Product review – Kodak Zi6 pocket HD video camera

Welcome to my product review of the new Kodak Zi6 pocket video camera. This pint sized camcorder is capable of recording video in HD, which translates to a resolution of 720p at a maximum of 60 frames per second.

The Zi6 has a pop-out USB plug, which means you don’t need any cables to transfer your video recordings to your computer. It also has video ports for connecting to a regular TV or an HDTV.

The camera is about the size of a late 90’s mobile phone. On the rear of the camera is a spacious 2.5″ display, 2 buttons and a small joystick for controlling the various features. On the bottom of the Zi6 is a regular screw-thread for using the camera on a tripod or other mount.

On the front is of course the lens, as well as a button for the pop-out USB connector. The Zi6 operates off 2 regular AA batteries, and Kodak have included 2 rechargeable batteries as well as a charger in the box.

On the left side of the camera is the battery compartment, SD slot cover and a slider switch, for putting the lens in macro mode. On the right of the unit is the USB connector and the ports for AV and HD video connections.

Operating the camera couldn’t be easier; you slide the power switch on the top, and in about 2 seconds, you can start recording. Startup, shutdown and record are all accompanied by some funny sound effects. The Zi6 has a fairly limited built in memory, which is only sufficient for about 30 seconds of video, the first thing you will want to do, is purchase an SD memory card. The Zi6 has support for SD and SDHC (high capacity) cards, which means you’ll be able to add fairly large memory cards for very little extra cash (8GB cards can be found for around $30).

When the camera is turned on, you can either instantly start recording, or you can switch the video recording mode. By moving the joystick left or right, you cycle between the 4 different settings; photo, VGA, HD and HD60. Moving the joystick up and down controls the digital zoom. The buttons to the left and right of the joystick are for reviewing and deleting recordings.
Included in the box of the Zi6 is the camera itself, a Kodak branded charger with 2 AA batteries (pre-charged!), AV and HD cables, a manual and a CD containing a version of the Arcsoft video editing package.

Now, on to the most important part of the camera; video quality. Let me open immediately by letting you know that the Zi6 will not be replacing a professional grade HD camcorder any time soon.

Recordings in the 2 HD modes are quite decent, but you will immediately notice that every little bump and jitter becomes quite apparent. The camera struggles a little dealing with transitions from light to dark and takes about 4-5 seconds to make the adjustment. My best results were when I used the camera on a small tripod. Audio is sadly quite poor as there is no wind noise cancellation, nor will you find a microphone input jack. Also, don’t expect to use the camera in any kind of low light environment.

I have uploaded an HD recording which should give you a decent idea of what to expect. You’ll see that the quality is not comparable to the kind of HDTV you get from your cable company, but it is certainly better than making a video with your regular digital camera (You’ll need to click on the “HD” button to view it in HD).

Recordings on the Zi6 are made in the H.264 system and can be played back on most powerful computers. Kodak recommend a computer with a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 or higher.

Included with the camera is a version of Arcsoft Media Impression for making some basic edits of the recorded media. This software is PC only, so Mac users are on their own. The software allows you to import all the video clips to your PC, and upload them to Youtube or convert them to a different format.

It is clear to me that Kodak it out to conquer the market, and that they are gunning for Flip, who currently rule the world of pocket camcorders. I’ve used several of these small camcorders in the past, including the Flip, the Sony Net-Sharing cam and the Creative Vado as well as several lesser known Chinese brands, but the Kodak emerges as the clear winner.

There are a couple of shortcomings with the Zi6; The USB plug pops out a little too easy. Often when I grabbed the camera from my pocket, I’d press the front button, making the plug pop out.

The plug also lacks rotation; on my PC I used one of the front mounted USB plugs, which meant I had to plug the camera in upside down. I would have preferred a small USB extension cable or a rotating USB connector.

The low light performance of the camera is quite bad; anything outside or in a bright room will be fine, but don’t expect any usable recordings in a dim room.

Finally in my list of complaints; would it have hurt Kodak to include an SD card? The 128MB memory in the camera is barely enough for 30 seconds of recordings, and with memory prices at an all-time low, even a 2GB card would have been a nice thing to include.

Other than that, it is hard to complain about a good quality camera capable of recording pretty decent HD video for just $179. Between the use of regular AA batteries, the ability to connect to your home (HD) TV, quick startup and extremely easy operation it is clear that Kodak have a very competent little camera here, and I’m sure they’ll be found under many Christmas trees this holiday season (just remember to include a memory card!). The Kodak Zi6 is available in pink and black, and can be purchased directly from the Kodak store.