Sony has unveiled its latest and by far the best vlogging camera to date, the full-frame ZV-E1. Equipped with the same 12-megapixel back-illuminated sensor (BSI) as the A7S III, it promises great low-light performance, 4K up to 120p, and a host of new AI features like auto-framing. The $2,200 price tag also makes it appealing to vloggers as it offers features found on the $3,500 A7S III for much less money.
Key among these is the excellent video specs. The full-frame sensor allows you to dramatically 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 binning-free full-pixel playback in all modes. It also offers capture in easy-to-change All-I modes with data rates up to 600 Mbps.
10-bit 4:2:2 recording is available with S-Log-3 / S-Gamut3.Cine log modes, offering up to 15 stops of dynamic range, according to Sony. And the 12-megapixel BSI sensor has an extended ISO range up to 409,600 (80-102,400 in normal modes), the best high ISO performance in the Alpha series. This opens up a lot of great creative opportunities, as you can shoot in near-black conditions.
The ZV-E1 is Sony’s first full-frame camera with a vlogging-style body, so it lacks the big grip and generous controls found on other A-series models. it’s much smaller and lighter than those models, weighing just 483 grams, compared to the A7S III’s 699 grams. It’s even lighter (and smaller) than the A7C, but uses the same Z batteries as the 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 around 30 minutes).
It has a single rear wheel, with the front wheel replaced by a motorized zoom control. There are only a few other controls (three programmable buttons, an Fn button, and Sony’s usual D-Pad), along with a Still/Movie/S&Q switch, a product overview button, and a defocus button in background. It also has a tally light that can be viewed from the front and top.
For other settings and functions like focus, you must use the touch screen. Luckily, it’s a fully articulating screen that allows for easy auto shooting or high/low angle framing. Sony has also adopted the A7R VThe relatively intuitive menu system puts common settings on a single screen and makes finding more advanced functions relatively easy.
It also lacks an electronic viewfinder, so the only way to see your subject is through the touchscreen or an external monitor. We’ve seen the same on all of its other ZV-series vlogging cameras, so it’s no surprise, but it’s a little shocking to see such a capable camera without an EVF.
Otherwise, however, the ZV-E1 actually adds some features not found on other Sony cameras. For starters, it offers 5-axis in-body stabilization, with a new “Active” optical mode that’s supposed to increase shake reduction while walking. And if that’s not enough, the “Dynamic Active” mode adds extra smoothing for fast movements in exchange for extra cropping. “Combined with a wide-angle lens, handheld shooting is possible even in fast-paced walking scenes that would otherwise be difficult without the use of a gimbal,” Sony claims.
Another new feature is the AI-powered auto-framing mode which should be incredibly handy for solo creators. Using subject recognition technology, it automatically crops the frame to keep the subject in a prominent position, even if the camera can be attached to a tripod. Using the feature, you can select a small, medium, or large crop, have it follow quickly or slowly, automatically start based on subject recognition or subject selection, and switch between crop and full angle after 15 or 30 seconds. It can even record two types of images at once, capturing the full image on an HDMI output and the cropped version on an internal memory card.
Other AI tricks including a framing stabilizer that uses subject recognition technology to reframe the subject and keep them steady when you walk past them. “Multiple Face Recognition” automatically reduces bokeh when a second face is detected so both subjects stay in focus. And as with Sony’s other vlogging models, it has a bokeh switch that automatically defocuses the background, as well as a “product preview” button that lets the camera instantly focus on an object placed in front of the camera.
As with other recent Sony models, the ZV-E1 has a variety of subject recognition modes in addition to humans, including animal, bird, car/train, airplane and insect. It includes the Focus Breathing Compensation function first seen on the A7IV which digitally compensates for any zooming when the focus changes from subject to subject. It also offers the focus map and AF assist seen on recent models, as well as adjustments for AF transition speed.
Audio-wise, the ZV-E1 has a built-in 3-capsule mic that can change direction depending on the situation. For example, if a human subject is recognized, the mic direction changes to “front”, but if there is no subject, it defaults to “all directions”. It comes with a windscreen, and if you prefer to use 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 video up to 4K 30p, outperforming most other Sony models. It also comes with a headphone port, a single UHS-II SD card slot, microHDMI and USB-C output. Finally, it’s a decent camera too, taking 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 body-only, or $2,500 in a kit with the SEL 28-60mm zoom. It’ll be up for pre-order tomorrow, and shipping should begin in early April – stay tuned for a full review.