|Zi8 captures best HD pocket-camcorder footage|
The full-featured Zi8 captures the best HD pocket-camcorder footage we've seen, but its interface and digital zoom often get in the way.
Kodak's Zi8 high-definition pocket camcorder ($180 as of 9/14/2009) is the superpowered follow-up to the company's cult-favorite Zi6 model. It's also the most full-featured pocket-size camcorder we've seen, thanks to three unique features: the ability to record 1080p full-HD video, digital image stabilization, and a microphone-in jack that lets you use standard headphones or earbuds as an external mic.
It fulfills its promise in at least two of those three areas, offering superb video quality and versatile audio options. Quite simply, test footage shot with the Zi8 in 1080p mode is the highest-quality video we've seen in a pocket camcorder to date.
The Zi8 also serves up a range of shooting options. In addition to the 1080p setting (1920-by-1080 videos recorded as .mov files at 30 frames per second), you can also capture images in a number of resolutions and frame-rate counts: 720p at 60 fps, 720p at 30 fps, 848-by-480 standard-definition WVGA video, and 5-megapixel still photos. That's a wider range of options than some full-size camcorders offer, let alone most pocketable devices.
You'll need a high-capacity SDHC card to get the most out of the Zi8; it doesn't have an internal storage drive like the Pure Digital Flip line of pocket camcorders. In 1080p mode, the .mov files are a bit bulky--about 90MB to 100MB per minute of footage.
The microphone-in port on the side of the Zi8 is also a nice addition, especially for guerrilla journalists who'd want to use the Zi8 for "man-on-the-street" interviews. The port is the same size as a standard headphone or earbud jack, which means you can use earbuds as makeshift, stereo lavalier microphones. The on-board microphone on the front of the Zi8 is also decent; a bit of background hum is in some wide-angle shots, but it definitely picks up far-away sounds much better than the top-mounted mic on the rugged-but-disappointing Kodak Zx1.
In bright light, the Zi8's footage looks very colorful, sharp, and smooth, and the clips are more vivid in any lighting condition than clips from the Flip UltraHD. Across the board, the Kodak Zi8's video quality clearly outshines that of its predecessor, the Zi6.
Quick still-photo capture is also a strong suit of the Zi8. In still-photo mode, the shutter fired immediately after pressing the button, so you won't miss much. Face detection is another nice feature: The Zi8 detects and optimizes in-camera settings whenever a face is in the frame. Image quality, however, was about on a par with that of a decent cell-phone camera.