Thanks to the stunning popularity of Pure Digital's pioneering Flip pocket video camera, which famously relegated shooting to one simple button while retaining pretty high quality images (including HD), other camera companies have been jumping into the fray. The most successful at challenging the Flip, so far, has been Kodak, with its new Zi8 model.
One of the chief drawbacks to the Flip is that there's no jack for an external mic, so that you have to hold the camera pretty close to the source of the audio (usually a person speaking), or you won't hear anything. The Zi8 solves that problem -- and improves on the Flip in other notable ways. Even its viewfinding screen area is larger.
The pricetag is $179, but you can easily find it for $149 -- the same range as the Flip, except that you also have to buy memory cards.
We've been playing with our new Zi8 for a few days. Here are some of our preliminary observations.
• Amazingly high-quality images in daylight .
• Not bad quality in low light .
• The camera adjusts smoothly to different light levels .
• More sensitive mic than we expected. You can record conversations in a quiet room.
• With SD memory card replacement, you can shoot to your heart’s content. (Flip models hold only one or two hours of video, and then need to be downloaded.)
• Unlike the Flip, it offers image stablization, which can be a real bonus.
• The size of the camera is ideal for carrying it with you at all times -- in your shirt pocket. You won't get scoliosis from lugging around 10 lbs. of video gear.
• No input for headphones, so you never know if the sound you are recording is clean.
• While out in the field, the built-in speakers are not powerful enough to check your audio, even in playback mode.
• You can edit the .mov files in Final Cut Pro or Final Cut Express. but you must “render” them first and this can take a lot of processing time. It took us two hours to process ten minutes of video at the highest quality.
• You can shoot very sharp close-up pictures 3 inches away from your subject (in macro mode). You can shoot sharp pictures from 3.3 feet to infinity from your subject. But you have a dead zone" between 3 inches and 3.3 feet, where nothing will be in focus. This means that you cannot shoot most close-ups, such as a person’s face for a reaction shot. ALSO: All mics work best when they are close to the source of the sound (usually someone speaking) -- BUT you can’t get the built-in camera mic in the Zi8 closer than 3.3 feet and shoot at the same time. (NOTE: You can compensate for this dead-zone audio recording disadvantage with the addition of an external mic.)
• No optical zoom. The sharpness with digital zoom visually falls apart very quickly.
• When you pan in very low light, the image starts to wiggle like Jell-o. This might be an effect you want to experiment with, but not on a standard visual diet.
Though we advise "zooming with your feet," we couldn't help but notice that, when we played with the zoom, it was herky-jerky and not smooth -- and made an audible squeaking noise. We're not sure whether that's a defect with the model, or just our individual camera. (Has anyone else noticed this problem?)
Have you used the new Kodak Zi8? We'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences, especially as it compares to the Flip.
In short, compared to professional quality gear, these pocket vidcams are toys -- but, boy, are they fun to play with!
We predict that the next step in making high-quality video accessible to the masses will be the creation of an affordable lavalier mic. They currently cost hundreds of dollars and up, making them prohibitive for the hobbyist and home-video crowd. But with more working VJs using pocket camcorders, supply-and-demand will drive down the price of pro-quality mics that clip to your necktie or lapel, and they will become standard issue, immensely improving the audio quality of interviews.
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