The ZV-E1 is Sony's most powerful consumer camera focused at video content creators, offering the A7S III's quality and frame rates in a smaller, more affordable package. It has increased stabilisation, a higher-quality built-in microphone, and a slew of clever options to make filming easier. Alternatives at a similar price point, albeit aimed more at a hybrid owner, include Sony's own A7 IV, Canon's EOS R6, and Panasonic's Lumix S5 II. All have higher resolution photos, dual card slots, mechanical shutters, longer recording times, and built-in viewfinders, and two have full-size HDMI ports. It is unapologetically intended at videographers, particularly one-person content creators, who are assessing the advantages and cons to see if it is suitable for them.
The Sony ZV-E1 is the latest edition to the ZV series and Sony’s most capable consumer camera aimed at video content providers. It has the same high quality and frame rates as the A7S III, but in a smaller and more economical package. The camera has significantly improved stabilisation, a higher-quality built-in mic, and various novel modes that make filmmaking easier, especially for one-person teams.
The ZV-E1 is one of the most economical full-frame cameras with 4k 120p, which is one of its most noticeable characteristics. The auto-framing tool stands out among the new options. However, not offering a vertical crop option with auto-framing is a missed opportunity, especially when combined with Open Gate recording. Furthermore, the camera is more expensive than previous models in the series, costing nearly three times as much. If you are critical of such features, you may want to consider Sony’s A7 IV, Canon’s EOS R6, and Panasonic’s Lumix S5 II, which offer higher resolution photos as well as dual card slots, mechanical shutters, longer recording times, and built-in viewfinders.
Nonetheless, the ZV-E1 outperforms the competition with 4k 120p, a reduced rolling shutter, a better built-in mic, and improved vlogging modes. It is unabashedly intended at videographers and, in particular, one-person content providers, and it is capable of producing excellent results. However, the camera’s pros and cons must be weighed to determine whether it meets your specific needs.
Design and Operation
The ZV-E1 resembles the Sony A7c in appearance, with a flip-out touchscreen display that tilts down to 90 degrees and up to 180 degrees, making it ideal for selfie videos. The camera has a strong and comfortable grip, and the controls and dials are nicely located and simple to operate. The camera has an ND filter built in, which might be handy when shooting in strong light.
However, the camera only has one card slot, which may be limiting if you shoot for long periods of time or if the card fails. Furthermore, the micro HDMI port on other cameras is less reliable than the full-size HDMI port. Furthermore, the camera lacks a built-in viewfinder, which may disappoint some users, but it does have a hot shoe mount that allows you to attach an external viewfinder.
Image and Sensor Quality
The ZV-E1 features the same 12-megapixel full-frame sensor and BIONZ XR image processing engine as the A7S III. The camera has an ISO range of 100-102400, which can be increased to 50-409600, making it suited for low-light photography. The camera also has 5-axis in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) with up to 5.5 stops of stabilisation, making it ideal for handheld photography.
The camera can record 4K video at up to 120 frames per second and supports a variety of codecs including XAVC S, XAVC HS, and AVCHD. It also supports S-Log2, S-Log3, and HLG for a wide dynamic range, making it perfect for grading in post-production. The camera provides high-quality images with vibrant colours and crispness, making it ideal for shooting professional-grade video material.
The original ZV-1 was essentially a redesigned RX100 Mark V for vloggers, with the same 1in type sensor and 24-70mm zoom but without the viewfinder and with an upgraded microphone and several useful new filming modes. It’s still on the market for roughly $750.
The A6400’s successor, the ZV-E10, essentially achieved the same thing, inheriting its unstabilised APSC sensor and the ability to swap lenses but sacrificing the viewfinder and getting the enhanced microphone. The body alone costs roughly $700, or around $800 with the 16-50 kit zoom.
Sony subsequently released a new version of the ZV-1 dubbed the 1F, which ditched the zoom in favour of a fixed 20mm equivalent prime, making it more ideal for handheld vlogging, but we all knew a full-frame ZV wouldn’t be long following.
