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Kodak PlaySport Zx5 review: Kodak PlaySport Zx5

Kodak PlaySport Zx5

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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8 min read

Editors' note: Kodak has issued a firmware update for the PlaySport Zx5 that prevents it from "freezing" or "locking up" during video capture or review, and enables the use of Class 10 SDHC and SDHC UHS-1 memory cards.

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7.8

Kodak PlaySport Zx5

The Good

The waterproof/shockproof <b>Kodak PlaySport Zx5</b> produces very good video quality for its price and size, is easy to use, and has good editing/sharing software.

The Bad

The PlaySport doesn't have a built-in USB connector, there's no flash or video light, and the battery can't be removed.

The Bottom Line

The rugged Kodak PlaySport Zx5 is a very good minicamcorder, but falls just shy of improving on last year's model, despite being more durable.

The PlaySport Zx5 is Kodak's update to 2010's PlaySport Zx3. The two look nearly identical, but the Zx5 ups the ante on durability; the Zx3 was merely waterproof and dustproof but now the Zx5 adds shockproofing. There are a couple of other feature differences, too--most for the better. Unfortunately, the battery is no longer removable.

The video quality from the Zx5 doesn't change much from the Zx3, but the few changes are mildly for the worse, which brought its rating down. On the other hand, the video is still very nice and the camera is a good deal for anyone looking for a minicamcorder that can handle surf, sand, snow, and rain.

Key specs Kodak Playsport Zx3
Price (MSRP) $149.99
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 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. Then again, you probably wouldn't risk bringing something that expensive for a dip in the pool with you or barreling down a ski slope. For its size and price the video from the PlaySport is very good. The default resolution is 720p at 30 frames per second. At this setting clips looks soft and not what I would consider "HD" but more like good DVD-quality standard definition. If you're shooting moving subjects, like someone running, you might see artifacts and quickly panning the camera will result in noticeable judder. The same is true of the 1080/30p setting. However, these things are typical with minicamcorders and changing to the 720/60p setting helps some to smooth things out.

Now, if you're subject isn't moving rapidly, the 1080/30p resolution is worth using, because scenes actually look high definition. There's a bit too much sharpening at times that causes ringing artifacts, but that's mostly noticeable when viewing at large sizes such as on an HDTV. Color and exposure are generally good, too, but it clipped highlights in bright lighting--indoors and out--and the white balance seems off. Low-light video, while noisy, is pretty good without a lot of detail loss. One thing I did notice is that it has problems focusing--or at least sharpening--on a portion of the center left side of a scene with a lot of fine detail. For example, when shooting a grassy lawn, the right side would be sharp as would the far left side. However, a section just in the center and to the left would look soft and smeary. It's easily overlooked if you're not scrutinizing a clip or viewing at small sizes.

Soft video from the Kodak PlaySport
Though only really noticeable at larger sizes, the center left of this scene is soft and smeary while the rest is sharp and in focus.

The PlaySport has an autofocus lens that can focus from 4 inches to infinity; underwater that changes to 5.1 inches to infinity. If you need to get even closer to your subject you can switch to macro shooting with a focus range of 2.8 to 6.7 inches; 3.5 to 8.7 inches underwater. It also has a 4x digital zoom, which I recommend using sparingly; I've seen worse results from a digital zoom, but it's still not good.

Lastly, this minicamcorder can capture 5-megapixel photos and it actually shoots quickly. The results are suitable for Web use and small prints, but, like with video, clipped highlights are an issue and there are visible noise/artifacts in low-light shots.

Features Kodak PlaySport Zx5
Inputs/Outputs None/Micro-HDMI, Micro-USB
White balance Auto
Scene modes None
Focus Auto (4 inches to infinity)
Color effects Black-and-white, Sepia, High saturation, and 1970s film look
Lens cover (auto or manual) None

Easily sharing the video is equally as important as shooting it with these devices. Stored on the device's internal memory are ArcSoft's MediaImpression for Kodak software for sharing and the Kodak Share Button app. Connect the PlaySport to a computer via USB and MediaImpression 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 a few different video formats. Once installed, it will allow you to e-mail clips and upload directly to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Vimeo as well as to international sites Yandex and KAIXIN001 (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, dynamic lighting, and denoise. You can apply a handful of 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.

