I  CAMCORD,  YOU  CAMCORD,  HE  CAMCORDS

MANILA, MAY 22, 2009 (STAR) EMOTIONAL WEATHER REPORT By Jessica Zafra - Go ahead, shoot: The Kodak Zx1 is a video camera the size of a cell phone If you go to the movies regularly, you may have noticed the onscreen reminder that “camcording the movie is against the law.” The viewers are asked to look out for pirates who may be seated next to them, and to report these miscreants to the security guards.

First reaction: “Camcord” is a verb now? The gadget has officially entered the lexicon.

Second reaction: Video piracy has gotten considerably more sophisticated since the Betamax era, when bootleg copies were greenish, you could hear the audience laughing, and people were always getting up and blocking the view of the screen. Today’s copies are almost perfect, meaning the new movie releases were stolen even before they got to the theater; probably in the editing room.

Third reaction: If the guards were to eject everyone in the cinema who’s ever abetted piracy by buying pirate DVDs or downloading movies illegally, it would get a lot colder inside the theatre.

This week’s topic is camcorders. Remember those heavy, early video cameras that were shoulder-mounted like ground-to-air rocket launchers? The Kodak Zx1 is a video camera the size of a cellphone.

You can make HD (720p@30fps), HD60 (720p@60fps) and VGA (640x480, 30fps) recordings and take 3MP still photos with minimal lifting. It addresses one of humanity’s most pressing needs at the moment: to have a small camera that can shoot high-quality video for easy upload to YouTube. Because you never know when your parrot is going to break out in a dance routine to some Backstreet Boys number, bringing joy to animal lovers and cognitive science researchers everywhere while proving that parrots are over a decade behind on their pop music knowledge.

The Kodak Zx1 is one of the new camcorders that offer YouTube-ready video. Its competitor, the Flip, has a built-in USB port that plugs directly into a computer. This one comes with HDMI and AV cables for connecting to a TV or computer. I mistakenly plugged the USB cable of a Kodak EasyShare camera to the Zx1, and found myself importing the videos in .mov format straight to iPhoto on my Mac. If you’re on Windows, you have to install Arcsoft Media Impression for Kodak software to transfer and share videos. The Zx1’s advantage is that it can run on AA batteries.

The box includes two Kodak rechargeable batteries, a small portable charger, the two cables, and no manual, just a quick start guide.

Apparently the manufacturers are confident that they’ve produced an idiot-proof camera. I didn’t have an idiot on hand to test this, so I started pressing buttons at random to see if I could figure out the camcorder without thinking.

It worked. The button on the side turns on the power. There’s also an infra-red receiver for the optional remote control. The big red button in the middle plays or records videos. You select the format (HD or VGA) using the red arrows to the left and right. To zoom in or out, click the arrows above or below the red button. That didn’t hurt at all. The picture quality is excellent—the main argument for getting a Kodak Zx1 instead of making do with a cellphone camera.

To test the camera I took it to a talk on urban planning (See Friday’s column). The talk was held during a dinner for 15 people at a hotel function room. I sat on one end of the long table, obliquely across from the guest speaker. At first I held the camera, but after a minute my arm got bored. Also it’s rude and a little weird to be looking at a small screen while someone is speaking. And the food looked delicious — one of those nouvelle menus where everything has the consistency of Jell-O.

I didn’t have a tripod so I propped the Zx1 against my plate. Wrong angle—it cut off the top of the speaker’s head. I tilted the camera towards me, and the resulting image was a sort of half-hero shot. Then I left the camera leaning there while I had my dinner. No problem; whenever the waiter brought another course I simply repositioned the camera. Later I used the digital zoom, which enables an overly clear view of the subject’s pores. That’s why HDTV causes fear and trembling — everyone on camera has to have perfect skin. It’s not a technological problem, it’s dermatological.

The Zx1 recorded continuously (on a 4GB memory card) for two hours without a hiccup. On playback the picture is sharp, and the microphone is so sensitive that I could hear my fellow guests crunching on their dessert (sorbet in barquillos — hard to eat silently).

Next I took the Zx1 to lunch at the mall with Grover and Bert. Grover tested its speed by passing his hand back and forth rapidly in front of the lens—there was a little blurring. Then we administered the real test for Web-readiness: we got Bert to sing Wham’s Careless Whisper while gyrating in his seat. Video playback was vivid, and we could hear him clearly amid the mall noises, the piano playing in the food court, and everyone talking at once. In fact we were tempted to upload the video to YouTube, but were assured that Bert would kill us.

In sum, the Kodak Zx1 is highly recommended for Web denizens, bloggers and social networking fanatics who need video evidence of every experience. With this gadget you can now record each second of your life, but you’re going to need a lot of memory cards. They don’t come with the pocket video camera, so there’s an added expense on top of the Zx1’s suggested retail price of P12,999. That’s nearly twice its selling price in the US. I hope the manufacturers bring down the cost because if the Kodak Zx1’s price drops to P7-8,000, everyone will get one.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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