Sony ZV-E1 review: An impossibly small full-frame camera (2023)

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Over the past couple of years we've seen Sony develop its camera ranges into two, primary families: the Alpha 7 lineup - which includes high-end full-frame cameras - and the ZV models which have vloggers in mind. These models are designed for use by on-the-go content creators. But what happens when you try to blend those two ranges into one, single camera?



The answer to that question is the ZV-E1. It is - in some ways - the spiritual successor to the A7c. It's compact, features all the vlogger-friendly tools of the other ZV models, but has a full-frame sensor, a powerful image processor and an E mount for interchangeable lenses. It's trying to be the best of both worlds, offering a powerful, but easy-to-use camera that's super compact.

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Sony ZV-E1


Sony's flagship ZV camera combines the power and capabilities of a full-frame Alpha camera with the portability and features from its creator range to great effect.


  • Compact and portable design
  • Fantastic autofocus performance
  • Great battery life and convenient charging
  • Much more user-friendly than Alpha cameras


  • It's expensive
  • Only one SD card slot

$2200 at Best Buy $2200 at Amazon

Design and ports

  • 121 x 71.9 x 54.3mm - 483g - E mount lenses
  • USB-C with Power Delivery, 1x SDHC/SDXC port, Micro HDMI, 3.5mm headphone out, 3.5mm mic in
  • Fully articulating touchscreen display - No EVF

This isn't the first time Sony has stuffed a full-frame sensor into a tiny camera body. In fact, its entire A7 range is relatively compact. But when talking 'impossible' levels of compactness, there was the A7c. It was launched almost as a teaser of what was to come from Sony, but the general tone around the camera was that it wasn't a 'proper' Alpha. So it makes sense that Sony has tried again, made it smaller, but rebranded it as part of the ZV lineup.

There's no denying the Alpha series' influence on the camera though. It's got the same sensor as the A7S III inside and even features the Alpha logo on the front of the body. Where the ZV-1F was launched as a gateway camera for creators who shoot on their phones, the ZV-E1 seems more like a gateway into Sony's world of interchangeable lens-compatible E Mount full-frame 'proper' Alphas.

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(Video) Sony ZV-E1 Review: A Nearly Perfect Vlogging Camera

We're not exaggerating when we talk about this camera's small size either. It's dinky enough that it will sit really comfortably in the palm, and it's really lightweight for a full-frame camera. It doesn't have the same retro charm as the A7c, but if your main aim is to get a proper, powerful camera that's really easy to carry around, the ZV-E1 is that camera.

Of course, how compact it is will be affected by what lens you use with it. A good number of Sony's G Master lenses are quite big and heavy and will skew the feeling of handling the camera somewhat. Still, we found it comfortable to use, and have carried it around our necks even with the 24-70 mm G Master f/2.8 lens attached, without any discomfort. Given the market this is aimed at, that's a very good thing. Being able to use it handheld without strain is exactly what you want.

As for ports - there's both flexibility and limitation. The latter - of course - due to the compact size of the camera. It means there's only one SDXC/SDHC slot, and no support for CFExpress cards of any kind. You also get a micro HDMI port instead of a full-sized one. However, you do get two 3.5mm ports (one for audio in, one for audio out), plus a USB-C port which is useful for charging, data transfer and enables the camera's plug-and-play webcam feature. You can simply connect it to your PC/Mac and have it as your webcam on Zoom or Teams calls. Just like the ZV-1F.

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The camera also has a proper fully articulating touchscreen display. We'll talk more about its UI and control system in a little bit, but the screen can be flipped to face forwards, backwards and most angles in between. Again - for compactness - there's no EVF on this camera.

Usability and controls

  • Revamped touchscreen menu system on display
  • Dedicated background defocus and movie recording buttons
  • Plug and play webcam

With the ZV-E1 attempting to maintain the focus on being a camera for quick, easy shooting, the user interface has been tweaked and redesigned to make changing settings simple. That means you can adjust most important elements with a quick tap or a swipe on the touchscreen.

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On the left and right side of the touchscreen there are columns made of simple square icons for accessing these important controls. By default, this include things like changing the shooting mode so that you can quickly switch between intelligent auto, program auto, or aperture, shutter or exposure priority modes.

There are also quick icons for changing the creative look, which direction the microphone is picking up audio from, changing between the different subject recognition options - it can switch between human, animal, bird, insect, aeroplane and train/car - plus the toggle for enabling and disabling the product showcase mode.

Along the bottom is a row of more crucial controls, so this is where you’ll find the ISO, shutter speed, white balance and aperture controls. Once you’ve selected, you can continue using the touchscreen or use the control wheel on the back of the camera.

This rotating dial is the only one on the camera, with Sony using the ZV-E1 to demonstrate that it knows how to show restraint and simplify things for those who aren’t old-school photography enthusiasts. Saying that, there are enough buttons to be useful, without feeling too limited.

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The off/on switch and the zoom rocker surround the shutter button on the top of the grip, giving you easy access to them with your right index finger. Apart from those - on top - you have a movie record button, which has to be pressed to start recording, even when you’re in movie mode.

(Video) Sony ZV-E1 camera review

There’s a background defocus button that toggles on a heavy background blur for when you want to add effective separation between you and your background - or just want to ensure that the subject/talent is the focus - and there’s the three-point slider switch for moving between stills, video and S&Q (slow and quick) modes.

Lastly, we're glad to see the menu button is in a sensible position on the right hand side and within easy reach of our right thumb. Traditionally on Alpha cameras, this has been tucked away on the left hand side, which we have found is not as convenient in use.

