Kodak Easyshare Z1275 Digital Camera Review: Part Two

I chose part two to be about the video mode for two reasons. One, It seems that most of the questions on this camera are about video, two I knew I wouldn’t have much time to write tonight.

The Z1275 has three capture modes; 1280×720 (HD), 640×480 (standard def) and 320×240. I haven’t and won’t test the 320×240 mode as I have no reason to use it. I’m sure it looks a bit like the 480 but half the size (go figure). The HD capture of the Z1275 has been the subject of roughly half of the emails I have received, people wondering if the quality is there or not. Well, let me sum it up… HD it is, Discovery Channel is it not. For those of you expecting to take the camera out and film your own little Sunrise Earth go spend a few more thousand on a camera. Those of us who are intrigued by getting the rest of the camera and think HD clips here and there are a great plus, keep reading.

Before I get much further there is a bit of a problem with the video capture on the Z1275 (please keep reading). Held in hand the image is really jittery, seriously, its really bad. It is by no means the normal jitter or motion of video capture and it doesn’t matter what zoom level you’re at, though it’s much worse at telephoto. Without a tripod the 720 capture is worthless, yes I said it. Step down to 480 and we’re almost usable if you have extremely steady hands.

The following is just theory and I’m awaiting input from Kodak as to fact and possible rectification.

There are a couple of thoughts on why the video is so jittery: one is that digital image stabilization is causing the problem. On a still image, digital stabilization works to make a moment in time freeze sharply mini. With video you have about 30 ‘moments’ per second, digital stabilization makes makes each frame sharp and long story short the result is that it magnifies the jitter instead of removing it. (really condensed explanation here). If this is the case, I would expect a firmware update would fix it. Hopefully Kodak will chime in on the topic and let us know if we’re stuck with it that way or not.

So that is the bad news. Now for the good news. On a tripod; the video quality is good, 2 for the price.

The sample video (link at the end of the post) is from Running Eagle Falls in Glacier National Park. I was facing west, late evening. So the the subject was largely back lit/shadow. You will notice some ISO noise but it isn’t terrible, if viewed on a 27” HD panel, you may notice some artifacts but mostly just the touch of iso noise. I haven’t seen HD video available on any other $200 cameras so it’s hard to compare the quality. The clip is roughly 20 seconds long with some kids jumping off the falls at the end (I make no endorsement as to the intelligence of the jumpers). Try playing the video with quicktime, but if it’s choppy I highly suggest using VLC (http://www.videolan.org/vlc/) to playback the video, especially if your system doesn’t have a good video card. You may notice slightly more noise in VLC on an underpowered system but VLC will play it on just about any computer.

I’ve got a few other videos that I hope to sort though and post in the next week but this one gives you a good example of what you’ll get in less than ideal lighting situation. I’ll be taking some samples in bright light later today.

I’m actually impressed with the quality of the capture in low light. I did not expect it to do so well. Even in my house, so long as it is on a tripod, you get a pretty good quality image with average iso noise.

One question has been the autofocus quality. It wouldn’t take much AF motion to be noticeable at HD resolution. From all of the videos I have seen with it, I haven’t seen the AF motion. Even when panning from distant object to a close object the AF is very smooth and it usually gets it right without the trial and error of some focus drives. This is very light and subject dependent (isn’t everything?), if there isn’t enough light or contrast in the subject you may get some AF motion when doing fast subject changes. I’ll post more samples as the week goes on and I’m able to sort through everything I’ve got.

Video length will run about 20 minutes at max (assuming a 2GB card). A couple users and myself have talked about whether or not the camera will truly support a SDHC hard and if the HD video clip can go beyond the 2GB limit stated. I wrote Kodak on this and received what could be the most cryptic, uninformative “answer” I’ve ever seen. The other user had received a similar useless answer. I’d love to have a clarification from someone at Kodak who knows what they are talking about. We were basically told that it supports a 4GB SDHC card but that it’d only see 2GB and if it did see the rest of it, the card probably wasn’t fast enough to write a HD capture to it. (this sums up a half page response). I don’t have a high quality SDHC to test the unit on so I can’t say real world wise if it does or not. Anyone reading who has tried?

Battery life in Video mode isn’t that great, but not as bad as I would have expected. I use rechargeable batteries (2000mah), and though I haven’t actually set a timer to it, it seems you could probably get two full clips on a set of good, high capacity fresh batteries. If you take a few videos interspersed with stills you’ll notice battery life dwindle faster than stills only. On my longest day hike in Glacier I used the camera off and on for about 12 hours, took a few short videos and about 600 pictures (no flash) and still had some juice left over but not much.

I’ll talk more about batteries but as a side note, the unit will run on regular alkaline AAs but don’t expect more than a few shots with flash or maybe 75 average shots depending on the brand and capacity. Turn on the video capture and you’ll be loading fresh batteries before you can say cheese.

I admit that this portion of the review is very two sided. If you’re on a tripod (or rather the camera is) then I can’t say enough about the quality for the price. If it is in your hands, stick to 320 or maybe 480. Hopefully a firmware update is in the works.

That’s it for part two. I will get some more sample videos up in the next 24. Part three (the main and largest portion of the review will hit the net on Wednesday night. Followed by part four on Thursday night. Sorry I have a ton of real work to do on Monday and Tuesday.

SAMPLES: Right Click the samples and select Save As to download and save the file before playing it.

trick_falls.mov (17MB) As described in text

duck.mov (30MB) – this duck was swimming back and forth in the same pattern for 15-20 minutes. Camera was at full telephoto zoom with subject is in good light, the sun behind me, setting… You’ll have to look much harder to see any grain to the image, I don’t seem much artifacts if any (though I haven’t seen this one or the next on a 27″ or better monitor yet). (added 8/19/07 11pm) (fixed link 8/20/07 – there are three “w”s in www not two. 🙂 

bees.mov (13MB) – this flower was attracting numerous bees, had the tripod set for a photo but with the wind gusting, every time I started to snap the pic, the flower went out of frame, not so much a problem on video. This was after the above duck video so the light was a bit lower but this was shot at widest zoom. (added 8/19/07 11pm)

Hope these samples help answer your questions about the quality of HD on the z1275.

If you have any problems with quicktime (i.e. choppy video) I highly suggest using VLC (free) http://www.videolan.org/vlc/ to play the video. .

If you have any questions or concerns just leave a comment below or email me.

EDIT: 8/19/07 11pm – added two more videos for your consideration.

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