Since acquiring it some years ago, my Zoom H1 audio recorder (see our Zoom H1 review) has been a faithful companion on my field recording sessions. Hence, I’ve always been curious about Zoom’s video cameras. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to spend quality time with any of them. Until now, that is.
Last week I received the Q4n, the newest camera released last February by Zoom. The product name says it all: the Q4n is the updated version of its popular compact video camera released two years ago, the Q4.
While the audio features of the older model were intriguing, many users weren’t impressed with its video performance. Zoom listened, and the Q4n delivers.
What’s your scene? Ok, some specs first. The Zoom Q4N features a 160 degree lens, a 1/3-inch 3-megapixel CMOS sensor and can record video up to 2.3K resolution (2304 x 1296) at 30fps/24Mbps (3M HD), and in lower resolutions at 30fps/5Mbps to SDHC/SDXC cards (up to 128 GB – I’ve loaded mine with a 64Gb card).
The Q4n comes with nine “Scene” presets for various environments, such as low-light concerts, rehearsal room and even garage – it looks like Zoom really knows its users! Four levels of digital zoom (from -0.75 to + 1,50%) are also included.
Specs aside, what of the video performance in actual use? Well, I am happy to report that as far as video quality is concerned, the Zoom Q4n performs MUCH better than its older sister (while testing the Q4n, I borrowed a Q4 from a friend). Colors are more natural (that ‘hazy hue’ has gone), the scenes and the higher resolution settings help to produce solid recordings.
While low-light performance has been considerably improved, like any video camera in this price range, your lighting conditions will make a huge difference (D’oh!).
Also, make sure to use a tripod, the unit lacks optical stabilization (as you would expect in this price range).
Here things get really interesting (as you may expect from a Zoom product). The Q4n’s dual built-in microphones can be easily configured for A/B or X/Y stereo recording (see picture below), handling high sound pressure levels up to 140 dB SPL. The Zoom Q4n boasts automatic microphone gain and lo-cut filter (off by default). The unit comes with a handy sponge windscreen.
Setting up the mics couldn’t be easier, and it’s great to have the option to play with different stereo images. The X/Y does the job for me, but if you would like to record a concert (for instance), the A/B setting may provide a wider sound stage.
The Zoom Q4n also features an external audio input for external mics and other audio devices (via a 1/8″ stereo input jack). A convenient headphone output (another feature that you won’t find in many camcorders on the market) is thankfully included. You can monitor with either headphones or its built-in speaker.
Audio is embedded in the MOV video data stream or, when used as a standalone audio recorder, stored as AAC or WAV files, up to 24-bit / 96 kHz.
Handy camera, literally!
Design, Connections The unit is considerably smaller than I expected. Good news for people with small hands, like mine. Its compact size and design make the Q4n really easy to use: one power button, another one to start and stop recording, an input volume knob and that’s it.
The Q4n features a full-color touchscreen display and a USB rechargeable Li-on battery. You’ll also find a built-in tripod mount and a three-prong adapter for compatibility with all action camera mounts, including Zoom’s optional guitar headstock and microphone stand mounts.
The USB port is quite cool: it allows for live streaming and enables the Q4n to act as a web camera (connecting the Q4n to a Mac or PC) or USB microphone (connecting the Q4n to an iPad). Last but not least, the HDMI video output allows connection to HDTVs.
Who’s it for?
– Would you like to record your band’s amazing rehearsals or your latest piano/guitar creation but your smartphone doesn’t cut it?
– Do you feel like you could become the next YouTube vlogger star but you are not ready to shell out serious money on high-end video equipment?
– Are you looking for an affordable camera with good audio quality for a streaming performance? (the Q4n supports USTREAM Producer, Flash Live Media Encoder, Skype, and other popular streaming applications.)
If your answer is yes to any of these questions, the Zoom Q4n can be a great option for you. Its flexible condenser microphones set it apart from other action cameras in this price range (and most of them don’t even have an external mic input!).
To have a comparable quality with your iPhone or high-end Android phone, you would need to add extra accessories like a 24-bit / 96 kHz capable external mic and a tripod adapter. All considered, I’d go with the Q4n instead.
The Zoom Q4n covers an interesting and quite unusual market niche. It’s affordable, much simpler to operate than most camcorders, and its audio capabilities are simply unheard of in its price range. Even buying a higher quality camcorder (let’s say in the $600/800 range), you would still have to add the cost of a good external mic to get comparable results.
Kudos to Zoom for addressing most of its potential users’ needs: well-thought scenes, good mics, plenty of connections, straightforward operations, good battery life (up to three hours).
Now that I’ve mentioned what I like in the Q4n, let’s see what its drawbacks are. In short:
– The wide angle lens may not be for everyone
– Limited zoom capabilities
– No optical stabilization. This is not a big deal though: the Q4n is not a street camera, and nowadays even iMovie and Youtube have image stabilization features.
The Zoom Q4n comes with a windscreen, lens cover, lens hood and strap
Conclusion At (approx.) $299 / 289 € / £220 the Zoom Q4n gets my recommendation. It’s a unique and versatile device that makes the most of Zoom’s experience in the audio recording field and caters for the needs of budget-minded performers, creatives, podcasters, bloggers, etc.
Needless to say, it’s not meant to be a replacement for more high-end video cameras or DSLR cameras with video capabilities, but it’s an excellent option for those looking for a solid mix of video and audio features in the under $400 market segment.
Where to buy?
Support ANR buying the Zoom Q4n from one of our partners. That’s the best way to attract good karma!