The Kodak Zi8 is also the most full-featured pocket-size camcorder we've seen, thanks to three unique features: the ability to record 1080p full-HD video, digital image stabilisation, and a microphone-in jack that lets you use standard headphones or earbuds as an external mic.
It fulfills its promise in at least two of those three areas, offering superb video quality and versatile audio options. Quite simply, test footage shot with the Kodak Zi8 in 1080p mode is the highest-quality video we've seen in a pocket camcorder to date.
The Kodak Zi8 also serves up a range of shooting options. In addition to the 1080p setting (1920-by-1080 videos recorded as .mov files at 30 frames per second), you can also capture images in a number of resolutions and frame-rate counts: 720p at 60fps, 720p at 30fps, 848-by-480 standard-definition WVGA video, and 5Mp still photos. That's a wider range of options than some full-size camcorders offer, let alone most pocketable devices.
You'll need a high-capacity SDHC card to get the most out of the Kodak Zi8; it doesn't have an internal storage drive like the Pure Digital Flip line of pocket camcorders. In 1080p mode, the .mov files are a bit bulky - about 90MB to 100MB per minute of footage.
The microphone-in port on the side of the Kodak Zi8 is also a nice addition, especially for guerrilla journalists who'd want to use the Zi8 for "man-on-the-street" interviews.
The port is the same size as a standard headphone or earbud jack, which means you can use earbuds as makeshift, stereo lavalier microphones. The on-board microphone on the front of the Kodak Zi8 is also decent; a bit of background hum is in some wide-angle shots, but it definitely picks up far-away sounds much better than the top-mounted mic on the rugged-but-disappointing Kodak Zx1.
In bright light, the Kodak Zi8's footage looks very colorful, sharp, and smooth, and the clips are more vivid in any lighting condition than clips from the FlipVideo Flip UltraHD. Across the board, the Kodak Zi8's video quality clearly outshines that of its predecessor, the Zi6.
Quick still-photo capture is also a strong suit of the Kodak Zi8. In still-photo mode, the shutter fired immediately after pressing the button, so you won't miss much. Face detection is another nice feature: the Zi8 detects and optimises in-camera settings whenever a face is in the frame. Image quality, however, was about on a par with that of a decent mobile-phone camera.
On top of the Kodak Zi8 is another distinguishing feature: a macro landscape toggle, which certainly does have an effect on the resulting videos and still shots. But the macro mode doesn't handle extreme close-ups very well; text on a business card started appearing crisp only when the card was about 6 inches from the lens. The best still-photo results we saw were in macro mode with the subject about a foot away from the camera.
As for its digital image stabilisation, that feature is hardly noticeable when you're shooting stills. Any subtle movement of the camera or subject resulted in a blurred shot. The Kodak Zi8 did seem to produce slightly less blur in video footage shot with a subtly-shaking hand, but don't expect it to create crisp shots if you're bouncing around in a Jeep or running down the sidewalk. If image stabilisation is important to you, you'll likely be disappointed.
Also disappointing is the 4x digital zoom on the Kodak Zi8; it's very jumpy between zoom points when you shoot video, and it even introduces weird artifacts in the resulting footage. This camcorder is best used without zooming; in fact, zooming may ruin an otherwise great clip.
NEXT: connectivity, build quality...