You can photograph with the Sony ZV-E1. But what the camera is really designed for is vlogging. The ZV-E1 is the camera of choice for content creators working solo. For them, the camera has some special features not found on any other vlog camera. If you don’t need those, the ZV-E1 is still an excellent 4K video camera. Oh yes, and you can also take photos with it.
TESTRESULTS Sony ZV-E1:
The Sony ZV-E1 is considerably more expensive than the ZV-E10, but much cheaper than other Sony models with the same video capabilities.
Introduction Sony ZV-E1
The Sony ZV-E1 is a very compact small-frame camera from Sony aimed at the advanced vlogger and filmmaker. The camera has the same 12-megapixel sensor as the A7S III and the FX3 and thus the same image quality, but combines it with the new, powerful, Bionz XR processor from the Sony A7R V. Sony has used the power of the processor to give the ZV-E1 some special features that can be very useful for vloggers working alone. Namely, the camera can automatically recognise people in the picture and zoom in on them and follow them. This allows you to put the camera on a tripod, and present something yourself while walking back and forth a bit and the camera can then follow you by making a crop in the image. This makes the image much more dynamic and you hardly need to do anything. Furthermore, the ZV-E1 has much better image stabilisation than, say, the ZV-E10, allowing you to take much nicer shots out of hand than is possible with the ZV-E10. For all those features, the camera does have to crop the image considerably and then convert it again to still be able to write out a 4K file. Of course, this does come at the expense of image quality. But they are functions you can but should not use. If you work with a (small) gimbal (like the Zhiyun M2S, for example), you don’t need to use dynamic stabilisation, for example. The extra features are just that: extra features.
Audio has also been thought of, with the special three-capsule microphone that is also in Sony’s other vlog cameras, which means you are far from having to use an external microphone. The microphone can record sound to the front or back, but you can also let it decide where the sound to be recorded comes from
Construction and operation
The ZV-E1 resembles Sony’s viewfinder-less cameras such as the ZV-E10, the Sony A7C and the FX3/FX30 and therefore looks instantly familiar. Yet the body is not exactly the same as any of those models. Most of all, the ZV-E1 still looks like a cross between the ZV-E10 and the A7C. The ZV-E1 is just slightly smaller than the A7C, but it has the same robust feel and, fortunately, a decent grip. Unfortunately, like the A7C, it has no dial. A big difference from the A7C is, of course, the lack of the viewfinder. Instead, on the ZV-E1 there is the microphone that we also know from the ZV-E10 and ZV-1, with three capsules that allow the microphone to be directional and record both forward and backward. A wind blocker can be inserted into the flash shoe to reduce wind noise.
The ZV-E1 has the new Bionz XR processor and with it Sony’s new menu structure with a bit more separation of photo and video functions. The turn-and-tilt screen is touch-sensitive and can also display the FX3’s tile menu. All functions on the screen can be controlled via touch and things like ISO, shutter speed and aperture can be changed through this. Especially for vloggers who are more in front of than behind the camera, this is hugely useful. The ZV-E1 also has a tally lamp on the left shoulder and the camera shows a red frame around the image while recording.
For power, the ZV-E1 uses the FZ100 batteries that are now in all Sony miniature cameras. The ZV-E10 still has to make do with the smaller FW50 batteries, which reduces shooting time considerably. With the FZ100 batteries, the ZV-E1 achieves about 95 minutes of shooting time. If you want to do that in 1 take in 4K, however, it shouldn’t be too hot. The ZV-E1 is smaller than both the A7S III and the FX3. The A7S III has a much larger heatsink and the FX3 even has a built-in fan. For longer continuous shooting, those cameras are better suited. With temperatures that did not exceed 20 degrees, we did not have any problem with the ZV-E1 overheating in longer shots either, but presumably in summer temperatures of around 30 degrees or higher, you will have to be careful and work in shorter shots. Those could still be shots of 5 or 10 minutes, for example, rather than half an hour.
Like the A7C, the ZV-E1 has a single SD card slot. So there is no CFexpress and also no possibility to write away raw. But with a fast SD card, that’s enough for the highest quality 4K video in 10-bit 4:2:2 All Intra. The HDMI port is of the small (and therefore fragile) HDMI D-type. The camera does have 3.5mm jacks for the microphone and headphones, and of course you can use Sony’s digital microphones on the flash shoe. Those don’t need a cable.
Around the shutter button, which you won’t use much for filming, is a zoom lever that lets you zoom in Clear Image Zoom 1.5x, even with fixed focal points. Clear Image Zoom is a digital zoom that lets you get 4K images, but by digitally magnifying the image. The beauty of the Clear Image zoom on the ZV-E1 is that all functions such as Eye-AF, subject recognition and stabilisation all continue to work as normal thanks to the powerful processor. This makes it really usable in real-world situations. Of course, you can also use the zoom lever on Sony power zooms to simply zoom in optically.
The 12-megapixel sensor of the Sony ZV-E1 is mainly designed for 4K video and delivers a superb image quality for this, which we have known for several years from the A7S III. The dynamic range is high and even in (very) low light, this sensor still allows excellent filming.
