Kodak Zi8 Review: a videocamera for parents?

Picked up a Kodak Zi8 for work purposes the other day, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that I’ll be using it for personal uses as well, but how does it shape up as a video camera for capturing the family moments? What’s the good points and the bad points? Is it worth the £120 or so that it costs?

I ordered the Zi8 in black (but it’s also available in raspberry and aqua blue, though I would imagine the black is the most popular) and I’ll spare you the usual unboxing nonsense – you get the cables for hooking up to HDMI (HD) and normal TVs, a little strap, a manual that’s straight from the Apple book of minimal decent content and that’s pretty much it, which is what you want to be honest – packaging out the road, jump in and play!

The phone itself is about the size and width of a Blackberry or thicker/wee bit shorter than an iPhone 3GS.

(The main reason for getting a Zi8 was that I was impressed by it having an external mike socket. Having played with Flips, I thought the sound was the weak issue, so the Zi8 lets that be addressed.)

But you won’t get to play for long – the battery’s pretty run down, so it needs a charge, so add two hours to the “I just wanna play with it” moment. And then make sure you have a SD card for it as the internal memory is good for about 5 seconds of footage (get Class 4 or higher for best video recording). Oh and then, you might notice that your machine doesn’t have the latest version of the firmware installed (way to go Kodak!) as they appear to have shipped 10 billion models with the 1.03 firmware (1.06 is the latest and, judging by online reaction, is considerably better).

This is where the Mac/PC difference comes in: there’s a bunch of software preinstalled for the PC, nothing for the Mac. Also, go here and you’ll see that the Mac upgrade installations – which include buying a memory card reader – are far more of a pain in the backside than the PC version.

However, that’s a load of nonsense, here’s the simple guide to upgrading Kodak zi8 firmware on a mac:

  1. Attach camera to Mac
  2. Turn it on, backup anything on your card
  3. Create a folder called SYSTEM onto memory card on Zi8
  4. Copy firmware download files over to SYSTEM on card
  5. Turn Zi8 off, disconnect
  6. Turn Zi8 on and you’ll be prompted to upgrade – basically go with the green tick each time
  7. Once done, reformat your card

After all that, you can get going and it’s ACTION!

I’ll let you watch the clips (all of which are available in HD) and then I’ll post my thoughts. Each of them was filmed at 720p/60fps as that appears to be the best setting, especially for YouTube videos. Apart from the last video, the microphone used is the internal one. No tripods were used in any of these shots – it’s all handheld with Kodak’s Image Stabilisation software, EIS, turned on.

Kodak Zi8 in test at night

The first chance I had to play was at 2am in the morning. Now the Zi8 has no flash or lighting aid – either built-in or attached. Apart from the car at the end, there’s little movement. I had been told that the Zi8 – due to the small lens – would be rotten at night so this held no surprises for me.

Kodak Zi8 in recording a panto

(oh no it doesn’t! Oh yes it… oh shut up)

Junior received a play puppet theatre kit and has been putting on ad lib shows at every opportunity, including this gathering at the inlaws on Jan 1. Now the lighting is low in this (just one corner lamp) but it gave me a chance to play with the zoom. What surprised me was how much the colour dipped when zooming in. The zoom is also a bit jittery, but as with all digital zooms, you really shouldn’t use it anyway.

Kodak Zi8 in average light test

Heading kind of says it all. Average living room light (basically one halogen corner lamp about 6 foot)

Kodak Zi8 in bright light test

Heading kind of says it all again. The aforementioned light with also the main overhead living room light on.

Kodak Zi8 and motion 1

Five year old girl doing five year old things.

Kodak Zi8 and motion 2

Five year old girl doing five year old things, will be mortified when she hits 12.

Kodak Zi8 tested with external mike

The start and end of the segments have the internal mike being used but from 0:50 to 2:20 a clip-on lapel mike (£25 from Maplins) was used. I thought the sound from the internal mike was decent and was disappointed by the Maplins’ external mike. However, it may well be that it will work better for one-on-one interviews (which throws it back into the realm of work related stuff) and I’ll cover that over at Contently Managed.

Kodak Zi8 as a camera

In all honesty, it’s as decent a camera as you find on the likes of the N95 and slightly better than the iPhone 3GS, both of which were trumped by the 4 megapixel Canon ixus I have from about six years ago.

Other points and notes:

  1. Uploading HD to YouTube takes forever and a day. Well, longer than normal anyway. The panto clip here took 30 mins to upload (the one at the end took 40 mins). I’m dreading a longer video (I may even try and get a physical broadband connection again instead of wifi to see if that speeds stuff up)
  2. This is a dinky little camera
  3. Suggestions for the Zi9 would be: external earphones socket (for checking levels but also watching long videos) and some form of lighting. However both would boost the price probably. A larger lens would be a real winner, but again, that’s me being greedy (probably).
  4. Raspberry and aqua blue? WTF?
  5. As this just deals with .MOV files – that’s what it creates – I wonder if it could also be a movie player if you added a film in that format to it. Makes it a rather cheap movie player for trips (You could load it up with about 64-80GB of movies for the same price as an iPod Touch)
  6. Getting the HDMI socket open is a nightmare, well a pain and hassle, if you don’t have nails.
  7. The USB port looks well dodgy (see pic). It’s very short, rubbery and unless you have the computer and USB connector on a flat table, you’ll be paranoid that the connector is going to fall/break. If there is such a thing, an extension cable might be handy.
  8. Having to upgrade the firmware out the box is ridiculous.
  9. The more bright light you an give this camera, the happier it will be.

Is it worth a buy? I don’t regret it, put it that way, but I will probably end up using it more for work than personal stuff. But I will have it in my pocket when possible to catch some moments because it’s far better than the iPhone 3GS (which, to me, is a far poorer video camera than even the Nokia N95 from a few years ago). I also like the idea of carrying around a few memory cards instead of tapes for a big video recorder.

If you want to see some comparison videos, here’s some more video links:

Kodak Zi8 Review

Flip Mino Killer: Kodak Zi8 Review

Flip UltraHD vs. Kodak Zi8 – Review by HighTechDad

GizmoDuck Review : Kodak Zi8 vs Creative Vado HD