Kodak Zi6 First Impressions

So, as part of one of my goals for 2009, we’re start­ing to shoot more video (most­ly of Ains­ley, natch). We’ve done so in the past, but with not with any reg­u­lar­i­ty. Though one can­not ignore the fact of lazy par­ent­ing, I do think there are oth­er more sig­nif­i­cant issues con­tribut­ing to our lack of shoot­ing video around here.

Kodak Zi6 on GorrilaPod

The Kodak Zi6 mount­ed on the plen­ty hefty Goril­la­pod

I think it is much more the issue of the tech­nol­o­gy in ques­tion. Our lit­tle Canon ZR200 DV cam­corder did­n’t shoot very high qual­i­ty video, and it was even poor­er when record­ed onto an SD card. The process of upload­ing DV video into iMovie is cum­ber­some, as the video has to be record­ed in real-time from the cam­er­a’s play­back head. Last­ly, despite being rel­a­tive­ly small for a cam­corder, it is still a large device when com­pared to a pock­et dig­i­tal cam­era or even a cell phone — many of which now record video as good as our cam­corder.

Let me com­pare to the near­est medi­um I can: pho­tog­ra­phy. When we first got a large stor­age card for our first dig­i­tal pock­et cam­era, it began to open a world of new uses for that device. Pho­tos were no longer reserved for the must-doc­u­ment moments of a vaca­tion or hol­i­day. They could be used to doc­u­ment any­thing worth not­ing. We could prac­tice pho­tos with­out wor­ry about fill­ing the stor­age (or devel­op­ment costs, etc.). We began to use pho­tos as visu­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion. For exam­ple, I could take some pho­tos of some plumb­ing fix­ture and show the sales-staff at the local hard­ware store right from the cam­era, giv­ing them a much bet­ter descrip­tion of what I need­ed than my lim­it­ed plumb­ing knowl­edge could describe. I know first hand how dig­i­tal pho­tos have rev­o­lu­tion­ized the con­struc­tion indus­try in terms of inspec­tions and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It’s the econ­o­my of free1 come to pho­tog­ra­phy.

A small size also affects how a cam­era is used. When a cam­era becomes small enough to be packed into anoth­er device — like, say, a cell phone — it’s use changes. Think what the cell phone cam­era has done for the num­ber of snap­shots in the world. I would ven­ture that par­ty or self-por­trait snap­shots have increased by an order of mag­ni­tude due to the ubiq­ui­ty of small (albeit rather shit­ty) cam­eras in the world. Why? Because they’re so small as they can always be on hand. They’re stuck into anoth­er device. Even when a cam­era is still just a cam­era, if it is suf­fi­cient­ly small some­one can eas­i­ly car­ry it almost all the time.

With the large stor­age capac­i­ty com­bined with a very small size, the pock­et dig­i­tal cam­era becomes a dif­fer­ent tool alto­geth­er than a small cam­era with lim­it­ed stor­age or a large cam­era2. I think that hav­ing a dig­i­tal HD video cam­era that is essen­tial­ly the same size with an fair­ly large capac­i­ty — say, sev­er­al hours — equal­ly trans­forms what a video cam­era can be used for.

So, I decid­ed to start look­ing into the pur­chase of a dig­i­tal HD video cam­era.

Features That Appealed to Me

There are now a few options in the (rel­a­tive­ly) new class of pock­et HD video cam­eras3. The Zi6 sells along side the sim­i­lar form-fac­tor Flip Mino­HD, as well as a few oth­er sol­id-state HD cam­eras with the flip-out lcd screen form-fac­tor. So, why did I decide on the Kodak?

If it had come down to pure good looks, I’d have gone with the Mino. It has a slight­ly small­er foot­print and sleek­er looks. How­ev­er, it lacks a num­ber of fea­tures that make the Zi6 the win­ning option, in my opin­ion.

