2008-12-22

Kodak Zi6 Mini HD (720P) Digital Camcorder Review

The other day I realized I did not have a camcorder. I really wanted to be able to record our first Christmas in our first house, site visits to wedding sites, etc., so I started looking for digital camcorders. However, I wanted it to be small and very portable, have good video quality, record in HD resolution and it had to fit into my tight holiday season budget.

My first instinct was to look into the new Creative Labs VadoHD. The original Vado received great reviews and had 4GBs of flash storage. The new VadoHD records in 720P resolution and sports 8GBs of storage. The problem is that 8GBs apparently only holds 2 hours of 720P video. It's slimmer than my cell phone and fits right in my pocket, but at $230 2 hours of video was not going to cut it. If I could have expanded the storage via SD card I would have been sold.

The other option would have been a Flip Video MinoHD. The MinoHD is basically the same device as the VadoHD. It was also developed from its standard definition predecessor, the Mino, and shoots 720P video. It's roughly the same size and costs the same ($230), but it can only hold 60 minutes of video at 720. If I can't expand the memory, than no deal.

Both are capable of switching to VGA and 720/30 modes to shoot video that would use less storage, but then you compromise video quality for storage. Both devices also use Li-Ion batteries and can charge via the attached USB connector which also serves to connect to your computer for quick transfer of all of your videos.

Then I found the new Kodak Zi6 HD. Unlike the others it can shoot 720P at 60 FPS video.  The Zi6 has an attached USB connector for transfering video and images. The difference is the Zi6 only has 130MB of on board flash memory. To make matters worse only 30MBs is usable by you. The other 100MBs is used as a sort of CD partition with the included Kodak video editing software on it. 30MBs of storage offers about 20-30 seconds of video at 720/60. Ouch.

Believe it or not, the memory isn't a deal breaker. The Kodak Zi6 has expandable memory via SD or SDHC cards up to 32GB! The drawback is the SDHC cards are an added cost, but at the current $160 price of the Zi6 you can get a Zi6 and an 8GB card for about $200. The MSRP of of the Zi6 is $180, so even at MSRP you can still get 8GBs of memory for the same price as the VadoHD or MinoHD. 8GBs gives you an estimated 2 hours of video (like the VadoHD's 8GB storage).

So what other differences are there? The Zi6 is a bit bigger than the competitors, but it's still lighter than any other device I own. This is surprising because it runs off 2 AA batteries. At first I was put off by it's increased size over the Vado and Mino and the fact that it uses 2 AA batteries, but the Zi6 felt much nicer in my hand than the others and the ability to change dead batteries on the fly was very appealing.

The Vado and Mino require you charge them via USB. That's great, but what if I'm on a trip and don't want to bring my laptop or I'm out for the day a long way from any USB port? The Zi6 also comes with 2 precharged rechargeable AA batteries and a little Kodak charger that plugs into the wall. The battery life for the 2 AAs is great at 4 hours.

The larger size also allows for other things to be larger, like the screen. The Zi6 has a 2.4" LCD screen for recording and reviewing your video. The screen is very nice with a sharp picture.

For comparison, the VadoHD has a 2" screen and a battery life of 2 hours per charge.

The Zi6 only has 2 buttons and a joystick directly below the screen. Each button performs 2 functions. One function for during recording and one for during playback. The joystick controls the 2x digital zoom and recording options (VGA, 720/30, 720/60 and still image) and acts as the record "button" by pressing in on the stick. The joystick also changes functionality when in playback mode for selecting videos.

The Zi6 can take still image pictures, but they're about cell phone quality at 3MPs, but in a pinch they look fine. The video is what the Zi6 is made for. The video looks great. It's very clear, color reproduction is fantastic and there's no chop or blurring recording at 60FPS. Even VGA looks good. VGA is going to appear grainy and not look as good as 720/60 video, but it's great for recording something that you want to e-mail or upload to YouTube (small size).

The only problem is the video does suffer in low light situations. Outside the video is amazing for a $160 mini camcorder, but inside with shades pulled and less light the video gets a little grainy. That's not so bad though. For the size and price it's expected and it's certainly still watchable. You'll just find yourself slightly disappointed because your other videos will look better. That isn't to say the Zi6 can't record good video inside. If you have a lot of light or can open the shades, the video quality goes up.

The Zi6 comes with a set of composite and component cables for viewing your video on an HDTV (or SD set). The 720/60 video looks awesome upscaled to 1080i on my 42" set.

The Zi6 has a macro mode you can set by flipping a switch to the macro setting on the side of the camcorder. It allows you to take very close (about 1" away) video with blurring and seems to work great. It takes a second to focus, but does the job well.

Once you record your video you can use the attached USB connector to transfer it over to your computer. It can work just like a flash drive or you can use the accompanying Kodak software to import and edit your video. It's compressed with H.264 compression with AAC audio and played back with Quicktime.

I just click and drag the video over and have not tried the software, yet. I have Adobe Premiere, so I expect I will never use the Kodak software, but I might just to see it.

My only gripes with the Zi6 are mere quibbles. For instance, you can't format the memory card on the fly. You have to select each video individually to delete them or use a computer. That's no big deal though. With expandable memory I can have multiple SD cards available and I always move my videos over to the computer. I can't stand having clutter on my storage devices anyway.

It's also slightly irritating that the Zi6 does not remember your video setting. It defaults to HD 720/30 whenever you turn it on even though I use 720/60 exclusively, but it only takes one click of the Joystick to the right to fix it.

Overall, I am very pleased with the Zi6. Sof ar it's allowed me to get some great footage of our 9-month old puppy getting lost in 2 feet of snow and I've done a lot of experimenting with lighting conditions and video modes. I can't wait to get some "real" footage on Christmas morning and at Christmas parties this week.

At ~$200 for the Zi6 and an SDHC card you can't go wrong.

Here is a sample of the 720P 60FPS video in a low light condition.  I'll post more HD video in daylight and in doors when I can.




NOTE: I use a Lexar SDHC Class 6 card rated at 20MB/s. I was fortunate to actually speak to a Kodak representative at Best Buy who recommended that class and speed. If you use a cheap off-brand card not meant for photography/video you will probably have choppy video. This is due to the card's write speed not being fast enough to keep up with the video.

This has been mentioned in a few reviews where the reviewer was upset over choppy, terrible video and it was resolved with a better card.

4 comments:

- danv said...

Do you think 15MB/s will be fast enought ?

SanDisk 16GB Ultra II Class 4 rated at 15MB/s

Christopher Maddalena said...

Yes, it should be fine.

Anonymous said...

Even though this is really really old I noticed that you said that the Vado and the Ultra film at 60fps, which they don't.
Other than that is was a very informative piece of writing.

Christopher Maddalena said...

Thanks for the correction. I did a quick check to make sure you were right and found it interesting recent reviews of any pocket camcorder on major gadget sites (like Engagdet, Gizmodo, and CNet Reviews) fail to even mention 60FPS video options on pocket camcorders.

I will correct the post.