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Kodak PlaySport ZX5 Pocket Video Camera
Tuesday, February 7, 2012  
Kodak Playsport Zx5
Some things bear repeating. If you are looking for a rugged, inexpensive, waterproof, dustproof and shockproof video camera that's easy to use, the KODAK Playsport Zx5 might be just the ticket. The Zx5 is the second generation of Playsport camera from Kodak. The new Playsport has all of the features we loved about the Zx3 model and a few more. We recently took this little camcorder with us on a two-week cruise assignment in Asia.

The Playsport is what Kodak refers to as a "pocket video camera" and it falls into the same category as the now discontinued Flip™ and Sony® Bloggie™ camcorders. The first thing I noticed about the Playsport was its size and shape. The Zx5 feels more like a cell phone than a camcorder. The leather/rubber finish gives it an expensive feel and keeps the unit from slipping out of your hand, especially handy if you are using it to shoot underwater videos or photos.

Playsport fans will like that Kodak has added dustproof and shockproof features to the Zx5, making it even more rugged than before. Not that you would want to do it, but the camera can withstand a drop from 5 feet. While we did not put this to the test, the camera does feel very well built and sturdy, so we will take Kodak's word for it.

Also new to the Zx5 is the Share button. Pressing the Share button invokes a 3-step process for sharing your photos and videos on popular social networking sites:

  • Step 1—Just press Share when in review mode
  • Step 2—Choose your favorite sharing destination, e-mail address, or KODAK PULSE Display
  • Step 3—Connect your camera to your computer or insert your memory card and your videos or pictures are automatically uploaded to the destination(s)

The video capabilities on the Zx5 remain unchanged from the Zx3. You can shoot video in your choice of the following formats:

  • 1080p: 1920 x 1080 @ 30 fps
  • 720p: 60 fps—1280 x 720 @ 60 fps
  • 720p: 1280 x 720 @ 30 fps
  • WVGA: 848 x 480 @ 30 fps

You can also shoot 5 MP still photos with a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio (interpolated).

The 1080p option is not one you would expect to find on a small, inexpensive camcorder. This format is best when shooting HD video that will be viewed on an HD television (capable of reproducing 1080p). However, 720p will deliver excellent results and is preferred for viewing on computers or mobile devices. Another unique feature is the 60 frames per second option (720p). This comes in very handy when you want to video action scenes such as sporting events. The 60fps option allows you to get smooth slow-motion during editing of your video clips.

SETUP AND MENUS

Anyone familiar with a digital camera or camcorder should be able to pick up the Zx5 and begin using it with virtually no training. That's a good thing since, like little brother Zx3, the documentation that comes with the unit is scant.The Power button has been moved from the side of the camera to the top edge on the Zx5 and is still a little too small in my opinion. Press the Power button and camera "boots up" quickly and the small, somewhat dark, LCD comes to life. There are four function buttons for RECORD, PLAYBACK, TRASH and TOOLS. Clicking the TOOLS button displays 14 setup menus. From here you can set video Effects (Normal, High Saturation, 70's Film, Black & White, and Sepia), Underwater Correction (On/Off), Video Resolution, Focus Mode (Auto or Macro), Mic gain, Sounds & LED (On or Off), LCD Brightness and Glare Shield, Share Settings (KODAK Gallery, Facebook, FlickR,Kaixin001, Orkut, Twitter, Yandex, YouTube, Email), Video Output (NTSC/PAL), Language, Reset, Format Memory Card.

The menus are simple and very straightforward. In addition to the four function buttons, there is a round toggle "mouse" with a left, right, up, down function and a start/stop button in the middle.

On the left-hand side of the unit is a flip-open door that reveals a USB and mini-HDMI port. Kodak includes a USB cable that can be use to connect the Zx5 to your computer as well as an AC/USB adapter for charging only. A mini-HDMI to HDMI cable is no longer included in the box, but KODAK will send you an HDMI cable if you register your camera with them. As with the previous model, the PlaySport requires a proprietary USB cable to connect it to a computer USB port instead of a handy flip-out USB connector like on the Flip, Sony, Panasonic or even some other Kodak models. The flip-out connector is simply not feasible on a waterproof model. That means you will have to take the Playsport's USB cable with you when traveling.

Another improvement in the Zx5 is battery life. We were very impressed with the battery life on the Zx5 compared to the Zx3. The battery begins recharging as soon as you plug the unit into the USB connector on your computer and the power button lights up letting you know the battery is charging. Or, you can use the supplied USB/AC plug adapter if you do not have a computer handy. When the light goes out, the unit is fully charged.

Video and photos are recorded to any standard SD or SDHC flash card. For our test, I was using an 8 GB (Class 4) Micro-SD with an SD adapter. There is also 128 megabytes of internal RAM with 20 meg reserved for recording video and photos if no SD card is installed.

