I was already in Hawai`i on my vacation – can you take a vacation from being retired? – when I learned of the new Kodak Zi8. Now I already have a collection of video cameras that gets me teased by my wife, but this new shooter was too good to pass up. I’ve had it here in beautiful Kailua, O`ahu for a couple of weeks now and posted two videos.
I’m pretty pleased with this new camcorder. Let’s look at the pros and cons:
It’s compact. It’s right on the edge of being too big for a pocket camcorder, but I’d say it still works. Here’s a shot of the Zi8 next to a Motorola Razr:
I’m embarrassed that I shipped my Flip Mino HD off to a friend before I did this comparison so I can’t show them side by side or show comparison videos.
Another factor that makes a good pocket cam is a low price, and the Zi8 does fine on that score. And while the user interface is a bit more complicated than the Flip or Vado cams, the Kodak has a bit more flexibility as well. The options are easily accessible with the control layout. It takes decent stills along with several video formats.
Compact Flash memory continues to ride the price curve down, down, down, so the ability of the Zi8 to use accessory cards lets the user take advantage of bargains when they appear. I often shoot a set of music that continues for an hour or longer. A 16 Gbyte SDHC card combined with the included AC adapter makes the Zi8 a great tool for my kind of shooting. For places where AC isn’t available, the battery in the Zi8 can be replaced with a fully charged spare.
The other big feature for my use is the stereo microphone input. When I shoot my solo guitar performance videos I usually record the sound separately, then synchronize the audio and video in post production. Recently I’ve been using a Sanyo Xacti HD2000 camcorder that has many great features including an audio input, so I’ve been able to record direct to the camera using high quality mics. The HD2000 is a just a little too bulky to be a true pocket cam, and it busts out of the “disposable” price range by quite a bit as well. Now with the Zi8 I have an affordable shooter that I can feed audio into.
The reason for needing an external mic is simple physics – the camera has to be some distance from the subject, but the microphone needs to be close to the subject, at least for the kind of stuff I do, recording solo acoustic guitar in less than optimal rooms.
Here’s a picture that gives an idea of the problem:
The room in this picture is a screened lanai, or porch, in Kailua. Beautiful Kailua beach is about 50 yards away, so the surf is always audible in the background. The trade winds are usually blowing through the surrounding trees, and a fairly busy street goes by the back door. There’s no soundproofing or room treatment of any kind, so getting a decent sound is a challenge. Notice how far the camera is positioned from the guitar – 5 to 6 feet away. At this distance, the guitar is not very loud, while the surrounding waves, wind, and cars are quite obtrusive. But with the audio input in the Zi8, I can use the Zoom H2 as a stereo microphone, and place it about 1 foot from the guitar. Here the signal to noise ratio is much better.
But It’s Not Perfect
Naturally, the Zi8 has flaws, some minor, some a bit more troubling. I never thought about the flat bottom of the Flip Mino HD until I tried to position the Zi8 on a table without a stand. Oooopss. The Zi8 has a rounded bottom that requires some kind of support for any placement.
The feel of the Kodak is a bit flimsy compared to the Flip, but those flimsy bits give access to a replaceable battery and various connectors. The zoom capability seems like a bit of a joke to me, it works in digital mode so it impacts picture quality, and it operates in discrete steps that would be very distracting during a shot. The bundled Media Impressions software has a number of issues, judging by the discussions at the support forum but I was able to title and trim one clip with it.
**EDIT Nov 19, 2009**The italicized comment that follows talks about my problems with the AGC on the audio input, but I’ve since learned that there is no AGC. Ooops!! I must have been overloading the input pretty heavily. I plan to continue to explore the audio input in a future post.**End of EDIT**
The biggest negative issue for me is the AGC, automatic gain control, on the audio input. This function raises the gain when sounds are low, which raises the background noise. It also makes level setting more difficult. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I’m hoping for a firmware upgrade someday to turn off the AGC. In the meantime, I’ve come up with a setting that seems to get the job done, by setting the Zoom H2 to low sensitivity and turning down the audio sensitivity on the Zi8.
So How’s the Video?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I mentioned that I’ve done two video clips with the Zi8. Here’s the first one, shot in indoors daylight, an original composition I call Kui Lima:
and here’s one demonstrating the low light performance of the Zi8, an old song called Kalena Kai:
So that’s the story as I see it. For my particular application, shooting solo performer music videos, this little cam seems like a pretty good tool for the job. And like always in the fast moving world of consumer technology, we can look forward to the response this cam generates among competitors.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 at 4:43 pm and is filed under Video. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.