Over the past couple of years, I have reviewed two “pocket cam” video recorders, both from Kodak. While these devices offer portable video, they typically sacrifice image quality, due to their small lenses and sensors, as well as audio, because of their simple mono microphones. The Zoom Q3HD is positioned as a pocket video camera that provides stereo audio recording to go along with HD quality video. After using one given to me by the company, I am impressed with the audio quality. However, don’t expect video to be on the same level.
Getting started with the Zoom Q3HD is very easy. Pleasantly, the camera comes with everything you need—AA batteries and a 2GB SD card. After installing the batteries and memory card, you are good to go.
The Zoom Q3HD is definitely one of the lighter pocket cams I have used. Without the batteries, it weighs less than four ounces. Its makers were able to accomplish this by using materials that make the camera feel rather cheap, despite its $300 suggested price tag. Measuring 2 inches by 5.2 inches by 0.9 inches (width by height by depth), the Zoom Q3HD is truly pocket sized.
There are a number of jacks on the side for audio in and out (LINE input and PHONES/LINE output) and video outputs (TV output and HDMI output). You can plug in external recording devices, including multiple microphones. The HDMI connector allows digital output of videos, although an HDMI cable is not included. In addition, there is a USB 2.0 high-speed cable embedded into the side of the camera for transferring files.
On the back of the Zoom Q3HD is a 2.4-inch LCD screen where you can see what you are recording and monitor sound input levels, remaining recording time and battery level. Here you also navigate the menu screens and playback video. On the back you will also find various functions keys—play, menu, delete and record—along with a d-pad for navigating the various menus. Lastly, there is a built-in monaural speaker on the back.
The front of the camera is dominated by two condenser microphones hidden behind a protective “cage.” They are configured in a 120-degree X/Y pattern designed to provide “three-dimensional” stereo sound.
Operation is rather simple and intuitive. There isn’t much configuring necessary prior to using the cam. You can set the date and time using the on-screen menu, where you can also set the video resolution, audio performance and lighting. You can record video in HD1080p at 30 frames per second (; HD720p at either 30 fps or 60fps; or WVGA at either 30fps or 60fps.
The camera supports PCM audio formats at 16 or 24 bits at 44.1/48/96kHz or AAC with bit rates of 64kbps to 320kbps at 48kHz.
The lighting selection function offers three modes. “Auto” automatically adjusts brightness and color depending on the lighting; “concert lighting” suppresses over-saturation from strong lighting; and “night” is ideal for dark conditions. To start and stop recording, you push the red record button on the back of the camera.
The Zoom Q3HD has a 4x digital zoom, but image quality drops off noticeably as you zoom in.
Video is on par with other pocket cams I have tried; meaning it’s pretty good. Using the camera indoors proved somewhat problematic, as it was difficult to fit everything into its narrow frame. Unfortunately, you are not able to capture still shots.
Where the Zoom Q3HD distinguishes itself is with its audio quality. It has, by far, the best audio I have heard from a pocket cam. The dual microphones offer great range and aren’t drowned out by background noise, a common problem with most other pocket cams. Even when recording in high-volume situations, the sound isn't distorted.
The 2G SD card that comes with the Q3HD holds between 18 minutes and roughly an hour’s worth of recording time, depending of the format you are using. The camera supports SD cards up to 32G in capacity, which will give you a little under five hours of recording time at the highest quality, or nearly 17 hours at the lowest quality.
You can also use the cam to only record audio. In this case, you can record anywhere from 57 minutes to nearly 35 hours with the 2G card or up to 555.5 hours with a 32G card at the lowest quality setting.
The Zoom Q3HD supports Windows XP, Vista and 7 as well as Mac OS X 10.4.6 , 10.5 or 10.6. Transferring files via the built-in USB cable is easy.
One of the biggest flaws of the Zoom Q3HD is its battery life. The company claims that you can get two hours of video recording time or four hours in audio-only mode. However, the batteries that come with the camera lasted less than 90 minutes. So if you do buy this camera, make sure to keep plenty of replacement batteries on hand.
The Zoom Q3HD Handy Video Camcorder offers good-quality video and superb audio. The high-quality audio carries with it a bit of a price premium. If you aren’t concerned with the audio quality of your recordings, you are probably better off opting for a lower-price alternative. Furthermore, the relatively short battery life is a bit of a downer. The camera is definitely geared toward those who rely on audio capture for video blogging, recording concerts, recording interviews, etc. For these purposes, the Zoom Q3HD passes with flying colors.
Zoom Q3HD Handy Video Recorder
$299 (currently $269.15 from Amazon.com)