It's hard to imagine a better and less expensive underwater pocket HD camcorder than the Kodak PlaySport.
Kodak pocket HD camcorders don't receive the recognition they deserve. The Zi8 is arguably the best pocket HD camcorder of the last generation, and the only to feature an external mic jack, but it lacks the brand recognition of the rival Flip.
Still, Kodak persists, and they have done something impressive with the new Kodak PlaySport. That is, produce a waterproof 1080p pocket camcorder for an MSRP of $150.
Does it meet the high standard set by the Zi8? Or is the waterproof PlaySport simply all wet?
BUILD AND DESIGN
The PlaySport is a follow up to the weather resistant Zx1, but more closely resembles a walkie-talkie than it does that pocket camcorder. It has rounded edges, rubberized grips and textured plastics to give it a solid feel. The front side sports all the controls including a two-inch LCD screen, four-way dial, record/photo button as well as buttons to toggle live view and the LCD glare shield, play clips, trash footage and access camera settings. Found on the opposite side is a fixed-focus lens in the upper portion and an on-board mic. A tripod slot and wrist-strap notch are located on the bottom of the device.
On either side are watertight ports with locking covers. One contains a mini-HDMI port, USB out and AV jack just below the power button. The other houses the SD/SDHC slot and the removable lithium ion rechargeable digital camera battery.
The PlaySport measures 4.4 x 2.3 x 0.8 inches and weighs 5.1 ounces with both the battery and an SD card, making it perfectly pocketable and light to boot. It comes in purple, blue or black, all with a white control side.
Ergonomics and Controls
The PlaySport is both comfortable to hold and easy to use. The textured plastic and rubberized edges make it easy to grip even when wet, and the wrist strap keeps the device secure. The buttons and dial are appropriately labeled and require a hearty press, most likely the result of being waterproof.
Everything is laid out logically and I had no trouble operating the camera with one hand. After a couple uses, I could record and snap stills without even looking at the device.
Like most other pocket HD camcorders, the PlaySport lens is almost flush with the unit and has no cover, making it vulnerable to fingerprints or worse. Also, it's extremely easy for the odd finger to make its way across the lens during shooting, something I encountered more than once.
Menus and Modes
The PlaySport offers four recording modes of 1080p/30fps, 720p/60fps, 720p/30fps and WVGA, and one 5 megapixel still option, all rendered through a 1/2.5-inch CMOS sensor. Curiously, you have to switch between the recording modes using the four-way dial. It's simple, but takes some getting used to as it's not labeled on the device and most other camcorder include a dedicated button or menu option for switching between stills and video.
The PlaySport doesn't offer much in its menu, sans a few features and camera settings. These include:
Each menu item is represented by an icon. They are a bit cryptic at first glance and I had to consult the manual to figure out what each represents and does.
Especially confusing is the underwater mode, represented by the symbol "H2O." The manual instructs users to "turn on to take pictures/videos underwater." However, it merely adjusts the picture for underwater shooting, as the device is waterproof regardless if the mode is activated.
At only two-inches, the PlaySport LCD is on the small side of displays and works well within the confines of the device. There aren't many icons cluttering up the space and it's not a touchscreen. It's just large enough the monitor the action and play it back.
Kodak included two controls to fight off the sunlight glare that plagues LCD screens: a glare shield and brightness setting. While neither eliminate the issue, they both work well enough, and the glare shield is easily available as one of the PlaySport's five dedicated buttons. The glare shield alters the display by rendering it in black and white or with high saturation. The footage is not affected.
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