Obviously best is a relative term—the “right tool for the job” and all that—but for its sheer convenience, durability and surprisingly acceptable image quality, the Kodak Playsport Zx3 stands as my best cheap camera for point-and-shoot photography. Let me say upfront that—yes—I do intentionally use and recommend an out-of-date model, and—no—I would never consider upgrading to the Zx5, for reasons I’ll explain later.
But first, why do I love this little camera? A HD Flip-style camcorder that also shoots 5MP stills, the thing is drop dead easy to use and ruggedly waterproof, which makes it much better for quick snaps of outdoor, beach and watersports than my more fragile and expensive iPhone. I can zip the Zx3 into my pocket while I cliff jump in the Caribbean, or tie it around my wrist to shoot from the hip as I gun an ATV through the mud and rain of a South Pacific jungle.
Of course none of that would mean a thing if the resulting images looked like like crap. I have repeatedly used and abused my Playsport in the service of a dozen adventure-travel trips, usually as an all-weather companion to my Canon G11, and come out the other side with respectable images that work great in blog posts and online slideshows. I’ve even sold and published some of the better shots.
That’s not to say the Playsport doesn’t have shortcomings. For example, I don’t even bother to turn it on unless I’m shooting in full sun, and it has no optical zoom or manual settings. I’ve found this camera works best either for landscapes or for very close-up shots. When I shoot people, I always try to get within a couple feet because the fixed lens has a pretty wide angle (36mm, equivalent).
Kodak Playsport Image Gallery
However, what really clinches its position in my bag is the affordable price—I can pick one up for less than $75 on Amazon. It’s not exactly disposable, but it is cheap enough that I’m willing to risk breaking it to get the shot. Like the time when my fiancée Goldie and I went scuba diving in the Red Sea while hanging out in Eilat, Israel. The Playsport is only rated for about 10 feet, and but I took it along even though we maxed out at about 30 feet. The camera made it through the dive, and I got the shots that I wanted. The next day however, it flooded when I jumped in the pool.
I’m reasonably confident it was the dive that killed it, though it could have also been the three hour soak in the super salinity of the Dead Sea the day before. Regardless, I took full responsibility for the breakage, and promptly purchased another one. It was while shopping for this replacement that I looked at the newer Playsport Zx5 and ultimately decided against it. The biggest flaw in the new one was its non-removeable battery. The ability to carry spare batteries for my Zx3 and swap them out in the field had long been a huge plus for me, and something I ultimately couldn’t live without.
So, bottom line, the Kodak Playsport Zx3 is one of many rugged, waterproof point-and-shoot cameras available today, but it’s my favorite compared to others I’ve seen, like the Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS or the Panasonic Lumix TS20. And that’s thanks to a removable battery (not to mention it uses the same SD cards as my other camera), near foolproof operation, and a price tag that eases my mind when I want to take it into potentially destructive situations.