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.
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.
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.
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).