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Old June 9th, 2010, 12:08 PM   #1
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Low Cost HD Pocket Cam

OK here's a question on the opposite end of what most people on here might ask. I'm looking into getting an inexpensive HD pocket cam. Want to use it just for fun and to have with me all the time. I've look into these:

Kodak Zi8
Flip - all models
Sony MHS-CS5
Sanyo Xacti vpc-cg102 and cg20
Creative Labs Vado

Features that would be nice but to have all in one pocket cam are, optical zoom, some level of manual controls, mic input. These features are not in any particular order.

So, I'd like some recommendations, to here some experiences with each camera, pros/cons. The picture quality will be the biggest factor for me. I'd like it to perform decent in low light but don't have any great expectations in that area.

Thanks for your input.

Garrett
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Old June 9th, 2010, 03:00 PM   #2
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What level of HD (720 or 1080, and what frame rate)? Budget?

Lots of options out there, but wide range of quality, and you might take a quick look at some of the P&S cameras too - I've got the Sony DSC-TX7 for a "pocket' camera - nice screen, decent low light considering, full 1920x1080 AVCHD, not "lite", shoots decent stills too. In a pinch would probably intercut OK with more expensive dedicated video cameras, I've been pretty happy with the results. 4x optical zoom, super wide lens, no manual control or audio in though...
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Old June 9th, 2010, 03:32 PM   #3
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Thanks Dave,

I'm really looking for something just to have with me that I could carry around in case. More to document something if I happen to see it, say an interesting look that I might want to come back and shoot later with "proper" gear.

I'd like it to be 1080 but even then I may end up shooting only in 720 mode because that seems to generally yield a better picture for these small cameras

Budget I'd like to keep it below $200 but if it is a few dollars over I would consider it.

I have thought about going the P&S camera way but was wondering if there was a better camera out there.

I do have other still camera and video cameras so this would be more of a thing to play with.

thanks,
Garrett
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Old June 9th, 2010, 10:51 PM   #4
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I got a Flip HD and it is nice and easy. However, sometimes I wish that I had bought a Zi8 because it has a mic input and it would allow me to mic up for some quick office interviews at work.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Garrett Low View Post
OK here's a question on the opposite end of what most people on here might ask. I'm looking into getting an inexpensive HD pocket cam. Want to use it just for fun and to have with me all the time. I've look into these:

Kodak Zi8
Flip - all models
Sony MHS-CS5
Sanyo Xacti vpc-cg102 and cg20
Creative Labs Vado

Features that would be nice but to have all in one pocket cam are, optical zoom, some level of manual controls, mic input. These features are not in any particular order.

So, I'd like some recommendations, to here some experiences with each camera, pros/cons. The picture quality will be the biggest factor for me. I'd like it to perform decent in low light but don't have any great expectations in that area.

Thanks for your input.

Garrett
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Old June 12th, 2010, 10:10 PM   #5
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The Kodak Zi8 Wins Hands Down !

Hi Garrett:
Without question or equivocation I recommend the Kodak Zi8. This camera has stunning 720 p60 & 1080p30 image resolution. The fixed focus lens produces a rather surprising level of image clarity, which is hard to believe since it's a piece of plastic ! The only caveats are...

1. Turn of the EIS (It does more harm to your image than any good)
2, Absolutely do not zoom ! (This camera uses a 4X pixel digital zoom which greatly degrades image quality to a totally unacceptable level). If you need to get closer, then walk up to the subject if you can.
3. Use a monopod or small tripod wherever possible. (This camera is very light and extremely difficult to hand hold steadily.)
4. The lens cannot focus in an area between 1.5 and 3 feet. Anything closer than 1.5 feet can be focused with the built in Macro switch on the top of the lens. Obviously, anything farther than 3 feet is in perfect fixed focus.
I purchased one of these cameras two weeks ago on special order. (Kodak products are surprisingly difficult to get in this part of Canada. I had to contact Kodak in Rochester, NY just to see who retails it). The sound quality with the built in mic is acceptable if you are using firmware revision 1.06. If your camera reads a firmware level lower than this, then go to Kodak's web site and download the latest revision. Firmware 1.06 fixes an audio problem, tweaks the white balance, and adjusts low light sensitivity levels.

