camcorders

Kodak PlaySport Zx5 Review

The waterproof Zx5 is Kodak's second version of the company's popular PlaySport camcorder.

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Introduction

Based on performance, this compact model isn't much different than its predecessor, although Kodak did make a few small improvements to the menu system and design. Kodak also incorporated a simpler video sharing feature that makes uploading content to YouTube a much easier process, and that's something most users of the PlaySport should love.

The waterproof PlaySport Zx5 comes in blue, black, or red, and is available now at a retail price of $179.95.

Design & Usability

The Zx5 comes in different colors than the previous PlaySport, and Kodak also made some slight changes to the button design.

The PlaySport Zx5 doesn’t look or feel much different than the PlaySport Zx3 that came before it, but when you look closely you will notice some differences. The front of the Zx5 has a rubberized coating that covers the entirety of the camcorder's front side. In comparison, this coating was only found on roughly 75% of the Zx3's front side. The Zx5 also has completely different patterns and color offerings than its predecessor, but those are solely a stylistic elements that have nothing to do with handling.

The share button makes it easier to upload videos to websites like YouTube.

The back of the PlaySport Zx5 has one new button, the so-called "share button", to go along with the standard photo/video mode button, playback button, delete button, and settings button on the back of the camcorder. The share button does make it easier to upload videos to websites like YouTube, but you still need to connect the camcorder to a computer to do this.

Kodak also gave the d-pad a slight redesign on the Zx5, and, frankly, I wasn't crazy about its new setup. The d-pad responded slowly to inputs, and the middle selector on the pad wasn't always precise. This isn’t to say the Zx3 had a perfect d-pad design—it most certainly did not—but the design of the Zx5's controller seems like a small step in the wrong direction.

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Features

A simple pocket-cam, the PlaySport Zx5 has few special features other than its waterproof design.

Other than its waterproof capability, the PlaySport Zx5 doesn't have much to offer. Its waterproof construction is quite good, though, with the camcorder providing a decent grip when submerged and its buttons working well underwater. According to Kodak, the Zx5 is safe for travel up to three meters underwater, so it's a good camcorder for snorkeling, but you wouldn't want to take it deep-sea diving.

When tagging your media, you can even select what sites you want to upload the content to—Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, etc.

Honestly, it's the new share button on the Zx5 that constitutes the camcorder's most convenient new feature. The button allows you to tag clips and photos so they can be quickly uploaded once the Zx5 is connected to a computer. When tagging your media, you can even select what sites you want to upload the content to—Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, etc. Also cool is the fact that this share feature works with Macs (even though Kodak says it doesn’t on the website). Just connect the Zx5 to your computer and install a small piece of software (called Kodak Share Button application) and you are ready to upload.

As far as traditional controls go, the PlaySport Zx5 had some consistent difficulties with autofocus. The camcorder would often be unable to focus evenly across the entire image, although this issue would likely go unnoticed by most users. Auto exposure was also problematic, with the camcorder making quick and abrupt changes when moving from dark to bright shooting situations. There's also no optical zoom on the PlaySport Zx5, but the camcorder does come with a mediocre 4x digital zoom option.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Kodak PlaySport Zx5, take a look at these other camcorders.

Performance

Mediocre video performance at best, but most users won't care.

Thanks to its horrendous auto white balance system, the Kodak PlaySport produced wildly inaccurate colors in our bright light test. This is often the case with budget models, however, so it's not like the PlaySport Zx5 is an outlier here. Shooting under natural outdoor light resulted in far better color accuracy, however, as did shooting under our low light test lamps. Low light performance in general was strong, and, while motion didn't look great, the PlaySport was still one of the better ultracompact camcorders we've seen at capturing moving subjects.

Conclusion

A successful, reasonably-priced camcorder that won't mind taking a swim.

With Cisco killing off its Flip camcorder line last month, the ultracompact camcorder market was left with some gaping holes to fill. Kodak’s series of pocket-cams may be poised to take over a chunk of the Flip’s former market, and the waterproof PlaySport Zx5 is certainly a worthy heir to the throne. We liked the Zx5’s predecessor (the PlaySport Zx3) enough to name it our Best Ultracompact Camcorder of 2010, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that we like the Zx5 as well.

The Zx5 is currently one of the best in its class.

Kodak succeeds with the new PlaySport in a number of crucial areas: design, portability, and ease of use. The camcorder may not be the best performer of its class, but it makes up for its deficiencies with a rugged, waterproof design that makes the camcorder more durable in the long run. There aren’t too many differences between the new PlaySport Zx5 and last year’s PlaySport Zx3, but Kodak did improve the menu system on the new model, and that goes a long way in making the camcorder easier to use. Kodak also added the share button to make the process of uploading your videos and photos to the internet a simpler task. Performance of the two camcorders was mostly identical, although the Zx5 did have better battery life with its non-removable battery pack.

There are many areas where Kodak could improve on the PlaySport Zx5, with my wishlist including a large LCD, improved focus, better white balance, and, of course, WiFi capability to make uploading video content an even simpler affair. If Kodak can implement just half of these things on next year’s PlaySport, it will make a lot of people very happy. For now, however, we'll have to take the Zx5 for what it is—a solid camcorder that has its flaws, but is currently one of the best in its class.

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