Review: Kodak PlaySport Camera

Soon after starting to write this blog, I realised I really wanted to share some of the great sights of Ireland’s Copper Coast where I mostly swim. I actually remember the first day I wanted a waterproof camera was when I came across a YouTube video of Sandycove Island by Ray Terry with Finbarr Hedderman, Danny Coholane and Mike Harris. Low resolution and short, but featuring four serious and very experienced open water swimmers, three of them English Channel soloists and the other (Mike) holding the Sandycove Island lap record of well over 2,000 lifetime laps, not to mention being the first Triple Crown of Prison Breaks swimmer in the world.

Red PlaySport

The specs of the camera are that it shoots HD Video at 1080p and still photographs at 5MP. The lens is 39mm, without any optical zoom, as is common for many lower-end waterproof cameras. There is a 3x Digital Zoom. It’s charged from a micro-USB cable, and comes with a charger, and you can also charge it from a USB port or car-charger. Memory is an SD card. The controls are simple as required when you are swimming in sub-ten degree winter water with poor fine motor control in your fingers. There’s also a microphone which works underwater, and there is an underwater video correction setting. Controls and memory storage slots are behind two slide-lock doors on either side. It also has a Share button for apparently easy uploading to Flickr and YouTube, though I never needed to try that.

You’ve seen plenty of video from it on various posts here in the past nine months. The PlaySport shoots excellent video. Clear, crisp and responsive. The underwater microphone however works erratically. Many times it’s just a series of squeaks, sometimes it picks up the underwater bubbling, breathing and movement clearly and occasionally it’s both like this one where I’m trying to make it through the tunnel in Sheep Island. But I could never figure out the reasons why either happened. Underwater colour correction looks well in clear still water, but since my video was always the Atlantic, grey, green, brown or just impenetrable I couldn’t detect any difference.

Battery consumption on the internal battery, charged via micro USB was good, recording about an hour of video.

It transpired however, despite the excellent video, that I would prefer to use the camera more since apparently people prefer to look at images rather than video on a blog. And photographs were the camera’s Achilles Heel. At 5MP the camera was capable of images good enough for the web, but the lack of stabilization proved a big issue, since the water here is rarely flat. And the days with the most movement when out swimming were often the days when I most wished to use it. Though I did capture at least one image that I loved.

Rain on water Kilfarassey.resized

I’ve deleted many many images which looked like they had been run though a Photoshop filter to give a subtle Oil Painting finish.  From a distance or on the camera LCD monitor they look fine but at standard resolution on a monitor, they lack detail.

PlaySport sideThe camera last just under a season. It was always difficult enough to open, often requiring a key or screwdriver to open the latch. The sliders for the two doors became increasingly stiffer and finally a month ago, when I took the camera out in the water to try to shoot an approaching cloud front, there was no response. I thought the battery must be flat but when I got out the camera was flooded because one of the doors wasn’t tightly closed. The weak point of any waterproof design will be human interface.

I was glad to have the PlaySport a few times this year, not least on the memorial swim for Paráic, cave swimming with Lisa at Tramore, Trent’s and Alan’s Channel swims, and let’s not forget The Day of the Creeps.

Ah, well, I had fun with it while it lasted. But I wouldn’t buy another.

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