Since the Zi8 is a pocket camcorder, it seemed appropriate to record video in various lighting scenarios to see how it would hold up, especially in low-light conditions. It was nice to also see when taking it out into the field that the rechargeable battery gave it quite a bit of shooting time
The Zi8 test model stood up to cold conditions and howling winds, and was able to still get off some pretty decent footage. However, I do lament the fact that the video's white balance cannot be changed at all, making some of the video even on a well-lit day quite drab and noisy.
The Zi8 yielded some varied results in the field, mainly due to the little amount of control you have over this pocket camcorder. Size and features are a trade off when you are speaking in terms of cameras or camcorders. The Zi8 is a no-frills model with an eye-catching video resolution - full hi-def video - but not much else.
It has a slightly larger 1/2.5-type 5 megapixel CMOS sensor than its predecessor, making it prone to some of the inherent problems of smaller sensors like noise and degradation, especially in low light. In all the varied conditions I shot with the Zi8, I found some things I liked, as well as things I disliked. Those things included distortion on moving vertical images, excessive noise in gray skies, and poor low-light performance even in well-lit rooms. On the other hand, I liked its ease of use, faithful color reproduction, (very low) price and the ability to choose different frames rates and resolutions.
The Zi8 has a 6.3mm f/2.8 fixed focus lens with a 35mm equivalent of 61mm for 1080p, 46mm for 720p/60 fps, 720p/30 fps and WVGA, and 42mm for stills. Like the Zi6, the Zi8 has a macro function. It doesn't work quite as well in the 1080p mode mostly because you have to get very close to your desired object, making it a bit blurry no matter how hard you try to steady your hand. The Zi8 is best used for a subject a little off into the distance, about 10 feet or so, to get you in the right spot to capture enough of the 16:9 aspect ratio.
Since the Zi8 uses a fixed lens, it offers only a digital 4x zoom function. Unfortunately, it's so sluggish that it isn't really worth using. Using digital zoom is also less desirable since the video is interpolated to stretch out the effect of an optical zoom.
I also found the same rolling shutter problem that we spotted in our review of the Kodak Zx1. When using it to capture fast moving horizontal video, such as panning quickly left and right, vertical lines appear to wobble. As we noted in that review, CMOS sensors are prone to this type of distortion and they generally aren't apparent in most video.
The resolution of the video you can capture with the Zi8 is pretty much at the top of the heap as far as pocket camcorders go. However, you'll still find that videos captured under certain conditions are plagued with noise, artifacts and several distortions.
Also, it is hard to differentiate between 1080p and 720p at 30 fps, and even after very close inspection on an HD TV and my computer monitor, I found no real difference. The real champion here is the 720p/60 fps video setting, which has much more sharpness and fluidity compared to the 1080p/720p 30 fps modes, which are softer and somewhat more distorted, with more grain.
Although the 30 fps frame rates are more prone to issues like noise and distortion, it still creates decent HD video, especially at this price point. If you want the video to really pop, you need a bright lighting like a sunny day or a well-lit scene.
The Kodak Zi8 certainly doesn't produce the best HD video in the world. However, it does offer more flexibility than what most digital cameras can produce. It's not going to beat out your dedicated HD camcorder any time soon, though.
The 5.3 megapixel digital stills from the Zi8 were not amazing, but still surprised me. They are interpolated images, so they aren't a true 5-megapixel image. They were well exposed in good lighting, but noisy in low light.
The images are captured in the 16:9 aspect ratio, and there is no zoom power, so you'll have to position yourself accordingly. Also exposure is completely controlled by the camera, setting the white balance, exposure values, etc. This doesn't leave much room to really manipulate any shooting settings. The quality is slightly better than a cell phone, but it certainly won't take the place of even a low-end point and shoot.
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