The Zi6 does have some on-board mem­o­ry. About enough for 2–3 min­utes of video, I think. It does, how­ev­er, also use SD cards for extend­ed mem­o­ry. As we have piles of 1 and 2GB SD cards lying around (it has become the pre­ferred flash stor­age medi­um in our house­hold), it was a log­i­cal choice to extend their use­ful­ness. Sec­ond­ly, the Zi6 uses a pair of AA bat­ter­ies for pow­er. It actu­al­ly comes with a pair of recharge­able bat­ter­ies and charg­er, which is a nice include. Any­one who has ever drained their cam­era bat­tery only to real­ize that the charg­er or cable was left at home knows that sink­ing feel­ing of hold a high-tech paper­weight. It’s a rare place in our lives that is more than 5 min­utes and $3 from a pair of AAs. Not to men­tion, we own a pile of recharge­able AAs as well4. So, the Zi6 cer­tain­ly was a bet­ter choice to lever­age what we already own. Fur­ther, the Zi6 has a much larg­er screen than the Mino. As this is the only view of what you are record­ing (no view find­er on some­thing this small) and it is handy for play­back, this also was a big bonus. Last­ly, and this can­not be over­looked, the Zi6 is about $50 less than the Mino.

So, Zi6 FTW.

Camera, Box, & Bag

Unboxed, with the handy car­ry­ing bag.

Downsides

I was a bit dis­ap­point­ed by the feel of the device. Though the fit and fin­ish is high qual­i­ty, the device feels light and plas­ti­cy — as though it could crack open with a drop to the ground. I would have like to have seen this device with a more sub­stan­tial case around it. What looks like met­al trim is, in fact, chromed plas­tic 5How­ev­er, this is just an impres­sion and it is only fair to point out that noth­ing has hap­pened to the case in my use thus far.

Also, the qual­i­ty of the pic­ture is far-from per­fect. First, there is a lot of noise in the images. Giv­en that this has been my biggest com­plaint about my Nikon D50, I sus­pect this is going to annoy me. But, with more pix­els to work with, the adjust­ments to pic­ture in post-pro­cess­ing can bet­ter improve the end prod­uct. Also, the cam­er­a’s speed is fair­ly slow6. That is, motion can get real­ly blur­ry. If my tod­dler can become a blur of motion, there’s lit­tle hope of using this cam­era to record any­thing very fast. Also, as you might expect giv­en a cam­era that weighs less than 6 oz. (and there fore has very low moment of iner­tia com­pared to me), the pic­ture can be a bit shaky. Last­ly, the low-light sen­si­tiv­i­ty seems almost non-exis­tent. We won’t be shoot­ing any hor­ror films on this one; or, at least, if we do it will be those awful scenes where there’s just scream­ing and you can’t make out any­thing that is hap­pen­ing. The col­or bal­ance seems to swing pret­ty wide between blues and yel­lows, as well. This cam­era needs even light­ing, and quite a lot of it, it would seem.

All that being said: let’s be fair. This is a $150 device that shoots 1280x720 video and, with a $40 card, can store up to eight hours of video at that res­o­lu­tion7. Also, the Zi6 also has a female thread­ed mount on the bot­tom, which of course could go a long way to reduc­ing shak­i­ness — either by using a tri­pod or my $14 steady­cam. There is, not sur­pris­ing­ly, no hot shoe for attach­ing a light or exter­nal mic on the Zi6. How­ev­er, there was­n’t one on our Canon ZR200, either, and that was a let down. Keep in mind, even though it was a cheap cam­corder, it was twice the price of the Zi6.

Using the Camera
In My Hand

Like the iPhone, with a sim­i­lar foot­print, the Zi6 is a nat­ur­al fit.

The device’s size is ter­rif­ic. It is almost exact­ly the size of two first-gen iPhones stacked togeth­er (that is, same foot­print; just twice as thick). I know this because I stacked Ange­la’s and my iPhones togeth­er for com­par­i­son.

This includes (as does the com­pet­ing Flip HD) the swing out USB con­nec­tor. This is a bit big­ger than the Mino HD, but at the trade of a much larg­er screen. How­ev­er, it still feels good in my hand and Angela seemed to agree.

Of course, even if the thing was half as thick, it would still be a bit of a pain to actu­al­ly use the flip-out USB con­nec­tor to plug it into the back of my iMac. It is about the right height, but those ports are very close togeth­er (a USB jump dri­ve is a tight fit).

Problem: USB Jam Solution: USB Extension Cord

Use an exten­sion cord for the flip-out USB con­nec­tor.

