Kodak must be really high on its PlaySport line, as the company has already released two generations of the rugged pocket camcorder, and now has given the second-generation PlaySport Zx5 a fresh coat of paint.
Dubbed the Burton Edition PlaySport after the popular snowboard maker, the camcorder hits the market just in time for ski and snowboard bums to hit the slopes. Packaged with it is a gripping tripod (similar to a small JOBY), HDMI cable, carrying case, and 4GB SDHC card.
Is that enough to make the new PlaySport the king of the mountain? Find out in this full review.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The Burton Edition PlaySport retains the same size as the Zx5, measuring 2.3 × 4.4 × 0.7-inches and best resembles a walkie talkie with its rectangular shape and rounded edges. At less than a third of a pound, it’s easy to stash in a pocket and forget, which can be curse on the mountain should it accidentally fall out.
In a confounding move made for pure aesthetic reasons, the new PlaySport is white, black and blue which are not exactly colors that stand out on snow-white mountain sides. Perhaps Kodak should have made it bright yellow or red like the previous-generation PlaySport Burton variant, which would undoubtedly be easier to find in the snow.
Otherwise, there is little to complain about in the PlaySport’s now tried and true design, and I especially like the rubberized bits and textured plastic that make it fun to hold and operate.
The front of the camcorder sports a recessed 5.5mm lens and mic, while the back features the 2.0-inch display. The mode, play, trash, settings and share buttons are underneath to the left, in a semi-circle around the four-way controller and record button.
To keep the PlaySport waterproof, all ports are tucked away behind flip-up covers, with the HDMI out on the left (when looking at the lens), and the SDHC slot and microUSB input that doubles are the charging input, on the right.
Rounding things out are the power button on the top of the device and the speaker and tripod receptacle on the bottom.
All told, it’s a convincing build and design, one that Kodak claims can withstand drops of five feet. I don’t doubt that in the least, because I can safely say it survived a few tosses around my yard, some of which were definitely higher than five feet.
Ergonomics and Controls
Given its compact size and design, it obvious that Kodak designed the PlaySport for one-handed operation. No question, Kodak succeeded. Everything is intuitive and easy to reach via thumb extension, both left- and right-handed users. After only a short while with the Burton PlaySport, I was able to operate it with one hand while only glancing at it.
If there is a complaint to be had, it’s in the buttons. They are simply not satisfying to push – in fact, they feel mushy, especially the four-way controller. This has been a common complaint with Kodak’s camcorders and it’s a shame they haven’t done much to address it. There is nothing worse in this regard than pressing away at a button and having to rely on only the display to signify success. Give me an audible click and some real physical feedback, please!
Menus and Modes
The PlaySport is not a feature rich camera, in terms of shooting options anyway. As such, the menu is sparse and shallow. Items include:
Kodak hit it just right by including a great selection of basic options, including a 720/60p mode for shooting fast and active scenes like ski and snowboard jumps and LCD brightness controls. It can get bright and sunny above the clouds, making it impossible to see a dim LCD.
At two inches, the PlaySport display is pretty tiny, especially in a world of 4.3-inch smartphones. I suppose the small display is the price paid for a compact design, but I wouldn’t mind a few extra centimeters if it meant a larger display.
Compounding the problem is that the display is letterboxed when shooting, meaning there are two black boxes (top and bottom) framing the display. That eliminates about a fifth of the total coverage area.
On the plus side, the brightness setting and glare shield actually work quite well. The screen won’t get bright enough to completely cut through bright glare from the sun, but it makes things a bit easier on the eyes.
The PlaySport is a rugged camcorder, so it need only take competent video and stills, and survive abuse. It meets and exceeds expectations on all categories.
As mentioned earlier, Kodak claims the Burton Edition PlaySport can survive five-foot drops, as well as water depths up to 10 feet, and it is dustproof. I can’t validate the water depth and dust claims, but I can attest to its toughness. After abusing it for a few weeks, I’m confident it will survive the occasional spills and wipeouts associated with snowboarding and skiing.
Like the other PlaySports before it, the Burton Edition PlaySport automates nearly every shooting function, including focus, exposure, white balance, and any other picture control you can think of – and it does a reasonably good job. There is a facial detection feature that does nothing discernable, and this PlaySport, unlike the previous Zx3 model, includes a macro mode for shooting up close. The zoom function is limited to a 4x digital that destroys the picture quality and is best left untouched. And finally, there is an underwater mode that Kodak claims compensates for the different light dynamics with underwater shooting. I’ll have to take their word for it as I didn’t notice much difference with it on or off.
The various shooting filters are fun to mess around with, if not a bit gimmicky, but the various video resolutions are a nice addition, including the smooth-as-silk 60 frames per second mode.
Video, Still, Audio Performance
The Burton Edition PlaySport shoots the same video quality as the Zx5, which means that it looks good in decent lighting conditions, and suffers greatly in low or challenging light, complete with image grain as well as detail and color loss. This is the situation with all pocket camcorders, which really have to up their game if they want to compete with the new crop of smartphones that are capable of shooting decent video.
Of course, you can’t dunk a smartphone underwater and expect it to shoot video, which is exactly what you can do with the PlaySport. Underwater video works as advertised, but you won’t be able to see much in murky water given there is no external light source on the Burton Edition.
The Burton Edition can also survive bumps too, but the digital image stabilization will warp the picture on significantly bumpy video. Keep that in mind when attempting to film any first-person mogul runs.
Stills are stuck at five megapixels and do a reasonable job for a pocket camcorder. Picture quality is the same as video: good light means good pictures, low light means lousy pics. Again, with smartphones taking better and better pics, Kodak really needs to up its game in the quality department.
Audio pickup is relatively poor on the camcorder, which makes sense, considering it’s sealed tight as to make it waterproof. There is no external mic input, and any subject will sound muddled unless they are speaking directly at the device.
Operation and Extras
The Burton Edition ships with some great extras that make it a compelling buy, including a small gripping tripod, 4GB SDHC card, carrying case, remote, USB cable, wall adapter, AV cable, and HDMI cable. The tripod is especially fun and I found it to be especially useful, and the inclusion of the HDMI cable is a big plus considering most manufacturers exclude it.
The Burton Edition PlaySport also ships with Arcsoft Media Impression software, which is a basic editing suite that is not as buggy as some others I’ve used, but still relatively useless. In addition, the camcorder has a social media tagging feature on the camera for easier uploads to Flickr, Facebook, and other sites, which I found to be also useless.
I’m still taken aback that there are underwater HD camcorders available for less than $200. Five years ago that would have been unthinkable. That said, the Burton Edition is a decent device in the shrinking pocket camcorder market, though no different than the Zx5 that came before it, sans the funky design.
The Zx5 can be had for as little as $110 at the time of this review. The Burton Edition PlaySport has an MSRP of $200 at launch, but it includes fun accessories not found in the base model, including the tripod and HDMI cable.
The Burton Edition will undoubtedly come down in price, then it will be a compelling buy because it’s a good camcorder. Until then, the cheaper Zx5 is the best bet.