camcorders

Kodak Zi6 Camcorder Review

Kodak Zi6 Camcorder Review

$109.99 at Amazon
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Performance

Video Performance* (3.0)*

The Kodak Zi6 is equipped with a 1/4.5-inch CMOS sensor, which has a gross pixel count of 1,600,000. Video is outputted at a resolution of 1280 x 720 (high definition), with an option for standard definition 640 x 480, as well. By comparison, the Pure Digital Flip Mino uses a 1/4-inch CMOS, which offers slightly more surface area (a potential benefit in low light). The Creative Vado also has a 1/4-inch CMOS. Both the Flip and the Vado are standard definition video.

We looked at bright-to-moderate light video performance in two stages (low light performance is further down this pate). First, we shot in the lab under tightly standardized conditions, the same method undergone by every camcorder that passes our doors. We shoot a DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde chart at an even 3000 lux, then compare the results with those of similar camcorders.

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*The Kodak Zi6 at 3000 lux *
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The Flip Mino at 3000 lux
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*The Creative Vado at 3000 lux

*

For some reason, the Kodak Zi6 completely fell apart under these conditions. The colors were completely off, veering far too much into the yellow-red end of the spectrum. This is both bizarre and unfortunate, because the tungsten lighting should have fallen well within the abilities of the auto white balance, and there is no way to manually adjust the white balance. You're stuck with what you get. As you can see, the Flip and the Creative Vado were hardly exemplars of quality, but both faired significantly better in this test.

You might say, 'Well Mr. Camcorderinfo, I don't live in a lab. I live in the real world.' So we took the Kodak Zi6 out for a spin.

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The Kodak Zi6 outdoors *100% crop (actual size)*
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The Pure Digital Flip Mino

100% crop

*
(actual size)*

The most obvious benefit over the Flip Mino, or any of the Flips, is that the Kodak shoots in HD. That means, no matter what the color performance or auto controls, you're getting a lot more detail in each shot. The 100% crops above are testament to that. We were both surprised and pleased to see that the reasons to consider the Kodak did not stop there. Outdoors, under very good shooting conditions, the Zi6 produced much more pleasing colors than the Flip, catching the golden rays of the late afternoon sun.

Motion was another issue. The Kodak Zi6 frequently appeared stuttery. The Flip Mino, perhaps with much less of a data load on the processor, looked smoother. This dichotomy – better colors and higher resolution, but worse motion rendering – pitches the would-be buyer a difficult question.

The compression is clearly heavy, a common problem with budget camcorders. Heavy compression results in ugly color or sharpness problems collectively known as compression artifacts. The Kodak Zi6 actually avoided a lot of the issues we saw with the Flip and Creative Vado. We didn't see the tell-tale blocky chunks that can kill image quality. There was some color banding – areas where the color compression was too high to manage subtle shifts.

We should mention that the Kodak Zi6 shoots in three video modes: HD, HD60, and VGA. We could find very little discernible difference in quality between the HD and HD60 modes. The HD60 should, in theory, offer smoother motion, but we couldn't see it. (This only holds for shooting in adequate light. In low light conditions, we saw a small improvement in HD mode over HD60.) The VGA setting exhibited the same color and exposure tendencies, but with a much-reduced resolution. If you have the room on your memory card, there's really no reason to shoot in standard definition. HD video can always be down-converted to a smaller size later, but you can't up-covert standard definition to HD.

Overall, the Kodak Zi6 will serve as an adequate camcorder if you have little aspiration beyond occasional online video use. The fact that it records HD video is certainly enough reason to attract attention from those already considering the Flip. The image is much sharper than either the Flip or the Creative Vado. However, the artifacting, stuttery motion, and relatively low resolution (compared to traditional HD camcorders) is a tough pill to swallow when you throw it up on your HDTV. Know that you're buying an ultra-budget camcorder before you actually plop the money down.

Video Resolution* (10.13)*

The video resolution was tested by shooting a DSC Labs video chart at an even, bright light, then watching the playback footage on an HD monitor. We looked at the resolution in HD and HD60 modes.

In HD mode, the horizontal resolution measured 400 line widths per picture height (lw/ph). The vertical resolution also produced 400 lw/ph.

In HD mode, the horizontal resolution increased to 450 lw/ph, and a vertical resolution went to 450 lw/ph.

Because the Kodak Zi6 is a high definition camcorder, you'd expect the resolution to be much higher than its standard definition competitors. In fact, the measurable resolution gain was only moderate. The scores were much higher than the Flip Mino, but only a little better than the Creative Vado. By comparison, more expensive HD camcorders routinely produce scores around 550-650 lw/ph.

