With the introduction of the Zi8, Kodak brought full 1080p HD video capture into their low-cost pocket camcorder lineup for the first time. It offers a step up from their 720p model - the Zi6 - by adding a few more bells and whistles including electronic image stabilization, an external mic jack, 5.3 megapixel still image capture, a more stylish and compact design, and of course, full HD video.
While there are many competitors in the pocket camcorder market today, like Pure Digital's Flip, Kodak's Zi8 is $20 cheaper than both of their HD models and records in higher resolutions than Flip's 720p HD offerings. That's right - for under $200 you can get HD video onto your computer and TV screen without much strain via the USB arm, or through SD/SDHC high-speed memory cards, making it the ultimate in convenience for digital users. But does the bargain price mean a trade-off in quality? Read on.
BUILD AND DESIGN
Slightly larger than my Blackberry Curve, the Kodak Zi8 cuts a figure that's more like a smartphone than a camcorder. Our review unit is an aqua color, but it comes in three different varieties total, including black and "raspberry." The Zi8 is a combination of hard plastic and what appears to be aluminum.
It is designed to fit in a pocket easily, and does so well, although without a retractable lens with a trap door I was somewhat concerned about dust and lint getting on the lens when I had it stowed away. Simple in design, the camera is different from the Zi6 in that it has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery instead of AA's.
Ergonomics and Controls
The Zi8 is a pocket camcorder that fits into compact spaces like large pockets and bags easily. Upon first examination of the Zi8, it does remind you of a Blackberry, with ergonomics that lend itself to holding it in two hands like you're about to type out an email on a QWERTY keyboard.
The design is simple, and intended to be easy to use. On the bottom right of the Zi8 is a trap door for the USB connector that connects to an articulated rubber arm so that you can move it around in any direction and hook it up directly to your computer without any impediments. As you move up along the right side, you'll see the trap door for the SD/SDHC. Farther up is the power button.
On the left side of the camera is the HDMI port, Stereo monoaural mic jack, and a plughole for recharging the battery. And of course on the back of the Zi8 is the lens, looking no larger than a cell phone pinhole camera. On top of the pocket camcorder is a switch that toggles between macro and normal focusing. The front of the Zi8 features a nice 2.5 inch LCD, a settings button, delete key, record mode button, a review button, a speaker, and lastly, a four-way controller joystick button with a red dot that controls the shooting aspect as well as toggling between controls.
The Zi8 has a certain amount of bulk to it, giving it a sturdy feel in the hand. The control layout is very minimalistic in nature and isn't difficult to figure out without reading the manual. Playback is simple; you hit the playback button and then press the red controller to maneuver through the different clips you've captured.
The biggest deficiency of the Kodak Zi8 in terms of control operation is that red button - it can be a bit clunky and tricky to master. For example, when you turn on the Zi8 you are first presented with a screen that gives you the choice of 1080p/720p: 60fps/720p/WVGA/Camera - these are the five different camera modes available to the shooter.
You have to switch over to one of these modes that you need by moving left or right, but when I first tried a new mode, the red button just clicked instead of scrolled. You almost have to dig your finger into the groove of the red button to guide it, instead of clicking on it. All in all, there's not much to learn about the Kodak Zi8, since its functionality is no more than a point-and-shoot digital video camera. It's not elegant, but it gets a thumbs up for simplicity.
Menus and Modes
The red button is the gateway to changing and controlling all functionalities on the Zi8. However, there really isn't much you can control. Once you press the Settings button, you have a very small amount of options to choose from, including changing the date, toggling between Video Out NTSC/PAL, LCD brightness, Sounds, External Microphone Gain, Electronic Image Stabilization, Face Detection, Format Memory Card, and Camera Info. Take that as a pro or a con, depending on how you'd like to use the camera.
Shooting modes are comprised of four different video modes and one digital still mode. Here they are in more detail:
This is the extent of control over the video, and everything else is pretty straightforward. You'll hit playback to review video, click on the shooting settings to change from different video resolutions and the camera, and use the trash button to delete images. If you've ever used a digital camera, you won't get left in the proverbial dust.
Slightly larger than the Zi6, the Zi8's LCD is a 2.5 inch diagonal playback window (Zi6's is 2.4 inches). You can control the level of brightness through the settings menu, which is good for varied light conditions. Most of the video I captured was in dull and dreary fall skies, so it wasn't an issue for me.
Playback on the LCD was quite nice. I was unable to find the exact resolution of the screen, but I will say video and images looked pretty good on the little monitor.
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