDHC card. The camera comes with 128M of solid state memory, but the vast majority of it is already in use. You can take about 10 pictures and less than 10 seconds of video with the available space. The Playsport supports memory cards up to 32G in size, which equates to up to 10 hours of video at 720p/30fps. It would have been nice if the camera came with a memory card instead of leaving you stranded until you buy your own.
Battery life for the Playsport leaves something to be desired. At the highest resolution, the camera offers less than two hours of continuous shooting.
At $150, the Playsport is very wallet-friendly. It is affordable enough to allow it to be a camera you take along to the beach or pool without necessarily having to rely on it as your primary camera.
The Kodak Playsport is the perfect vacation video camera. It takes high-quality video without breaking the bank. Throw in the fact that it’s waterproof, and that makes the Playsport perfect for the beach or poolside. The shortcomings that the Playsport faces—video distortion at high resolution, below-average sound quality, etc.—are shared by similar video cameras. As I said before, the Playsport is affordable enough for it to be your secondary camera when you don’t want to risk a more expensive device.
Kodak Playsport Video Camera Model Zx3
$149.95 (currently $129.00 from Amazon.com)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.