Now that most new phones offer hi-def video recording, the niche for pocket camcorders is looking slim, especially in light of Cisco’s recent decision to discontinue its Flip range. However, if it’s quality footage you want, phones still don’t come close. Kodak has an impressive track record here, with its ZX1 producing superb movies for such a tiny gadget, so our hopes for the 2011 update of the rugged PlaySport were high.
First impressions are good. There’s a touch of surfer chic to the design, with a matte black front panel offset against one of five rear panel colour schemes. Tiny bolts at each corner hold it together and all the ports are sealed with rubbery bits beneath the flip-up hatches.
Text beneath the screen reminds you that it’s waterproof to 3m and can take a drop from 1.5m. So far, ours has survived a few dips in the ocean and has refused to be beaten by a game of camcorder tennis. Apart from a bit of salt and silt in the seams it’s still looking pretty smart, too.
Shooting options let you choose from 1080p at 30fps, 720p at 30- or 60fps, or the lower-resolution of 800x400. We’d recommend the 720p 60fps setting, as you’ll get smoother motion (if you have a steady hand) and won’t actually lose out on any detail, since the optics aren’t capable of doing justice to the 1080p resolution.
It's a results business
Image quality is reasonable but still a little disappointing. Colours are muted rather than vibrant and compression noise is quite evident. The digital image stabilisation does a good job of smoothing out minor hand-shake jitters but can’t cope with anything more than a gentle stroll. But let’s not be too harsh. For a pocket camcorder it’s OK, just not the best.
Once you get underwater the camera shake problem disappears and the PlaySport does well to absorb enough light to capture relatively noise-free movies. There’s also a sub-aqua mode to balance out the hues, and a high contrast playback mode to help you review your coral reef clips once you’re back on the beach.
There’s an improved battery, basic but useful on-camera editing tools and an HDMI cable in the box for direct connection to a TV. A macro mode is also on hand, should you be planning any ant-based documentaries. Much is made of the three-step sharing ability, but unless you have difficulty uploading a video to YouTube or Facebook that’s of little value as it still involves plugging it in to your computer.
So there’s a lot to like about the new PlaySport, but we’d like it more if the D-pad wasn’t so stiff, it had some kind of wind noise reduction and produced smoother footage.