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Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

We have come a long way from the days of pocket-sized digital cameras. Now we have high-definition video recorders that we can carry in our pockets. One of these is the Kodak Zi8. Over a couple of weeks I was able to use one loaned to me by Kodak. The camcorder offers an impressive array of features at a budget-friendly price.

High Definition Video

The Zi8 allows you to capture “high-definition” (HD) 1080p (pixel) video at 30 frames-per-second (fps). You can also record video in 720p at either 30fps or 60fps, or WVGA (480p at 30fps). Videos are encoded as QuickTime MPEG-4 MOV files.

The Zi8 has image stabilization, something rarely found in pocket camcorders. In addition there is a face-detection feature that allows you to lock on a subject and then the video recorder will adjust its exposure accordingly.

I used the video camera to record about an hour’s worth of video at my goddaughter’s birthday party. Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the video, both on the camera’s display and on a computer screen. Colors were very much true-to-life and the digital image stabilization provided sharp images.

For Windows users, you can plug the Zi8 into the USB port on your computer and install ArcSoft MediaImpression software that allows for high-bitrate-playback on your computer. Mac OS X users may have a problem playing HD video on their systems without seeking a third-party software solution. The ArcSoft MediaImpression software also allows you to trim clips, adjust settings such as contrast, color and brightness, and splice together clips into a single movie. You can even add custom background music and titles. Mac users can transfer movies over the USB connection and use iMovie to edit them.

Although it is touted as being “high definition,” playback on large-screen HD televisions was somewhat pixilated. You are able to do this because the Zi8 comes with an HDMI port—a rarity at this price-point. Furthermore, an HDMI cable is included.

Sound Quality

The built-in microphone of the Zi8 did a pretty good job of capturing the subjects I was recording, as long as they weren’t too far away. For those looking for better audio performance, the Zi8 is unique in offering an external microphone option. You can even go so far as to use headphones as an external mic.

Still Photography

The Zi8 doubles as a digital camera with 5-megapixel still-image capture. You can toggle between “macro mode” which allows you to focus close-up objects or people. However, I was not impressed by the image quality of still photos, mainly because it is difficult to depress the joystick (which is also the shutter button) without making the camera move. As a result, pictures tended to be blurry.

Ease of Use

The Zi8 is very user friendly. You navigate the camera’s menus using four dedicated buttons. From these menus you can adjust settings for such things as screen brightness, video audio levels, or time stamp (time and date); turn the image stabilization on or off; delete; and capture and play back video. Alternatively, you can use the center-positioned joy stick to navigate the menus as well as for captures.

For framing shots, as well as playing back video or displaying still shots, the Zi8 has a 2.5-inch LCD display. Despite its size, I found images to appear very clear and colors bright.

The Zi8 is a compact piece of technology, measuring 2.4 inches by 4.5 inches and weighing in at less than five ounces with the battery.

BatteryLife

The Zi8 comes with a lithium ion rechargeable battery, which is an improvement over its predecessor, the Zi6, which used AA batteries. One of the few issues I have with the Zi8 is its battery life (or seeming lack thereof). Starting with a full charge, I was only able to get slightly more than an hour’s worth of recording on a single charge. I found out this was due in large part to the image stabilization feature, which uses a significant amount of power. Based on other reviews I have read, disabling image stabilization will improve battery life by roughly a third. Even then, a backup battery (or more) is a must if you plan on recording for an extended period of time.

The Zi8 has a flip-out USB cable that you can plug into your computer for charging. In addition, it is nice to see that it also comes with an AC adapter so you can plug it into a wall outlet.

What’s Missing?

My only other gripe about the Zi8 is that it doesn’t come with a carrying case. Instead, you have to buy one separately. The Zi8’s body is plastic, which makes it susceptible to scratching. If you do carry it around in your pockets, be careful not to put it in a pocket along with keys or other sharp objects.

Also, be prepared to supply your own CD card, as one does not come with the camera. According to Kodak, you can get about 20 minutes of recording time per gigabyte of storage space used. However, this is at 720p at 30fps. At the highest image quality setting (1080p at 60fps), a 2G (gigabyte) SD card will allow you to record about 15 minutes of video. The Zi8 supports high-capacity SD cards (HCSD), which offer capacities as high as 32G.

Bottom Line

Despite its few minor shortcomings—short battery life and lack of an SD card—the Kodak Zi8 offers high-quality video recording that doesn’t break the bank. It also offers a few surprising features one would only expect to find on a much more expensive camera—HDMI connection and 1080p HD recording. While it isn’t intended to replace true HD video cameras, the Zi8 Pocket Video Camera will more than meet the needs of the average videographer.

Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera
www.kodak.com

$179.95

Pros

  • HD video recording at a bargain price
  • Supports an external mic
  • Image stabilization

Cons

  • Short battery life, especially when using image stabilization feature
  • Poor still photo quality
  • SD memory card not included
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


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