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The Kodak Playsport, also known as the Zx3, is the evolution of Kodak's Zx1. While that model was weather-resistant, the Playsport is waterproof, able to record underwater down to 9.8 feet. There are other improvements, too, that make it a more capable pocket video camera--in and out of the water.
For its price there's little to complain about, but if you're after specific shooting abilities or features you'll want to keep reading. However, if your main concerns are an inexpensive HD pocket video camera that can handle a day at the pool, a hike in the woods, or some time in inclement weather, the Playsport is highly recommended.
At roughly the size of an average smartphone, the Playsport is fractionally bigger and heavier than other minicamcorders, but not in any meaningful way. You'll still have no trouble slipping it into a pants pocket or small handbag and it certainly won't weigh you down. The body is primarily plastic, but it feels like thick, tough plastic and the slightly textured back and ribbed sides help you keep a good grip on it even when wet. Despite its "rugged design," Kodak makes no claims of it being crush- or shockproof. In fact, the only durability claims made are that it's waterproof to 9.8 feet (meeting IEC standard 60529 IPX8, so my guess would be that's only for up to 30 minutes) and dust resistant (IEC standard 60529 IPX6). It's also not freezeproof, meaning it likely won't function properly when exposed to temperatures lower than 32 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended time.
|Key specs||Kodak Playsport Zx3|
|Dimensions (HWD)||4.4 x 2.3 x 0.8 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||5.1 ounces|
|Storage capacity, type||SD/SDHC cards|
|Resolution, sensor size, type||5 megapixels, 1/2.5-inch CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution||2-inch LCD, 154K dots|
|Lens||Fixed focus, f2.8, 48mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (video, audio)||H.264 (.MOV)|
|Resolution||1,920x1,080 at 30fps (progressive)|
|Recording time||80 minutes per 4GB (720p at 30fps)|
|Image stabilization type||Digital|
|Battery type, rated life (typical use)||Li ion rechargeable, 1 hour, 30 minutes (720p at 30fps)|
As typical of minicamcorders, the lens on front is left fairly unprotected, so you'll need to remember to keep it safe and clean. Unlike Kodak's Zi8 model, the Playsport has no macro option for focusing on close subjects; the normal focus range starts at 3.3 feet, while underwater it starts at 4.4 feet. Next to the lens is a relatively sensitive mono microphone, a hidden IR receiver for an optional remote, and a record light that blinks red when you're recording. The light as well as all operational sounds can be shut off.
Controls are easy enough for out-of-the-box use. The power button is high on the right side, but all other controls are on back below the LCD. The circular four-way directional pad controls the 4x digital zoom (up and down) and changes recording modes (left and right). It's also used for navigation and fast forward, rewind, and volume in playback. The button in its center is to start/stop recordings, take a photo, and play/pause/stop videos in playback. The remaining four buttons to the left of the pad let you enter Liveview for recording; Review for watching what you've shot; delete photos and videos; and access the settings menu.
The LCD is relatively small at 2 inches diagonal, but it is good enough for shooting and on-the-spot playback. Kodak adds an LCD Glare Shield feature to this model that sounds fancier than it is. It simply improves screen visibility in bright outdoor lighting by changing from a Normal picture to High Saturation or Black & White. The settings have no effect on the actual video, but they can help you see what you're shooting. Toggling through them is done with the Liveview button.
And while I'm on the subject of settings, there aren't a whole lot of things to adjust since these minicamcorders are made for point-and-shoot use. Along with the Glare Shield feature, you get three levels of screen brightness and an auto option for letting the device set it; gain control for the built-in mono mic; on/offs for its electronic image stabilization and face detection; and an Underwater Mode that improves video and photo quality for better clarity when shooting underwater. There are four video recording modes to choose from: 1080p at 30fps, 720p at 60fps or 30fps, and WVGA. You can also shoot 5-megapixel stills.
To keep ports and such watertight, there are two locking doors; one on each side of the body. Under the right-side door is a proprietary USB port as well as a Mini-HDMI port and an AV jack; cables are included for each. To keep the body compact and limit opportunities for water damage, this model doesn't have a built-in USB connector that's common to this type of camcorder. Instead you have to use the included USB cable. Not only does this mean you need to carry a cable around with you for on-the-go uploading, you have to carry around this specific cable with you since it's not a standard Mini- or Micro-USB port. (Assuming you have an SDHC memory card reader available, you could go that route, too.)
Under the left door is the battery and SD/SDHC card slot. The battery is charged in camera via the bundled USB cable connected to a computer (approximately 4 hours for a full charge) or an included wall adapter (approximately 2 hours for a full charge). I recommend buying one or two additional batteries if you're going to record at 720/60p or 1080/30p, as those settings noticeably bite into battery life. Also, you'll need to supply an SD/SDHC card for recordings. There is 128MB of internal memory but only 20MB of it is available for video or stills.
As we've said many times before, pocket video cameras such as the Playsport can't compete with a full-fledged HD camcorder costing hundreds of dollars more. There are other factors that go into creating great video beyond high resolution. That said, the 1080p video quality is generally excellent with great color and sharpness for its class. When played back on a large HDTV, you'll notice artifacts, but not to the point of distraction (and frankly, if you're that picky, you shouldn't be buying in this product category). However, if you're doing a lot of panning or you're shooting fast-moving subjects, you'll want to switch to the 720/60p setting to avoid a lot of judder in your clips. The results are visibly softer than the 1080p, but much smoother. The digital zoom will degrade quality, but it isn't so bad to make it unusable. Low-light performance is good, too. It looks like there's some active noise reduction going, because clips appear softer. There's also noticeable color banding, but still the results are pleasing even on a big screen. Results underwater looked fine as well, though you'll have to remember to stay 4 feet away from your subject to keep them in focus.
Photo quality is on par with a good camera phone; it'll do if you just want a quick snapshot, but it won't replace a digital camera. Unlike other models we've tested there is little shutter lag, which is nice; however, it does take a couple seconds to store the photo before you can shoot again.
With pocket video cameras, easily sharing the video is equally as important as shooting it. Stored on the device's internal memory is ArcSoft's MediaImpression for Kodak software for sharing. Connect the Playsport to a computer via USB and the software will start installing. Be careful with your clicking, though, as the software will ask whether you want to use it as your primary application for viewing multiple types of photos and video. Once installed it will allow you to e-mail clips and upload directly to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Vimeo (after you've entered your account information, of course). There's a basic editor for trimming and cutting along with adjustments for color, contrast, and brightness, underwater enhancement, dynamic lighting, and denoise. You can apply a handful of fun effects as well such as Watercolor, Negative, and Sketch. It can capture individual frames and also convert video for use on Apple TV, iPhone, and iPod as well as Sony's PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3. Unfortunately, one thing it can't do is work on a Mac: the software is Windows only. If you own a Mac, you can copy your video and still images to your computer by dragging and dropping the files from the camcorder as you would with any USB storage device (and upload them to YouTube easily enough) and then edit your video using iMovie.
Waterproof or not, the Kodak Playsport Zx3 is a fine minicamcorder for its price and size. It is more rugged than the average pocket video camera, but it certainly isn't indestructible. The video is excellent for its class, though, and the sacrifices for its rugged construction are more inconvenient than insurmountable.
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