Kodak Zi8 1080p HD Pocket Video Camera Long-Term Review
Camcorders use to be huge clunkers that were operated by using tapes of different varieties and were such a pain to bring along wherever you wanted to go. Today that is a thing of the past and we are so privileged to be living in such a digital media generation that has never seen this level of convenience. Only a few years back were little pocket camcorders released to the market and while they weren’t the best by a long shot, they along with cell phone cameras forever changed the way the whole world communicated with each other. And I cannot forget to mention what platform made this sharing possible; YouTube. That in itself has become, whether you like it or not, a worldwide platform of sharing for videos and photos for everyone to see and experience.
As we come to the closing chapters of 2010, many will be in the shopping malls looking for the best gift for their siblings, relatives, parents and friends. One of the best gifts you can pick up for yourself or others have been the HD pocket video cameras. These little devices have been selling like hot cakes and we are at the pinnacle of pocket HD video camera technology. It has come to the point that one can even consider a pocket HD video camera over a traditional camcorder type.
One of these makers of little but powerful HD pocket video cameras has been Kodak. Kodak is a household name synonymous with photography and imaging solutions and has over 100 years of experience. They weren’t interested in missing out on the hot selling HD pocket video camera market and have released a slew of product offerings and today I will be reviewing one of these and will offer my opinion on whether Kodak has a gem on its hands and if you should even consider picking one up this holiday season with your hard earned money. I have logged around five months with the Kodak Zi8 and it has been in and Canada and has seen a trip to China, so I will share my thoughts and impressions.
I present to you the Kodak Zi8 1080p HD Pocket Video Camera Review on ModSynergy.com.
‘With the slogan "you press the button, we do the rest," George Eastman put the first simple camera into the hands of a world of consumers in 1888. In so doing, he made a cumbersome and complicated process easy to use and accessible to nearly everyone.
Since that time, the Eastman Kodak Company has led the way with an abundance of new products and processes to make photography simpler, more useful and more enjoyable. In fact, today's Kodak is known not only for photography, but also for images used in a variety of leisure, commercial, entertainment and scientific applications. Its reach increasingly involves the use of technology to combine images and information--creating the potential to profoundly change how people and businesses communicate.’
Kodak Zi8 1080p HD Pocket Video Product Overview
Capture every experience with the Zi8 in stunning 1080p HD video. Stay in focus while you're on the move with integrated image stabilization.
It’s small enough to fit in your pocket, but why would you ever want to put it there? Whether out on the town or just hanging with friends, the KODAK Zi8 Pocket Video Camera captures every experience in stunning 1080p HD video. Stay in focus while you’re on the move with integrated image stabilization. Then kick back and watch all the action on your HDTV or share your scene on Facebook™ or YouTube™ with a flick of the built-in USB arm. The Zi8 has all you need to define yourself in high definition.
Kodak Zi8 1080p HD Pocket Video Product Features
Catch life as it happens
Life moves too fast to lose focus
You’re the director
Ready for the big screen – right out of the box
Be creative with great video software
Save the planet – one battery at a time
Define your style with cool accessories
Kodak Zi8 1080p HD Pocket Video Product Specifications
The Zi8 marks the first ever Kodak product to ever be reviewed on ModSynergy.com in its eight-year history which is surprising to say the least. This means it’ll be my first ever look at a particular Kodak product since I do not own any Kodak products nor have I ever had any hands-on experience with recent Kodak offerings. The only Kodak product I’ve ever had seen and used was old Kodak film rolls which were used in my father’s old Canon SLR when I was a very little child.
The Kodak Zi8 comes packaged in a nice looking compact corrugated box with the actual video camera shown prominent when you first open the box by pulling up the front flap. The one being reviewed is of Raspberry color. The other colors available are the black or aqua versions. A blown up sized photo of the Zi8 is placed on the top portion of the box with product features shown on the back of the box. Three key selling features of the Zi8 are 1080p HD resolution capability of the pocket video camera, the Electronic Image Stabilization within the video camera and the capability of taking 5-megapixel resolution stills. In addition when looking at the side profile of the box, Kodak wants you to ‘define yourself in high definition’ with a graphic describing the 2.5” LCD display present on the Zi8.
