The Kodak PlaySport’s performance, while by no means excellent, was admirable given what it is. It did not particularly excel in any avenue, producing average video, average stills, and average audio, but average across the board translates to success for a $180 rugged pocket camcorder. Plus, the PlaySport Zx5 manages to perform underwater and in other harsh conditions, and can be thrown around considerably more than many other devices in its class.
Regarding the PlaySport’s toughness, Kodak claims it is dust proof, water proof to 10 feet, and can sustain five foot drops (onto plywood). We verified the latter two of these claims, dropping the PlaySport a number of times and letting it go for a swim (though nowhere near a 10-foot depth).
The PlaySport, based on its shooting performance, would not be ideal for the burgeoning amateur director. It would, however, be more than acceptable for an outdoor enthusiast looking to capture his/her adventures, or could be a nice device for kids (especially considering its fortitude).
The entire shooting experience on the Zx5 is easy to master. Turn it on, hit record, and there’s not much more to it. The biggest performance drawback would have to be the way the camcorder handles zooming (it has a 4x digital zoom). It just did not do a very good job, with images becoming distorted and stabilization becoming completely lost. The entire zooming experience was less than smooth.
The macro option, which seems to be a new addition since the Zx3, performed well capturing both stills and video. Like many aspects of the PlaySport there, there were no frills, but rather it just worked and straightforwardly did what it was supposed to. As for underwater recording, the PlaySport did a fine job, but worked best with good lighting and clear water. However, even in the dirty turtle tank, the PlaySport still did an OK job recording video (seen below, with the macro setting also on).
Good lighting is the PlaySport’s best friend and a necessity for quality video. In low-light settings videos became grainy and details were lost.
In daylight settings, however, the PlaySport generally performed well, and managed to capture clear and crisp videos. The other notable, primary video deficiency of the PlaySport is its digital image stabilization. The Zx3 had an option to turn this feature on or off, while the Zx5 has it permanently enabled. Ultimately, things could still easily get bumpy with the Zx5.
While either walking or driving the picture would often bounce around and the PlaySport did not manage smooth recording. However things never got so bad as to be unbearable, and its stabilization is ultimately less a flaw, and more an attribute that could definitely be improved upon.
The PlaySport features a five-megapixel lens, which matches up to the same caliber used in many of today’s smartphones.
Some of the qualms about video quality transfer over to stills as well. With no flash or external light source, the PlaySport struggles in low-light settings. Colors are dulled and clarity is lost. However the adulations transfer over as well and in bright light pictures are rich and clear. And, as with video recording, the PlaySport’s macro function is a welcome addition to still image capture as well.
The PlaySport’s effects are limited, but they did what they were supposed to. Consider the images below, which feature the normal image on the left and an image taken using the 70s Film effect on the right.
Of course, the dominate feature of the next-generation PlaySport is its ability to shoot video underwater. That, coupled with the macro feature, make for some interesting video.
The PlaySport Zx5 does not offer an external microphone input (a complaint we also had with the Zx3), though I don’t think it’s necessary at all, especially considering the Zx5’s targeted user base and the quality of the onboard mic.
The gain on the built-in mic can be adjusted from the settings screen with a slide bar, allowing users to customize its sensitivity. I generally lived in the mid-ranges and had no problem throughout the review period. Sounds are not crystal clear, and the Zx5 would probably not do too well at a concert, but it did a fine job clearly picking up voices and general ambient sound. Also, the microphone is obviously rendered useless (or essentially useless) when the camcorder is underwater.
Operation and Extras
Unlike the Zx3, the Zx5 does not ship with an included HDMI cable, unfortunately leaving the box nearly as barebones as the camcorder itself. The Zx5 ships with a microUSB cord, a wall-adapter for this cord, a wrist-strap, and an abbreviated user’s manual. Any other imaginable perks or accessories are lacking, but such is the case with many budget devices (and with many gadgets in general, regardless of price).
The PlaySport only features 128MB of internal memory, and an SD or SDHC card (up to 32GB) will be required if a user wants to have any real type of storage on the device. On its website, Kodak promises a one-year warranty on the PlaySport, but does not provide specific details on the extent of this coverage.
One attribute of the PlaySport that Kodak has heavily advertised is its proprietary Share button (a feature also present on the EasyShare Sport). It allows users to designate specific websites to publish pictures and videos to, and supports Facebook, Flickr, the Kodak Gallery, YouTube, Twitter, Orkut, Yandex, as well as email and the Kodak Pulse Digital Frame. Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with the Share button, however I personally find it to be a tad unnecessary, and it is generally easier to just open a file manager and slough through the media. However some users could find the service useful.