How­ev­er, I also hap­pen to have one of the hand­i­est USB devices around — which isn’t real­ly a device at all. It’s a 1 meter USB cable exten­sion cable. I hap­pened to get this rel­a­tive­ly short one along with a lega­cy ser­i­al port to USB adapter I pur­chased some time ago. How­ev­er, there are plen­ty of cheap cables avail­able at Ama­zon.

There is a disc includ­ed with some Win­dows soft­ware for trans­fer­ring (and maybe edit­ing?) files. Of course, there isn’t any mac soft­ware includ­ed. But, as I’ve nev­er cared for pack-in soft­ware that comes with any cam­era I’ve ever owned, I real­ly was­n’t plan­ning on installing any­thing any­way. The includ­ed soft­ware appar­ent­ly has some links to quick upload the video straight to YouTube, but I’m not real­ly going to miss that8. Pret­ty much any com­put­er sees the Zi6 as a USB mass stor­age device, with the files in sub-fold­ers (just like a dig­i­tal cam­era). The files are in Quick­time (.mov) for­mat. Giv­en that every mac comes with Quick­time and iMovie, using them on a mac is actu­al­ly eas­i­er than on a Win­dows PC. The files are rough­ly 1MB per sec­ond of video (on the 30 frames per sec­ond set­ting), which puts a 2GB card hold­ing approx­i­mate­ly 30 min­utes of video. There­fore, the max­i­mum video on a sin­gle 32GB card is a lit­tle over 9 hours. That’s not too bad con­sid­er­ing that would be 9 miniDV tapes plus the cam­era for a typ­i­cal cam­corder.


Our First Zi6 Movie from Jason Cole­man on Vimeo.

Cur­rent­ly, we have a very old ver­sion of iMovie and it is sim­ply not let­ting me out­put the video in its full qual­i­ty (despite select­ing “full qual­i­ty”, or even the 1280x720 option). So, the best out­put I could get that rea­son­ably dis­played some of the first video we shot is above; host­ed on Vimeo. As soon as iLife ’09 is released, I’ll see about re-post­ing the video for com­par­i­son. In the mean­time, check out some of the footage shot on a Zi6 at Vimeo or Flickr to see what this lit­tle cam­era is capa­ble of.

So far, we’ve been very pleased.

  1. How a tool, device, or ser­vice gets used dras­ti­cal­ly changes when its cost drops to essen­tial­ly noth­ing. Read Chris Ander­son­’s — Sr. Edi­tor at Wired — arti­cle for a more in depth look at the econ­o­my of free. []
  2. After hav­ing a DSLR for over two years now, I can tell you that there are some sit­u­a­tions that such a large cam­era just isn’t well suit­ed for. Not that it can’t be used, mind you. Just that the size makes it more awk­ward and, there­fore, less like­ly to be used in the first place. []
  3. And no doubt many more now, as CES just wrapped up. []
  4. We have the Ener­giz­er recharge­able bat­ter­ies with the 15-minute charg­er and have been very hap­py with them thus far. We use them most­ly for Wii remotes and they’ve last­ed for over two years now, though it does seem that they don’t hold as long of a charge as the ini­tial­ly did. I’ve also heard good things about the Sanyo eneloop bat­ter­ies, but haven’t tried them myself. []
  5. Gee, I hope it does­n’t wear off to that yel­low plas­tic like all of my Trans­form­ers did when I was a kid… Am I the only per­son who notice that? Appar­ent­ly not. []
  6. It may be pos­si­ble that using a SD card with a faster write speed may help this, but I’m not sure that is the lim­it­ing fac­tor here. []
  7. This is based on the 60 min­utes of video for a 2GB card base. The cam­era can use up to a 32GB SD card. How­ev­er, giv­en that those cur­rent­ly cost around $130+, I don’t see that as being real­ly prac­ti­cal. After all, it’s not like SD cards real­ly take up much space in your pock­et and last I checked 4x16 was greater than 32; at cur­rent prices. []
  8. Frankly, the jerks who uploads un-edit­ed video straight to YouTube — video that isn’t of a break­ing news event — only hurt us all. Let’s all hope for more edit­ing on sites like YouTube. []

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