Enter the newest ZV-E1, which simply takes the A7S Mark III’s 12 Megapixel sensor with IBIS and, like previous models, eliminates the viewfinder while adding a better microphone and some new AI-based vlog-friendly video modes.
In these ways, it may be considered a simpler, more cheap version of the A7S III, or a consumer-focused FX3 geared for vloggers. Or, in terms of size, perhaps a video-oriented variant of the A7c.
Whatever you want to call it, the ZV-E1 is clearly intended at videographers. It can still take images, but it is not intended to be a hybrid camera. If you value both images and video, the similarly priced A7 IV will be a superior choice.
Okay, let’s begin the review with the design and controls. The ZV-E1 is on the left, while the A7 IV is on the right, with the latter also representing other full-frame Alpha models in terms of size.
From the outside, the ZV-E1, like the FX3 and other ZV models, has a much shorter viewfinder head, making it one of the smallest and lightest full-frame cameras to date, at least those with IBIS and without viewfinders.
When you look around the bodies, you’ll notice the ZV-E1 has only one control dial, though the shutter release includes a spring-loaded rocker for adjusting the zoom, whether digital using Clear Image or optical with a compatible Power Zoom lens.
From the top, you’ll notice a simpler layout, lacking the traditional camera’s mode dial and instead relying on a simple switch to switch between photo, video, and S&Q modes. Take note of the large red record button and the background-defocus button to its right.
To put the size into perspective, here’s the ZV-E1 on the left next to the A6400 on the right, which happens to be the camera I use to film the majority of my movies. The ZV-E1 is slightly larger in every dimension, but the similarities in size are noticeable.
The key advantage of the A6400 here is its built-in viewfinder, as well as a higher resolution sensor targeted at hybrid use, but the ZV-E1 answers with a larger full-frame sensor, IBIS stabilisation, a better built-in mic, and all those new filming modes.
Oh, and the ZV-E1 is also available in white, though I don’t think Sony goes so far as to sell a matching version of the 28-60 kit zoom.
There is no viewfinder, as with previous ZV models, so composition and playback are solely dependent on the 3in screen with 1.04 million dots.
It’s side-hinged, as with previous models, allowing it to flip out to face you, twist up and down, or fold back on itself for safety.
It’s touch-sensitive, and Sony’s added a new set of shortcut icons that can be reached by swiping left and right or up and down. These provide quick access to a variety of filming options, ranging from defocus level to microphone direction, and are useful on a body with fewer physical controls.
Three flaps are located on the left side of the body. Behind the top one is a 3.5mm microphone input and a USB C port, the latter supporting charging, power delivery, and UVC / UAC output for use as a standard USB webcam, and as an added bonus, it can now stream in 4k up to 30p over USB.
The larger flap in the centre opens to show a single SD card slot, which means no twin slots for backup or support for faster CF Express Type A cards, limiting maximum data rates to 600Mbit/s.
I understand that earlier ZV cameras had only one SD slot, and that there are always trade-offs when making bodies smaller, but for a camera aimed at higher-end videographers, the inability to backup to a second card will be a reason some choose the A7 IV or spend more on the A7S III instead.
A Micro HDMI port and a 3.5mm headphone jack are located behind the third port at the bottom. Yes, Micro HDMI rather than the more robust full-size ports found on the A7 IV and S III, and the ZV-E1 lacks the S III’s RAW video output.
You might be concerned that the ZV-E1’s battery life has been affected, but I’m happy to announce that it still uses the same FZ100 battery as the larger models in the line.
Sony claims 95 minutes of video recording time on a full charge, but this is dependent on the quality and risk of overheating. You can set the Auto Power Off Temp to High, like with other new Sony cameras, and allow the body to become very warm to lengthen recording times.
With this option set, I was able to shoot 52 minutes and 25 seconds of 4k 50p XAVC HS footage before the camera overheated and stopped down, despite having about two-thirds of the battery remaining. Other Alpha variants with larger bodies and heatsinks should allow for greater recording times, possibly even unlimited under some scenarios. With the resolution set to 1080 50p, I got two hours and 26 minutes out of a single battery with minimal overheating.
