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Kodak Playsport Camcorder Review

A Waterproof Warrior

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Kodak Playsport Camcorder Review

Image courtesy Kodak

Kodak's Playsport Zx3 ($150) is a pocket camcorder that records HD video at 1920 x 1080p. It is waterproof to a depth of ten feet and features a rugged design that makes it rather unique in the pocket video camera market. You can view video footage recorded with the Playsport here. Full specs of the Playsport here.

Kodak Playsport at a Glance

The Good: Rugged, easy to use, inexpensive

The Bad: So-so video quality

Video Quality

The Kodak Playsport is a high definition pocket camcorder that records 1920 x 1080p video in the H.264 format at 30 frames per second. It has a 1/2.5-inch CMOS image sensor. Those are good specs for a pocket camcorder, at least on paper. In practice, the Playsport produced a fair amount of digital noise, or pixelation, particularly in lower light settings. Even outdoors, the Playsport had a tendency to wash out colors a bit. However, for models in its class, it wasn't anything that should put you off the camcorder.

In addition to a 1080p mode, the Playsport has other quality settings: a 720p/60fps mode for capturing sports or fast-moving objects, a standard 720p mode and a VGA setting. You can also switch the Playsport into still camera mode, where it snaps 5-megapixel stills. Unlike many pocket camcorders, the Playsport's camera function produces some decent stills, provided you're holding the camcorder fairly steady and have good available light (there's no flash).

Under the Sea

Unique among most pocket cameras, the Playsport is waterproof to a depth of 10 feet with a nice rubberized grip which gives it a sturdy feel in your hand. You can't throw it against a brick wall (were you so inclined), but it can definitely survive the occasional bump and bruise.

To enhance its underwater capabilities, the camera has an underwater mode, which you can turn on and off in the menu. Under the fluorescent lighting of my fish tank, the Playsport footage took on a yellowish cast when set to the H20 mode. You can compare normal underwater footage here to H20 mode shots here.

Simple Design

Image courtesy Kodak.

The Playsport is sharply styled and sturdily built. You'll have your choice of three colors: purple, blue and black. Like all pocket video cameras, the Playsport keeps the features and functions to a minimum, which in turn keeps the external controls to a minimum.

The back of the unit has a four-way controller with a white record button in the center. You use the wheel to engage the 4x digital zoom, or to switch between video and still shooting modes. The wheel itself is not super-responsive, occasionally I had to hit it more than once. There are also buttons for entering back into video mode, playback, trash and a menu button.

The Playsport is built to go beneath the waves, so while it's trim and compact at 2.3 x 4.4 x 0.8 inches, it's a bit heftier than other pocket models at over 4.4 ounces. The battery/memory card bay and USB/HDMI bays are sealed shut to protect against water, but open easily when needed.

4x Digital Zoom

The Playsport's 4x digital zoom doesn't do much but add extra noise to your videos, so it isn't of much use. See video sample of the zoom in action here.

Vague Menu System

For some reason, Kodak likes its menus somewhat ambiguous. Some features - like face detection, mic volume and water mode - are easy enough to identify on the menu screen. But others, like the LCD glare shield, you'll have to dig into the manual to learn about as they're not self-evident. There's a big 2-inch display just crying out for catchier icons and some descriptive text.

Good Feature Set

The Playsport is definitely well stocked with features when compared to other pocket video cameras. You'll have face detection (which can be turned off in the menu), the aforementioned water mode, electronic image stabilization and a microphone volume adjuster.

The Playsport also lets you improve the view on the unit's 2-inch LCD. You can adjust the brightness in the menu or activate a "glare shield" (also in the menu) which you can engage if the sun is washing out your display.

What these added goodies amounts to is a bit more complexity vs. a product like the Flip, which has no features and is thus more straightforward to use. Depending on your comfort level, you may welcome these added features or find them a distraction (fortunately you can ignore all of them and just point and shoot if you so desire).

Memory, Connectivity

Out of the box, the Playsport gives you 128MB of internal memory, which isn't enough for much of anything besides a few still photos. It accepts SDHC cards up to 32GB however, giving you enough memory for about 10 hours of HD video footage.

Another nice plus, the Playsport includes an HDMI cable for viewing your videos on an HDTV. The Flip UltraHD is more expensive and doesn't include one, so the Playsport is certainly a bargain in that respect.

A Bargain and a Bruiser

The Playsport has a lot going for it: waterproof, durable build, and a very good feature set for the price. Your trade off: the video quality isn't on par with the best models in the category. If you need a durable video camera to take on vacation and take underwater, the Playsport is definitely a great choice. If you're looking for archival footage of precious family memories, it shouldn't be your first choice.

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