Sony’s ZV-E1 is a cut-down FX3 in a vlogging form factor
Sony has now officially announced the new Sony ZV-E1 (buy here) mirrorless camera. It follows on with the general theme of the ZV-1 and ZV-E10 in that they’re targeted primarily towards vloggers. In many ways, it seems to be just as good as the Sony A7S III and Sony FX3 – at least on paper. It contains the same full-frame 12.1-megapixel sensor capable of shooting 4K video at up to 120fps (in a future firmware), but there are some key differences.
Well, there’d have to be. When the A7S III and FX3 cost $3,499 and $3,899, respectively, and the new ZV-E1 costs $2,198, you know there are going to be some compromises somewhere. Let’s take a quick look at the specs and see where Sony’s skimped to bring the price down as low as they have.
So, for a start, there’s no mechanical shutter as there is with the A7S III and FX3. This isn’t a massive deal, though. You’re only ever using the electronic shutter when shooting video, and stills are pretty much just an afterthought with a camera like this. If you’re buying the ZV-E1 for stills, you’re most definitely buying the wrong camera. Perhaps look at the Sony A7 IV or A7R V instead.
Like the FX3, it has no viewfinder – again, this is a camera designed primarily for video – and there’s no raw output over the HDMI port, as there is with the A7S III/FX3. So, if you want external raw recording, you’ll still have to trump up the cash for one of its more expensive siblings. Interestingly, 4K video is limited to 60fps at launch. 4K 120fps – which the A7S III And FX3 can both do – is coming in a future firmware update, although it may not be available worldwide.
Steering a little towards the A7S III, there’s no active cooling fan in the ZV-E1. This makes sense for a vlogging camera as you want it to be as small and lightweight as possible. So, removing the fan is a smart move. One of the potential downsides to this, though, is that 4K video is limited to 30 minutes at a time – vs 90 minutes on the A7S III/FX3. 1080p is also limited to 90 minutes, instead of two hours.
There are no CFexpress slots, so there are no super high data rates on the ZV-E1, even when the 4K 120fps firmware comes along. You get a pair of UHS-II SD card slots limiting the write speed to 90MB/sec (720Mbps). It also foregoes the standard full-sized HDMI port found on the A7S III and FX3 in favour of a micro HDMI port. Not a problem if you never use it, but often a problem if you do.
Naturally, it still has the flippy out LCD – kind of essential for vlogging – and it has the built-in mic with the supplied windshield for use outdoors. But it also features a 3.5mm microphone socket so you can still use an on-camera mic like the Rode VideoMic NTG (review here) or Sennheiser MKE 400 (review here). It boasts 15 stops of dynamic range with a native ISO range of 80-102,400. For video, this range can be expanded to 80-409,600. For stills, the minimum ISO drops a little lower at ISO40. Remember, though, that there’s no mechanical shutter. It’s all electronic.
Despite the limitations vs the A7S III and FX3, the ZV-E1 looks to be an extremely capable camera for what it costs. With its target market of vloggers rather than photographers of filmmakers, it’s cutting out the extras you pay for with the two higher-end models that both share the same sensor. I can see this becoming a very popular camera amongst YouTubers and social media content creators.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.