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Sony’s new ZV-E1: a potential game changer for video creators

5 minute read

Sony has been chasing the vlogging market hard and with the AI-centric Full Frame ZV-E1 might have come up with the best camera yet aimed at the current crop of video creators.

It’s fair to say that the new Sony ZV-E1 is probably not a camera that could have been released before. While so many of the recent cameras launched onto the market have been trying to eke out smaller and smaller niches by combining existing features in different ways, Sony has firmly struck out for the shoreline marked ‘YouTube’ on the map with this one. It’s also loaded it with new features at an aggressive price point of $2200 or equivalent that moves the goal posts for the rest of the field.

All of which makes it an impressive beast to say the least.

It is, of course, not entirely new, but the bits and pieces that it is cannibalising from the rest of the company’s range are exactly the ones that you’d want to have repurposed. That includes the same 12.1 megapixel CMOS Exmor R sensor that you will find at the heart of the a7s III with 15+ stops of latitude and high sensitivity; the latest BIONZ XR image processing engine, and more AI assistance supplied by a dedicated onboard processor than you can shake a good-sized stick at.

Here’s the feature list summary.

  • Full-frame back-illuminated CMOS Exmor R sensor with 15+ stops of latitude and high sensitivity
  • Sony E-mount System
  • BIONZ XR image processing engine
  • AI-based Real-time Recognition AF and Tenacious Real-time Tracking
  • 4K 60p, 4K 120p Upgradable
  • Cinematic Vlog Setting including S-Cinetone
  • 5-axis optical in-body image stabilisation and Dynamic active Mode stabilisation
  • AI-based Auto Framing and Framing Stabiliser
  • S-Gamut3.Cine/S-Log3 and S-Gamut3/S-Log3
  • Breathing Compensation 
  • Product Showcase Setting and one-touch Bokeh Switch
  • Intelligent 3 Capsule Microphone with variable directivity
  • Vari-angle touch LCD screen
  • Stable smartphone connectivity
  • Sustainable design

Oh, and the company is also billing it as the world’s smallest, lightest, full-frame interchangeable lens vlog camera. Tl;dr? On paper it genuinely look like a bit of a game changer.

The ZV-E1 in detail

So, diving into all that a bit more…

The spec sheet is definitely videocentric. That BIONZ XR image processing engine has up to 8x more processing power than previous generations, all of which boosts high-sensitivity performance, gradation rendering, colour reproduction, low-noise performance, and more. The high volume of data generated by the image sensor can be processed in real-time, even when shooting 4K (3840 x 2160) footage at 120p. It also contributes significantly to improved AF speed and precision.

High-quality 4K (QFHD) video can be recorded with full-frame readout at 10-bit 4:2:2, without the need for 40 pixel binning. This makes the expressive advantages of the full-frame format available for video recording whilst delivering high-resolution 4K footage without moiré or jaggies.

Users can shoot 4K60p and can upgrade up to 4K120p through the Creators’ Cloud with smooth 5x slow-motion imagery. When directly replaying video in slow or quick motion in the S&Q mode while using the XAVC S-I format at 60p, a maximum bit rate of 600 Mbps (4:2:2 10-bit, H.264, All-I) delivers excellent image quality. When upgraded, and using the XAVC S format, up to 10x slow motion with Full HD resolution can be used at 240 fps.

Those upgrades, by the way, are going to be via a free license that launches in June.

The standard ISO range extends from 80 to 102400 for both stills and movies. The expanded range for stills is 40 to 409600, and the expanded range for movies is 80 to 409600.

Adding cine looks

A host of Cinematic Vlog Settings provide an intuitive way to create scenes that look like feature movies by simply choosing an appropriate Look and Mood. ‘Looks’ deliver all the natural mid-tones, plus soft colours and smooth highlights that are essential to cinematic look and enhance skin tones, while ‘Moods’ emphasise specific colours.

These are neat little shortcuts. AF transition speed determines how quickly autofocus will switch between subjects, while that overall cinematic vibe can be boosted by a 24 fps frame rate and the widescreen Cinemascope aspect ratio (2.35:1) with black bands above and below the image.