I'm thoroughly convinced this camera has one incredible DSP chip in it which is filtering out and correcting a great deal of image parameters and imperfections. The end result is .MOV Quicktime files using the h.264 codec with AAC audio codec which are stunning. This cheap little camera comes with all of the cables you will need to connect it to a flat screen TV, PC, MAC, or monitor, including a special mini to normal size HDMI cable ! This pocket HD camcorder records to SD or SDHC memory cards, which gives you about 10 hours of point and shoot HD video with a 32 GB SDHC card.
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Old June 15th, 2010, 01:22 PM   #6
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I second Mark's assessment. The Zi8 has a couple of areas to improve upon, (lens is pretty lousy but macro option is nice - curved bottom surface makes no sense - a headphone jack would be nice for monitoring incoming audio - ) but in other key areas, it blows other models out of the water. (Major points for 32 GB SDHC capable - mic input jack is a no-brainer).

For the sub $200 point and shoot pocket camcorders, I think the Zi8 represents the best bang for the buck.

-Jon
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Old June 15th, 2010, 01:50 PM   #7
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For more info, here is a review I wrote for a newsletter a few months ago. The newsletter is for a Mac User Group, not a videography based newsletter - and most of the readers are not especially technically proficient, so this review is not intended for the technically minded:

-Jon
-------------------------

Product: Kodak Zi8 Pocket Digital Video Camcorder
Manufacturer: Kodak KODAK Digital Cameras, Printers, Digital Video Cameras & more
Price: $170 - $230 (depending upon vendor and purchasing options)
Reviewer: Jon Jones - NCMUG Editor



As a video professional, I had long dismissed pocket digital video camcorders as a relatively insignificant novelty, incapable of viable imaging quality. But continued advancement in consumer video technologies and changes in my own video capturing needs have compelled me to reassess my opinions on the matter. After a lot of research in the field, I recently purchased a Kodak Zi8, a current hot item in this increasingly competitive market largely dominated by the Flip series, Sanyo Xacti, and Aiptek lines of camcorders. Kodak is becoming a strong contender in this market, and after spending a few months with the Zi8, I can see why that is. I offer the following points for consideration regarding this device;

HD
The Zi8 shoots HD video. But first and foremost, let me note what HD is, as well as what it sometimes is not. HD stands for High Definition. In short, this means that the captured or presented image is represented in significantly greater pixel depth, or more pixels, than was possible through SD, or Standard Definition. But the HD designation itself does not necessarily imply a better quality or more appealing image. Strong technical considerations in that area would also include a good quality lens, appropriately large imaging sensor, and a stable codec. While not all such factors are required for great quality imaging, a proper combination of select factors are required for at least decent results or for specific purposes. The Zi8 is capable of shooting a maximum of 1080p HD (1920 x 1080 progressive) video. It was the first such camcorder in its class to boast such ambitious specifications. Other setting options include 720p 60fps, or frames-per-second (for fast action) 720p 30fps (for normal conditions), and WVGA (for lower resolution) video. Each format results in greater or lesser memory storage requirements and varying processor capacities for subsequent video editing on your computer.

With this class of low-cost consumer level camcorders, there must be a trade-off, and in most cases (as with the Zi8) this involves a cheap lens of limited quality, and a tiny imaging sensor, both of which render such devices as only marginal low-light performers incapable of resolving great imaging dynamics.

To help compensate for these limitations, Kodak has designed the Zi8 to record video in the Quicktime MOV format, using the H.264 codec. H.264 involves a sophisticated video compression scheme resulting in a highly scalable, and often stunning image. While the results may not truly compare to full-featured or full-sized HD camcorders (or even SD camcorders) good shooting in ample lighting can create outstanding video. The Zi8 performs best with stable shooting in a well-lit environment. Click this link to check out a short, unprocessed video sample I shot in my original tests of the Zi8: YouTube - Kodak Zi8 Demo Clip

Due to the complexity of the H.264 compression, recent versions of video software and reasonably capable computer systems are required to manage the video data from the Zi8. especially if the video is shot using the 1080p setting.

