Review: 3 personal HD video cameras offer high def at low cost

If you don't want to lug around a camcorder, you can record HD video using one of these 3 small, inexpensive cameras.

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Kodak Zx1

Kodak's Zx1 is a good performer at a reasonable price ($149), and uses inexpensive SD media to store its video or 5MP still photographs (which this device can capture in addition to video). It comes with only nominal internal storage capabilities, so you will have to purchase the SD card separately. However, it does have an HDMI port and even comes with an HDMI cable, so you can plug it directly into an HDTV for playback.

The camera is semi-ruggedized, with rubber port covers, which makes it suitable for use in dusty and moisture-prone areas such as trails, beaches or water parks -- though it's not fully waterproof. It uses rechargeable AA batteries (so you can swap in a couple of alkalines in a low-power emergency) and comes in a variety of colors, including pink, yellow and silver.

Kodak Zx1
Kodak Zx1

The Kodak Zx1 also takes a few steps beyond basic 720p video at 30 fps VGA: It can capture 720p resolution at up to 60 fps. You can play it back tidily on the 2-inch LCD on the back of the unit, even fast-forwarding and rewinding using four different speeds and allowing frame-by-frame rewinding.

When I ran the results on a computer and a TV screen, the video quality was pretty sharp, too, for a product in this price range, with clean images and bright color. Its results seemed sharper across most light levels than that of the Sony Webbie, and at roughly the same level as the Flip UltraHD.

However, the zoom tended to lurch rather than move smoothly, and at any level of magnification, the video quality degraded to unacceptably fuzzy levels for a product that's supposed to be high definition. With any of the products in this class, if you want to zoom, just take a step forward instead.

The Zx1 is a little trickier to use than the others. It sports a set of backlit icons near the Record button for such operations as playback and clip deletion. The trouble is that they all are marked with small square-ish icons that make them hard to figure out by trial and error. I needed to click around or dig deeper into the menus than I would have liked to do simple things.

But the biggest issue I had with the Kodak Zx1's design was its USB interface: It uses a nonstandard micro-USB cable, so you can't share the one you use for your TomTom or Razr. Unless you carry an SD card reader with you, this is your only option for getting video files off the device.

Unlike the Flip and Sony models, which encode their video as H.264 compressed MPEG-4 files, the Kodak model opted for the QuickTime video format.

In general, audio on the Kodak Zx1 sounded best of the three in this roundup, but it recorded at quieter levels than the others. This is a pro and a con: the dynamic range of audio captured was the best, and the background hiss levels were the lowest and least high-pitched of all the models I tested. But if you're recording from a quieter source, you may need to use postproduction audio tools to make the audio levels high enough to hear.

In short, this is a high-quality product with a full package of tools, but with roughly comparable output, I found the Flip UltraHD a lot easier to learn and use.

Kodak Zx1

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