May 2009


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Review: Kodak Zx1 pocket-size camcorder

8:28 PM Tue, Apr 21, 2009 |
Posted by: Walt Zwirko

Let’s give credit where it’s due: The pocket-size digital camcorder craze started a couple of years ago with The Flip, a video recorder about the size of an ice cream bar (minus the stick). It wasn’t made by a Sony or a Samsung; it was from a small Silicon Valley firm, Pure Digital Technologies, that stumbled upon just the right mix of form factor, features, simplicity and price.

Its trademark is a flip-out USB connector that lets users plug The Flip (and a line of increasingly-capable successors) directly into any computer to transfer video clips.

The Flip quickly rose to the top of the charts in camcorder sales, an achievement that did not go unnoticed by more traditional names in the world of photography — like Kodak. Last year, the company that made its fortune with traditional film-based products introduced the Zi6, a pocket camcorder that frankly borrowed a lot of good ideas from The Flip, but added a significant bonus: wide screen, high definition video recording. I was so impressed with its capabilities that I bought one for myself. It’s in a bag on my belt at all times and I was especially pleased with its versatility during a recent vacation.

 Kodak has just introduced the second generation of its Z-series camcorders, the Zx1. It maintains most of the benefits of its predecessor — including the ability to shoot both HD video and still photos — but throws in a few tweaks and changes.

The first thing that’s apparent is that the Zx1 has become trimmer, slimmer and even more pocket-friendly. That’s a natural progression, but I was surprised to find that this new model still runs on easy-to-find AA batteries instead of exotic, expensive and proprietary battery packs like many other camcorders. Kodak supplies the necessary pair of pre-charged rechargeable batteries; also in the box is a charger. You can purchase extra rechargeable cells for backup power; and you always have the option of using garden-variety AA alkaline cells from a 7-Eleven or a gift shop when you’re on the go.

Don’t underestimate this feature. Manufacturers have never standardized on power packs, and they seem to develop a new size and shape for every new product. Just try to find a handy replacement in a year or two!

The Zx1 adds another power option — a connector for an external (and optional) AC supply for extended use without worrying about the batteries.

But back to the more important matter of using the Zx1 in the field. It has a solid, rugged feel, in part due to the vaguely rubbery coating and a vertical ridge on the front (lens) side of the camera that make it grippable. Each side of the camera has a form-fitting rubberized cover to protect the SD memory card slot and the other connectors, adding to the secure feeling when you hold it. It’s not waterproof, but Kodak calls it “weather-resistant.”

Press the power button and the Zx1 comes to life almost instantaneously. The 2-inch color LCD view screen on the back of the camera lights up and the camera is ready to begin shooting within two seconds. Press the big red button under the LCD and recording is under way.

 There are eight other backlit rubberized buttons arrayed around the start/stop control. Their functions are not entirely clear at a glance because the icons are too tiny. Any confusion is quickly resolved through either trial and error or with a quick glance at the user guide.

Like its Kodak predecessor, the Zx1 has four different shooting modes: Widescreen HD at 30 frames per second; widescreen HD at 60 frames per second; VGA video mode (a lower resolution suitable for Internet streaming); and a still photo mode capable of the equivalent of 3 megapixel images.

This versatility means that the Zx1 serves well as an all-purpose video and still camera when you only want to carry one device in your pocket or purse.

The Zx1 has dropped one nod to the camcorder that inspired it — there’s no flip-out USB connector. You’ll need to tote a separate cable to link up with a notebook or desktop computer (PC or Mac), but since many computers now come with a built-in SD card reader, you always have the option of popping the memory card out of the camera and into a computer to transfer photos and video clips.

When you do connect via USB, PC users have the option of installing ArcSoft Media Impression software (which is built-in to the camera) to organize and edit video clips and photos. There’s no corresponding software for Mac users, but Apple computers can deal natively with the QuickTime movie files generated by the Zx1.

While the Zx1 does come with 10 megabytes of internal memory for storage, that’s only enough for a handful of photos or a very brief video clip; you’ll have to add the expense of a card to the camera’s very reasonable $150 price tag. I recently purchased an 8 gigabyte SD card for under $20; that’s sufficient for an estimated 2.5 hours of HD recording or more than 7,000 photos. The camera is designed to use cards up to 32 gigabytes.

 This second-generation Kodak pocket camcorder has a significant upgrade to its playback abilities — it comes with an HDMI cable to connect digital audio and video directly to most high definition television sets. That means you can view your recordings in the living room on the big screen without the need to first go through a computer or burning the images to a DVD. Kodak says the Zx1 is compatible with an accessory remote control which is not included (and which wasn’t yet available when i last checked).

Kodak’s Zi6 also had HD video output, but via a cumbersome analog component cable that required a total of five plugs to make all the necessary connections. Both cameras also have a composite video output for playback on a standard definition TV set (or to input to a VCR or DVD recorder for making copies).

Is this the perfect little camera? It depends on what you need.

 The Zx1 doesn’t have an optical zoom lens, so it’s not the answer if you’ll be shooting a lot of long-range footage like a ballet recital or baseball game.

It doesn’t offer the “shake-reduction” technology that many traditional camcorders have, so a steady hand (or a tripod) is needed for best results. A wider-angle lens would help in this regard, but the lens is neither interchangeable nor does it have auto-focus.

Like other cameras in this price range, low-light performance leaves something to be desired, but you’ll get acceptable results shooting bright interiors or outdoor scenes.

And if you like the macro lens capability of the Zi6 that lets you focus just 2 inches away, be aware that that option has been omitted from the Zx1.

In other words, this camera can’t replace other still and video cameras that have more sophisticated options, better image quality and correspondingly higher price tags.

The Zx1’s size and utility are the major factors to be considered. The Zx1 is so easy to tote and use, you’re much more likely to have it handy when priceless and fleeting moments are at hand.

The Kodak Zx1 ($150) is available directly from Kodak’s Web site, from, and from other online retailers. It comes in five colors: Red, black, yellow, blue and pink.



Sounds pretty close to what I need to make good-quality self-produced videos for uploading through Vimeo or YouTube. One question: When is the Flip or the Kodak version going to come with an external microphone jack? Seems like a lapel mic would make a huge difference in sound quality.

We just purchased the Kodak zx1 pocket video camera, the size is great, we can watch clips on our HD tv and our computer, but how do you join the clips and burn on a dvd? We have been working for days trying to figure that out, do you have to convert all the files, and do you have to have a joiner program to join the thumbnail clips so you have one continuious movie? Please help.

I run a MMA website ( and we were using the zi6 for our MMA post fight and pre fight interview but since have purchased the zx1 because of this particular product review.

I looked at some of the zx1 sample video in youtube; but it didnt answer some of the questions.

For example if i could still you my standard aa that i bought for my zi6.

I also like that fact that you showed the back lit keypad; that is a big feature for us. Many times we have to shoot in low light situations.

Thank you for the detailed review; keep them coming.

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