Kodak PlaySport Zx3 WaterProof Video Camera Review

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Kodak PlaySport Zx3 Underwater Video Camera

The Kodak PlaySport Zx3 is a product any dad can love… on paper.  The specs sound terrific – a simple to use HD video camera, sell for under $150 and can record underwater!  Clearly this was a product made for Dads (and Moms)  and we were excited to get our hands on it.   We tested this camera for over 4 weeks, in many different family settings.   While the video part of the camera worked well, the audio was so flawed that we can not recommend the Kodak PlaySport Zx3.

Remember At DadDoes.Com, We Do Reviews Differently

Most sites would start spewing off the tech specs on the Kodak PlaySport now – but what really is the point of that?  If you want to read all the tech specs on the camera, you can jump over to the Kodak Site and get them right from the horses mouth.  The quick recap on the specs is this – the Kodak PlaySport records in high definition (HD) onto a SD memory card (no tapes needed), is easy to use (no complicated settings) and it can go underwater (up to 10 feet).

In addition to the camera, Kodak provides basic software for editing and uploading your videos to YouTube, Facebook, etc.  The software is basic, but it does give you what you need to do some simple editing and post your videos online.

In this review we are going to examine how the PlaySport functioned in the real world over the course of a few weeks.  Our goal is simply to determine if the Kodak PlaySport  make a parent’s life easier or harder.  In the end, regardless of the specs, a product is a good product if it is something that parents want to continue to use and it makes their life easier/better.

How We Tested the Kodak PlaySport Video Camera

To really give the PlaySport a good workout we used the camera in a large number of different settings over a 4 week period.  We took the camera on a kayak trip, went swimming in too many pools to count, went to numerous beautiful beaches in Hawaii, did plenty of snorkeling and swam with many fish.  This was all real world testing,  just out with the family and seeing if the PlaySport could handle family life!

When it Comes to Video the Kodak PlaySport is Fun

Shooting video with the PlaySport is simple and fun.  You simply press a button and point the camera.  My 8 and 6 year old boys had no trouble shooting with it and even my wife and I could use it!  The LCD screen can be   hard to see in direct sunlight, but the PlaySport does have some digital filters that can change the colors on the LCD and make it a little easier to see in direct sunlight.

Why am I wasting your time typing about a video camera – when you obviously want to see some video shot with it.  Fair enough, here is a simple above water shot –

Looks good – the camera does feature an electronic image stabilization feature, which just means your video does not look that shaky.

What About Using the Kodak PlaySport Underwater

Most likely if you are considering this camera it is because you think it would be cool to film the kids and some fish underwater.  Here is a quick sample of some underwater footage shot on the PlaySport –

Did you catch that – my son did 3 full flips underwater!  I am a very proud Dad.  So, for filming fish and your kids underwater, the PlaySport is a blast.  It can be hard to see the LCD screen underwater, you really just need to point the camera and hope you catch the action.  It does take some practice, but not much Kodak could do about this.

The PlaySport Does A Nice Job With Slow Motion

Kids love seeing themselves in slow motion – it just makes anything look cooler!  The Kodak PlaySport can film in 720P and 60 Frames Per Second – don’t worry about what those number means, all you need to know is that it makes for nice slow motion.

Here is a slow motion clip…

That was my other son, going off slide into the middle of the Pacific ocean – once again, I am filled with pride.

Did We Mention the Kodak PlaySport Takes Some Decent Still Photos Too?

While the PlaySport is not going to replace your still camera, it can captures some decent shots, in bright sunshine.  Here is an example –

Example of Kodak PlaySport Zx3 Photo

Click For Full Size Photo

We had much less success with taking photos indoor or under low light conditions.

Of course, you can also take the fun underwater photos that every Dad will surely do…

Kodak PlaySport Underwater Image

Click For Full Size Photo

The Camera Looks Great, So What is the Problem?

Yes, the camera does look great… but it sounds terrible! There is a serious design flaw in the camera where water on the mic can cause any sound recorded to be completely inaudible.

Take a look, or more importantly, a listen to this clip –

Do not adjust the audio on your computer – the audio is really that bad.  Believe it or not, my family is human and we were actually speaking in normal voices in that clip.  Simply put, when the camera gets wet, it is possible that anything you record will have completely useless audio.

Can’t You Just Dry the Mic Off Before Filming?

We tried that, but had very mixed results.  Sometimes, after completely drying the camera, the audio did work fine.  Here is an example when the audio worked –

However, on a Kayak trip we dried the mic and then shot this footage –

Not the most exciting video, but my brother and I were saying some funny stuff (I can say that because you don’t have the audio to prove that we really weren’t) – and it would have been nice to be able to hear any of it.

Mix Wind and Water And the Audio Issues Get Even Worse

We got into the habit of drying the mic as much as possible, but if there was wind – the audio became a disaster…

Can You Monitor the Sound and Reshoot If There Are Problems?

Nope.  The speaker in the Kodak PlaySport Zx3 is also effected by water.  There are times when we shot footage and played it back on the beach and could not hear anything.  We assumed the mic was wet and had to reshoot.  However,  when we downloaded the clip onto the computer, the audio was fine – so in this case it was the speaker having the problem.  Of course other times it was the opposite – mic problem, not speaker problem.  Are you getting how frustrating this is?  Also, no headphone jack – so you can not monitor the audio in that manner.

Kodak’s Response to Our Issues

If you look around at the other reviews of the Kodak Play Sport Zx3, they are mostly very positive.  We thought maybe we just had a defective unit so we contacted Kodak via their online support chat.   Things did not go well.  The Kodak rep, clearly reading from a standard script actually asked us “Did you get the camera wet or expose it to water?”  I wish I could say I was joking.

After we explained that the PlaySport Zx3 is an under water camera the rep did apologize and told us to return it.  We got a new camera and had the exact same audio problems.  Since we did our tests on two different cameras, and both had the same audio problems, we have to believe their is a serious design flaw with the mic and speaker on the Kodak PlaySport Zx3

Why We Consider the Audio Problems A Deal Breaker

Dads, Moms – anyone who has kids, knows that kids can say some very cute and funny things.   A camera that can not be counted on to capture the words of your little ones, is a camera you will just not use much.   In practice, we would use the Kodak PlaySport Zx3 to film fish and the kids underwater – then we used a different camera to record our kids playing on the beach.

We understand the camera is only $150, so we don’t expect a tremendous amount from it.    We can forgive its short battery life (only about 40 minutes of real use in our tests), but not being able to consistently record audio is not acceptable.

Conclusions on The Kodak PlaySport Zx3:

If you are looking for a video camera to shot some underwater footage, and you do NOT need audio, then the Kodak PlaySport Zx3 could work for you.  However, for the majority of parents, who will want to capture the words, sounds and laughs of their kids – we can not recommend the Kodak PlaySport due to its audio problems.


On a scale of 1 (worst) to 5 (best) D’s the Kodak PlaySport Zx3 Gets 2 D’s -

2D Rating (out of 5).  1 is worst and 5 is best

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UPDATE – 12/10/2010 – We Posted a Follow-Up Review on the Kodak PlaySport Zx3 – Read It Here!

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