Sony HVR – Z1U

Sony HVR – Z1U

I bought the Sony Z1U camera in January 2006 and have used it fairly intensely in a professional capacity as a video journalist. I have worked as a video journalist for the past 12 years principally specialising in hostile environments and countries undergoing “transition”.

main features:
Switchable NTSC/PAL color system, 1080/60i, 1080/50i
Image Device 1/3-Inch 3-CCD Super HAD, 16:9 Aspect Ratio
Lens 4.5mm to 54mm 12x Optical Zoom f/1.6-2.8
72mm Filter Diameter
Minimum Illumination 3 Lux
Built-in Filters ND1: 1/4 (1.5 stops) and ND2: 1/32 (5 stops)
LCD Monitor 3.5 inch
Viewfinder Selectable B/W or Color, 16:9 (252K pixel)
Shutter Speed Range 1/4 to 1/10,000 seconds
Tape Format HDV – DVCAM – DV
Weight: 4 lbs 4 oz
Price: Around US $4,000

The camera has a solid build to it, it offers full manual control and is a pleasure to shoot with.  In addition, the Z1U delivers great quality pictures and performs pretty well in low light. The  Z1U  has two XLR inputs so no adaptor is needed for using professional microphones.  I bought an on-board microphone (not included in the price of the camera) and a Sennheiser radio microphone, the ew100 G2, so I am very happy with my audio.  I also like the six assignable buttons.

The camera comes with a very clever lens hood and cap system. I can’t remember how many lens caps I lost with my Sony PD 150 and other cameras I have owned in the past.  It is  a total nightmare to lose a lens cap especially if you are shooting in the Sahara Desert or the Canadian Arctic.

The LCD screen is viewable in bright sunlight, which is very helpful in desert environments.
The Z1U is equipped with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* high definition lens with a 12x zoom function. This lens is designed with a wide viewing angle, and a 35-mm equivalent focal length ranging from 32.5mm to 390 mm in 16:9 mode, and from 40 mm to 480 mm in 4:3 mode.

One can also buy a wide conversion lens, or a fish eye adaptor to go with the camera. I have found the existing lens wide enough for my purposes. The Z1U formats are switchable. The camera can record and play in dvcam,  minidv, and the HDV format. The camera has both NTSC and PAL and 50i/60i systems which is great for somebody like myself who works for both North American and European clients.

The camera uses tape, unlike Panasonic’s forward-thinking P2 based camera. I think flash memory is still going to be too expensive for use in ENG cameras for at least another 2 – 3 years. I found the compact size of the camera meant I didn’t need carnets and filming permits in countries like Egypt,  the Sudan and Bosnia.

It was easy to be a “tourist” yet get the filming done without too many police officers and border guards asking questions or becoming suspicious as to the nature of my assignments.

The Z1U requires an expensive shoulder bracket for extended shooting without a tripod (about US $400).

The LCD screen is mounted high so you can shoulder mount the camera, but that puts your eyes right in front of the screen, making it hard to focus on it. Although the viewfinder can switch between colour and black and white, it is rather small.  I found this to be problematic at times.

Probably, the biggest downside of the Z1U, is there is no true 24p recording.  The 24 frame mode does a good job for dramatic footage, but it still doesn’t compare to true 24p. 24p is really only an issue for those transferring video to film. Sony does what they call Cineframe 24, but this is a bit of a fudge. This simulates the motion of true 24p so the result will look fine in video, but will not work when transferring to film.

There are not a lot of ways you can edit or even play back HD right now.  At least that has been my experience. Also missing is an external microphone that should have been included in the price of the camera.