Top positive review
121 people found this helpful
KODAK PLAYFUL MP4 CAMCORDER
on August 31, 2011
First, let's consider this is a 99 dollar camcorder that's also one of the smallest capable of 1080-30p video and five megapixel stills. As such, it is an amazing piece of technology that does what it was designed to do, and does it quite well, I might add.
Compared to the FLIP, the Kodak has many advantages. In addition to the silky smooth 720-60p video setting (same as FLIP) it offers three other video settings (1080-30p, 720-30p and 480-30p) and one still setting (5 megapixel) that the FLIP does not. It is smaller than the FLIP. It allows up to 6 hours of shooting at 1080p and 13 hours at 480p (which is DVD quality video). The MP4 format is very Mac and PC friendly, and works well in Final Cut Pro 7 without needing to transcode to Quicktime first. It also plays well in Sony Vegas 11.
The built in lithium battery runs nearly two hours on a full charge, but it can not be removed or replaced. When it's discharged, you're done shooting until you recharge it. The good news is you can charge it from a wall charger, a car's lighter plug or a computer USB port. Yes, it has a flip-out USB connector that appears flimsy, but actually is quite ingenious since it minimizes the torque strain the FLIP puts on your computer's USB port as it hangs out fully extended. I broke a USB port charging a FLIP on my PC this way.
The small size is amazing. It's much smaller than the FLIP, but on the down side, so is the LCD. If you need reading glasses, you won't be able to see this LCD well without them.
The lens is very sharp considering it's only about 1/16th of an inch in diameter. In fact, I can see no edge softness or chromatic aboration in the stills or in the video images. Of course, it's a fixed focus, prime lens, so your creativity is limited to wide angle shots. Don't bother using the digital zoom, as this only makes the image look pixelated. You're better off zooming in during post production and leaving the total image intact on the memory card.
In bright sunlight or hazy outdoor light, the Playful delivers a razor sharp image at 1080p. It does display small compression artifacting that some people mistake for grain. It is not predominant, and most users will never notice it sitting at a normal distance from their TV screen. I should also like to note that playing the memory card through my BluRay player's SD card port yields a cleaner looking image than playing the same card through the camera's HDMI port. Same with playing the card on an iMac using it's own SD slot. I suspect the playback circuitry in the camera adds a little grain itself, but it does not matter once you import the files into your editing software.
In bright indoor conditions, such as a daylit room or normal office lighting, the image is still very clean. The color is very accurate, with skin tones having that rich, filmy look. In dimly lit rooms, the grain does indeed show up, but it looks more filmatic than electronic, creating sort of a 16mm film look. Regardless, the sharpness and color are much better than the FLIP, and the grain is not as much as the FLIP under similar lighting. Exposure seems to be more accurate than any other camcorder this size. While the FLIP tends to overexpose many outdoor scenes, the Kodak always seems to be spot-on. Naturally, there are no manual controls over the color or exposure. Luckily, the camera seems to do a good job of this automatically under varying lighting conditions. There is no focus control. Focus is fixed from 4 feet to infinity. You can get in a little closer in bright light, but less than three feet and the focus becomes too soft.
Still images look sharp from corner to corner, but seem to lack the higher contrast that is evident in the videos. You can easily fix this in any photo editing software. Five megapixels is impressive for a camera this small. Yes, you can capture stills from video, and even at the two megapixel limitation of 1080 video, they still look pretty good.
There is electronic stabilization, but don't count on it to remove the jitters in one's extended arm holding the camera one handed. You need two hands cupped strategically around the camera so as not to block the lens or microphone in order to maintain a steady image.
The sound is mono, but has much more punch in the bottom end than the FLIP. But the FLIP's better directional mikes work better picking up individual voices in a room filled with party guests. Wind noise can be annoying, and there's no way to monitor the audio as you shoot. There is also no external mike input. Then remember, this is a shirt pocket 99 dollar camcorder.
This is a simple camcorder to use, and it offers a few setups that FLIP doesn't, including audio level controls and a few video effects. But if you're not interested in changing the settings, you can use it as it comes. Just be aware the factory preset is the middle video quality of 720-30p.
Some early models had locking up problems, but Kodak has a free firmware download that solves this problem. Most recent batches already have the newer firmware installed.
While some users complain of graininess in low light, I think this is one of the best in it's class and size as far as image quality goes. The Kodak Play Sport model offers slightly better imaging in low light, a bigger viewfinder and is also waterproof. Most other features are similar enough to make it hard to distinguish the images between the PlayFul and the PlaySport.