During a recent video shoot, we decided to test out the Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera. With the spec sheet claiming 1920 x 1080 @ 30 fps, we are hoping to use the cameras for quick interviews and event archiving.
The video shoot was a documentary style discussion held in a tattoo shop with the artist, client and moderater. We had our usual assortment of cameras, lights and audio equipment. But since we just received two Zi8’s this week (mainly to record recap videos during missions projects), I was anxious to give it a try.
The Kodak Zi8 is about the size of a Blackberry (0.8 x 4.5 x 2.4 in.) and very lightweight (under 4oz.). We purchased our from Amazon.com for about $130. It has a plastic shell and feels a bit like a toy. But after using it for a couple of hours, I adapted to this feel and it ceased to bother me. That being said, I am not convinced that it would survive a fall of more that a couple of feet on to a hard surface- at least I’m not willing to test that theory.
The 2.5 inch LCD was adequately bright indoors as well as outside on a partly cloudy day. There is no control for the LCD’s brightness. Off-angle viewing of the LCD is not the best, but was good enough for maintaining composition while holding my arm in various odd positions to get the shot.
You will most definitely need an SDHC memory card. I used a 4GB SD card that was able to hold about 105 minutes of 720p video before reaching the card’s capacity. That works out to just under 40MB per minute shooting at 720p. You can expect the Zi8 to use between 90-100Mb per minute when shooting at the full 1080p resolution.
The controls on the front of the Zi8 are functional and easy to understand. They do not however feel like they would hold up under rigorous (read abusive) use. The unit does have both composite and HDMI video output jacks- this feature is obviously aimed at consumers that want to show their home movies of their kids on their living room televisions.
One of my favorite features is the external stereo 3.5mm microphone jack. We use Azden wireless mics when shooting video interviews and this will allow us to insert two discreet channels of audio. I really like that. The built in mic is functional and would work OK for recording ambient noise. But you would certainly not want to rely on the external mic for recording your main dialog.
The video quality is some of the best that I have experienced on any consumer grade video device. The images are sharp (and should be at 1080p or 720p). We were shooting in a room with fluorescent lighting and the colors were still rather accurate. That being said, you are not going to want to ditch your RED camera for a Zi8 ;)
The Zi8 has some rather weak built in image stabilization, but the camera is so small it impossible to capture a jitter-free clip without a tripod, monopod, leaning against a wall or some serious Shaolin Monk balancing skills. To that end, the Zi8 does have a standard 1/4inch tripod mount on the bottom of the unit. You will want to use it.
The Zi8 has a fixed focus lens that works out to be the equivalent of a 46mm lens in 720p or a 61mm lens in 1080p. It has a digital zoom that is not really worth using. The digital zoom is fine for shooting the kids’ birthday party, but it is pointless feature in a production environment as it just introduces pixelation. There is a Macro switch on top of the camera that when engaged will allow the camera to focus on objects from 15 inches to as close as 5 inches.
One software quirk that I have yet to get around is that after recording for two seconds, the battery level indicator on the LCD disappears. If you are just recording quick clips, this is a minor issue as it returns when you stop recording. During our shoot at the tattoo shop, we were recording 30-45 minute clips with each take. Without seeing the battery level indicator, we had no clue when the unit might shut down. It made me a bit nervous during one clip, so I did a quick stop/start just to ease my mind. The Zi8 does work while being charged- we had to plug the unit in for the last clip.
The battery lasted just under 2 hours during continuous shooting. One plus is that the lithium-ion battery is easily replaceable. So if you are planning on long shoots or day trips in the mission field, take a couple of extra batteries. They cost under $25 on Amazon.com and it is much better to have them and not need them verses the other way around.
The Kodak Zi8 would be a nice addition to your inventory of video equipment – especially for the price. I would not hesitate to use it for quick “person-on-the-street” interviews, mission trips, students’ video shoots, shooting in tight spots or grabbing some quick “B” footage. Having the footage stored as a QuickTime (H.264) files and not having to capture clips from tapes is priceless. As long as you plan ahead for image stabilization, battery usage and working with a fixed focus lens, you will be able to produce very acceptable footage for your project.
Product Page for the Zi8 at Kodak.com