Testing: Zoom Q8 HD Camera for Podcasting

By Will Smith

Will got an early look at Zoom's Q8, a highly-specialized camera designed for podcasters, YouTubers, and people who need to reliably record long videos with high-quality audio.

I've been looking for the right camera for our mobile podcasting setup ever since we started recording video podcasts away from our studio in 2012. When we first started Still Untitled, we used a GoPro HeroHD 2 to record the show. Over the years, we've upgraded those GoPros to newer models, but have remained pretty dissatisfied with the cameras--they just aren't meant to be used for long videos with lots of talking.

The action cameras I've tested have a hard time maintaining a consistent clock over long videos, which isn't a problem when you're recording a ride down a mountainside or your first time skydiving, but when you need to sync separate audio and video tracks, it's a huge pain in the ass that involves stretching the duration on either the audio or the video. Most action cams also lack viewfinders, so it's difficult to reliably frame your shot, and all this is compounded by the fact that action cameras simply aren't designed for long shoots. The camera have overheated over 40 minutes of runtime, which causes lost or corrupted video. It isn't a great experience.

We've tested pro cameras for podcast use before too, including the Panasonic cameras we use in the studio and the Sony PXW-X70 that Joey had on loan from B&H in January. Our aging Panasonics are tied to the proprietary P2 storage cards, which require a special (and very expensive) P2 deck to grab footage from. The Sony camera produced great video and integrated easily into my Premiere Pro-based workflow, but it is much more expensive than I was looking for and is frankly overkill for long, static shots.

On paper, inexpensive point and shoot cameras seem like the perfect middle ground between inexpensive action cameras and fixed lens prosumer models. We've used Norm's Sony RX100 Mk III for the last half dozen or so episodes of Still Untitled with reasonably good results. However, it's not an ideal solution either. While it's capable of maintaining a constant clock (making A/V sync easy), most point and shoots lack line-level audio inputs and they are universally limited to 30 minute maximum record times, either due to sensor overheating issues (rare) or strange European tariffs (common).

Enter the Zoom Q8. The Zoom Q8 was designed for exactly the situation we shoot Still Untitled in every week, longer fixed shots where audio is really important. Zoom specifically calls out podcasters, YouTubers and folks who want to record live music from the audience as potential users of this camera. While I can't speak to the latter, the two former use cases are spot on. I've used the Q8 to record three episodes of Still Untitled, and the results are exactly what I was looking for in this type of camera.

The Q8 features a 160-degree field of view on a f2.0 aperture, fixed-focus lens. It outputs video in a variety of resolutions, up to an odd 2304x1296@30fps and 24Mbps. While it was interesting to have the extra resolution to enable easy cropping, I found myself using the 1080p 30fps, 24Mbps settings more often than anything else. It's simpler from a workflow perspective, without the need to scale down to 1080p, the mastering and encoding process is much faster. As you'd expect from the company that makes pro audio recorders, the Q8 maintains a rock solid clock for dead simple audio/video syncing in post, but you may not even need to bother. Because the camera is designed to be used by people who may not have a crew to constantly monitor them, the touchscreen flips around to face the direction the camera is pointing, and the status light on the front of the camera flashes when your audio clips.

Unlike most cameras in this price range, the Q8 has a ton of audio flexibility. Like the H6 audio recorder, the Q8's microphone mount uses Zoom's interchangeable capsule system. The Q8 ships with a version of the 120-degree stereo mic that comes with the H6, but there are optional shotgun and omnidirectional mics available as well. The default mic is more than adequate for [impromptu shoots in quiet environments], but the Q8 also sports a pair of XLR inputs if you want to use a lavalier, stick mic, or external boom. The XLR inputs serve as line level inputs, but can even provide phantom power if your microphones don't have onboard power. And, unlike most point and shoots, it includes a headphone output so you can monitor the mix live.

As you'd expect, the camera can output either a video with a single, mixed audio track using the inputs you select, or it can provide a video track plus 44/48/96kHz, 24-bit wav files for each track you select. If you just need a two channel recorder, you can even use the Q8 as a standalone audio recorder. If you're familiar with Zoom's standalone audio recorder, you may find the audio controls a bit stripped down. For example, I haven't found a way to enable one of my favorite features of the H6, the ability to record both a full volume and -20dB safety stream simultaneously for each input.

We sent the Q8 out with Adam on the current leg of the Behind the Myths tour with the hope that he'll document some of his exploits on the road, and we'll continue testing the Q8 when he returns, with a complete video review when we're done. However, I was so blown away by my initial impressions of the camera that I couldn't wait to share them with you. This isn't going to replace a real, prosumer camera, but for our highly-specialized needs, the Q8 has given me everything I wanted in a portable podcasting camera for much less money than we would have spent on a high-quality point-and-shoot. It's has the same kind of stripped-down, set-it-and-forget-it capability that I love in Zoom's audio recorders, which makes it perfect for podcasters.

In the meantime, if there's something specific that you'd like to see us test with the Q8, please post in the comments below!