Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kodak Playsport Zx3 Video Test

My mini-clone son prompted me with a question during my daughter's 8th birthday party the other weekend. "Can you take a picture of me swimming?", he said with a smile. With that in mind, I went on a quest to find a practical underwater camera. Practical means inexpensive and good image quality in my opinion. A quick "Google Search" came up with a pricey Flip Mino HD, Go Pro Hero HD, Sanyo Xacti HD and other proprietary underwater housings for brand specific cameras. One camera that stood out of the "pocket camera" search was the Kodak Playsport Zx3 priced around $129 dollars.

The features of the Kodak Playsport Zx3 fit my Canon HD workflow very well. 1080p full HD video at 30 fps with a H264 video codec. The resolution matches my Canon HD DSLR format and the H264 codec matches my Final Cut Pro and iMovie'09 editing workflow. In addition, the Kodak features a 5 megapixel camera, a SDHC memory card slot with a capacity to 32gb, a removable lithium ion battery and a mini HDMI port to plug in the supplied HDMI cable for full HD resolution playback. All this for $129 dollars !!!

Now for the practical field test of the touted features of the Kodak Playsport Zx3 with my son at the swimming pool. The 10 feet depth limit of the Kodak restricts any deep sea diving but for all realistic purposes such as snorkeling and pool activities, the 10 foot depth is sufficient. I will look for video and image quality as well as ease of use underwater during this Kodak Playsport Zx3 video test and review.

The underwater resolution for such a small camera is remarkable. I did not expect Canon "L" glass resolution underwater but the color and sharpness held up well for a little camera. I edited the H264 footage with iMovie'09 with no problem. The footage played smoothly and exported the sequence with Quicktime. The camera's automatic exposure and shutter kept the video image stable and not "hunting" for proper exposure levels.

The 5 megapixel still camera function is convenient but not spectacular. Underwater images are prone to camera and subject blur followed by horrible dynamic range. Lack of shadow detail and extreme contrast made it difficult to get a decent still image. You have to take in consideration underwater conditions are not ideal for outstanding portraits. So, I took the camera above the surface for the land dweller video and image test.

All I have to say is keep the camera underwater after seeing this picture. My son handled the Kodak very well with simple push button ergonomics. Just like underwater still image quality, the above surface quality suffered the same demise. Horrible lack of detail and extreme contrast plagued outdoor image quality. My iPhone 4 takes better pictures in comparison. In my opinion, keep the camera in video mode and save yourself some grief.

Now for the drawbacks. The LCD view screen is unwatchable in direct sunlight above and below the water without using your hand as a makeshift viewfinder shade. I had to point in the general direction of my son swimming on occasion because the LCD screen was overwhelmed by glare. The lens has a fixed focusing distance of at least 3.5 feet. Keeping your distance is critical for sharp pictures and video. The battery life during my video and picture test lasted only 40 minutes before my battery level indicated red. My 16gb SDHC card at full 1080p resolution had over 3 hours of record time and over 999 still image capacity. So your battery will be exhausted before your card fills up. Light sensitivity of the Kodak requires an extreme amount of light for a decent picture. Mid day sun is ideal for proper exposure but not for flattering portraits.

Despite the drawbacks, the Kodak Playsport is the best bang for the buck for 1080p underwater video that uses H264 compression. In addition, you get a multitude of accessories included like a mini-HDMI cable, a USB charger and a AV composite cable to export to analog devices. This Kodak Playsport Zx3 will definitely be in my camera bag for my underwater outings.

You can view more in my Kodak Playsport Zx3 Video and Image Gallery.


  1. hey, just curious... am I to understand that you used the footage from this camera without any type of conversion right in iMovie 09? I am trying with iMovie 11, and it won't work with the footage at all. annoying. if iMovie 09 works right out of the box, I'll find a copy of that and use it instead. please let me know if you get a chance... thanks!

  2. @Jeff Rutland

    Yes, I just imported my Zx3 footage directly from the memory card via separate SDHC reader using iMovie'09. When my iMac recognized the card on the desktop, I went to the File drop menu to Import Movies.
    I never had luck importing h264 files from the actual camera via mini USB. My iMac sometimes does not recognize the device in iMovie'09 and iMovie'11. I would use a standalone SDHC card reader.
    My other tip is to copy all the files to some folder on your Mac and then import into iMovie'09.
    I hope that helps. Your Kodak Playsport Zx3 is now replaced with the new Zx5. I noticed all the internet reviews that the Zx5 is a major disappointment with users. Well, I still have my Zx3 for any quick trips to the pool or beach.
    Good Luck!

  3. thanks for the reply - what I'm finding interesting though is that I can't seem to get my iMovie 11 install to recognize the files and import them. I see other people having this same issue, and there's even a lame converter program out there that completely degrades the footage to get it to work with iMovie on my machine. I'm at 10.6 with iMovie 11 right now... thinking I'm going to re-install iLife 09 from my install DVDs and see if that makes a difference. it would be wonderful if it would 'just work' :)