Kodak PlaySport Zx3 HD Camera [review]

I just got back from a Hawaiian vacation. Before I left, I waffled on what camera gear to bring. I had previously purchased a waterproof ‘bag’ that would fit my Kodak Zx1 camera but wasn’t too jazzed about using it since the back of the bag was blue rather than clear so while I’d be able to use it, I wouldn’t be able to see the screen while shooting.

Kodak PlaySport (Zx3)

The day before I left, I decided that I’d buy Kodak’s latest HD camera in the Zx line, the PlaySport (aka Zx3) which has a lot of the same features of the Zx1, except that it’s waterproof (to 3m/10ft), shoots in 1080p (@30fps) and has electronic image stabilization.

I had read some reviews and everyone seemed to agree it was perfect for snorkelling and similar water sports. I was impressed with a few videos I came across so decided to pull the trigger and bought one just before we left.

I am SO glad I did. Take a look at these clips…ideally in 720p HD, which is how I shot them (at 60fps) to see why:

I’m still blown away by the quality of this ~$150 HD camera…especially since it’s waterproof…many point & shoot camera manufacturers sell waterproof housings for their cameras for that price (plus the camera cost).

I was also impressed by the quality of the 5 megapixel still images the camera took:

Waikiki Beach

Hawaii 2010

Waimea Beach

Waimea Beach

Considering it was always around my neck while I was in the water, I was able to get still shots I wouldn’t normally get to take with my regular cameras without some kind of expensive protection.

My only gripes with the camera are:

  • weird underwater audio – obviously, there isn’t much to record underwater, but there is a lot of strange digital noise mixed in with the recorded audio of my Darth Vader breathing and ocean gurgling
  • the ‘H2O’ mode doesn’t stick when set – this seems to improve the underwater audio quality but unless you leave the camera on the whole time, I had to manually set it to this mode every time I powered on the camera. Definitely not ideal.
  • battery life – didn’t seem to last as long as the AA’s in my Zx1 do. As it uses the KLIC-7004 Li-Ion battery pack, it wasn’t as convenient to swap batteries like the Zx1 – unless I bought a second battery
  • wrist strap – seems like it would have been better to include a neck strap for in water use – I just clipped the included wriststrap to a lanyard I had to accomplish the same thing

Despite the issues above, I still think it’s a great camera. Hopefully a firmware update can address the H2O mode audio issue.

I wish I had went with my original plan to just use this camera and my Nikon P6000 point and shoot camera on my trip…the one day that I decided to not ‘get wet’ and take my DSLR out for photo ops, I managed to slip on a rock on the shoreline and while trying to save my DSLR which was in my hand, my camera bag containing my 35mm and 10.5mm fisheye lenses went for a quick dip in the ocean…the 35mm is electronically dead and the fisheye will probably seize up soon. Also two batteries for the P6000 (also in the bag) got nuked in the salt water. Then, moments later, while I was assessing the damage done, a ‘rogue’ wave soaked me (I was still on the shoreline) and completely killed my iPhone 3GS.

Yeah, it was an expensive and depressing day. Next beach vacation, it’s the PlaySport only for me.

Update: Here’s another video (with clips from the above ones) with about 99% footage shot with the PlaySport (the turtle in the sand clip was shot with my P6000):

20 Comments

  1. Ariane C says:

    You pose a series of very interesting pros and cons when accessing this cameras. After having seen the videos you took with it, I was ready to go out and buy one for our upcoming trip (we leave in a week for Maui). Now I’m wondering if the short battery life coupled with the sticky water mode is going to hamper/shorten my days out snorkeling.

    I’m weighing back and forth the idea of renting an underwater camera while we’re there vs. buying this cute and functional little video camera.

    I’ve never owned a video camera, so this was to be my entry into the HD world. Have you any suggestions for an underwater model that would compare to the Kodak Playsport Zx3, but perhaps with a longer battery life?

    • John says:

      You’re not going to find another camera anywhere close to this price point, let alone with longer battery life.

      I’m also not sure how common underwater camera rental places are on Maui (never been) so I wouldn’t want to wait until you get there to find one..and even then, they will most likely cost as much as this camera does once you rent one for the duration of your trip.

      The short battery life really wasn’t a problem….unless you’re planning on shooting hours of footage a day (unlikely). Worse case, you can buy a second battery for around $40 and have both charged up (you’ll have to do both in the camera as that’s how you charge them, unless you buy a standalone charger).