Size - a big image in a small package
By their very definition, pocket digital camcorders are small. You’re supposed to be able to just throw one in your pocket and have handy when you need it. The Kodak is no exception. It has been described by some users as having similar size and weight to a Blackberry smartphone. The all-plastic case sports a minimalist front face with only the lens and a tiny embedded microphone. The back face hosts the user controls below 2.5” 16:9 widescreen video display. Weighing in at just under 4 oz. (before battery installation) it is extremely light and easily totable, but this comes with a downside. With such minimal heft, it is almost weightless in the hand, making it very difficult to keep it steady for smooth shots. (More on that later.) In a show of poor form, Kodak gave the bottom side of the Zi8 a curved edge that prevents the user from standing the camcorder on a flat surface without added support - typically some type of tripod - not included.

Interface
At the heart of this class of device is supposed to be a drop-dead simple interface, almost completely free of any options whatsoever. Control of imaging is sacrificed for operational simplicity, and the user is afforded the absolute minimum of buttons and interface menus. In essence, the user is invited to simply turn the device on, point it at their subject, and push the big red button to begin shooting video. Transferring the video files to their computer for uploading or sharing is supposed to be only slightly more complicated. It is evident that the core target market for pocket digital camcorders are consumers who are easily overwhelmed with fuller-featured camcorders, or budget-conscious shooters who want a decent video image with the least amount of hassle.

Due to increased competition in this field, manufacturers have started to introduce “feature creep”...adding incremental features to each successive model in order to edge their product out over the competition. Each added feature often brings with it more menu options and greater operational complexity. While this may make the device more appealing to ambitious users, it may also compromise the factors most appealing to those seeking the simplest video shooting solutions.

With the ‘Z’ series, Kodak has struggled to walk the fine line between valued features, and cryptic complexity. They have done so by setting up a feature menu system that invites the user to explore their options, only if they’ve a mind to do so, but otherwise leaves on the surface just what is most necessary to start shooting video right away - namely a big red button to start and stop recording or playback. This button also acts as a toggle switch to navigate between menu options, or to scrub through video during playback. There are also four additional small buttons on the front face with which to switch between record mode and playback mode, delete video files, and access the settings menu. These settings options are indicated by slightly cryptic icons, and some users may require consulting the manual to make sense of them. But once the initial settings have been designated, most users may never need to fuss with those menu options again.

Lens, Zoom , and EIS.
On the top edge of the Zi8, there is a small slider switch above the lens that belies a gem of a feature that is rare for this type of camcorder - a macro mode option. A quick slide of the switch allows the user to achieve clean, sharp close-up images or capture detail in small objects.

Since the camcorder sports a fixed lens of limited function, is has no focus controls or optical zoom. It does feature a 4x digital zoom function, but this only digitally crops and resizes the existing image at a loss of imaging quality. The user will typically be better served to physically move closer to their subject rather than rely on the digital zoom. It should also be noted that early releases of the Zi8 were prone to “blocky” or erratic performance with the digital zoom. This problem was rectified with a freely downloadable firmware update from Kodak’s support site.

Similar to the digital zoom, the Kodak Zi8 also boasts electronic image stabilization (or EIS) through which it dynamically crops the image to compensate for camera shake, and hopefully provide more steady video. While the EIS has been widely touted by Zi8 users, I have not found it to be notably effective. Instead, I simply use a cheap, collapsable monopod for steady shooting, and collapse it for a small, light counter-balance to smooth out my shots while in motion. This adds just enough heft to the camera to help keep a steady hand.

Memory
Most pocket camcorders host a fixed built-in storage capacity that limits the amount of video you can store on it before having to offload it to your computer. The Zi8 offers a SD/SDHC card expansion slot that allows you to just switch out another card when the first one fills up. (It helps to take a few cards with you on vacation if you expect to be away from your computer for a while.) The Zi8 can handle SDHC cards up to 32 GB, which are typically sold separately, but should be factored into your purchasing budget. The camcorder does have 128 MB of internal memory, but this will only be enough to store a scant few moments of video.