VIDEO

One feature of the Zx3 that we really liked we the ability to set the video format using a "Quick Menu"-like feature by pressing the left arrow key. Unfortunately, this capability no longer exists. You now have to go into the Setup/Tools menus to change the video format. It is not a deal-killer, but it was a handy feature that will be missed. There is also no indication when you are in video mode of the selected resolution. That is something KODAK should address in a future release. Once you have selected the video resolution, just press the round RECORD button in the middle of the mouse and the unit starts recording until you press the button a second time. There are audible beeps to alert you when recording starts and stops and a timer begins counting away the seconds of the current clip while a red record icon flashes on the screen. When the PlaySport is in Pause mode, there is an HH:MM:SS readout in the upper-left corner that displays the amount of recording time remaining on the SD card.

The quality of the video captured by the Zx5 is virtually identical to the Zx3 and depends on several factors. First of all, like it's sibling, low-light video quality is abysmal and there is no LED to shed even minimal light on a subject in low-light situations. Outdoors, however, the video quality is quite good, the only limitation being the underwhelming D.I.S. (Digital Image Stabilization). The D.I.S. replaces the E.I.S. (Electronic Image Stabilization) on the Zx3 and, even though I cannot verify there is any difference in the technology, the Zx5 does seem to provide a more stable anti-shake than the Zx3 did.

The Zx5 has a 4X digital zoom and it does allow you to zoom in and out while recording, something a lot of small camcorders do not offer. However, because it is a digital zoom and not optical, the image quality suffers when using the zoom. Your best quality will be at the widest angle with no zoom applied.

The LCD screen is better than on the Zx3, but still a weak link. It is still too dark to be easily seen in sunlight. However, it is better than on the Zx3. The sound quality that comes from the small microphone (located on the front next to the lens) is good. However, there is no electronic wind cut filter and you can get a LOT of annoying wind noise.

One other thing I noticed is the sound quality is not as good as it was on the Zx3. It is possible that fiddling with the microphone gain settings would improve the sound. Out of the box, however, the video sound is very noisy compared to the Zx3.

In spite of these shortcomings, I cannot help but believe the Playsport Zx5 delivers on what it is designed to deliver. This is an inexpensive, easy-to-use camcorder for active situations. I don't think KODAK was designing the camera to shoot indoor video. This is a camcorder you take to the beach, or the pool, or when riding your snowmobile.

To get the video clips into iMovie on the Mac, I was not able to use the Capture/Import capabilities in iMovie. Instead, I had to locate the video files (the PlaySport shows up as an external hard disk drive when connected to the USB port) and copy them to my Mac first, then use the Import Files menu option.

KODAK has added the ability to TRIM video clips right in the camera! By pressing the Tools/Setup button in playback mode,

PHOTOS

First and foremost, the Playsport is a video camera, not a still camera. Even though the Zx5 will capture 5 MP still shots, this is the one big disappointment I had in the camera. For some reason, the Zx5 simply does not take photos that are as sharp and detailed as the ones we shot with the Zx3. The photos almost look as though they are slightly out of focus. However, it should be noted that KODAK considers the Playsport a pocket video camera, with the emphasis being on video, not still photos.

To shoot photos, you first make sure the camera is in Photo "mode", indicated with a small camera icon in the top of the LCD screen. You can toggle between video and photo modes by pressing the Record Mode button. When in Photo mode, just press the record button in the center of the mouse to shoot a photo. There is no built-in flash, so indoor photos in low-light are not even worth discussing. However, as long as you have a decent amount of light, the camera takes decent pictures. I have included some sample photos below.

SUMMARY

My first impression of the original Playsport Zx3 was that for $129 it was a no-brainer purchase. I am not as convinced with the Zx5. While the $179 price is reasonable for the addition of shockproof/dustproof ruggedness, KODAK seems to have gone backwards on performance in some areas (e.g. photo quality, sound quality).

Nevertheless, for cruise enthusiasts, the KODAK Playsport Zx5 will makes a great travel video companion. You can keep it in your pocket or around your neck throughout the cruise and it will be ready to shoot when the scene presents itself. Take the Playsport with you on your shore excursions to capture your zip-line adventure in St. Maarten or your parasailing in St. Thomas. You can even hold it underwater to shoot video of the Stingrays swimming around your legs in Grand Cayman!

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

If you do not require the shockproof or dustproof capabilities you might want to consider the Playsport Zx3. You will get virtually the same video/photo quality as the Zx5 and save about $50.


What I Like

  • Great design, comfortable in hand
  • Easy to use, great interface
  • 1080p and 720p 60fps
  • Excellent build quality, rugged
  • Now dustproof and shockproof!
  • Exceptional video quality
  • Free HDMI cable when you register with KODAK
  • Just downright fun to use
  • Affordable

What I Don't Like

  • Screen still hard to see in bright sun
  • Still photo quality suffers, especially in low light
  • Poor sound quality. Could benefit from a wind-cut filter
  • Kodak made me give it back

VIDEO REVIEW








SAMPLE PHOTOS


Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.

 
Wide angle shot 4X zoom shot
Wide angle shot 4X zoom shot
Wide angle shot 4X digital zoom shot

Macro focus

Reviewed by Chris Dikmen
Managing Editor of CruiseReport.com
     
     
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