Low Light Performance* (9.83)*

The low light performance of the Kodak was excellent, much to our surprise. A few years ago, a cheap camcorder virtually guaranteed low light performance. But the emergence of 'YouTube camcorders' seems to have given a new freedom to engineers – if online video hosts (i.e. YouTube) are going to re-compress the video within an inch of its life, why bother with producing the highest resolution image? Why not instead focus on getting the highest sensitivity possible? We're not sure if that's exactly what engineers have been thinking, but the results have pointed in that direction. The Pure Digital Flip also displayed a very high sensitivity.

We tested the low light performance in three stages. First, we shot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux, then compare the results with similar camcorders. Secondly, we run the numbers on color accuracy, noise, and saturation. Finally, we measure the camcorder's sensitivity.

At an even 60 lux, the Kodak Zi6 performed far better than it did at 3000 lux. Clearly, the camcorder does not do well with the tungsten lights used in bright light performance, but handles the LED lights of our low light testing just fine. In addition, the sensitivity is great. The colors are strong. This high sensitivity comes at the cost of noise, an incredible amount of noise. The auto gain appears to have been boosted as far as possible.

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The Kodak Zi6 at 60 lux in HD mode *100% crop (actual size)*
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The Kodak Zi6 at 60 lux in HD60 mode *100% crop (actual size)*

The HD60 mode setting produces even noisier results than the HD mode setting, and also some loss of sensitivity.

By comparison, the Flip Mino was brighter, but lacked the depth of color that the Kodak Zi6 offered. Obviously, the Kodak's fine detail resolution was much better, because it's HD. But the Flip did manage to side-step some of that noise that plagued the Zi6. The Creative Vado, on the other hand, was just terrible.

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The Kodak Zi6 at 15 lux in HD mode
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The Kodak Zi6 at 15 lux in HD60 mode

When the light was dropped to 15 lux, the Kodak Zi6 saw a slight loss of sensitivity and some increase in noise, but remained remarkably strong. In fact, the HD mode setting at 15 lux looks nearly identical to the 60 lux image in HD60 mode.

The competition could not hold a candle as fas as color performance at this very low light level.

Out of the lab, we see what the real effects of sensitivity and color saturation mean. Take, for instance, the shots below. The Kodak Zi6 produces the best color, but the brighter exposure of the Flip resulted in better detail retention. (Note, these images were taken on different days, but under the same lighting conditions.)

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*The Kodak Zi6 offers the best color in low light. *
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The Pure Digital Flip Mino has the most detail.
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*The Creative Vado is too dark. *

For the second stage of low light testing, we shot an X-Rite Color Checker chart at an even 60 lux, then ran frame grabs through Imatest imaging software for data on color accuracy, and saturation. According to Imatest, the Kodak Zi6 (shooting in HD mode) produced a color error of 9.49. This score was far superior to the Pure Digital Flip Mino, and a world better than the Creative Vado. The Kodak's score, in fact, was comparable with many camcorders that cost a thousand dollars or more than the Zi6.

Those gains in color accuracy don't tell the whole story, though. At the same setting (HD mode), the noise measured 1.265%. This was far worse than the Flip Mino, which only had 0.4525% noise. To be clear, that means that the Kodak Zi6 produced well over two times the noise of the Mino. The saturation measures 114.7%.

When we ran the same tests with the Kodak Zi6 in HD60 mode, the exposure was slightly reduced compared to the HD setting, which seemed to produce slightly better color accuracy. According to Imatest, the color error was reduced to 8.01. Conversely, the noise increased to 1.715%. The saturation measured 108.4%.

The final test determines sensitivity by examining the camcorder's outputted exposure (measured in IRE levels via a waveform monitor). We lower the light in a slow and steady manner until the camcorder can achieve a maximum output of 50 IRE. Ultimately, both the HD setting and the HD60 setting showed the same sensitivity: the Zi6 produced 50 IRE with only 6 lux of light, an incredibly good score.

As we said earlier, all signs pointed to Kodak boosting the auto gain as far as it could go, which would result in a high sensitivity, but also a high noise. The numbers confirm our suspicion.

Overall, the Kodak Zi6 is a good low light performer for its price. The Flip Mino produces a much cleaner image, but the Zi6 delivers richer colors.

Stabilization* (0.0)*

The Kodak Zi6 does not have a stabilizing system.

Wide Angle* (7.4)*

The Kodak Zi6 produced some very bad wide angle scores. When shooting HD video, the camcorder can only capture 37 degrees. If you choose to shoot in standard definition VGA, that wide angle narrows to a pitiful 29 degrees. By comparison, the Flip Mino also did a poor job with a 38-degree field of view. The Creative Vado was much closer to what you'd expect of a traditional camcorder, shooting with 49 degrees of wide angle.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Kodak Zi6, take a look at these other camcorders.

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Sections

  1. Performance
  2. Format
  3. Auto / Manual Controls
  4. Still Features
  5. Handling and Use
  6. Audio / Playback / Connectivity
  7. Other Features
  8. Conclusion & Comparisons
  9. Photo Gallery