Now Hear This: Hands-On Review of the Zoom Q8
November 18, 2015
Zoom products are a must-have for many DSLR videographers in need of high-quality audio recording. With the Zoom Q8, they’ve transferred the audio capture that’s put them on the map into a low-cost HD video camera.
On the audio front, the Q8 can record up to four channels of audio in the WAV or AAC format. WAV audio files are recorded in 16- or 24-bit with a sampling frequency of 44.1, 48 or 96 KHz (the sampling frequency is a measure of how much sound information the device is capturing). AAC audio is captured at up to 320 Kbps. This handily beats the internal audio capabilities of DSLRs that cost five times what the Q8 retails for.
Your video options aren’t nearly as extensive. The Q8 records a fairly novel “3M HD” resolution video that’s 2304 x 1296. You’ll appreciate the extra pixels if you want to reframe your scene (we’d avoid using the digital zoom at all costs since it sharply reduces quality). You’ll also have options for 24 Mbps and 16 Mbps recording in full HD or 720p recording up to 60 fps. The Q8 uses a 160-degree wide-angle lens with an f/2.0 aperture, so you’ll get less of the distortion you’d find with a GoPro set to its widest angle but still enough of a field of view to capture a large crowd.
Let’s be clear: the Q8 isn’t going to be your camera of first (or even second) resort. Instead, we approached this $400 camera as a possible replacement for an action cam and standalone audio recorder when you need to grab some B-roll video and ambient audio.
The Q8 looks like a consumer camcorder, except for the large microphone module at the top—fortunately, the capsule folds down for easier storage. The stereo mics are in an x/y configuration and are nestled in a removable capsule. If you own other mics for Zoom recorders (like the H5 or H6), you can use them on the Q8 instead. There are also two XLR inputs in the back, giving you a total of four channels of audio recording.
Most of the audio controls can be found inside the flip-out display and a headphone jack is placed conveniently in the back of the camera for monitoring. You’ll also find an HDMI output and USB port on the back of the unit.
The Q8’s plastic build definitely doesn’t feel substantial, so it’s not likely to hold up to a lot of wear and tear. On the plus side, it’s light enough to mount on most action cam brackets, and a tripod-to-three-prong converter is included in the box for just such a purpose.
We did some side-by-side tests with a GoPro Hero4 Black Edition, and the GoPro footage was better saturated and did a much better job handling exposure changes. While both cameras were set to record 1080p video, the GoPro footage was definitely the sharper looking of the two, although the Q8 was respectable.
The Q8 didn’t always fare well in low light, either, producing visible pixelation in some scenes. The Q8 will produce decent footage that can be used for quick cuts, but it is definitely a step behind other action cams in the image-quality department.
What We Liked
The Q8’s killer appeal is the ability to record video and audio as separate tracks. With this feature, even if you didn’t get usable video from a given cut, you still have access to a separate audio file, which will definitely be usable for your final edit, as the audio recording is significantly better than what you’d find on an action cam, or a DSLR for that matter.
As you’d expect, there are plenty of audio controls, including analog-style gain controls for each input, a built-in mixer, compressor, limiter and leveler. You can fine-tune your audio recording to a high degree with the Q8.
It’s also fairly versatile. You can disable video recording altogether and simply use the Q8 as an audio recorder. Depending on what you need to record, you can adapt the Q8 using Zoom’s other mics—a simple push of a button disengages the microphone capsule. Using the included tripod-to-three-prong converter, you can attach the lightweight Q8 to action cam mounts for point-of-view footage.
What We Didn’t Like
In addition to the mediocre image quality, the Q8’s touch- screen display can be a bit finicky. It’s small, at 2.7 inches, and the menu is difficult to navigate using a finger.
How it Compares
The Q8 is larger and far less durable than an action camera. Whereas GoPro, Sony and others give you a wealth of resolution and frame rate options to fine-tune your video footage, the video feature set on the Q8 is meager at best. Image quality also trails the leaders in the category. Shift the playing field to audio capabilities and the Q8 stands unrivaled at a price that’s quite competitive with either a Hero4 or a Sony action cam. If you were in the market for a fairly discrete audio recorder or a compact video camera for B-roll, the Q8 will blend both functions nicely at a reasonable price, even if its real strength is audio.