Back in February or March, my trusty Flip Ultra camera stopped working. Granted, I wasn’t being all that careful with it, even thowing it into my coat pocket along with my car keys and other stuff. Shame on me really. I was disappointed that it died, under the manufacturer’s instructions I took out the batteries for 72 hours and hoped that a full cold reset would do it, but she was a no-go.
So facing a week long trip down to Myrtle beach at the end of March, I decided to buy another low cost video camera. I was looking at the Flip Mino, but it was nearly $300.00 up here and just didn’t look like something I should be spending all that money on. I was heading back to the Flip Ultra at $158.00 but then noticed that Best Buy was selling the Kodak Zi6 for about $168.00. It had significantly higher resolution than the Ultra and sounded like the build quality was a step above. I bought the Kodak, and a month later, I have to say I’m quite impressed.
The build quality does seem to be a significant step up from the Flip Ultra. It’s significantly heavier and wider but has a much larger LCD screen on the back and a much more durable feel to it. Slightly scared because of what I did to the poor Flip Ultra, the new camera has been shuttled back into it’s velour pouch every split second it’s not it use. Slightly paranoid I guess.
The Kodak shoots in (technically “HD”) 1280×720 at 30fps or at 60fps. It will also shoot in VGA (640×480 like the Flip Ultra), and it will take 3MP still shots. I have largely stuck with the 30fps 720p mode, but I’ve also taken a few stills which have not disappointed me too much either.
Clearly though, this is not a $1000 camcorder. I find the quality to be quite good, but it’s very lighting dependent. Although as many people I’ve discussed this with mention, almost any consumer camcorder loses significant quality in low light conditions. The Kodak is much the same and probably worse. I’ve used it happily indoors under normal lighting conditions, but of course like any handheld video camera (or still camera), it really shines when outdoors or under good natural lighting.
The camera is almost as simple as the Flip Ultra was. It has a nice flip out USB plug, and get’s detected in Linux as a mass USB storage drive. Very simple. It does let you fast-forward and rewind through videos under playback which is nice as well. Unlike the Flip Mino, this camera uses 2 AA batteries. And even nicer is the fact that for $168.00, they give you a nice pouch, two NiMH batteries AND a charger for them too! Yes, daddy.. indeed the batteries ARE included with this toy. However the SD card it stores video on was not. Luckily I had a 16GB SD card that my wife recently received at some company shindig. I never had a use for SD cards before this (my DSLR uses CF), so it was just good luck for her to have it at the same time I needed it.
Note also that the camera has a macros switch for close-up work. I’ve rarely used it, but I have included a still shot I took earlier today of my daughter’s eye. You can see it’s quite nice and you’ll notice the reflection of the Kodak right in there too.
It ain’t all rainbows and flying ponies though. There are two things which may cause a little concern…
First, the 1280×720 video is quite nice. Nice enough that it wouldn’t play back smoothly on my 5 year old P4 desktop system (even with a 7 series NVidia card). However on my new laptop (a Dell Studio XPS13) it plays back full screen just beautifully. So it may be great to shoot HD resolution video, but be aware that you may not be able to play it back in full resolution if your computer is getting somewhat long in the tooth. Once converted down to something smaller like 720×405, my P4 system played it no problemo.
Second, the video it produces is in MOV format. That is, it’s really h264 with AAC audio encoding. This is fine for many people. However if you’re interested in editing this video in Blender, you may want to re-encode the audio to something that the current stable version of Blender likes more (like MP3). You can do that using ffmpeg like this:
ffmpeg -i input.MOV -vcodec copy -acodec libmp3lame -ab 128k output.MOV
Blender will then happily accept the video and audio for editing.
I’ve included a few sample files in this blog post for those interested in evaluating the quality of the video and images. Note that the video sample is done under what might be the best quality light for a cheapy camera… overcast conditions. Your mileage will vary under more harsh lighting conditions. The camera is not lightning quick to in moving from dark to light spaces, but what do you really expect for a sub $200.00 video camera. The normal still shot is indicative of a tiny sensor. The light is fairly harsh so you’ll see a significant loss of detail. This won’t match a good 3MP point and shoot, but it might be better than your average cell-phone camera under these conditions.
I’ve included an original full res video clip (30 sec and about 30MB), another sample full res clip with the audio re-encoded to mp3 using ffmpeg above, one short macro video sample taken of the CD player display in my car (dust and scratches anyone?) and two sample full res images, one macro and one normal.
And although this didn’t play a part in my choosing the Kodak, I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to Troy Sobotka’s video which he shot with this Kodak Zi6 and edited in Blender. Just to show you what even a cheapie camera like this can do when in the right hands.
As I found with my Flip camera review way back when, there usually aren’t a lot of people willing to post a full res video sample, and I can’t see the usefulness in reviewing a camera and then posting a YouTube sample for people to evaluate. Hopefully it helps some people thinking about purchasing a cheapy video camera like this.
Full Resolution Original File (30MB, 30 sec)
Full Resolution File with audio encoded to mp3 instead of AAC (30MB, 30sec)
Full Resolution Macro Video sample (7MB, 8 sec)
Full Resolution Normal Shot
Full Resolution Macro Shot