Opening the now on sale $125USD ($179.95 regular price) Kodak Zi8 HD 1080p pocket video camera, you will receive the following inside the box and what I feel is definitely one of the better bundles I’ve seen in a video camera…
Like I previously mentioned, this bundle is by far one of the most complete ones I’ve seen in such a product. I really have to credit to Kodak for not skimping out on their bundle. Kodak could have easily gotten away with removing the USB wall charger and the HDMI output cable from the bundle, since other manufactures for example Samsung with their digital cameras or video camcorders don’t even include these two useful items.
I can’t believe some manufactures (not only Samsung, many others as well) who have HDMI output in their product continue to be funny and supply only an RCA based AV cable because frankly that’s laughable. I mean who purchases an HD based video camera and is content in viewing their videos live on their TV through an analog and archaic connection? Most people even considering purchasing an HD based video product do have HDTV’s. Kudos to Kodak for not being cheap and supplying a commendable bundle because you really don’t need to purchase anything else except for an SD/SDHC card if you don’t already have one already.
Visual Product Overview
I admit that looking at a product photo is much different than viewing the product in real life. I realized this when I saw the Kodak Zi8 in person; it’s really beautiful and the raspberry color looks fantastic with what looks to be added metallic which makes it sparkle against the light. Raspberry color is used for the battery cover piece and in the front as an outer U-shaped piece. The rest of the semi-hard plastic construction shines with the glossy black finish.
The front fascia on the Kodak Zi8 contains the Kodak logo up top, below is the 2.5” LCD display followed by the main navigational and function buttons. There are only five main buttons on the Zi8 making it a rather simple device to operate. From left to right we have the settings button, trash delete button, red start/stop record/OK directional pad buttons, record mode button and lastly the review playback mode button.
Just to add more information regarding the middle red button. This button is the record button by pressing down in the center to start recording and again to stop recording. It also doubles as the directional pad allowing you to move left, right, up and down in the menus or when in playback mode. And it triples as the pause, fast forward and rewind buttons during review playback mode.
Below all of the buttons is the sticker label which shows that the unit is capable of 1080p HD based resolution, that it supports both PC and MAC systems, and its videos can be uploaded to YouTube and Facebook. The sticker can be removed with a bit of work and you will see the internal speaker hole. Even with the sticker placed directly on top and covering the internal speaker, it still remains fairly audible.
Turning the unit to face the back, or to where the camera lens is placed we find a clean layout. From top to bottom is where the lens is mounted along with a chrome looking ring which is just there for decoration and signifies where the placement of the video camera lens. The lens is actually sitting flush mounted inside the device and covering it is not glass but rather plastic instead. Continuing right is the red LED recording light and the mono based Omni-directional microphone hole. Finishing off is the raspberry colored battery compartment.
Looking at the top profile view of the pocket HD video camera we find a single two-way switch which goes from landscape normal focus to macro close-up focus. Within macro mode you can shoot video up to 15cm of the subject and it definitely works real well. This is a function which is missing on some competing pocket video cameras and it's good to see that Kodak has capitalized on this.
Going to the bottom profile view we find the lone 1/4 in. standard type tripod mount socket in the center of the unit but not center of where the lens is positioned. The tripod mount is not of a metal variety which is something I always prefer more but due to the weight of the Kodak Zi8 being only 110g without the battery, it's not much of a problem and should be strong enough for most situations you’ll come across with the Zi8.
To the left we find the wrist strap eyelet and opposite of that is the USB release mechanism. Push in the direction of the arrow and the latch releases and you’ll be able to access the internal USB charge cable. Additionally, you can use the USB latch cover as a standoff so it can sit against at an angle if need be. The USB cable is short, stubby and flexible but I would have liked it to extend out a little bit longer for those tight spaces when you need to use the remaining USB port while charging the Kodak Zi8 if connected to the computer.
Looking to the left side profile we find three connections which include the 5V DC-in port (you can use this in conjunction with the Kodak USB wall charger and supplied cable – sweet thanks Kodak!), the HDMI out and RCA based AV out, and lastly one of the best features on the Kodak Zi8, the external microphone jack.
External Microphone Jack
The external microphone jack is one of the best features on the Kodak Zi8 because it allows you to use any 3.5mm based microphone to record in stereo instead of the integrated microphone which can only manage monaural sound. This alone is important because in my opinion it adds an overall professional feel to your overall video and allows for greater flexibility.
