The Sony ZV-E1 is a full-frame mirrorless camera aimed at video creators. It packs the sensor and IBIS from the A7S Mark III into a smaller body with no viewfinder but a bunch of features designed to make filming easier, especially if you’re a team of one.
Launched in March 2023, the ZV-E1 becomes the fourth model in the ZV range, and sports both the largest sensor and highest price in the series to date. In the video below I’ll show you everything you need to know including demonstrations of all the new content creator modes. If you prefer to read the written highlights though, keep scrolling!
The original ZV-1 was essentially a reworked RX100 Mark V for vloggers, employing the same 1in type sensor and 24-70mm zoom, but dropping the viewfinder and adding an improved microphone, as well as some helpful new filming modes. It’s still available for around $750.
The follow-up ZV-E10 essentially did the same trick with the A6400, inheriting its unstabilised APSC sensor and the chance to swap lenses, but again dropping the viewfinder and gaining the improved microphone. It costs around $700 for the body alone or around $800 with the 16-50 kit zoom.
Sony then added a new version of the ZV-1 called the 1F which swapped the zoom for a fixed 20mm equivalent prime, making it more suitable for handheld vlogging, but most of us could guess a full-frame ZV wouldn’t be far behind.
Enter the latest ZV-E1, which essentially takes the 12 Megapixel sensor with IBIS from the A7S Mark III, and, following earlier models, drops the viewfinder, and adds the improved microphone plus some new AI-based vlog-friendly filming modes.
In these respects it could be seen as a simpler, more affordable version of the A7S III, or perhaps a consumer-focused FX3 that’s optimised for vloggers. Or size-wise, maybe a video-oriented version of the A7c.
However you choose to describe it, the ZV-E1 is unashamedly aimed at videographers. Sure it can still take photos, but this is not designed as a hybrid camera. If photos and video are equally important to you, you’ll be better-served by the similarly-priced A7 IV.
Ok let’s get on with the review, starting with the design and controls. Here’s the ZV-E1 on the left, alongside the A7 IV on the right, the latter also representing other models in the full-frame Alpha range in terms of size.
Most obviously from the outside the ZV-E1, like the FX3 and other ZV models, slices off the viewfinder head to become much shorter; in fact it becomes one of the smallest and lightest full-frame cameras to date, at least those with IBIS and without viewfinders.
As you look around the bodies, you’ll notice the ZV-E1 has just one control dial, although like Sony’s other video-focused cameras, the shutter release includes a spring-loaded rocker for adjusting the zoom, be it digital using Clear Image, or optical with a compatible Power Zoom lens.
From the top you’ll also notice a simpler layout, lacking the mode dial of traditional cameras and instead just relying on a simple switch to set it between photo, video and S&Q modes. Also note the generously-sized red record button and one dedicated to background-defocus to its right.
To put the size into perspective again, here’s the ZV-E1 on the left alongside the A6400 on the right, coincidentally the camera I use to film most of my videos. The ZV-E1 is a little larger in every dimension, but it’s still striking how similar they are in size.
Again the main feature benefits of the A6400 here are its built-in viewfinder not to mention a higher resolution sensor that’s more aimed at hybrid use, but the ZV-E1 counters with a larger full-frame sensor, IBIS stabilisation, a better built-in mic and all those new filming modes.
Oh and if you prefer, the ZV-E1 is also available in white, although I don’t believe Sony goes as far as to offer a matching version of the 28-60 kit zoom.
Like the other ZV models to date, there’s no viewfinder, leaving composition and playback entirely down to the 3in screen with 1.04 million dots.
Again like earlier models, it’s side-hinged, allowing it to flip-out to face you, twist up and down or fold back on itself for protection.
It is of course touch-sensitive and Sony’s introduced a new set of shortcut icons accessed by swiping left and right or up and down. These provide quick access to many filming options from the defocus level to the microphone direction, and they’re handy on a body with fewer physical controls.
On the left side of the body are three flaps. Behind the top one are 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 in a nice upgrade, it’ll even now stream over USB in 4k up to 30p.
The larger flap in the middle opens to reveal a single SD card slot, so no dual slots for backup, nor support for faster CF Express Type A cards, which in turn limits the maximum bit rates to 600Mbit/s.
I realise earlier ZV cameras also only had one SD slot, and understand there’s always losses when making bodies smaller, but for a camera this price 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.
Meanwhile behind the third port at the bottom are a Micro HDMI port and 3.5mm headphone jack. Yep, Micro HDMI rather than the more robust full-size ports of the A7 IV and S III, and the ZV-E1 also lacks the RAW video output of the S III.
At this point you might be concerned the ZV-E1 has also compromised battery life, but I’m pleased to report it still takes the same FZ100 pack as the larger models in the range.
Sony quotes 95 minutes of video recording on a full charge, but it depends on the quality and potential for overheating. Like other recent Sony cameras, you can set the Auto Power Off Temp to High and allow the body to become very warm to extend recording times.
