Replaceable battery, 1080p, included cables and charger, and SDHC support make the Zi-8 king.
Slightly bulky; audio is not sensitive; UI is slightly confusing.
If you’ve been eying Flip Video’s popular MinoHD (
reviewed March 2009
) but have been put off by the simple-enough-for-simpletons approach, Kodak’s Zi-8 is the pocket cam you’ve been waiting for.
Think of Kodak’s feature-rich Zi-8 as the anti-Flip camera. While you can’t change the battery on the MinoHD, you can on the Zi-8. Can’t change the mic-input levels on your MinoHD? On the Zi-8 you can. Can’t play back footage in slow-motion on your MinoHD? Or run an external microphone? Or use your own SD cards? Or take still images? You get the point.
Kodak seems to have taken every geek’s wish-list for a pocket video cam and implemented it in the Zi-8. Slightly paunchier than Flip’s Mino series but comparable to Flip’s Ultra, the Zi-8 has modes for WVGA, 720p, 1080p, and even a 60fps 720p mode for sporting events. But wait, there’s more: Kodak also includes a macro mode, face-detection focusing, and an image stabilizer—hell, those guys even include a charger and HDMI cables, too!
Start-up time on the Zi-8 is just less than two seconds, fast enough that you’ll likely never miss a shot. The stabilizer isn’t an optical stabilizer but it’s still far better than going without one.
Files on the Zi-8 are written in the Apple QuickTime format, while Flip uses the obscure 3ivx codec. That makes sharing of the native Flip files a bit more complicated, while anyone with QuickTime can view the Zi-8’s.
Not all of the Zi-8 features surpass the top-selling Flip’s, however—the Zi-8 records only in mono using the onboard mic. The external mic jack, though, does support stereo content.
Video quality from the Zi-8 is good—for a pocket cam. We’ve never found pocket-cam footage to be particularly spectacular. In fact, HDV footage at 1440x1080 on tape looks far superior to the 1080p 1920x1080 from the Zi-8, thanks to the former’s larger sensors and higher bit rates. The footage from the Zi-8 isn’t bad, but there are compression artifacts that become quite noticeable at 1920x1080. Low-light performance is fair for this class of cam but a bit worse than with Flip’s cams, which have slightly more light-sensitive lenses.
Panning quickly with the Zi-8 definitely reveals the weakness of the cam’s rolling CMOS sensor. Rolling sensors don’t take an image across the many photosites in the sensor simultaneously; instead, the image is captured by scanning down the sensor, usually in a top-to-bottom direction. If you pan or wiggle a video camera fast enough, the subject matter will have moved by the time the camera has scanned that part of the shutter and produce a Jell-O effect. It’s not just the Zi-8 that’s affected, but all CMOS-based consumer cameras.
The Zi-8’s audio is also weak. In a head-to-head with a MinoHD, the MinoHD’s audio was clearly better than the Zi-8’s, which sounded much softer. That’s with the audio gain on default, though. Increasing the gain gets the Zi-8 closer to the competition’s generally good sound.
The truth is that the video and audio from the Zi-8 is far from stellar, but for this class of device, you’re not going to be making a masterpiece. What the Zi-8 does do is take the pocket cam to the next level. Perhaps with the Zi-9 or Zi-10, we’ll see the end of the camcorder completely.