Kodak Zi8 camcorder review

The follow-up to the Kodak Zi6, the new Kodak Zi8 pocket camcorder from Kodak, brings with it 1080p video resolution and a host of new features, but should you be rushing out to get one? We took it out and about to find out.

Yes we know, chances are you already have the ability to record video in your mobile phone, and yes the notion of using a £149.99 ($180) pocket camcorder doesn’t fill you with excitement over something a little more, well professional.

With the camcorder market heating up as more and more people turn to videoing their magical moments rather than just snapping them, Kodak’s third pocket camcorder aims to appeal to those who want top quality recording in a pocketable device.

Pocketable is questionable. It’s small, but not that small. In real terms it the size of two iPhone’s stacked on top of each other. That means it will fit in your pocket, but your tailor would be unhappy about it riding in your shirt pocket.

The camcorder sports a 2.5-inch screen, a series of complicated buttons and, well, lots of space presumably for your hand. Space, it seems, Kodak has used out of the box to plaster with a big sticker that tells you what it can do. A sticker we must have to say was a bugger to get off.

Regardless of stickers, those complicated buttons found beneath the screen allow you to set the settings of the device, delete clips, play back what you’ve recorded and of course select the video or stills camera elements of the camcorder.

A central joystick, which is both fiddly and badly designed - it sits too deep in its recess - allows you to start recording, navigate through the menu system and use the digital zoom.

Around the edges are all the connectors. There is a pop-out flexible USB cable that allows you to connect to your computer for charging and transferring files. It’s flexible now to allow greater movement - the previous version was fixed - and it means that you don’t have to perch your laptop higher than the desk just to plug it in.

You’ll also get an SD card slot, as the device has virtually no memory (enough to store the software on it) as well as an HDMI connector so you can view your movies back on an HD-Ready television. Older TV owners don’t worry there is a standard AV-out as well.

Realising that the in-built microphone is likely to be awful in outside conditions (it is) there is also a welcomed 35.mm socket so you can opt for wireless or wired mics.

The only real switch on the device allows you to switch the camcorder from macro to landscape mode, a manual rather than automatic task.

In use and the camcorder is fairly easy to get recording. All you have to do is set the quality that you want to record at 1080p, 720p/60fps, 720p, WVGA or still (5 megapixels). Once you hit the record button you are recording. There are no trick moments or anything else to really worry about.

The lens is an F/2.8 fixed focus lens that means it works well in poor light conditions but that it won’t auto focus. It’s a good job too as there is no light or flash, and the upshot of that fixed lens is that it won’t spend forever trying to focus on a subject (called hunting) as it moves around the screen, something that other pocket camcorders suffer from.

The move to include a fixed lens also means that you have to be a little more considered with your shots. Depth of field isn’t an option here. Because it’s fixed focus that’s where the macro/landscape switch at the top of the unit comes in. Switching to macro mode manually changes the focus of the camera allowing you to get close up shots.

Then there is the digital zoom. It’s there, but we wouldn’t recommend using it, ever. Slow, jittery and well, digital, this should be used as a last resort if you really can’t get closer to what you want to shoot.

As for sound, indoors in a quiet environment the sound will be fine. It’s not the greatest of mics and that showed when we went outside in a windy environment. Luckily you can bring your own mic to the party, something we would highly recommend. The problem is, however, that with nowhere to connect it to, you’re going to have to enlist the help of some gaffer tape (maybe that’s what all the space at the bottom is for) to keep your hands free.

Get inside, so to speak, and you’ll get Electronic Image Stablisation, which didn’t seem to stablise our images that well (yes it was turned on) and software for the PC to help you upload it to YouTube, Facebook and lots of other social networking sites without too much fuss.

The software doesn’t work on the Mac, although the camera can be plugged in. That said, you’ve probably got iMovie installed already, so it’s not the end of the world.

Verdict

Overall the Zi8 is a mixed bag. The internal mic is shockingly poor when you get outside and the controls on the device (i.e., settings and playback) very fiddly. In addition to that the lens isn’t very wide so you’ll have to stand back to get in all the action, something that if you’re in a close environment with kids isn’t all that easy.

On the upside you get 1080p support, a rechargeable battery, an SDHC card slot, USB dongle tucked inside, and HDMI connector so you can watch it back afterwards on your TV without having to drag around a bag of cables (just steal the one out of his PS3, Xbox 360 or Sky box).

The fixed lens approach is also welcomed, as you’ll fail to take a blurry picture because it won’t be hunting or getting confused over a tree branch that is waving in the distance.

Do we like the Kodak Zi8? On the whole the pros do outweigh the cons, but you need to be aware of those cons before parting with your cash to avoid being disappointed.