With this enabled, I managed to record 52 minutes and 25 seconds of 4k 50p XAVC HS video before the camera became very warm and shut itself down, albeit with roughly two thirds of the battery remaining. The larger bodies and heatsinks of other models in the Alpha range should allow longer recording, even unlimited in some conditions. Set to 1080 50p, I managed two hours and 26 minutes on a single charge with no overheating.
On the top left of the ZV-E1 is one of Sony’s Multi Interface Shoes, complete with the extra pins to support digital audio accessories, and to its right is a three capsule internal mic which allows you to switch between patterns.
There’s an Auto mode which records sound from all around, unless a face is detected at which point it concentrates on sound coming from the front. Alternatively you can manually select front, all directions, or rear for when you’re narrating behind the camera.
Like earlier ZV cameras, the E1 is also supplied with a wind muffler that slides onto the hotshoe. Sony supplied my test sample with the version for the white body but the effect is the same. In my video review above, you’ll hear how the modes compare, starting with the mic set to front, but initially without the muffler, so you’re going to hear some wind noise – don’t worry, it won’t be for long.
Ok, now for the sensor which as you already know is inherited from the A7S III. This has 12 Megapixels which in turn allows the ZV-E1 to record 4k video without additional cropping, binning or oversampling. It simply slices-off the top and bottom into the 16:9 shape and starts recording.
Since there’s no spare pixels to deal with, the sensor readout can be faster than higher resolution models, which should in turn mean reduced skewing from rolling shutter artefacts, without the cost of a stacked sensor.
To find out, here’s the ZV-E1 at 50mm panning back and forth at 1080 25p where I’d say there really is minimal skewing visible. And for comparison at 1080 50p, again staying pretty well-behaved.
Next at 4k 25p where there’s still nothing bad to report even with severe movements back and forth, and finally at 4k 50p, which again looks pretty good to me. This result is in stark contrast to other non-stacked sensors with higher resolutions that have to factor in delays from processing more pixels.
Again, while the ZV-E1 is designed for video first, it can still take photos if you like, albeit at a maximum resolution of 12 Megapixels, such as these examples.
Further cementing its intended use for video, Sony’s also seen fit to remove the mechanical shutter on the ZV-E1, so unlike the S III, you only have a fully electronic shutter for still photos.
While electronic shutters have the benefit of silent operation, they can suffer from artefacts including banding under artificial light and again skewing from rolling shutter.
Here’s a burst of stills I took at the camera’s top speed while quickly panning from side to side. While the skewing isn’t as bad as many higher resolution models, it’s still visible here with the bottle leaning to one side.
Since the ZV-E1 has no mechanical shutter to solve this problem, stills shooters should be cautious about photographing anything in fast motion, but again the camera isn’t designed for photography and as seen earlier, the rolling shutter for video is lower than most non-stacked sensors.
In terms of video, the ZV-E1 inherits most of the quality options of the S III, at least those within the speed of its SD slot. So you can film 1080 from 24 to 240p or 4k from 24 to 120p, the latter making it one of the most affordable full-framers with 4k 120p capabilities.
Well, not quite yet. As you may have noticed in the menus, there’s no mention of 1080 240 or 4k 120 at the time I made this review, as for some unexplained reason, they’re not ready for the launch of the ZV-E1. Instead they’ll arrive on a free update in June. So the ZV-E1 will have 1080 240 and 4k 120 capabilities, but not until June 2023.
The video quality unsurprisingly matches the A7S III in the same modes, but again the speed of the SD slot prevents the ZV-E1 from offering the highest bit-rate options. It also lacks RAW output over HDMI and like all Sony consumer cameras to date doesn’t offer Cinema 4k or Open Gate options, both incidentally available on the Lumix S5 II.
That said, you’re still getting Sony’s latest XAVC HS option for 10 bit 4k, as well as Intra options for 1080 and 4k. Eagle-eyed Sony owners will also notice Log shooting has been moved out of the Picture Profiles and into its own menu. This makes much more sense, although means the Picture Profile list now has a gap where they previously were.
Here’s a clip I filmed in S-log 3 and the potential for dynamic range is shared with the A7S III. The ZV-E1 also allows you to import and preview a LUT when filming, or even bake it right into the footage, saving you from an additional step in editing if desired. I believe this is already available in FX models and will hopefully come to the S III in a firmware update. A similar capability is also available on the Lumix S5 II.
The ZV-E1 also finally includes a dedicated timelapse mode which generates a video from images captured at intervals up to one minute. In this mode, no stills are recorded, so it’s for generating video only.
Next-up, the new Auto Framing mode which once it recognises a face will digitally zoom-in a little, leaving space around the edges to move the frame left and right to follow you – simulating a camera operator panning a little from side to side. You can adjust the speed, the delays, and the crop size, as well as recording the cropped version to the SD card and output an uncropped version over HDMI or vice versa if desired.
But in a missed opportunity, the Auto Framing mode won’t let you choose a different aspect ratio, so all the cropped footage is in the traditional wide 16:9 shape.