The Kodak Share Button app is what handles the uploading, storing, and e-mailing of photos and movies you have tagged in the minicamcorder. The one thing it doesn't do is sort, so photos and movies get stored to the same folder. Both MediaImpression and the Share Button app are available for Windows and Mac (though the latter requires downloading from Kodak's site). Of course, you can always opt to drag and drop content from the device to a computer or simply pop out your SD card and use whatever software you want.

The appearance, size, and weight of the camera haven't changed much from its predecessor, the Zx3. 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. The PlaySport Zx5 is 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 shockproof (MIL-STD-810F, Method 516.5) meaning that it's capable of surviving a drop of up to 5 feet. However, this is for a drop onto plywood; just because something is rugged doesn't make it indestructible. The PlaySport is not freezeproof, meaning it likely won't function properly when exposed to subfreezing temperatures.

There are two doors on each side of the device that protect its ports and card slot. Though they lock firmly, an extra latch to prevent accidentally opening them would be appreciated. Behind the left-side door are Micro-HDMI port and Micro-USB ports. Unfortunately, there is no swing-out USB arm for directly connecting to a computer so you'll always need a USB cable for charging the device and transferring movies and photos. The battery isn't user-replaceable and charging takes about 3.5 hours by electrical outlet or 4.5 hours by computer. Also, with previous models Kodak included an HDMI cable, but not with the PlaySport. Instead, you'll need to register the device on Kodak's Web site to get the cable sent to you for a $6.50 shipping and handling fee. That's cheaper than buying one, but still a nuisance and an extra expense.

The right door covers an SD card slot (there's only 20MB of available internal memory, so you'll need to buy a card for recording). There had been reports that the PlaySport would not work with Class 10 SDHC cards, but a firmware update was released to fix this problem. I tested with both Class 4 and Class 10 cards and both worked fine. There have also been complaints that the device freezes or locks up after several minutes of recording. Again, I did not experience this in my testing, but the previously mentioned firmware update fixes this issue as well.

On top is the power button. The video camera starts up and starts recording relatively quickly. On the bottom is a standard tripod mount, though it is plastic so it may eventually wear out if you use it a lot. Given that this is designed to be a basic shoot-and-share video camera, there are no jacks for headphones or an external mic; for those, you'll have to get a Kodak PlayTouch (or a Zi8 if it's still available).

As is typical of minicamcorders, the lens on front is unprotected, so you'll need to remember to keep it safe and clean. Next to the lens is the mono microphone, but that's it; there's no flash or video light, which are still a rarity on this type of pocket video camera. The problem is that smartphones typically have them, so not having them is a negative (regardless of how helpful they actually are).

Controls are simple enough, requiring just a little use to master. Compared with the Zx3's button layout, the only thing new is that Kodak's Share button that lets you tag the stuff you want to share online to your choice of sites or by e-mail. You can send things to Kodak's line of Pulse digital frames, too. The weak link here is that you're still required to connect the PlaySport or insert your SD card to a computer to do your sharing. Otherwise, Kodak's three-step sharing process is pretty great.

Above the controls is the bright LCD. I rarely had trouble seeing the screen in bright sunlight, and when I did, Kodak's Glare Shield feature helped by bumping up the screen's color saturation.

Conclusion
The Kodak PlaySport Zx5 is a near-excellent minicamcorder. The shortcomings are relatively minor given its price, size, and results. It's just a nice, simple, pocket video camera that you can feel comfortable handing off to just about anyone. And if it gets wet or takes a small tumble it has a better chance of surviving than a regular minicamcorder or a smartphone.

Find out more about how we test camcorders.

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7.8

Kodak PlaySport Zx5

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 7
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