Hey! You should know that Kodak has released a newer version of this product: the Kodak PlaySport Zx5.
I’ll admit that I really wanted to like this camera. As an independent digital filmmaker, I had not had the opportunity to do an underwater shoot until I received the Kodak PlaySport Zx3 for review. I had to really wrestle with the grade on this one because the video camera is far from perfect, but also possessed unique assets -- namely the underwater capabilities, ease of use, and fun factor, all for a low price. So, the Kodak PlaySport Zx3 HD waterproof camera gets an A+, with the following explanation. Be sure to check out the video review and sample footage below as well.
To fully assess the camera’s true picture quality, I shot my test in 1080p. For the most part, the picture quality is “good enough.” I’m sure you’re asking me how I can give an A+ for just “good enough.” It's because the picture quality far exceeds the cost. Granted the camera is using an H.264 MPEG-4 codec, which will always have some pixelation in a consumer camcorder, but the picture is comparable to an average HD cable signal or an up-converted DVD on an HDTV screen. Some of the images the video camera was able to capture with automatic exposure and shutter speed are actually quite astounding.
Low-Light Picture Quality
For the most part, the majority of the functions on this camera are automatic, including the exposure and shutter speed. In low-light settings, I find the image to be adequate, though this is certainly best used in a well-lit environment. Once again, the low-light capability does exceed my expectations for the price of the camera.
Ease of Use
Personally, I prefer to have a fair degree of manual control over my video camera, but for the average consumer, that can be daunting. The Kodak PlaySport Zx3 is pretty much ready to go straight out of the box. There are only about 10 settings you can manipulate, and the most common one is usually “On” or “Off”. The user manual is the shortest I’ve ever seen. There's one button for the settings menu, and everything within the menu is pretty self-explanatory.
Issues & Workarounds
This is low-cost camcorder, so there are some performance issues, but after shooting for the day and reviewing the footage, I was able to discover workarounds. In the bright sun it is very difficult to see the picture, but in the settings menu, you can increase the contrast of the LCD screen. In addition, by pressing the camera button, it toggles the LCD screen between a black & white setting, normal view, and a hyper saturated bright mode. At first I was concerned that the saturated look was affecting the exposure quality of the video, but it only impacts the LCD screen. I’d prefer to be able to see the image exactly as it records, but it's an acceptable workaround, as I'd rather be able to see something than nothing.
There is no manual focus on the video camera, but the automatic face detection is very responsive. However, for my sample footage, I shot a lot of objects. With the face detection activated, the camera would not lock focus on any close objects. Deactivating the automatic face detection mode to shoot objects should improve the focus for objects.
There is no optical zoom, and digital zoom significantly degrades the image quality. But since it's a pocket video camera, most of your footage will probably be shot at close range, and you'll be able to simply hold the camera closer to the object, or even walk closer if necessary, to avoid using the digital zoom.
When reviewing my footage, I discovered that after using the camera underwater, sometimes droplets of water remained over the speaker causing the sound to be muffled when not shooting underwater. Simply wiping the speaker off after getting out of the water will fix the sound.
Underwater H2O Mode
As with the glare in direct sunlight, at times it was also difficult to see the screen underwater. As referenced above with the glare screen, using the hyper saturated setting is the best choice to be able to see the screen underwater. I shot in a pool, and took into the consideration that the water may be cloudy. I found that I had much better results when I was very close to my subject.
The PlaySport has an underwater mode, meant improve the quality of shooting underwater. When I used that setting, I did not find the footage to be significantly clearer. For the most part, the H20 mode simply seemed to be doing a color correction, which was actually pushing the image quality too far in the direction of orange. I was pleased with the footage by not using the underwater setting at all.
The Kodak PlaySport Zx3 Waterproof HD Video Camera is fun! It is already fun playing in the pool on a hot day, but it is even more fun to be able to shoot a movie in the pool both above and below the water’s surface. Arguably, this is the most fun I have ever had with a video camera. In addition, like a mobile phone, the camcorder is so small you can throw it in your pocket and take it anywhere.
I was pleased with the sound recording capabilities. The sound is mono, but the camcorder was able to capture true to life sound and people clearly when close to the camera, with reduced background noise.
To capture your footage, you must capture the footage directly from the camera instead of inserting your SD card into a card reader (I was using a Mac). However, by plugging the camera directly into my computer with the supplied USB cable, the camera shows up on your desktop as a hard drive, allowing for simple drag and drop capabilities to get your footage onto your hard drive.
For $150, you can have a 1080p camera that fits in your pocket, can be used out in the elements, shoots underwater and is incredibly fun to use. Sure, it’s not the greatest video camera ever made, but it’s definitely worth far more than $150, really easy to use and produces decent footage. The Kodak PlaySport Zx3 is highly recommended.
Christopher C. Odom is an award-winning writer, director, producer and author who earned his Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from the University of California, Los Angeles. His work has been nationally televised and screened in cities worldwide, including Tel Aviv, Berlin and Cannes.