Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Review - Zinc Red-i POV/action camcorder

photo © Mattos
This is the Red-i micro camcorder from Zinc Sports, which is available from Tesco and Argos for around £29.99
At first glance there doesn't seem to be a lot in the box. The camcorder itself is a simple device. Looks like a webcam that's been restyled to resemble the Millenium Falcon. It has a power button on one side, and a start/stop button on the other, and an LED status light. A micro-SD card (not supplied) goes in a slot and there's a mini-USB port (cable is supplied) for charging and downloading.
The camera comes with removable tie-clip that makes it easy to wear on your clothing (see reflection shot in the video below), and a rubber case that offers some protection from knocks, and can be used to attach it to other things. The mounting looks a little primitive, but it's actually genius. Two little elastic cords wrap around pretty much anything and hook onto the case. It doesn't take much imagination to attach it to a helmet, bike frame, scooter, skateboard trucks or a stationary object like a fence or bin. The beauty of it is its versatility -  you don't need seventeen different components. This one case will attach to most stuff.
photo © Mattos 
The only thing I had a problem with was how to attach it to something flat, like the deck of a board. To do this you'd either have to stick on something the camera case can wrap around, or take off the case and the camera will stand on a flat surface. You just need to figure out a way to keep it there.  Or, attach the clip to a pocket or shoe or the hem of your jeans. That works well too.
I have to mention that the resolution is not up to the HD quality that is the norm for smartphones and more expensive action cameras. The Red-i shoots a frame size of 720x480 pixels. It's very approximately equivalent to the old SD TV standard, and it's more than enough for sharing on Facebook and the like. There aren't any different settings. You turn it on, press start, and it records. Press again, and it stops and saves the file. If the cam powers off while filming, you don't lose the clip, it's saved up to that point. Battery life is good for an hour or two. And it powers off to save the battery after 30 seconds if you aren't filming.
photo © Mattos
I've posted below a series of clips I shot with the Red-i camera. My edit won't win any Oscars, but I've tried to show the shooting characteristics of this little device. Like every automatic action camera I've used, it auto-adjusts the exposure in a rather clunky way if the light changes, and it doesn't cope at all with being pointed at the sun. But neither do cameras ten times the price. You can see some extremes of glare and silhouetting in the video, but on the other hand in some of these shots I have accidentally got some nice lighting effects which could easily be repeated. The depth of field is excellent, as you can see - having an object in the foreground does not affect the distance focus. Unlike some cameras, the lens is not massively wide angle. This means that in a rider-facing shot on the bike, the head and shoulders fill the frame when the camera is on the handlebars. But the advantage is when used as a POV camera, the view is a lot more realistic and less distorted than some of the 170º wide angle devices deliver. It doesn't seem to have a problem with vibration, and the sound is real, although of course wind noise can be heard at speed.
All in all it's a great little camera for the money. Or twice the money, to be fair, since that would still be about half the price of most of the high performance cameras. The resolution might be a problem for making professional films but it's great for fun and friends, and the simplicity and usability of this little toy is second to none. It isn't HD, and it isn't waterproof, but to get that you need to pay 4 times the money and read a massive manual. You're up to speed with the Red-i in about 30s flat, and once you've charged it fully before first use as per the instructions, there's not a lot to learn. Just attach it to stuff, turn it on, and have fun!

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