KODAK Zi8 Mini Camcorder Video Camera

Most consumers are familiar with the Flip Video pocket camcorder, which emerged from the earliest group of mini consumer camcorders as the preferred choice for its low cost, ease-of-use and portability. After our hands-on evaluation of the new Kodak Zi8 HD, we’ve found a new leader in this product category.

Mini camcorders are perfect for capturing video in situations where carrying a larger video camera would be impractical. They fit easily into pockets or small purses, and can be ready to operate in a matter of seconds, to capture those impromptu moments at parties, family gatherings or on a vacation stroll.

Most pocket camcorders offer basic functions such as auto-focus, on-camera microphones, 720p HD video, still photo capture, and USB connectivity. The Zi8 offers additional features that many do not: full 1080p HD video, removable rechargeable battery, HDMI output, and image stabilization.

The Zi8 serves as a portable camera as well, featuring a 5 megapixel still photo capture function that yields quality photos in daylight and many low-light conditions.

kodak zi8 hd pocket camera

Audio Quality
If you’re creating video for webcasts or even viewing at home through your HDMI-capable HD television set, quality sound can be the difference between a poorly-received video and a satisfying experience. Fortunately, the Zi8 features an all-important external microphone jack that accepts any microphone that uses a standard mini-plug. You can choose to use a basic consumer mic or even a small professional mic for even better results.

Even the on-board microphone produces good quality, as Linda found out her first time out with the Zi8 with an impromptu capture of a segment from Bili Redd singing Such a Lot of Living with the Richard Sherman Trio at Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes.

Low Light Performance
As expected, in well-lit indoor spaces and in outdoor light conditions, the Zi8 yielded very good results. We tested the unit outdoors at dusk, and found the focus functioned well and the video images to be of good quality.

Indoor shooting conditions can vary widely, yet in most settings the Zi8 worked well. Given that the only lighting in our music video test was provided by existing indoor incandescent lights, we were pleased with the results. We also tested the Zi8 in lower light conditions typically found in restaurant bars. Unfortunately, the results were poor and failed to yield adequate video.

Memory
Unfortunately, the Zi8 has very minimal built-in memory, barely enough for a few minutes of HD video shot at 720p. However, the Zi8 accepts SD or SDHC memory cards that easily slip into a single slot located on the side of the camera. We recommend using SDHC cards which provide the writing speed necessary to capture HD video properly. In our tests (see video above) we used a “Class 6″ 150x card that is rated at 22MB/second speed. This worked fine for video shot at either 720p or 1080p, and there’s really very little need to pay for higher-priced cards with faster speeds. An 8GB card yields about an hour of HD video, while a 16MB card yields up to two hours.

User Interface
We found the Zi8 to be easy to operate with surprisingly good image quality. Focus was fast and yielded better results than video shot on other mini camcorder options such as the Apple iPhone and Flip cameras.

The Zi8 has the solid feel of a well-constructed camera, and fits comfortably in one hand. Even though the camera shoots in standard horizontal orientation, the camera itself is designed to be held vertically, which is easier to handle and operate the controls. We found it easy to operate the camera with one hand.

There is one row of buttons on the back of the camera under a bright 2.5 inch screen One button selects playback, one selects shooting mode, a third is for deleting files and the fourth accesses the settings menu. The center control button acts as a selection joystick to navigate through the menu items to select key functions.

Shooting modes include standard definition (WVGA), two types of 720p high definition, 1080p high definition, and still photos. You can easily toggle through the shooting modes each time you turn the camera on.

Apple computers can use the free iMovie program (or purchase Final Cut) to transfer and edit video, while Windows users will find these functions handled by the bundled Kodak software.

We discovered only a couple of issues with the Zi8. First, it takes a long time to charge the battery, so purchasing a second battery is a good idea (this can be quickly changed out if you shoot for an extended period of time). Second, the Zi8 comes with almost no built-in memory capacity (less than 13 seconds!), so you must purchase an SDHC memory card before using the unit (these can cost anywhere from $25 on up).

About Ray Gordon

Ray Gordon is a registered architect with a masters degree in City and Regional Planning. He has held a variety of professional positions in both the private and public sectors, with jobs ranging from managing an environmental sciences firm to art director with advertising agencies in Japan. In addition to work in architectural design, Ray is also a professional photographer, videographer, film editor, and graphic designer. He was a professor of architecture and urban design in the graduate programs at Pratt Institute for 17 years, and also taught the regulation of real estate at New York University’s graduate Real Estate Institute for a six year period, with an emphasis on environmental regulations. 

Ray has worked with computers for almost 30 years.  Over the years, he developed a working knowledge of many types of software programs, from spreadsheets and data bases, to illustration and video editors - with hands-on experience on lots of computers and peripheral hardware as well. Ray's writing and photographs have been published and exhibited in both the USA as well as Japan (where he lived for 12 years). He authored the chapter on urban design for a recently published World Bank book, wrote the chapter on waterfront construction infrastructure in "Understanding Infrastructure," edited the Urban Design Review newsletter, and has contributed to a number of magazines on travel and design.

Connect with Ray Gordon on Google+ and Twitter @RayJGordon.

  • Richard Sherman

    Amazing results in a less than favorable photographic environment. Great descriptive write up by Ray Gordon. Thanks for advertising my trio at the same time.

    • http://ItsDifferent4girls.com Linda Sherman

      Your are most welcome Richard!

  • Anonymous

    I purchased the Zi8 Camera on my way to Miami where I was speaking at a recent conference. I selected this due to the option of using an external microphone. I’m quite happy with it, except the memory issue. You also need to carry a portable tripod as the bottom of the camera is not flat, like the Flip. I have both the Flip and the Kodak, and the Kodak is now my preferred choice for handy video cameras.

    • Anonymous

      @JulieSpira Glad to hear you’re enjoying the Kodak Zi8. Since I always hand-hold mini-camcorders because of their small size and ease of use, I overlooked how handy the standard tripod mount on the bottom of the unit is. You can us a very compact folding tripod to stand the camera on a tabletop – great for impromptu interviews using a hand-held mike or for recording meetings hands-free. Great suggestion!

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  • http://TurtleCoveSuites.com Joe – Poipu Vacation

    I am considering the purchase of the Zi8, i am not tech savvy and I like it’s portability.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Ray KNOWS what he’s talking about!