While videophiles might shudder to think it, Pure Digital's crappy Flip, the little YouTubecam that could, has changed a lot about how a lot of folks approach video capture -- $590 million worth of change, according to Cisco. Kodak jumped into the market last year with one of the earliest HD models, the $179 Zi6. Now they've followed up with the Zx1, a $149 "rugged" camera for, um, ruggedness. They're aiming the camera at outdoor types, but with a smaller form factor, better build, lower price, HDMI output, and 60fps 720p recording (the original maxes out at 30fps 720p), about the only thing you'll be missing from the Zi6 is a macro mode. So, specs aside, how does the Zx1 perform? Find out after the break.
Gallery | 35 Photos

Kodak Zx1 unboxing and impressions


Usage

The whole point of these simple cameras is that they're simple to use, and Zx1 doesn't depart from Zi6's interface -- just press the center button to record, press it again to stop. Switching resolution and zooming with the d-pad aren't exactly "intuitive" but it's not like they're hard to do. You can press two buttons at once to enter the settings menu, but there's little there worth playing with.


Startup is lightning quick, a hair faster than the Zi6, and you can have the camera on and recording in HD in just a couple seconds. Unfortunately, while it's easy to get the camera up and recording, it's more complicated than the competition to get video off the device: you have to use the SD card or the included USB cable, there's no pop-out USB plug. This does cut down on size, and Kodak claims it helped in weatherproofing (there are snug rubber flaps over all the ports, it's pretty legit), but it also eliminates one of the biggest selling points of YouTubecams.

Kodak sells an optional rubberized casing, a flexible tripod and a helmet mount. Oddly enough, the rubber casing doesn't have an outlet for the wrist strap, so it's an either-or proposition -- or a quick hacking job. Also, the wrist strap doesn't "cinch up," so for all Kodak's talk of rough and tumble use, we're a little wary about swinging this thing around.

Running on two standard AA batteries (a pair of rechargeables, along with a charger, are included), we don't see battery life being much of an issue at all, which is always a relief. We're not so enthused by the lack of included memory -- built-in memory is only adequate for a few seconds of HD, and you'll want to pony up for a few GBs of SD card to make this think really worth using.

ArcSoft Windows editing software is including on the device itself, and is installed when plugging the camera in over USB. It installed in a snap, and allows for simple editing, archiving, converting and uploads to YouTube and Vimeo.

Performance

Sized-down video still, captured while skating in what we assure you was an "extreme" manner.

Video quality is sort of a tale of two worlds: indoors and outdoors. Outdoors, with even an evening's level of natural light, the camera performs (relatively) wonderfully. The colors are very bright and natural (better than on the Zi6), and the image almost looks "hi-def" -- not always the case with most cheap "HD" cameras, that do more upscaling than anything else. Indoors it all falls apart. Images are incredibly grainy, and the camera just doesn't pick up on much info. Naturally, the grain is less pronounced when shooting in VGA, but we've seen much better sample footage from the competition.

The other problem with video, which seems to be shared by most of these products but is more pronounced in HD models, is that full-frame motion is painful to watch. No matter how great individual stills look, the video is just horrible jerky when the camera is being panned or tilted or jostled -- all incredibly common occurrences for this type of camera.

We'd say 60fps works well enough, but won't blow your mind, and most folks won't have a way to slow it down for their uploads -- though it's easy enough to do when playing back on a TV, and the included ArcSoft software can manage it if you know where to look. Plugging in the camera to an HDTV with the included HDMI cable is a breeze, and it's one of the smoothest methods of playback available (computers have serious trouble with the camera's codec), but be prepared for the true quantity of jaggies to be exposed.

Wrap-up

Overall, the camera is a great deal, and makes decent "HD" footage surprisingly accessible. For $149 we can excuse the lack of SD card, but we're not sure the target market will excuse the inconvenience. Unfortunately, image quality isn't really making a generational leap here, and indoors this camera loses out to its SD counterparts, so folks that are waiting on this market to mature into something a bit more passable on the quality front are going to have to wait a bit longer.

Sample (right click to download)
Birds at the park - 720p, 60fps

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