Autofocus, subject recognition and tracking

  • Human, animal, insect, car, train and plane recognition
  • Real-time tracking and autofocus
  • Auto-framing when mounted

Like so many of Sony’s other cameras, it’s the automatic subject recognition, tracking and autofocusing abilities that make the ZV-E1 such a good camera to use daily. In fact, for most of what we wanted to do with it - from video or stills - we could confidently leave autofocus on, and let it do its thing.

With filming products for our YouTube channel it would quickly and reliably pick out the subject, focus on it and create a lovely background blur. We rarely had to touch the shutter button to aid focus or switch to manual focus.

In particular, with product showcase mode enabled, we were able to face the camera, lift a product to the lens and the ZV-E1 was able to detect it, quick switch focus, and then transition focus back to our face again when the product was removed.

A lot of these features have been mainstays for Sony cameras for the past few years, but subject recognition is something of a new development. The ZV-E1 uses the same sensor, image processing and AI as the most recent full-frame Alpha 7R. That means it doesn’t just recognise faces and eyes, but knows where the key parts of a human body are, so it can keep people in focus even if they’re not facing the camera, or if their face is obstructed by something else.

It’s a particularly useful feature if you’re shooting someone running, walking or doing anything that isn’t a portrait shot. It can also recognise animals, birds, planes, cars, trains and insects now too. All you have to do is quickly select which type of recognition you want, and you’re good to go.

All in all, it’s pretty effective, and works well in video mode. Results could be a little mixed on stills, however, with the camera struggling to automatically lock on and track a child swinging up and down on a park swing.

Video recording, stills and battery life

  • 4K/60 (4K/120 coming in later update) - 10-bit 4:2:2 all internal - S-Cinetone profile
  • 12.1MP full-frame sensor - Bionz XR image processing
  • 15+ stops dynamic range - 3 capsule built-in microphone

Despite its diminutive size, the camera is packed with some powerful and very capable internals. Unlike the A7c, there's no feeling that you're being short-changed on the video capabilities. Want high bitrate video? No problem, there's 4:2:2 10-bit capability, and you can shoot at 4K/60. In fact, Sony's pushing a firmware update to add 4K/120 to the camera in a few months' time (although that will introduce a 10 per cent crop when it drops).

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We've already mentioned autofocusing and real-time tracking, which is a big part of the experience because it makes shooting anything really quick and easy. The autofocus was so reliable we could just leave it on most of the time and rarely had to touch the manual focus, even for very close-up small objects like budding leaves on a tree/plant. It shouldn't really be a surprise either, because the camera uses the same AI-enhanced Bionz XR image processor as the much more expensive A7R V.

Like the ZV-1F it also has a zoom lever, so if you want to digitally zoom, you can do up to 1.5x, even if you have a wide-angle prime lens attached. You can see a drop in quality when you use this mode, however. Images and video appear less detailed and artificially sharpened, which is almost certainly down to the relatively low-resolution sensor.

6 Images

Shots taken close up with the ZV E1 with autofocus enabled.

(Video) Sony ZV-E1 Review - Easy To Use Full Frame Creator Camera

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It's this 12-megapixel sensor that may just be a bit of a sticking point, at least for photographers. It's the same sensor that's in the Sony A7S III, which is great for video and for low light performance, but you really do need a proper zoom lens if you want to get closer to faraway objects. Unlike the A7R series, it can't rely on additional pixels to offer crispy digital zoom.

That doesn't mean it can't take good stills. It can. In fact, it's undoubtedly the strongest camera in the ZV range for photography, thanks to its large sensor, great autofocus, depth of field and great colour reproduction.

6 Images

Images taken with prime lens and zoom lens

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(Video) Sony ZV-E1 Review | is THIS the BEST CAMERA for SOLO Videographers?
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Image and video quality overall is good, with great depth of field and vibrant - but not unrealistic colours - on the whole. There were times it seemed to struggle with exposing our face, sometimes overexposing it and softening it to give it an overly smooth and contrasty texture with not enough detail. But this only seemed to happen on odd occasions when we had features like the product showcase mode enabled.

Stabilisation is a strong point of the camera too, with the camera able to actively smooth out handshake quite comfortably, so you can shoot handheld. Plus, it has a couple of new automatic framing features that work when the camera is mounted to a tripod. You can have it feature timed so that it crops in to the frame at intervals to add a bit of dynamic movement to your static interview/talking head clips. You can also make use of an auto-framing feature that can keep a subject framed and central even as they move. It's similar to the Centre Stage on Mac/iPad.

Our workflow typically involves shooting hosted YouTube videos, with lots of relatively close product shots, mostly in 4K/50, shot indoors with artificial lighting in a studio setting, and it handles those demands like a champ. The battery lasted about as well as any other camera we've tested in recent years, comfortably coping with shooting all the b-roll and a-roll required for a full 10-minute video. That means 30-45 minutes of shooting wasn't enough to drain the battery, even shooting internally at 4K/50. Plus, because it has a USB-C port with Power Delivery support, it means you can just plug it into a phone or laptop charger whenever you like to refill it again.


There's no denying the appeal of the ZV-E1. Having stuffed so many of its best features into such a small body, Sony has created a super-portable powerhouse of a camera that's also - as Sony cameras go - simple to use. It's almost as though Sony combined mashed-together bits from the ZV, A7S III and A7R V to create a camera with the best qualities of all three. It's genuinely a fab little camera.

It can do a heck of a lot, offering great automatic focusing, object recognition, background blur and even caters for the pros with high bitrate video recording abilities and great stabilisation.

There's one sticking point though: the price. With a recommended retail price of €2700 in Europe for just the body, it's definitely approaching Alpha territory, and stepping away from the rest of the ZV range which is considerably cheaper.

That's going to make it a tricky sell to its intended audience, but if you have got the budget to spend and want a feature-packed all rounder, there's a lot to love here.


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