Sony's 12-megapixel full-frame ZV-E1 is a low-light vlogging beast
It comes with 5-axis stabilization, extreme low-light sensitivity and AI-based auto-framing.
Sony has unveiled its latest, and by far greatest vlogging camera to date, the full-frame ZV-E1. Equipped with the same backside-illuminated (BSI) 12-megapixel sensor as the A7S III, it promises excellent low-light performance, 4K at up to 120p and a host of new AI features like auto framing. The $2,200 price tag also makes it enticing for vloggers as it offers features found on the $3,500 A7S III for considerably less money.
Key among those are the excellent video specs. The full-frame sensor lets you significantly blur the background so subjects stand out more than with cameras using smaller APS-C or Micro Four Thirds sensors. And like the A7S III, the ZV-E1 gives you 4K at 24/30/60/120 fps, using a full-pixel readout with no binning in all modes. It also offers capture in easy-to-edit All-I modes with data rates up to 600Mbps.
10-bit 4:2:2 recording is available with S-Log-3/S-Gamut3.Cine log modes, delivering up to 15 stops of dynamic range, Sony claims. And the 12-megapixel BSI sensor has an ISO range up to 409,600 expanded (80-102400 in normal modes), the best high ISO performance in the Alpha series. That opens up a lot of interesting creative opportunities, as you can shoot in near pitch-black conditions.
The ZV-E1 is Sony's first full-frame camera with a vlogging-style body, so it lacks the large grip and generous controls seen on other A-series models. In exchange, it's much smaller and lighter than those models, weighing in at just 483 grams, compared to 699 grams for the A7S III. It's even lighter (and smaller) than the A7C, but uses the same Z-batteries as larger Sony models, letting you capture up to 570 shots or record 4K 60p video for 95 minutes (however, 4K 60p is temperature-limited to approximately 30 minutes).
It has a single rear dial, with the front dial replaced by a motor zoom control. There are just a few other controls (three programmable buttons, a Fn button and Sony's usual D-Pad), along with a Still/Movie/S&Q switch, product showcase button, and background defocus button. It also has a tally light that can be seen from the front and top.
For other settings, and functions like focus, you have to use the touchscreen. Luckily it's a fully articulating display that allows easy self-shooting or high/low angle framing. Sony has also adopted the A7R V's relatively intuitive menu system that places common settings on one screen and makes it relatively easy to find more advanced functions.
Also missing is an electronic viewfinder, so the only way to see your subject is via the touchscreen or an external monitor. We've seen the same thing on all its other ZV-series vlogging cameras so it's no surprise, but it's a bit jarring to see such a high-spec camera without an EVF.
Otherwise, though, ZV-E1 actually adds some features not found on other Sony cameras. To start with, it offers 5-axis in-body stabilization, with a new "Active" optical mode that's supposed to boost shake reduction while walking. And if that's not enough, the "Dynamic Active" mode adds extra smoothing for rapid movements in exchange for some extra cropping. "Combined with a wide-angle lens, hand-held shooting is possible even in fast walking scenes that would otherwise be difficult without the use of a gimbal," Sony claims.
Another new feature is the AI-based auto framing mode that should be incredibly handy for solo creators. Using subject recognition tech, it automatically crops the frame to keep the subject in a prominent position, even though the camera may be fixed on a tripod. Using the feature, you can select a small, medium or large crop, have it track you quickly or slowly, auto start based on subject recognition or subject selection, and switch between the cropped and full angle after 15 or 30 seconds. It can even record two types of images at once, capturing the full image to an HDMI output and the cropped version to an internal memory card.
Other AI tricks including a framing stabilizer that uses subject recognition tech to crop in to the subject and keeps them stable when you're walking beside them. "Multiple face recognition" automatically reduces bokeh when a second face is detected so both subjects stay in focus. And as with other Sony vlogging models, it has a bokeh switch that automatically defocuses the background, along with a "product showcase" button that lets the camera instantly focus on an object put in front of the camera.
As with other recent Sony models, the ZV-E1 has a variety of subject recognition modes besides humans, including animal, bird, car/train, airplane and insect. It includes the focus breathing compensation feature first seen on the A7 IV that digitally compensates for any zooming when the focus changes from one subject to another. It also offers the focus map and AF assist seen on recent models, along with adjustments for the AF transition speed.
On the audio front, the ZV-E1 has a built-in 3-capsule mic that can change directionality depending on the situation. For instance, if a human subject is recognized, the mic direction changes to "front," but if there's no subject it defaults to "all directions." It comes with a windscreen, and if you'd rather using your own mic, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack and digital audio interface on the hotshoe.
Other features include UVC/UAC webcam capability, with support for up to 4K 30p video, besting most other Sony models. It also comes with a headphone port, a single SD UHS-II card slot, a microHDMI output and USB-C. Finally, it's a decent photo camera as well, shooting 12-megapixel RAW photos at up to 10fps — but there's no mechanical shutter, of course.
As mentioned, the ZV-E1 is priced at $2,200 for the body only, or $2,500 in a kit with the SEL 28-60mm zoom. It goes on pre-order tomorrow, with shipping set to start in early April — stay tuned for a full review.