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Kodak Zx1 review: Kodak Zx1

Kodak's rugged portable video camera will appeal to outdoor shooters, once they get over the unit's strange controls.

Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is a freelance word writing machine masquerading as a person, a disguise he's managed for over fifteen years now, including a three year stint at ZDNet/CNET Australia. He likes cats, retro gaming and terrible puns.
Alex Kidman
4 min read

Design

If the early models of Motorola's RAZR and Nokia's mobile phone handsets were to engage in some kind of illicit affair, and somehow work out the differences between their competing interfaces, the mutant child that they'd come up with would look a lot like Kodak's Zx1 pocket video camera. The controls all lie on the face of the Zx1 and lack a lot of differentiation, but are clearly of the RAZR school of thought, while the body is just chunky in the classic Nokia candybar style. The Zx1 will fit in a pocket, it's true, but it'll take up the whole pocket, and in certain sleeker clothing you might look like you had some kind of hip-based tumour problem.

7.1

Kodak Zx1

The Good

Choice of recording modes. HDMI output. Uses AA batteries. Rugged design.

The Bad

Digital zoom is laughably bad. Uses AA batteries. Controls are poorly labelled. No real on-board storage.

The Bottom Line

Kodak's rugged portable video camera will appeal to outdoor shooters, once they get over the unit's strange controls.

Our review sample came in a bright "pink rose" hue, but the colour isn't the interesting part of the Zx1's design. It's the deliberate decision Kodak's designers have made to make this an outdoor camera, from the solid body to the heavy rubber flaps that hide the output sockets and SDHC card slots. They're not totally waterproof, but they're certainly water resistant and moderately shockproof, making the Zx1 — at least from a design perspective — a good choice for active video shooters.

One unusual design decision that Kodak's taken with the Zx1 is the use of AA batteries. On the one hand, the use of AA makes the Zx1 a lot bulkier than it would otherwise need to be, and the supplied charger is exceptionally slow to build up juice. On the other hand, AA batteries are the very definition of ubiquitous, so if you do run out of power while you're out and about, chances are a cheap pair of AAs are never that far away.

Features

The Zx1 has a 1.6-megapixel CMOS sensor capable of video shooting in three modes. HD equates to a 16:9, 720p video at 30 frames per second, while HD60 offers 60fps, albeit with obvious and steep data costs. If you're just shooting for the lower-quality web, a VGA (640x480, 30fps) mode is also available, as is a largely pointless 3-megapixel still shooting option.

There's one startling omission from the Zx1, and that's in the form of internal storage. The Zx1 has 128MB of internal memory, but only 30MB is available for actual storage. At 720p 60fps, you'll just about start shooting when you have to jarringly stop. No SDHC card is included in the box, so realistically you've got to add the cost of a decent capacity SDHC card to the Zx1's asking price.

Getting your video off the Zx1 can be achieved with the supplied Arcsoft MediaImpression software (Windows only) direct to a PC, or straight out to a display screen via the HDMI port on the side of the Zx1. The MediaImpression software will export straight out to YouTube if you fancy your odds of being the next five-second internet sensation.

Performance

One thing you're not going to be able to do with the Zx1 is easily hand it to a new user and get them to start shooting. While the record button is right in the middle of the Zx1 and pretty obvious, other controls are poorly labelled. As an example, the "delete" button sits right above the "stop" button, with only a tiny symbol that vaguely looks like a trash can — but also looks a lot like a stop button — above the delete to differentiate it. We could pretty easily see Auntie Beryl deleting the wedding video by accident with the Zx1 if it were handed to her, and that's not really an indictment of Auntie Beryl.

Once you do understand the controls, you can get to shooting, and here there's good and bad news. The Zx1's basic performance under most conditions is pretty good, but not great, and certainly not up to the kind of quality you'd get out of a proper camcorder, even at the budget end. There's no optical zoom, which isn't surprising given the Zx1's form factor, but the 2x digital zoom is laughably awful, with a juddery motion that forces you to use a more classically refined zooming methodology, otherwise known as getting closer to the object you wish to film. You may wish to do this regardless, as the in-built microphone is quite average. The size of the Zx1 means it's tough to keep still, which makes video wobbly, and the side orientation of the tripod socket means you'll have to do some tripod fiddling if you're using a smaller tripod to avoid it tipping over.

Conclusion

There's certainly a market for the Zx1 if you want to do a lot of outdoor shooting and need a compact video camera that's solid enough to survive a few knocks and bumps. It will take you time to learn the controls — and you will sometimes curse them — but at the asking price, we reckon it's a fair but not spectacular value.