Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera Review

The portable high-definition (HD) camera market has really taken off this year, thanks in part to the popular “Flip” brand cameras. One has to give credit where credit is due, and not many would argue that the “Flip” was in fact the camera to truly bring the portable HD craze into full effect.

Other companies have gotten into this niche market, bringing along with them their own innovations and improvements. One such company is Kodak – perhaps the best company to tackle such a product. Honestly, who better to revolutionize this sector of the consumer video market than one of the worldwide leaders in imaging technology.

Kodak has not only taken what is great about portable HD cameras, but has added a slew of improvements that make owning such a device a no-brainer. Kodak's latest entry in the HD camera race is the oh-so-nice Zi8.

The Zi8 is a portable HD camera that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand and comes in three colors: black, pink and aqua. It features a 2.5” screen, replaceable and rechargeable battery, and an SDHC slot with support for up to 32GB of storage. You'll need plenty of storage space as the Zi8 shoots in 1080p at 30fps, 720p at 60fps, 720p at 30fps, along with standard-definition and 5-megapixel stills. With a 4GB card, and the latest firmware installed, you'll be able to record about 40 minutes of footage at 720p 30fps resolution.

Speaking of firmware, upgrading the Zi8 is incredibly easy with a download from Kodak.com. The wonderful thing about being able to upgrade the firmware is that Kodak can constantly make the Zi8 even better than it already is. For example, if there is a bug with the current version, they can easily issue a firmware upgrade to fix the problem. I would highly recommend upgrading the firmware as soon as you take the camera out of the box. Depending on when and where you get the Zi8, you may already have the latest firmware installed. If not, simply log on to Kodak.com to download and install the latest version. Kodak's site features easy to follow directions, allowing for complete tech beginners to upgrade with great ease.

The video quality produced by the Zi8 is simply amazing when you take into consideration it's size and low price (MSRP $179.99). The video is sharp with great color and contrast. The fact that it can capture 1080p is impressive. At 1080p resolution, video is simply gorgeous, although I'd recommend shooting at 720p 60fps if you're going to be moving around a lot while you record. If, like others, you plan on shooting a variety of different situations such as children playing sports, etc I would recommend enabling the camera's built-in image stabilization option. If, however, you plan on setting the camera on a tripod, the image stabilization should be turned off as it will conserve battery power.

In an enclosed environment, the built-in microphone performs as expected. However, if you're out on a windy day, forget about getting any usable audio. For such occasions it would be best to plug in an external microphone to the Zi8, which has a mic-in port built in to its side. Also on the side are HDMI and AV out ports which allow you to easily hook up the Zi8 to a television. If you own an HD television, make sure to use the HDMI cable to view your footage in all its HD glory.

On the other side of the Zi8 is a USB port that pops out with the flick of a finger, allowing you to easily connect the camera to your computer to download all your footage. You can either choose to use the included ArcSoft MediaImpression software to handle all your Zi8 transfer needs or simply drag-and-drop the .mov clips to a folder on your hard drive. Benefits of using MediaImpression include the ability to upload directly to YouTube, Facebook or Vimeo, and the ability to quickly convert your footage to other formats such as PSP and iPod.

Using the Zi8 is ridiculously simple with five clearly marked buttons on its backside. From left to right are the buttons: Settings, Trash, Record/Zoom, Camera, Playback. The settings menu allows you to change your camera from NTSC to PAL and vice-versa, adjust screen brightness and audio levels, enable and disable image stabilization and face detection, and properly format your SD card for usage in the Zi8. The red Record button/nub is front and center and also serves as the zoom control. When you've shot some footage, you can easily play it back by pressing the Playback button. Once viewed, you can decide if you want to keep the clip or not. If you decide it's not worth keeping you simply press the Trash button, confirm your selection, and it's gone.

Do you have creative, artistic children? Why not put one of these in their hands and allow them to express themselves through video. Who knows, you could be giving the gift of filmmaking to a future Spielberg. Sure, that's a one in a million situation – but what isn't, is the fact that you will find yourself constantly using the Zi8, and most importantly, you'll be having fun while doing so; capturing life's greatest moments – those that occur spontaneously – with great ease.

With such a portable size, there's no reason why you wouldn't carry the camera with you wherever you go. In fact, I found myself in a situation worth recording while riding the bus. I casually sat in my seat, listening to music, when I noticed there were fire engines up ahead. Upon closer inspection I saw what the commotion was all about. A water pipe had burst, breaking the street and sending a huge four-story geyser into the air, flooding the immediate area. I quickly pulled out the Zi8 and captured it all on video, viewable here. As you can see, not only is this a great camera to capture your son's first steps, it can also serve as a way to document unplanned events.

After two weeks of usage, having recorded well over 500 minutes of footage in various locations, both in daylight and low-light conditions, I can highly recommend the Kodak Zi8. It delivers in quality and ease of use, all for a very affordable price. With the holidays coming up, the Zi8 would make for a great gift for anyone in your family. It's a product that people of all ages can use and enjoy.

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