Kodak Playfull Ze1 Review

Kodak Playfull Ze1 Black Front

Kodak Playfull Ze1

“The Kodak Playfull Ze1 rises above the pack with smart design, outstanding video quality and a price that’s downright reasonable.”
  • 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
MSRP $14,995.00

aThe Flip cam is dead. With the originator and leader of the pocket cam movement officially bowing out of the race with a swipe of the red pen from parent company Cisco, Kodak stands to inherit the throne. But is it a crumbling one? The rise of 720p and now 1080p video recording in smartphones and inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras has left pocket video cams a narrowing niche. Kodak will try to capitalize on its new-found status at head of the pack with the Playfull, a pint-sized cam that combines the stylish sensibilities of Flip’s MinoHD with the capabilities of its own popular Zi8, at a reasonable $149.95 price point.

Kodak Playfull Ze1 Features

Like the Zi8 before it, the Kodak Playful shoots Full HD 1080p video at 30 frames per second, 720p HD video at 30 or 60 frames per second, and WVGA if you’re really trying to save space. It also accepts SD cards up to 32GB, has a flip-out USB arm, and offers HDMI output for viewing video directly on a TV.

Despite the similarities, its bulky predecessor does retain a few one-ups on Playfull. There’s no microphone jack for using lapel mics, the battery is no longer removeable, and the lens focus has been fixed at 1 meter to infinity — no more macro mode for extreme close-ups. The screen has also shrunken necessarily to a paltry 1.5 inches and 70K pixels, down from 2.5 inches on the Zi8.

In consolation, the Playfull not only gets much more portable (which we’ll get to below), it also gets new in-camera features. The Playfull allows some limited in-camera editing, instant sharing on social networks including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and capture effects like black and white, sepia tone and “70’s film.”

Kodak Playfull Ze1 Design

Despite outstanding video quality and an arm-long list of features, the Zi8 drew criticism for its size, which looked downright awkward beside the Flips’ svelte MinoHD. In response, Kodak almost directly copies the dimensions and look of the MinoHD with the Playfull, which now measures only 1.6 inches wide, 3.9 inches tall, and 0.6 inches deep. For the record, that’s smaller than the Zi8 in every dimension, and even a bit narrower than the MinoHD. It also weighs just 95 grams, compared to 116 grams on the metal-framed MinoHD.

To match its new emphasis on style, Kodak has ditched its glossy old metal-fleck finishes for a matte grey that look almost like graphite, with an embossed dot-matrix pattern running down the left edge. The rear of the camera sports a glossier version of this grey, but the biggest deviation from the muted colors is actually around the lens. The tiny sensor comes surrounded by a quarter-sized ring of blue, orange and pink, a rather obvious attempt at making the otherwise utilitarian Playfull live up to its name.

The squared-off edges host a power button and indicator light on the right side, along with a flip-open door for a microUSB jack, and a standard ¼-inch tripod mount on the bottom. A second door on the left-hand side hides the SD card slot and a micro HDMI jack, while the entire top edge of the camera slides apart to release a full-size USB arm, hinged smartly on a flexible rubber wire rather than a stiff mechanical hinge.

Testing

Using the Ze1 is as simple as any camera in this class: Power it up and hit the center button to record. It also has dedicated buttons to go to review mode, shoot mode, settings, and trash, as well as a share button for tagging which social networks would you like any piece of content to appear on. The ring around the record button serves as a directional button for soft menus. The only part that will gave us any trouble was the left side door, which absolutely requires fingernails to open and requires about three forceful picks before it finally gives way and pops open.

We tested the Kodak Playfull side by side with the Zi8, a highly regarded workhorse we’ve pressed into service at trade shows as our pocket camcorder of choice. To say it had big shoes to fill is an understatement. As it turns out, The Ze1 might actually need a bigger pair.

Kodak Playfull Ze1 Image stabilization

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

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.

Kodak Playfull Ze1 Editing and effects

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

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.

Sharing features

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.

Conclusion

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.

Highs:

  • 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

Lows:

  • Slightly oversaturated colors
  • No mic jack, removable battery, macro mode
  • Tricky side door

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