Editor's note added below.
We've seen Flip Video impostors (anyone remember the Creative Vado?), but Kodak's Zi6 is the first pocket camcorder that gives Pure Digital a run for its money. It shoots 720p video at 60 frames per second, and unlike the Flip camcorders, it has an SD Card slot that can accommodate cards as large as 32GB and the Zi6 can snap still images (with a dedicated Macro mode, to boot).
Sleek Design, Simple Interface
Compared with the Pure Digital Flip Mino, the 4.5 x 2.5 x 0.9-inch Zi6 is gigantic, but it's comparable in size to the older Flip Ultra, which was always more than light enough to carry. In fact, at 3.8 ounces, the Zi6 is lighter than many digital cameras and is similarly sized, if a bit longer.
But whereas the Flip Ultra looks kind of like a Fisher-Price toy, the Zi6 has the same sleek look as the upcoming Motorola Zine ZN5 Kodak Camera Phone. It has a satin black (or pink) back, a non-protruding lens, matte silver accents, and a sharp 2.4-inch display. Next to the lens is a button that pops out the built-in USB connector.
The interface centers around a five-way navigational pad, with a red joystick that doubles as a record button. Switching between VGA, HD, HD60, and still-photo mode requires pushing the joystick from side to side, which we found unintuitive. Flanking the joystick are buttons for deleting content, stopping playback, and entering/exiting playback mode.
On the left side of the camera are HD and AV ports, on the bottom is a tripod port, and on the left side is a sliding Macro mode switch and--our favorite part--an SD/SDHC slot that can take cards as large as 32GB. It has 128MB of internal memory, so you'll need an SD Card to record several movies, especially lengthy ones. At $260, the SanDisk Ultra II SDHC 32GB Card costs more than the camcorder itself, but luckily you don't need nearly that much storage. A more modest 2GB card will hold about 40 minutes of HD video at 30 fps and will cost you about thirty bucks.
Like the Pure Digital Flip camcorders, the Zi6 has all its software onboard, so it installs when you plug the camcorder into your notebook's USB port. (Note that the camcorder needs to be on, so you'll be using battery power.) ArcSoft MediaImpression for Kodak automatically rotates photos and fixes red eye. Like Flip's software, it also allows direct uploading to YouTube, although you can't select the privacy settings beforehand, as you can with the Flips.
MediaImpression's biggest drawback is that you cannot edit movies, much less add music, as you can with Flip Video's camcorders. However, we were able to edit our footage using Adobe Premiere Elements 4. We also wish that the software recognized JPEGs by default. When you're installing the software, make sure to check the box next to JPEG when you get to the part about file formats.
Editor's Note: The Zi6 ships with a CD version of ArcSoft MediaImpression for Kodak, a more robust version of the onboard software. Our review unit did not come with a CD, however, and we initially concluded it had weak editing capabilities. After our original review posted, we tested the complete software and found that it allows for a richer editing experience than previously stated. Features include the ability to add titles, music, and transitions as well astrim movies. That's par for the course for pocket camcorders.
The Zi6 shoots video at VGA resolution or 720p HD at either 30 or 60 fps. Kodak offers both options because the 30-fps video takes up less space, but the 60-fps video is, of course, smoother. Kodak recommends the 60-fps option for action scenes in particular.
We filmed both a carousel on a sunny day and a robotic toy in a dimly lit room at 30 fps and 60 fps. In both cases, the 60 fps looked smoother (as you can imagine), but 30 fps still looked acceptable. The 2X digital zoom is a bit jerky but smoother than the Flip Mino's.
In the 60-fps videos, we could make out more background detail (neither was great at capturing detailed motion in the foreground). The sound quality was loud and lifelike in both clips. In short, 60 fps is best, but 30 fps is okay, too. Although we saw motion blur in both modes, the Zi6's video is still better than what the VGA Flip models have to offer.
Sharp Close-ups, Blurry Action Shots
The Zi6 takes 3-megapixel still photos (the Flip camcorders still don't do this). When it came to shooting moving and distant subjects, we found ourselves wishing for image stabilization and optical zoom (it has 2X digital). That said, we were impressed with the color and exposure, and love the way our Macro shots came out. As a camera, the Zi6 isn't as good as a typical standalone digicam, but as long as your subjects are close and fairly still, the pictures are adequate--and often good.
The Zi6 comes with two rechargeable AA batteries. Starting out with the batteries three-quarters full, we lost a bar of battery life after just a few minutes of shooting HD video at 30 fps and 60 fps. After we turned the camera off and back on, the icon showed better battery life. In any case, that HD video at 60 fps eats up more battery life is good to know when you want to make every minute count.
In this area, the Kodak Zi6 falls short of the $179 Flip Mino. The Mino, which shoots VGA movies, was still kicking after days of shooting dozens of short movies.
The Kodak Zi6 is lightweight, easy to use, and takes smooth HD video and crisp Macro photos. And it holds SD Cards, something the Flip Mino and Video Ultra don't do--all this for $179, the same price as the Flip Mino. The Mino has a more streamlined design, but we'd rather carry and use the Kodak Zi6, despite the lack of built-in video-editing capabilities.