USB Charging and Data Transfer
The SD/SDHC card feature of the Zi8 makes it quick and simple to transfer video footage to any computer equipped with an appropriate card reader. Much like the Flip series of pocket camcorders, the Zi8 also features a handy flip-out USB dongle that connects directly to your computer for quick upload into your video editing application. Additionally, if the Zi8 is connected to a powered USB port, the camcorder battery can also be charged through the USB dongle. Even though it comes with a supplied AC adaptor, it is nice to have both options so you don’t have to unnecessarily tote around extra accessories while traveling.

Power
While many pocket camcorders use standard sized batteries that are readily available almost anywhere, the Zi8 uses a removable proprietary Li-Ion rechargeable battery. These KLIC-7004 model batteries are thin and compact, helping to keep the camcorder small. Because they are proprietary, it is a good idea to buy at least one extra battery so you are sure to have power for your Kodak when you need it.

Facial Tracking and Automatic Exposure
The Zi8 is equipped with an automatic facial tracking feature that has mistakenly been thought of by some users as a focus assist mechanism. But since the unit only has a fixed lens, focus optimization is not an option. The facial tracking is designed to help optimize the automatic image exposure for any faces that are recognized by the camera during recording. If the Zi8 detects a face in the image, it will display a floating yellow square around it, and automatically adjust the exposure accordingly. While I can testify to the speed and accuracy with which this camcorder detects and tracks faces, as evidenced by the floating yellow box, I can only assume a positive affect for image exposure. I have no complaints with the quality of the resulting image.

Audio
The deciding factor for my decision to purchase the Zi8 was its ability to accommodate audio recording through an external microphone input port. This feature allows the user to attach a wide variety of microphones to the Zi8 (suitable to different situations or environments) and capture far superior audio compared to relying only on the built-in microphone (which tends to be the worst option for good audio capture). This feature is completely unheard of in this class of camcorder, and has quickly made the Zi8 a favorite for on-the-go video interview enthusiasts. It is my favorite feature of the Zi8. Click this link to view a short sample video of the Zi8 recording with a variety of different microphones. YouTube - Kodak Zi8 External Microphone Input Feature Overview

Still Pictures
The Zi8 is capable of taking 5-megapixel still images, and it does this with fairly decent results in well-lit environments. It cannot compare to a dedicated still image camera since it lacks features common to such devices, such as a built-in flash, shot timer, optional exposure settings, or focus controls. Such limitations will likely relegate the still image options of the Zi8 as a secondary novelty. Conscientious photographers will likely be best served to stick to a dedicated still camera for their photography needs.

Connectivity and Compatibility
As noted before, the Zi8 can transfer footage to a computer for editing and sharing through either the built-in USB dongle, or by inserting the SD/SDHC card into a computer card slot or connected card reader. When used with a Windows PC, video can be imported into Arcsoft Media Impression, a low-rated but free Windows-only video editing and management application that is included with the Zi8. Windows users may wish to use alternate editing applications, but may need to check for appropriate program updates to ensure that their application of choice is enabled to manage H.264 files.

For Mac users, the Zi8 is compatible right out of the box, but OSX classifies this type of device differently, and upon connection, prompts the user to import the video files into the iPhoto library. Once there, the files can be edited or enhanced with iMovie by navigating to them through the iMovie media browser, and importing the files into an iMovie project. This process is very simple and almost seamless. Although the video files can be stored in other folders of a Mac drive, and edited in applications other than iMovie, the native compatibility and easy integration with iLife apps complements the intended “hassle-free” videography experience of the Kodak Zi8.

Videos can also be presented directly from the Zi8 through an external display, projector, or even a large screen high definition television. The camcorder has an A/V as well as HDMI ports, and the required cabling is included in the box.

Conclusion
Low cost ultra-portable camcorders always involve some sacrifice of quality, performance, or features in lieu of size, convenience or affordability. The Kodak Zi8 is no exception, but as an affordable, easy-to-tote, and simple-to-operate digital video camcorder, if offers a unique combination of attractive features that make it a notable contender in the competitive field of personal multi-media electronics. It is available in black, aqua and raspberry case options, and can be purchased directly from Kodak, or from sites such as Amazon.com or other online distributors, as well as many big-name electronics retail outlets.

If you are in the market for new pocket digital video camcorder, give the Kodak Zi8 a try. You’ll be glad you did.
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