There are times when I’m watching video on YouTube and you can barely see what is going on (either blurry or horrible video quality) and also can barely hear what is going on. I know these pocket video cameras may not have the best quality in low-lighting situations but I would rather have better audio so at least people can manage and discern what is happening, even if the video wasn’t the best.
You can pick and choose what stereo microphone you want to utilize such as the polar pattern of the microphone, for example, do you want to use an Omni-directional, unidirectional, shotgun bi-directional and so forth. There are microphones best suited for different situations. Almost every digital camera and camcorder out there comes bundled with an integrated Omni-directional microphone and what happens if you want to conduct an interview with someone in a very noisy environment? The integrated microphone will definitely always pick up all of the sounds other than the person you are interviewing, which is distracting and not professional in any way.
About the only thing that is not shared by Kodak to users of the Zi8 is what impedance does the external microphone jack use and which one is best to use on this pocket video camera. I guess it’s a small price to pay for the device being so inexpensive. I guess you can consider it a fun game when you find and try out external microphones that come with different impedances. It’ll make you learn in the process.
Visual Product Overview Continued
Rounding out the visual product overview is when looking at the right side profile view. Here we see power button with integrated red charging light indicator and the SD/SDHC card slot with its rubber cover.
I come out of this visual overview really impressed at how well laid out the Kodak Zi8 really is. It’s made to be user-friendly as possible and I think Kodak has executed it very well. About the only complaints I can give is that the external microphone jack and DC-in port are always exposed. I would have liked if Kodak included some type of rubber plugs inserted inside them when the customer is not using those ports so that dust and water would not go inside. Just give some type of basic water seal for those open areas and it would be even better than the way it stands now.
General Impressions – The 2.5” LCD Display
On the Kodak Zi8 there is a 2.5” color LCD display which remains larger than its competition. In terms of LCD technology it doesn’t rate as technically as advanced as let's say an AMOLED or IPS type screen but rather of the old conventional type.
This is not to say it’s horrible though because it’s not, however, it’s not totally breathtaking at the same time. It ranks above average and provides good display pitch resolution and good tracking speed and never does feel sluggish or slow even in low-lighting conditions. I’ve seen the LCD screens on the 1G Flip Mino and equivalent, and those are downgrades in every respect.
The Kodak Zi8’s LCD screen gives natural color rendition and does provide good user feedback. It is only when you are faced with bright ambient light that the screen falters because the brightness isn’t high enough to begin with. When this happens the screen is harder to utilize and becomes only useful as seeing the outline of the object you are shooting. Covering the screen with your hands does help alleviate this problem a bit.
The Kodak Zi8 employs a Lithium-Ion 3.7V, 1000mAh (950mAh minimum) battery that is the size of a cell-phone battery and the decision of not utilizing regular AA batteries does help slim the Zi8 body down a bit and does help lessen the weight of the camera. Kodak claims approximately 90 minutes of recording time in 720p @ 30fps mode so virtually ‘your mileage may vary’. In mixed recording and photo shooting modes, I experienced about an hour of recording time. Having EIS on did eat away some battery though. I have since picked up three more extra batteries to help alleviate increased battery time.
Being not as simple as swapping out for regular AA batteries, I would suggest picking up a few extra batteries because it’ll ensure you won’t have to wait for your battery to recharge (2 hours via USB wall charger and 4 hours via computer USB) while you are left without the ability to record further.
Just tell me how it performs already!
I’ve been testing the Kodak Zi8 for about five months now that I have a pretty good idea of how it operates and how it ranks overall. The Kodak Zi8 even went with me across the world in a one-month trip of various parts of China through harsh environmental conditions and experienced tough situations. I can confidently tell you now that it has earned my highest regard. Considering the pocket size of the device, it truly is astonishing that it can execute the performance that it does and it can clearly hold its own (and best) against camcorders costing twice as much and has no business of even touching.
The Kodak Zi8 now makes cross-shopping between segments (conventional hand-style camcorders and pocket cameras) very much a viable solution and will be more than sufficient for most people's needs.
To give you an example of the impressions that I gathered from other people who hadn't even heard of the Kodak Zi8, when I arrived back from my trip across China, I had invited a group of friends (young and older) to gather around to see videos of the trip. I connected the Kodak Zi8 to my 1080p Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV with the supplied HDMI cable from Kodak, and utilized playback mode to view the videos on the HDTV. Immediately they mentioned how clear and detailed it was and had asked me what camcorder I used during this trip. When I mentioned that I filmed with the pocket size Kodak Zi8 and showed them the Zi8 up close, they were in shock and could not believe it.