On the top left of the ZV-E1 is one of Sony’s Multi Interface Shoes, complete with extra pins for digital audio attachments, and to the right is a three capsule internal microphone with pattern switching.
There is an Auto mode that captures sound from all directions till a face is detected, at which point it focuses on sound from the front. When narrating behind the camera, you can also manually select front, all directions, or rear.
The E1, like previous ZV cameras, comes with a wind muffler that slips onto the hotshoe. Sony sent my test sample with the white body variant, however the impact is the same. In my video review, you’ll hear how the modes compare, starting with the mic set to front but without the muffler, so you’ll hear some wind noise at first – don’t worry, it won’t last long.
Now, as you already know, the sensor is inherited from the A7S III. This has 12 Megapixels, allowing the ZV-E1 to capture 4k video without the need for further cropping, binning, or oversampling. It simply cuts the top and bottom into a 16:9 shape and begins recording.
Because there are no spare pixels to deal with, the sensor readout can be faster than in higher resolution models, resulting in less skewing from rolling shutter artefacts without the expense of a stacked sensor.
To find out, here’s the ZV-E1 at 50mm panning back and forth in 1080 25p, with minimal skewing noticeable. In comparison, in 1080 50p, it remains relatively well-behaved.
Then at 4k 25p, where there’s still nothing to complain about despite the severe back and forth movement, and finally at 4k 50p, which looks pretty good to me. This finding stands in stark contrast to other non-stacked sensors with higher resolutions, which must account for delays caused by processing additional pixels.
Again, while the ZV-E1 is primarily intended for video, it can also shoot images, albeit at a maximum quality of 12 Megapixels, as shown in these instances.
Sony has also removed the mechanical shutter on the ZV-E1 to emphasise its intended purpose for video, so unlike the S III, you only have a totally electronic shutter for still images.
While electronic shutters have the advantage of being silent, they can suffer from artefacts such as banding under artificial light and skewing from rolling shutters.
Here’s a flurry of stills shot at full speed while fast moving from side to side. While the skewing isn’t as severe as in many higher resolution models, it can still be seen here with the bottle leaning to one side.
Because the ZV-E1 lacks a mechanical shutter, stills shooters should be cautious when photographing anything in fast motion, but the camera isn’t designed for photography, and as previously stated, the rolling shutter for video is lower than most non-stacked sensors.
In terms of video
The ZV-E1 inherits the majority of the S III’s quality options, at least those within the speed of its SD slot. As a result, you can shoot 1080 at 24 to 240p or 4k at 24 to 120p, making it one of the most affordable full-framers with 4k 120p capabilities.
Not yet, at least. As you may have noticed in the menus, there’s no mention of 1080 240 or 4k 120 at the time I wrote this review, as they weren’t ready for the ZV-E1’s launch for some unknown reason. Instead, they’ll be available as a free update in June. So, the ZV-E1 will support 1080 240 and 4k 120 resolutions, but not until June 2023.
In the same modes, the video quality matches that of the A7S III, but the speed of the SD slot prohibits the ZV-E1 from delivering the greatest bit-rate possibilities. It also lacks RAW HDMI output and, like all Sony consumer cameras to date, lacks Cinema 4k and Open Gate capabilities, both of which are featured on the Lumix S5 II.
However, Sony’s latest XAVC HS option for 10 bit 4k is still available, as are Intra options for 1080 and 4k. Log shooting has also been moved out of Picture Profiles and into its own menu for keen Sony owners. This makes a lot more sense, however it means the Picture Profile list now has a gap where they used to be.
Here’s a clip I shot in S-log 3, and the dynamic range potential is shared with the A7S III. The ZV-E1 also lets you to import and preview a LUT while filming, or even bake it directly into the footage, saving you a step in editing if needed. I believe this is already available in FX versions and will hopefully be accessible in a firmware update for the S III. A comparable feature is featured in the Lumix S5 II.
Finally, the ZV-E1 has a dedicated timelapse mode that creates a video from photographs shot at one-minute intervals. Because no stills are recorded in this mode, it is only used to generate video.