The lowest (extended) ISO value is 80, but those filming in S-Cinetone or S-log will not be able to use that. In S-Cinetone, the lowest value is ISO 125 and in S-log3 it is 640, with a second Native ISO at 12,800. The highest extended ISO value is 409,600, but that is mainly for emergency situations. Where the limit lies will be different for every user, but 51,200 is still doable and we have also seen exceptional films where the sensitivity was even a stop higher. A number of camera functions make full use of the ability to vary the ISO value quite a bit, and you don’t have to be too afraid of that with the ZV-E1 either. For photography, it’s a slightly different story. The image quality is at least as good as for video, but there’s no getting around the fact that 12 megapixels is not that much these days. For many applications, of course, it’s still enough, and for hybrid working photographers/filmmakers, the ZV-E1 allows you to take pictures big enough to completely fill a 4K screen. However, you don’t have much room to crop. Another thing that can sometimes be a drawback for photography is the lack of a mechanical shutter. Fortunately, the sensor’s rolling shutter is reasonably short. But this is not a camera ideal for tracking fast-paced action, also due to the lack of a viewfinder.
The Sony ZV-E1’s sensor is the same one found in the A7S III and the FX3. So it has 12.1 megapixels. With that, you can film in 4K in 35mm with little rolling shutter. That’s much lower than of, say, the A7 IV, which is roughly in the same price range as this ZV-E1. By default, the camera offers 4K up to 50 or 60 frames per second in 4:2:2 in All Intra with a high bitrate and 100/120 bps in Full HD. In summer 2023, Sony says there will be the option to also film in 120 frames per second in 4K via an additional licence to be purchased. At 120 frames per second, about 10% is cropped in the image. In 4K60p, the camera does use the entire sensor, which has just more pixels in width than needed for 4K. So at 120p, the camera apparently reads the pixels 1:1, leaving the outer pixels unused. In addition to 120 frames per second in 4K, there will then also be 240 frames per second in Full HD.
The ZV-E1 has S-log2 and S-log3, of course, and thankfully S-Cinetone. That gives a nice soft image with a nice roll-off in the high lights that is easy to edit, without having to shoot directly in log. The lowest ISO value for S-Cinetone is 125 and for S-log3 it is ISO 640. That still makes outdoor filming without ND filters possible in S-Cinetone, which is difficult with S-log, at least if you don’t want to make your shutter speeds too short. For working in S-log, it is also possible to load LUTs into the camera so you get a pretty good idea of the final output while filming.
The ZV-E1 has built-in image stabilisation. As with the also compact A7C, it is good for around 5 stops in photography. Besides the standard stabilisation, there is also an electronic, active image stabilisation that already gives a much quieter image for video and, as icing on the cake, there is dynamic active stabilisation. This gives an almost gimbal-like image, but at the cost of a hefty crop. With the Sony FE 20-70mm F4 G at the 20mm setting, you’re left with an image more like that of a 30mm with dynamic active stabilisation. The stabilisation is so good, then, that it is a bit trickier to pan with it, as the stabilisation tries to correct the pan movement in the first place. But for filming while walking, it works quite nicely.
The Sony ZV-E1 has the same processor as the Sony A7R V and it also brings all the new AF features on board. So you have the Ai-based autofocus that can very well recognise subjects like people, animals, birds, insects, planes, cars and motorbikes. You do have to select these subjects yourself, but the touch-screen lets you do that very quickly and easily. The autofocus is very fast, tracks very well and offers many options to adjust speeds to make transitions smoother or more abrupt.
The ZV-E1 has quite a few special features not yet found on any other Sony. The Framing Stabiliser tracks people in the frame, continuously keeping the subject the same size and roughly in the same place in the frame. This is also useful when you walk in front of the camera yourself. The camera can then track you as if a cameraman is actively following you, including zooms and pans. These kinds of effects can also be done afterwards in software, but require quite a bit of work and knowledge. Furthermore, the camera features Multiple Face Recognition. This allows the camera to, for instance, adjust focus and depth of field during the shot as soon as a second person enters the frame. You can also have an active crop taken of a person in the frame and shift it to a second person. Those who also have a recorder can have the camera record the cropped image and send the full image to the recorder.
Relative to competitors
Sony makes quite a few camera models aimed mainly at filmmakers and vloggers. Below the ZV-E1 is the ZV-E10. It costs a fraction of the price of the ZV-E1, but then offers much less.
The ZV-E10 is based on the Sony A6100 and only has electronic image stabilisation that works much less well than the ZV-E1’s stabilisation, no 60 or 120 frames per second, no 10-bit video, smaller batteries, a lesser autofocus and the 10 lacks all but all the special features that the ZV-E1 has (except product showcase).
Looking up, there are the A7S III and the FX3. These offer more than the ZV-E1 in some ways, but then again cost a lot more. Both the A7S III and FX3 are better for longer shots, and the A7S III is also a better hybrid camera thanks to its excellent viewfinder.
Both the A7S III and FX3 have large and therefore more robust HDMI ports and can output raw video over HDMI. But if you want to film internally in 4K, the ZV-E1 gets exactly the same quality and almost the same features for significantly less money. And then you have all the special vlog features and the built-in microphone as extras.
4K60p 10 bit 4:2:2 All Intra
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121 x 82 x 54 mm
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Conclusion test Sony ZV-E1
The ZV-E1 couples excellent image quality in 4K video with special features that advanced vloggers can greatly benefit from.
The Sony ZV-E1 is undoubtedly one of the best vlog cameras at the moment, at least for those who like to film in full frame 4K in 10 bit 4:2:2 and preferably at 50 or 60 frames per second. Indeed, the ZV-E1 can do all that and more. The stabilisation is excellent and makes for great handheld filming even without a gimbal. And thanks to the Framing Stabiliser and Multiple Face Recognition, you can get exceptional results very quickly and easily. The ZV-E1 a good bit more expensive than Sony’s APS-C ZV model, the ZV10, but the camera is well worth the extra price. Compared to cameras like the A7S III and the FX3, which have the same sensor, the ZV-E1 is a bargain.