We know what most vlogs and YouTube videos look like in this, our Age of Content. So does Sony, and it’s starting to make cameras built to spit out exactly the style of video you’re looking to mimic.
The new Sony ZV-E1 is a compact mirrorless full-frame system camera that’s dedicated to content creators and aimed squarely at vloggers. It’s the new flagship offering of Sony’s established ZV line of vlog-centric cameras, taking a similar 12-megapixel backside-illuminated full-frame sensor as the pro-focused FX3 and mixing in the A7R V’s AI autofocus smarts to reduce the friction in making high-quality video content.
My colleague Becca Farsace spent a week with the camera and tested many of its vlog-centric automated features for you to check out in her review above. Though, of course, there’s still the monetary friction of the ZV-E1’s $2,199.99 price for the body only or $2,499.99 in a kit with a 28–60mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens when it launches in the first half of May.
The Sony ZV-E1 is the new ultracompact champ in the Alpha lineup of cameras, offering a compact size and weight of just 483 grams that’s designed to easily travel (when not attaching the biggest, heaviest Sony FE lenses, of course). By comparison, the jack-of-all-trades Sony A7 IV weighs 659 grams, and the former holder of the “small for full frame” crown, the Sony A7C, weighs 509 grams.
Sacrifices have to be made for that svelte stature, and the most notable for many will be the omission of an electronic viewfinder — without even an external option — and being limited to just one SD card slot. But that’s maybe forgivable if the camera’s articulating screen is usually going to be pointed forward at you during filming or if you’re the type to shoot directly to a fancy external recorder like an Atomos Ninja V (though you’re doomed to do so with a Micro HDMI port).
No 8K video — but also, does it matter?
Aside from the usual litany of 4K 4:2:2 10-bit filming modes that go up to 60fps, the ZV-E1 can film in 1080p FHD at up to 120fps — with 4K / 60 and 1080p / 240 coming later via a firmware update. It lacks 8K recording, but frankly, that feels like a logical omission instead of making the camera larger for the sake of thermals or melting its innards when it inevitably overheats. The ZV-E1 also supports the S-Log3 flat color profile and S-Cinetone, the latter of which continues trickling down from the super high-end Sony Venice world. S-Cinetone has become a popular profile with content creators who want a cinematic look without too much fuss, and the ZV-E1 is all about offering shortcuts to dynamic and dramatic looks.
For example, the three-inch articulating touchscreen of the ZV-E1 allows for many controls to be dialed in with smartphone-like taps, and Cinematic Vlog mode easily adds a sense of drama by switching to a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enabling S-Cinetone color. Combine that with its five-axis in-body image stabilization and Dynamic Active stabilization — cropping into the image to further correct for camera movement — and you can capture some emotionally compelling run-and-gun-style footage without worrying about the added cost or heft of a gimbal. The ZV-E1 even has a built-in three-capsule mic that dynamically adjusts to pick up the main presenter and minimize atmospheric noise, and it supports UVC for easy livestreaming (or webcam use) up to 4K / 30p via its USB-C port.
Auto Framing is like Apple’s Center Stage — it’s as bad as it sounds
The ZV-E1’s AI-based subject recognition can even be relied on for making framing and composition decisions, cropping your image to one of multiple detected subjects in view like Apple’s Center Stage webcam feature. Of course, letting a camera have that much directorial control of your videos may not be advisable if you don’t want to take chances on it botching a take or making your footage look incredibly generic.
But while much of Sony’s ZV-E1 is based around making the small and nuanced complications of solo operation content creation easier, it’s got a fair share of quality-of-life features many advanced video creators are likely to appreciate, like a tally light, a zoom lever beneath the shutter button, a claimed 15 stops of dynamic range, and ISO sensitivity settings up to 409,600. And unlike other ZV models, the ZV-E1 uses the much, much better NP-FZ100 batteries that actually last a respectable amount of time and is the first Sony camera with a screen reader accessibility function.
So it’s not just for deep-pocketed beginners seeking automated features to give them an early leg up, as the core of this camera also means it’s kind of like a baby FX3 or A7S III for video heads in need of a second or third camera. Though buying one when you’re a pro or highly experienced video user may make you feel like you bought a superbike that came with some clever, well-intentioned training wheels.
Photography by Becca Farsace / The Verge