Product Review: Kodak’s Zi8 by Virginia Rubey

8/3/2010 1:12:26 PM
By PSN Staff

    If you’ve ever been on a support call with a client - or if you are a client - who refers to a port or touchscreen icon as a “thingy,” you can appreciate the ROI of simple equipment support and troubleshooting videos. Kodak’s Zi8 Pocket Video Camera is the   low cost, high performance solution for tech managers who value both their clients, and their days off.

    Consider calls from clients who face the same issue: they forgot how to access IP surveillance content at their weekend home; or an evening lecturer can’t find the laptop port on a smart board you’ve configured. You wouldn’t use this dedicated recorder for live conferencing, of course, but if a client can directly access your pre-recorded MPEG-4 video instructions online, you’ll be glad the Zi8 isn’t FaceTime-equipped.

    Features like the  rechargeable/removable Li-Ion battery (KLIC-7004); flexible HD/SD resolution options (1080p at 30 fps; 720p at 60 or 30 fps; WVGA; 5 megapixel still capture); an expandable SDHC slot for cards up to 32GB; direct TV/projector connectivity (AV out, HDMI, DC in); macro/landscape settings; face tracking technology; integrated electronic image stabilization; and an external microphone jack, make the Zi8 a stand out among pocket video cameras.

    Technology managers whose schedules leave little time for how-to video production will be pleased with the Zi8‘s nominal set-up requirements. The 5oz pocket camera ships with an AC adapter and a built-in USB arm to facilitate simple MPEG-4 uploading and charging. The hard plastic build, durable hardware, and sliding rubber port protectors is smartly designed. An intuitive interface, which sports a familiar “select” joystick, flanked by four dedicated buttons (settings, trash, record, playback) below its crisp 2.5-inch LCD display.

    Access the settings menu with a click to set date & time, video out (NTSC/PAL), LCD brightness, volume, and external microphone sensitivity. You can also switch off image stabilization and face detection to maximize battery life when these features are not needed; access camera info, and reformat your SDHC card. Settings configuration is direct and navigable for users who want to produce high-quality videos in a minimal amount of time.

    The dedicated “record” button prompts you to select a capture mode: 1080p, 720p/60 fps, 720p/30 fps, WVGA, or still. While filming, use the joystick to engage the 4X digital zoom. For content review, hit the dedicated “playback” button to see clips in 1-up view; thumbnail view; or timeline. You can play clips back in slow motion, forward/reverse one frame at a time, and fast forward/rewind in 2X, 4X, 8X, or 16X. Delete content by pressing the dedicated “trash” button.

    At $149.95 the Zi8 is the premier choice for everyday AV ventures. At 2.4 x 4.5 x 0.9 inches, it fits in the pocket of smart phone app developers and promoters; AV managers at non-profits and colleges; students of broadcast communication, journalism, film, and media disciplines; high school athletic departments; journalists; and community filmmakers who are ready to take their hobby to the next level.

    The Zi8’s limitations are as noteworthy as its capabilities - but for a pocket video camera, its capabilities are more surprising than its limitations.

    While it boasts a 2.5-inch LCD display, the light-less Zi8 does not live up to its reputation for impressive performance in low-light. The external mic jack and mic sensitivity adjustment options are excellent additions, but users who don’t take advantage of the feature will be unimpressed by the built-in monoaural mic. The applicability of the 4X digital zoom feature is also disappointing due to choppy video capture and the zooms’ latent response. Firmware upgrades have mitigated some zoom feature quirks, but have yet to eliminate the glitches completely. Kodak lists the macro setting focus range at 15 cm, but its capability does not preclude the need for focus control. The EIS, while a groundbreaking inclusion, is fallible.

    Unless you’re using the Zi8 to give a walking tour of your facility, the EIS imperfections are negligible. The limitations most likely to impact tech managers include the significantly lower picture quality in low-light, the essential inapplicability of the 4X digital zoom, and restricted focus capability of the 6.4mm fixed focus f/2.8 lens. Capturing the nitty gritty cabling involved in a Promethean board would be difficult even in macro mode; and demonstrating settings configuration on a touch panel is less riveting when the display is bathed in overhead light.

    The Zi8‘s upload speed is directly related to resolution quality and your SDHC card class. Lower resolution videos and higher class SDHC cards maximize upload speed, but whether you prioritize video quality or cash, it will cost you (32GB class 10 SDHC cards are expensive). Similarly, the KLIC-2004 battery charges in 2 hours (4 hours via USB), but charge life varies with picture quality and EIS settings: users recording at 720p at 60 fps can expect about 100 minutes of capture time; but if EIS is enabled, the battery life declines to 75 minutes.

    The bundled Arc Soft Media Impression software is exclusively compatible with PCs, but Mac users can edit Zi8 footage in iMovie. Both softwares have minimal production potential, with confusing interfaces, limited theme/captioning options, and slow rendering speeds. The best editing option for PC users is Magix Movie Edit Pro 16; for Mac users, it’s Final Cut Express- if your editing plans warrant buying software that costs more than your camera. For patient Mac users with simple editing needs, iMovie should suffice.


Zi8 comes equipped with:

Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera
KLIC-4007 Li-Ion Rechargeable Battery
HDMI and AV cables
Adapter & cable for battery charging
Arc Soft Media Impression Software (PC only)
User Guide
Wrist strap

Recommended Zi8 accessories:

Extra Li-Ion KLIC-7004 Rechargeable Battery ($29.95)
SDHC class 6, 8, or 10 memory card with 8GB-32GB (prices vary)
External mic (prices vary)
Magix Movie Edit Pro 16 software for PC (30-day free trial; $89.99)
Final Cut Express software for Mac ($199)

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