Imagine how good it would be to automatically crop a tall 9:16 shape for vertical video, which could keep you in the frame as you moved left and right, while simultaneously recording a traditional wide version, even if only in 1080p. This could become even better if Auto Framing also had access to the full height of the sensor in an Open gate mode.
I’ve suggested both to Sony, but in the meantime, the ZV-E1 does have a bunch of other tricks up its sleeve, including the ability to detect multiple faces coming in and out of the frame and smoothly adjusting the aperture so they’re all in focus. This worked well in my tests, but is hampered somewhat by only being available in intelligent Auto mode, which in turn means having no control over the shutter, aperture or ISO. I deliberately used an f1.8 lens here, but in daylight without an ND, the camera automatically closed it to no larger than f2.8, robbing me of a potentially blurrier background. So I’d like to see the multiple face option available in Manual too.
Now for some handheld vlogging, starting with the ZV-E1 fitted with the FE 20mm f1.8 prime lens at f1.8 without any stabilisation, so let’s fix that straight away by enabling standard SteadyShot, which here is using sensor-shift IBIS alone, allowing you to film without a crop.
Next I’ve enabled Active SteadyShot which incurs a crop but delivers less wobbles. I always thought Active SteadyShot applied additional digital compensation, but Sony tells me on the full-frame cameras, it’s actually still only using sensor shift, but in a broader range which necessitates a crop.
New to the ZV-E1 though is Dynamic SteadyShot which takes Active mode and now adds additional digital compensation, incurring a further crop still, but ironing out more wobbles. That said, with this additional crop, my 20mm is now acting more like a 28, which has arguably become too tight for handheld vlogging, at least when holding the camera with both hands.
To illustrate the effect of the various stabiliser crops, here’s a static view filmed with the 28-60 kit zoom at 28mm with IBIS alone, so this is uncropped.
Next for Active SteadyShot which again applies a crop to allow the sensor shift system to operate over a broader range.
And finally the new Dynamic mode which applies additional digital compensation for potentially steadier footage, albeit with an even tighter crop.
To further illustrate the crop, here’s the original clip filmed with IBIS alone for an uncropped result.
Now I’ve super-imposed a red frame, where the outer edge represents the coverage when you’re using Active SteadyShot, which works out about a 1.12x crop.
And finally the outer edge of the green frame represents what you’ll get with Dynamic SteadyShot, which by my calculations works out at about a 1.44x crop.
As always, these crops mean you’ll need very wide lenses if you’re a handheld vlogger, which in turn means the 28-60 kit zoom just isn’t going to cut the mustard.
On the left is the 20mm prime at f1.8 and on the right is the 28-60 kit zoom at 28mm f4, both using standard SteadyShot IBIS without a crop, and already the 28 is arguably already too tight.
Next here they are with Active SteadyShot, making the 28 on the right uncomfortably close, and finally here’s both with Dynamic SteadyShot, delivering the least wobbly footage, but with the greatest crop.
But while the 28-60 isn’t wide-enough for handheld vlogging in front of the camera, it can be great when used with Dynamic stabilisation when you or someone else is behind the camera instead. But again if you’re handheld vlogging in front of the camera, you ideally want a 20 or even wider.
Before my final verdict I’m going to showcase the last new mode on the ZV-E1, called Cinematic Vlog. This changes the aspect ratio to a wider 2.35:1 shape, changes the frame rate to 24p, and applies softer, moodier tones. You can adjust the style, but here’s some clips filmed with 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.
There’s also no getting away from the price of the ZV-E1, which is getting on for three times that of earlier models in the series. Sure, it’s still a cheaper way to enjoy the excellent A7S III sensor with some more vlog-friendly modes, but as a compact ZV camera, you’re limited to a single card slot, Micro HDMI port and potentially shorter recording times. These may not be a big deal in the sub-$800 category, but when a camera costs over two grand, you become more critical, and the losses could rule it out for pro use.
There are of course plenty of alternatives at a roughly similar price, albeit aimed more at a hybrid owner, including Sony’s own A7 IV, Canon’s EOS R6 and Panasonic’s Lumix S5 II. All deliver higher resolution photos with the benefit of dual card slots, mechanical shutters, longer recording times and built-in viewfinders, while two also sport full-size HDMI ports, with the Lumix additionally boasting Open Gate facilities.
The ZV-E1 counters with 4k 120p, reduced rolling shutter, a better built-in mic, and those enhanced vlogging modes. As I said at the start, it’s unashamedly aimed at videographers and especially one-person content creators. It’s certainly capable of great results, but ultimately you’ll need to weigh-up the pros and cons to see if it’s right for your personal needs.
Oh and if you’re handheld vlogging in front of any camera, remember you’ll ideally need a lens that’s wider than 24mm, especially when applying enhanced stabilisation modes, which in turn makes the 28-60 kit zoom less than suitable.Check prices on the Sony ZV-E1 at B&H, Adorama, WEX UK or Calumet.de. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book, an official Cameralabs T-shirt or mug, or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!