Mind you even at the lowest recording mode setting of WVGA (848 X 480 resolution), the results were surprisingly good, even on the 50" screen. Furthermore, I could not believe what I was seeing once I arrived at the 720p videos because they looked so remarkable and sharp. Once I reviewed the 1080p recordings, I was in disbelief because it was on another level and looked superb on the HDTV with eye popping colors. It was only when I looked at the bit-rate and encoding of the files that I knew why the videos were so good. Bitrates can range from anywhere between 2500kbps to 18.9Mbps depending on the amount of information in the recording and they are encoded in MPEG-4 AVC while the audio is encoded in the respectable (but lossy) AAC LC format which is included in the MPEG-4 codec specifications and is the successor to the MP3 codec.
The switch that enables macro mode and either landscape mode works very well. Under macro mode you can get in real close and have a look at all the details that it becomes like a magnifying glass in a sense.
One of the improvements that I would like to see with the Zi8 in regards to when you are playing back your videos is that it would be great to have a 'play all' function because as it stands now you are only able to playback one video at a time which can be tedious work when you have 200+ recordings in one SDHC card.
One minor gripe that you'll learn to get used to with the Zi8 is the red recording button that doubles as a directional pad and zoom buttons in video recording mode. This single button can be a pain sometimes if you're not careful. While recording you can zoom in and out by moving the directional pad up or down but while in the process of doing that, you may accidentally stop the recording by pressing the button actually toward the center.
As for the durability of the Kodak Zi8, it's pretty strong and can absorb impact if tossed around in the purse or bag and if accidently bumped on tables (I did it a few times when it was dangling on the wrist strap around my hand).
On my journey around China, the Kodak Zi8 filmed the Great Wall of China but under harsh rainy weather and survived even without any proper weather sealing. Additionally I had to hike along a trek that had been rained upon the night before to get to a small village. Needless to say it was dangerous because of the small and narrow areas and muddy puddles of water and dirt. There was one area that had basically a small trail surrounded by water that you could fall in if you slipped. Well that was the case with me while trying to avoid a muddy part of the trail! My left foot and hand (that was holding the Kodak Zi8) went in the muddy pool for a brief second. Darnit! Now a part of me was soaked in dirty fluid and the Kodak Zi8 was engulfed in mud. Just great! I quickly shook the camera to release the water, took out the battery for the time being and hoped that once it dried, that it would work again. A couple of minutes later of not even waiting long enough, I eagerly turned it on and the Kodak Zi8 thankfully kept on working. All that was needed was a brush to remove all of the dried up mud that entered in the crevices and exposed external microphone jack and DC-In port. That is why I was suggesting that Kodak should provide some plugs for those exposed areas.
There is nothing to write home about as far as the photo imaging capabilities of the Kodak Zi8 is concerned. Under excellent outdoor lighting conditions, you can achieve respectable results but with too much sharpness for my tastes. The whole frame is usual sharp throughout. However, even under these great conditions, color rendition and accuracy leaves much to be desired as it comes out too soft and too bland, maybe even rendering the incorrect color, it's like it doesn't have a wide enough color gamut to choose from. When the lighting is not great, you can forget about even shooting the photo because it'll come out horrible. I found a solution you may wish to utilize if you want to take a picture with the Kodak Zi8. The solution is to switch to 1080p video recording mode, take a 1 second video and then later in VLC allow it to take a snapshot. The result will be substantially better than Kodak's own photo camera mode on the Zi8.
Lastly I will touch on briefly on the Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) that is on the Kodak Zi8. It's best not to use this because it eats away battery life from the camcorder and it doesn't make a satisfying difference and in some cases makes it worse by making it jittery or even wobbly at times. It doesn't do anything and Kodak would be best served to be the first ones to implement a true internal optical image stabilization within the lens than any other electronic of fake way of mimicking stabilization. That would be fantastic if they could pull off this on such a small device.
YouTube Video Examples (Click and view them at highest quality)
The Kodak Zi8 is without a doubt one heck of a pocket HD camcorder and I doubt there is anything remotely similar that can outperform it at it's under $200 price range. This is without a doubt Editor's Choice material despite little shortcomings. Best of all is that you'll be seeing more videos in the future reviews on this website with the Kodak Zi8 being used because it's such a fantastic pocket HD camcorder.