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Sony Alpha ZV-E10 review: interchangeable lens vlogging machine

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Warning: will likely lead to expensive lens purchases

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The $699 Alpha ZV-e10 is Sony’s newest and cheapest addition to the alpha lineup.

The Alpha ZV-E10 is Sony’s newest addition to its lineup of mirrorless cameras. At $799.99 with Sony’s 16-50 lens ($699.99 for just the body), it is the company’s second attempt at making a vlogging-oriented camera and the successor to last year’s ZV-1. It adds a headphone jack, more battery life, a larger sensor, and most importantly, an interchangeable lens design.

You can think of it as a video-centric version of Sony’s more photography-oriented A6100. The A6100 and the ZV-E10 share the same 24mp APS-C sensor, but the lack of a viewfinder and the addition of a fully articulating screen makes the ZV-E10 better suited for filming yourself. And with the new flexibility of being able to swap lenses, this camera is a welcomed upgrade to the ZV-1 that allows novices to dip their toes in more advanced systems.

With the ZV-1, Sony recycled parts from its RX100 line to better fit vloggers. This included a fully articulating screen, a larger handgrip, tally lights, a new mic array, and a hot shoe for accessories. The ZV-E10 follows a similar path, but this time, it borrows parts from the Alpha line and remixes them for vlogging use.

The most important thing with the ZV-E10 is that Sony brought the E-mount lens system to this lineup. A detachable lens system not only allows for much more flexibility in image quality and focal length but also gets a whole community of prosumers buying more accessories. The bad news is the ZV-line 24-megapixel APS-C sensor has a 1.5x crop factor when using full-frame lenses, which means that a 24mm full frame lens will provide a 36mm equivalent field of view on this camera.

The A6600 and the ZV-E10 share the same 24-megapixel APS-C sensor.

The next welcomed upgrades over the ZV-1 are a USB-C port and a larger battery. Every piece of tech I use, outside of my five-year-old bike lights, now uses a USB-C cable, and goddamnit, that feels good. The larger battery is a much-needed improvement, but I was still needing two batteries to get through a day of casual filming. The E10’s NP-FW50 batteries are a hand-me-down from Sony’s older Alpha cameras that we often cited as a point of weakness in those systems.

On the left side of the camera, two plastic doors hide the USB-C port, a Micro HDMI port, a headphone jack, and a mic port (two features that are rare to see at this price point), while the battery compartment holds the SD card slot. Up top is a new physical switch for power along with a mode switching button, a record button, and a background defocus button. And while Sony kept the zoom toggle for use with the detachable power zoom 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, it also added a top dial for aperture or shutter speed adjustments.

The ZV-E10 has a USB-C port for charging and data transfer.
The power switch has a great click.
All of the controls on the back of the camera are on the right side.

Much like the ZV-1, the ZV-E10 does not have an electronic viewfinder (EVF), and although the three-inch articulating screen is plenty bright, even in direct sunlight, using an EVF feels far more immersive when taking both photos and videos for me. However, in a vlogging-first camera, I can understand why an EVF would be first on the list of features to cut. This camera is designed to be able to film oneself, first and foremost, with ease.

There is also no built-in ND filter. Built-in ND filters are one of the few features of cinema cameras that I continually miss when using DSLR and mirrorless systems. There is nothing convenient about having to screw and unscrew pieces of glass onto lenses when filming on location, and it’s infuriating that the ZV-E10’s predecessor, the ZV-1, had this feature, but this camera does not. The upside is that the E10 has an interchangeable E-mount lens system, and I already own ND filters for all of my E-mount lenses.

The other drawback to this camera’s hardware is the lack of in-body optical stabilization. Instead, the ZV-E10 uses electronic stabilization that isn’t very effective in steadying handheld footage. A gimbal will be needed to get smooth shots.

Photos taken on the ZV-E10 with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 lens

The ZV-E10 can take 24.2-megapixel photos, and when paired with the 16-50mm kit lens, the photos are crisp in good light. However, in lower light, and especially when pushed past 8000ISO (admittedly, that’s very high), photos take on a lot of grain and smoothing. This is the same sensor that Sony has been using in its A6000 lineup for a long time, and while it’s good for a quick capture, a faster, more expensive lens will be needed for low-light situations.

All sample footage was filmed with the Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6

There was only one way to test this vlogging camera: make a vlog. I took this camera out for a day in Brooklyn to put its in-camera stabilization, defocus mode, and mic to the test. Tune in to my video above for video samples.

The ZV-E10 can record at up to 4k 30fps, with a crop, or 4k 24fps, without a crop. I was most eager to test the SteadyShot electronic stabilization. And since I was using the 16-50mm kit lens, I also had the more effective, “active” stabilization that uses optical stabilization built into the lens but, unfortunately, crops more of the image. While the video is certainly smoother at these levels of stabilization, there is a bit of a jitter that is most apparent in fine details, such as tree leaves or bricks. Tune into 01:16 for side-by-side comparisons of SteadyShot Standard, which uses the electronic stabilization, and SteadyShot Active, which uses both the electronic stabilization and in-lens optical stabilization.

The fully articulating 3” screen is bright, even in direct sunlight.

Overall, the video quality at 4k 24fps is punchy, crisp, and offers a lot of control over depth of field to justify using it over a phone. But in low light, the kit lens struggles. And once you push the camera past 6400ISO, the image begins to fill with grain. I had to shoot most of the latter half of this vlog at 10000ISO, which made the autofocus hunt, the image underexposed, and overall presented a very pixelated video.

I was disappointed with the mic quality and background defocus button as well. Unsurprisingly, the mic does very well when speaking from behind the camera, where my mouth was much closer to the pickup unit, but from in front of the camera, the audio quality was far less impressive. Although it is unlikely that audio from the built-in mics would sound as good as it would with an on-board shotgun mic, like my $60 Rode VideoMicro that I typically vlog with, my voice still sounds farther away and more processed than expected. And although the background defocus mode’s trick of opening up the lens aperture as much as possible to get the shallowest depth of field is great for beginners, I don’t think it’s valuable enough to devote a whole button to. Fortunately, you can change that: I programmed this button to toggle focus modes instead.

The ZV-e10 comes with a fuzzy windscreen to improve audio quality in windy conditions.

The freedom to swap lenses on a camera can be a scary dive into unknown, expensive territory, but it also gives this camera more flexibility over time. A new or different lens is an easy way to add value to any camera system. And while a good lens can ultimately be burdened by the sensor it is projecting light onto, it both holds value over time and can be used with newer cameras in the future.

For a vlogger looking to take the next step in image quality and creative control over what a phone can provide, the ZV-E10 is easy to use and beginner-friendly while providing easy ways to step up your game. Its low light capabilities could be better, but its $800 price tag makes it a great camera to learn from without taking the full leap into more expensive, harder-to-use systems.

Photography by Becca Farsace / The Verge