Most impressively, the Ze1 conquers the pocket cam’s most enduring Achilles’ heel: camera shake. You can actually walk and shoot with the Ze1 without requiring viewers to take dramamine. While Kodak imbued the Zi8 with electronic image stabilization, the digital image stabilization used in the Ze1 produces compensates for jiggles an order of magnitude better. Motion that used to look like you captured it careening down a cobblestone street on a Penny-farthing now looks like you were gliding along marble floors on a Segway.
Wider is better
The lens in the Ze1 also significantly improves indoor shots with a much wider lens. The 35mm equivalent of the lens in the Ze1 comes in at 3.9mm, while the Zi8 offers a 35mm equivalent of 61mm when shooting in 1080p, making everything look zoomed in. While the latter offers more detail in many shots, the former offers a more natural view that’s easier to shoot with.
Coming in a bit hot
Colors on the Ze1 tend toward the saturated end of the spectrum, versus the more washed-out, bleached-looking images the Zi8 sometimes produced. This high contrast tends to over exaggerate shadows and occasionally distort colors, which can be problematic in some scenarios. For instance, the Ze1 had trouble dealing with the fluorescent lights indoors, casting the walls in a yellowish hue, while the iPhone 4’s camcorder feature did a much better job adjusting white balance for more natural colors.
Low-light performance from the Ze1 actually surprised us. Where the Zi8 made entering a dimly lit elevator look like entering a coffin, the Ze1 compensated exposure accordingly, producing usable footage of the interior. The brown wood-panelled walls took on an admittedly unnatural hue, but seeing them at all in such low lighting is more than you can ask from my cameras in this price range.
Like all pocket camcorders, the Ze1 is subject to quite a bit of digital noise, but no more than any of its peers. That’s the price, in quality, of a $150 camcorder. You’ll need to graduate to a real camcorder in the $500 range to begin casting aside these types of problems.
The extra in-camera features turn out to be minor, but welcome nonetheless. Editing footage basically amounts to setting in and out points for a trim, but it’s simple, it works, and it alleviates the woes associated with turning the camera on too early or leaving it running too long for a simple, one-take shot. Likewise, the video effects can be fun, but aren’t anything that even the most basic editing software couldn’t churn out in post production.
Sound from the little camcorder is above par for the course, picking up more of the subtle ambient noise like chirping birds and footsteps that help define a video, but also dealing well with voices and louder noises.
Kodak’s new share features basically allow you to tap the share button on the camera while a video or photo is highlighted, check the networks you want to share it on, then have it automatically pushed to them the next time you connect it to a PC. You can also enter e-mail addresses to have photos automatically shared the same way, and do the same with Kodak photo frames. A small app installed on the PC handles all the setup for different services and allows you to tweak options — like whether or not you want to share your content with the world or merely share with friends. We preferred retaining manual control over sharing, but compulsive social media fiends may find convenience in having their latest exploits revealed to the world with the press of a button.
Don’t call the pocket video camera dead just yet. Despite an abundance of devices that will get similar results and companies with similar offerings, Kodak’s Playfull rises above the pack with smart design, outstanding video quality and a price that’s downright reasonable. The Ze1’s digital image stabilization, in particular, makes it one of the most downright practical pocket camcorders we’ve tested. While smartphone users might find the video on their devices “close enough,” users who need a dedicated video device without the expense of a full-size camcorder will still find plenty of value in Kodak’s Playfull Ze1.
- Compact, stylish design
- Best-in-class image stabilization
- Surprising low-light prowess
- Easy to use
- Reasonable price
- Full 1080p output
- In-camera editing, effects, sharing
- Slightly oversaturated colors
- No mic jack, removable battery, macro mode
- Tricky side door