Kodak PlayFull Ze1 Camcorder Review
Ease of Use
Ease of Use
In many ways, the Kodak PlayFull Ze1 is the ideal camcorder for beginners. It's tiny, not intimidating, and it's fairly simple to just pick it up and start recording away. The size of the PlayFull does pose a few problems, however. Older people, or anyone who doesn't like to look at tiny screens for that matter, may find the 1.5-inch LCD on the PlayFull troubling. We hated using such a small screen at times, and we'd prefer a larger one even it if means making the camcorder a bit bulkier. We also weren't crazy about the scrunched design of the PlayFull's menu system, which is forced to cut short the text on certain option titles because the LCD isn't large enough to accommodate all the letters.
In addition to the hard-to-use menu system, the buttons on the PlayFull aren't the easiest to deal with. The digital zoom goes strangely unlabeled on the camcorder, and it is controlled by pushing up and down on the silver ring that runs around the black start/stop record button. Why didn't Kodak put little labels to signify this is how the digital zoom is controlled? Isn't that one of the features most likely to be used by a novice videographer?
Kodak's provided software with the PlayFull Ze1 is very good compared to what's offered by the competition. We like that the software is compatible on both Macs and PCs, that it comes loaded on the camcorder (no need for an installation disc), and that it is most useful for the basic practice of uploading video to the internet. The share button, which is prominently displayed on the PlayFull camcorder, can be used to tag video clips for upload to a specific site. Pressing the button will not immediately upload your clips to the internet site of your choice. No, you must still connect the PlayFull to a computer to do that.
Like most cheap, ultracompact camcorders, the Kodak PlayFull is devoid of nearly all manual controls and special features. To use the camcorder, you simply point and shoot—and rely on the automatic controls for everything else. Here's the problem: the automatic controls on the PlayFull don't work all that well. The white balance was beyond terrible at times, exposure adjustments weren't smooth by any means, and the LCD on the camcorder is so tiny that it's almost impossible to tell if you're videos are in focus or not while you're recording.
According to Kodak, the PlayFull has a focus range of 1 meter to infinity (roughly 3 feet to infinity), which isn't bad compared to the range offered on other ultracompact models. But you really need to keep this focus limitation in mind when you're using the PlayFull camcorder because the tiny LCD makes it extremely difficult to tell if what your recording is in focus or not. On other camcorders, with larger LCDs, it's possible to just look and see if the image is in focus. This is not something you can do with the Kodak PlayFull.
To see the PlayFull's awful white balance system in action, just take a look at at our color and noise page earlier in this review. The orange glow all over the image captured by the camcorder is a result of the awful white balance system. The faulty auto exposure system is more difficult to show off. We found that when we moved the PlayFull from recording scenes at different light levels, the auto exposure would either change levels abruptly or produce a very juddered step-like change in exposure levels. Either way, it never looked good for the camcorder.