The ZV-E1 even features S-Cinetone. Based on Sony’s Cinema Line technology, S-Cinetone delivers natural mid-tones that are essential to healthy-looking skin colour to deliver cinematic quality.

10 Creative Looks are provided as presets that can be used as they are or customised. And the new My Image Style feature makes it possible to shoot in the Intelligent Auto or Scene Selection mode, icons on the touch-sensitive monitor make it easy to directly adjust background bokeh, brightness, and colour tone, as well as select a Creative Look.

Those AI features

sony zv-e1 ai recognition

So, deep breath…

According to the company, real-time Recognition AF incorporates an innovative AI processing unit that uses subject form data to accurately recognise movement. ‘Human pose estimation technology’ uses learned human forms and postures to recognise not just eyes, but body and head position with high precision, making it possible to lock onto and track a subject facing away from the camera. 

The AI processing unit can even differentiate between multiple subjects having different postures and recognition of individual faces has also been improved so that tracking reliability is achieved in challenging situations such as when a subject’s face is tilted, in shadow, or backlit. 

In addition to Human and Animal, the AI processing unit now makes it possible to recognise Bird, Insect, Car/Train and Airplane subjects, providing even greater flexibility and reliability when shooting both stills and video.

The ZV-E1 also features AI-based Real-time Tracking that can be activated by specifying the subject and half-pressing the shutter button. The camera will then automatically track the subject, leaving the user free to concentrate on framing and composition. The new camera has a fast Hybrid AF for fast acquisition and tenacious tracking as well detailed AF settings for the ultimate precision and control.

A compact, precision stabilisation unit and gyro sensors with optimised algorithms achieve up to 5.0-step stabilisation that helps to deliver the full image quality potential of the ZV-E1. Camera shake is detected and effectively corrected in 5 axes and the in-body image stabilisation of the vlog camera can provide effective stabilisation with a wide range of lenses, including E-mount lenses that do not include stabilisation of their own.

Sony reckons that the Dynamic Active Mode stabilisation is approximately 30% more effective than the Active Mode provided in previous models. 

AI-based Auto Framing for video is very useful for recording interviews, music performances, cooking, and pretty much anything that is going to be done to camera. Using AI-based subject recognition technology, the Auto Framing feature automatically crops the frame to keep the subject in a prominent position when shooting video. Even without moving the camera the framing is continually adjusted to follow the subject smoothly, which will be rather helpful for all the solo vloggers out there. The subject to be tracked can be easily selected via the camera’s touch-sensitive monitor or the Creator’s App on a smartphone.

Breathing Compensation suppresses image shifts whilst focusing to maintain a consistent angle of view and achieve smooth, dramatic focusing effects. The camera also features Multiple Face Recognition which automatically adjusts bokeh and focus on multiple recognised faces when shooting group selfies or group portraits – preventing problems such as only the faces in the front being in focus whilst those further back are out of focus.

The camera also boasts a Framing Stabiliser that automatically keeps the subject’s position in the frame constant. Advanced AI-based subject recognition technology works with the camera’s Dynamic Active Mode image stabilisation to keep the subject smoothly and stably in the frame as you move freely during handheld shooting.

The camera also features a Bokeh Switch for one-touch background bokeh enhancement and a soft skin effect when shooting video.

And, given its target market, the ZV-E1 also includes the Product Showcase Setting for product review videos so users can smoothly switch focus from the presenter’s face to a product held in front of the lens and back again.

Price and availability

There is a lot to the ZV-E1 and we can see it really making a dent in the market especially when it comes to solo video creators. It’s compact, weighs under 500g with lens and battery, and while it won’t be able to do absolutely everything its bigger brothers can, the sheer number of assists available makes it a powerful choice for anyone looking to up their video game.

As mentioned before, price is $2200 or equivalent, and launch date is April at some point, with further features to be turned on via a free license available in June. 

Tags: Production