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Zoom Q3 camcorder (photos)

Take a closer look at the Zoom Q3, a solid-state digital video camera with an emphasis on professional sound quality.

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Donald Bell
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1 of 24 Donald Bell/CNET
The Zoom Q3 is a digital video camera that emphasizes audio quality above all else. Marketed primarily at musicians, the Q3 offers a relatively cheap ($249) way to quickly create music videos with good sound and decent video.
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Right out of the box, Zoom sets up your expectations for the Q3 with text that reads "A little bit of video...A whole lot of audio." A glass-half-full type may see this as a refreshing emphasis on sound quality. But as many have pointed out, it's also an admission that the 640x480-pixel resolution is far from dazzling.
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3 of 24 Donald Bell/CNET
The Q3 is made of plastic, but it feels relatively solid in the hand. If you're familiar with Zoom's popular line of audio recorders, you'll recognize that the Q3's construction quality bears more in common with the plastic-feeling Zoom H2 than the professional-feeling Zoom H4n. The built-in screen measures 2.4 inches diagonally.
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The Q3 can record at audio resolutions up to 24-bit/48kHz WAV (or 320Kbps MP3) using a selectable X/Y microphone pattern that can focus on individual instruments or capture the sound of the whole room.
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Compared with the fifth-generation iPod Nano (which now includes a video camera), the Zoom Q3 doesn't have a whole lot going for it. The Q3 is more than twice as large, costs $100 more, and captures video at identical resolution. The only things working in the Q3's favor are the built-in USB cable and, of course, the vastly superior sound quality. Put another way, if sound quality doesn't matter all that much to you, there are better, less expensive camcorders than the Zoom Q3.
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The optical lens used on the Q3 is a fixed focus (0.8m to infinity) with 2x digital zoom. A built-in speaker is also included next to the lens.
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The left side of the Zoom Q3 includes options for power input, headphone/line output, audio-only mode, mic gain, and power.
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On the right side of the Q3, there are an SDHC card slot, composite AV output (cable included), and a USB plug that swings out.
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The Zoom Q3 can be powered from a wall adapter or two AA batteries inserted in the back. Battery power offers two hours of continuous recording.
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The Zoom Q3's built-in USB cable doesn't offer the same satisfying switchblade action as the Flip Mino camera, but it gets the job done.
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Here's a side shot of the iPod Nano sitting on top of the Zoom Q3. To be fair, any gadget looks gigantic next to the Nano, but if you're looking for slim, the Q3 isn't it.
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The Zoom Q3 comes bundled with accessories, including batteries, an AV cable, a 2GB SD card, a carrying pouch, and a microphone windscreen.
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Here we have the navigation pad of the Zoom Q3. For the most part, it's about as simple as a Flip Mino, but the Menu button offers increased flexibility for switching between audio recording formats.
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Image quality test. Zoom Q3 image (top) pictured with Flip Ultra HD (bottom).

Note differences in color warmth and the grainy compression artifacts found in the Q3's image.
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Image quality test. Zoom Q3 image (top) pictured with Flip Ultra HD (bottom).

Notice the Q3's poor performance under indoor lighting conditions.
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Image quality test. Zoom Q3 image (top) pictured with Flip Ultra HD (bottom).

For this test we used each device's digital 2x zooming capabilities to try and capture the S.F. Golden Gate bridge in the distance. Not only is the Flip Ultra HD's image (bottom) much smoother at full zoom, but the outline of the bridge is visible.
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17 of 24 Donald Bell/CNET
Image quality test. Zoom Q3 image (top) pictured with Flip Ultra HD (bottom).

Notice the differences in color saturation and detail.
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