  2. Gary says:

    The video quality is pretty amazing esp. in the first video. Weren’t you swimming a bit too close to the sea turtle? I loved how you followed it up for air in the second vid! ;)

    That’s bad luck you got your WA lenses soaked and then your 3GS! I had a similar experience when I was in the Seychelles…managed to save my Canon P&S when I also slipped on a rock and fell into the water. But when I put my hands down to get back up I was still holding my friggin camera and it plunked into the water too! DOH!

  3. Ariane C says:

    PS, So sorry to hear about the fate of your camera gear :-( AND the iPhone all in one day!

    As well, it would probably be a whole lot less stressful to have the camera on us and not have to deal with rentals, filling out forms, etc. not to mention rental price for a week! Got a nice long plane flight ahead to get acquainted with something new like this :-)

    If I wind up purchasing the Playsport, I’ll surely be posting videos once we’re back. Hopefully we’ll catch some turtles in action. Your turtle vids are what got me to consider this camera in the first place :-)

    • John says:

      I just found a place via amazon.ca that sells generic batteries for the PlaySport for $0.01 + shipping. I bought 3 for $10.99Cdn delivered :) We’ll see how they perform. Amazon also sells the legit Kodak ones for $22.99 each.

  4. Ryan Dempsey says:

    So the Playsport is the Zi8 with different casing right? I was going to get a Zi8, but if the Playsport offers the same quality and performance within a more durable case, I won’t bother with the Zi8.

    • John says:

      Ryan: It’s similar but not exactly the same…it doesn’t have the external mic input the Zi8 has. I’d say it’s more like an upgraded Zx1 than the Zi8. The Zx1 is ‘weatherproof’ but not submersible whereas the PlaySport is.

  5. Ryan Dempsey says:

    Yeah, I just read the specs on the PlaySport. It’s missing the external mic input and the macro mode. Both are pretty big deals to me.

  6. Ariane C says:

    That’s crazy! Almost seems like a typo. Hope they work for you. I’ll keep them in mind, though I’m not sure they’d arrive in time for this trip.

    • John says:

      It’s a common ebay tactic…’give’ the product away and jack up the shipping. $10.96 to ship 3 items that are that small is crazy…they’ll probably show up in an unpadded #10 envelope.

  7. Tyler Ingram says:

    Stalker of Sea Turtles! Nice videos! Now if I could only figure out how to better process mine.. lol

    Ouch the Fisheye and the 35mm?? That hurts just thinking about that. Sorry to hear the misfortune on gear John…

    Might take a look at that Kodak as we need to replace Robyn’s Pentax Optio W10 which.. went kaputt recently. Though I’m sure she’ll want more of a photo camera than a video camera.

  8. JohnnyGunn says:

    Do you mind me asking where you bought your PlaySport from?

  9. JohnnyGunn says:

    Thanks for the quick reply! After I asked you the question I searched around and Dell.ca is selling it as their Deal of the Day today for $129 including a case, a strap, and a 4GB card.

    Thanks though!

  10. Ariane C says:

    @JohnnyGunn That IS a great deal!! I spent well over 200 CDN once the camera, 4GB high-speed card and case were purchased. Still, the photos and video are incredible for such a little and reasonably-priced product.

    Even with the new iPhone 4G’s inclusion of HD video and 5MP camera (basically the Playsport), you’ll never have to worry about taking photos in the rain or getting it wet. After being in the sea, it’s a great feeling to rinse the thing with WATER, dry it off and let it recharge with no worries of failure to the components. Enjoy :-)

  11. Gary says:

    I just jumped on the Dell deal for $120 that includes the 4GB/case. Looking forward to filming some sweet HD vids. This review sold me. ;)

    Next up, the search for a bigger hard drive to store all of my new videos! ;)

  12. Gillian Shaw says:

    Love your photos and videos from this John. I included the PlaySport in a tech toys column a couple of weeks back but just posted on it in Digital Life so I could link to your excellent review. Only sorry I came back and saw Gary’s comment about the Dell deal – your comment could cost be 120 bucks Gary! And like you, I’m thinking of more hard drive space for all those high def videos. Actually I’m thinking of more computer…..

  13. Ariane C says:

    @Gillian I just took a Playsport to Maui for 10 days and had a blast using it, for both underwater still- and video shots.

    One of my many Flikr photo albums: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arianec/sets/72157624283520946/

    In fact, after this trip, I’ve become addicted to using an underwater camera!

  14. Gillian Shaw says:

    Thanks Ariane. Those are awesome pix – I just added your Flickr link.

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