Friday, April 2, 2010

The good, the bad, and the ugly, about the Kodak Zi8

One of the most fascinating things about modern technology, that it's always on a rapid change. It's certainly apparent in cameras. Not so long ago, cameras were huge, which they could barely shoot a blurry photo, and then run out of battery in mere minutes, with only a space for a picture or two. Now though, just take a look what happened to the camera technology. It's available in the most cheapest cell-phones, in unbelievably small sizes, taking sharp crisp photos, and could hold-up hundreds and hundreds of memorable pictures. In video-shooting, the industry went to the next level. It all started out in 2006, with a company creating what's called the 'Flip'. The idea was to create cheap, 'fit in your pocket', 'point & shoot' camcorder, that records high-definition video. Since then, many rivals started to get in the way, and today, we have the latest rival to the successful Flip - the Kodak Zi8. To read our review, please hit the jump.

Like the Flip, Kodak has applied all the pocket camcorder formulas on to the Zi8. It's small, it's cheap, and records in HD. So what makes the Zi8 so special, compared to the inspired Flip, or all the other competition? First, it's Kodak. Kodak has been in the photo business since 1892! So with nearly 120 years of experience, they surely know what they're doing. Second, it's the Zi8 itself, which is packed with some little extra features that makes it a dominator in this segment. For instance, the input jack for an external microphone, the Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) system, and the SD card slot are little things that makes the product more desirable to own. So in technical specification at least, the Zi8 beats every Flip-like camera on the market. However, what about the real-world?

As soon as I got my hands on the Zi8, I've noticed that it looks a cell-phone, and specially like a Black Berry phone. So almost instantly, I got some sneaky shoots, pretending I'm talking on the phone. However, the whole secretive-shooting experience was ruined by the infamous red LED light, telling everyone that I'm recording. Nonetheless, when I started recording like I'm supposed to, everything got clear - this is an exceptionally great device for HD freaks, that are still amateurs to actually afford a professional video camera.  There are some little niggles though, which separate it from perfection.

Even though this records in a beautiful 1080p quality, and gives a movie-like look, the angle-of-view is very narrow, so you have to move far back to fit certain objects like a person, or a car. To fix this issue, the Zi8 can be easily modified to fit detachable wide-angle lenses, but which could void the warranty. When night falls, the experience gets worse. Since the lens on the Zi8 is pretty small, it's really hard to get a nice quality at night, in which the Zi8 lacks a LED flash to lighten the recording area. Yes, I know the Zi8 costs $170, but I happen to know that LED flash costs less than $1. I think anyone would be happy to pay an extra dollar or two for this simple, yet very useful feature. Then there's the space. Although I like the SD card feature, the internal space is just 128 MB, so it'll only record 3 seconds of HD video! But when you fit a 32 GB SD card, that'll jump up to 4 hours of HD recording, which is amazing for this kind of kit. Therefore, when you get a Zi8 out of the box, you need to consider a wide-angle lens modification, battery-powered LED flashlight, maybe an external microphone, and surely an SD card. However, adding all these camera gear to the Zi8, just ruins the whole 'fit in your pocket' concept!

But yet again, what was I expecting for this kind of price? I'm still astonished by the fact that these days you could buy a very cheap camcorder, that records higher quality video than absolutely all camcorders from 5 years ago; you just need the right environment for it. But here lays down the biggest problem. If this Zi8 has taken the video-camera to the next level, what's going to happen in the next few years? In other words, if Kodak was able to fit all this tech into a small package like the Zi8, then surely it will be available very soon in cell phones, and even webcam laptops. So if the Zi8 costs $170 now, it will worth nothing in couple of years time!

This then sums up the whole review of the Zi8. In my view, it's currently the best pocket-sized camcorder in its class, but still missing some essential features. And if you are patient enough, you'll have this kind of HD quality on your next cell phone.

Please check out the samples below, which I've recorded, and edited using the bundled software with the Kodak Zi8.

*  True full-HD quality
* Cell phone like packaging
* External microphone jack
* SD card slot, up to 32 GB
* Useful macro mode
* Easy to use

* Narrow angle-view
* Apparent noise in low-light situations
* Red light when recording
* No LED flash light
* Technology coming to cell phones and webcam laptops very soon


Sensor type
1 / 2.5-type 5 MP CMOS
  • 6.3 mm, f/2.8, fixed focus
  • 35 mm equivalent: 61 mm (1080p), 46 mm (720p/60 fps, 720p, WVGA), 42 mm (still)
4X digital
Display size
2.5 in.
128 MB internal memory[1], SD/SDHC card expansion slot
Focus modes
normal, macro
Focus range
  • normal: 100 cm–infinity
  • macro: 15 cm
White balance
File formats
  1. video: H.264 (MOV), AAC LC
  2. still: JPEG
Capture mode
  1. 1080p (1920 × 1080, 30 fps)
  2. 720p/60 fps (1280 × 720, 60 fps)
  3. 720p (1280 × 720, 30 fps)
  4. WVGA (848 × 480, 30 fps)
  5. Still (5.3 MP, 16:9 widescreen, interpolated)
yes (monoaural)
I/O interface
USB 2.0 (high speed), AV out, HDMI, DC in, external microphone jack (support stereo)
Tripod mount
1/4 in. standard
KODAK Li-Ion Rechargeable Digital Camera Battery KLIC-7004, AC adapter
2.4 × 4.5 × 0.9 in.
110 g (3.9 oz) without batteries

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