The new Auto Framing mode, which will automatically zoom-in a little after recognising a face, leaving space around the edges to shift the frame left and right to follow you – emulating a camera operator panning a little from side to side. You can change the speed, delays, and crop size, as well as record the cropped version to an SD card and output an uncropped version through HDMI or vice versa.
However, the Auto Framing mode does not allow you to select a different aspect ratio, so all cropped footage is in the traditional wide 16:9 shape.
Consider how useful it would be to automatically trim a tall 9:16 form for vertical video, keeping you in the screen as you moved left and right, while also recording a typical wide version, even if just in 1080p. This could be improved if Auto Framing had access to the entire height of the sensor in Open gate mode.
The ZV-E1 has a slew of other features, including the ability to recognise numerous faces entering and exiting the frame and seamlessly adjusting the aperture to keep them all in focus. This performed well in my tests, but it is limited to intelligent Auto mode, which means you have no control over the shutter, aperture, or ISO. I purposefully used a f1.8 lens here, but without an ND filter, the camera automatically reduced the aperture to no more than f2.8, robbing me of a possibly blurrier backdrop. As a result, I’d want to see the many face option available in Manual as well.
NThe ZV-E1 is equipped with the FE 20mm f1.8 prime lens at f1.8 without any stabilisation, so let’s fix that right away by enabling standard SteadyShot, which here is using sensor-shift IBIS alone, allowing you to film without cropping.
Next, I enabled Active SteadyShot, which results in a crop but less wobbles. I always assumed Active SteadyShot used additional digital adjustment, but Sony tells me that on full-frame cameras, it still uses sensor shift, but in a wider range, necessitating a crop.
Dynamic SteadyShot, which is new to the ZV-E1, takes Active mode and adds further digital adjustment, incurring a further crop but smoothing out more wobbles. However, with this crop, my 20mm is now acting more like a 28mm, which is arguably too tight for handheld vlogging, at least when holding the camera with both hands.
Following that is Active SteadyShot, which uses a crop to allow the sensor shift mechanism to work across a wider range.
Finally, there’s the new Dynamic mode, which uses additional digital compensation for potentially more stable footage, albeit with a tighter crop.
Now I’ve added a red frame around the image, with the outer edge representing the coverage while using Active SteadyShot, which works out to around a 1.12x crop.
Finally, the outer edge of the green frame indicates what you’ll receive with Dynamic SteadyShot, which works out to around a 1.44x crop according to my estimates.
As always, these crops mean you’ll need very wide lenses if you’re a handheld vlogger, which means the 28-60 kit zoom won’t cut it.
The 20mm prime at f1.8 is on the left, while the 28-60 kit zoom at 28mm f4 is on the right, both using regular SteadyShot IBIS without a crop, and the 28 is perhaps already too tight.
Then there’s Active SteadyShot, which makes the 28 on the right feel uncomfortably near, and finally Dynamic SteadyShot, which delivers the least wobbling film but the most crop.
However, while the 28-60 isn’t wide enough for handheld vlogging in front of the camera, it can be fantastic when combined with Dynamic stabilisation when you or someone else is behind the camera. However, if you’re doing handheld vlogging in front of the camera, you’ll want a 20 or even wider lens.
Before I provide my final conclusion, I’d want to show out the ZV-E1’s most recent new mode, Cinematic Vlog. This widens the aspect ratio to 2.35:1, increases the frame rate to 24p, and adds softer, moodier tones. You can change the style, however here are some examples shot using the default settings.
Sony ZV-E1 Verdict
The ZV-E1 becomes Sony’s most powerful consumer camera aimed at video content creators, delivering the quality and frame rates of the A7S III in a smaller, more affordable body with the benefits of genuinely improved stabilisation, a better quality built-in mic, and a bunch of cunning modes to make filming easier, especially if you’re a team of one.
I enjoyed the new modes, especially auto framing whether the camera was on a tripod or handheld, but it’s a real missed opportunity not to offer a vertical crop option. Imagine being able to record horizontal and vertical versions simultaneously, with the camera automatically keeping the subject centered on both. This could be even better still if Sony equipped its cameras with Open Gate to access the full height of the sensor.