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Review: Sony PXW-Z150 4K Camcorder

Holding the decently sized Sony PXW-Z150 camcorder in my hand, I can see the evolution from Sony's first digital camcorder, the DCR-VX1000. We've come a long way from recording one hour of standard definition on a MiniDV tape. Now it's hours of 4K on SDXC or Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. Plus, it has wireless remote control, or integrated live streaming, and a larger 1" sensor for compelling shallow depth of field.
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Sony has remarkable design sense when it comes to evolving their camcorders. From SD to HD and now to 4K, their prosumer line carries forth a design that makes it easy to transition from one generation to the next. Button placement, design ergonomics, the same battery, in-camera menus, etc., all serve to be comfortable to the longtime Sony user.

Sony sent me a PXW-Z150 (Figure 1, below) for a few weeks to check out. I was excited to investigate this model. Sony’s earlier 4K prosumer camcorder, the AX1, featured a 20x optical zoom that Sony was able to build affordably into the camera because of the small 8 MP sensor.

Figure 1. The Sony PXW-Z150. Click the image to see it at full size.

The Z150 features a larger 1", 20 MP sensor, and has only a 12x optical zoom. But with the extra resolution on the sensor, and some internal processing, Sony offers 18x "Clear Image Zoom" in 4K and 24x in HD (Figure 2, below).

Figure 2. The Z150 offers only a 12x optical zoom because of its larger 1", but compensates with an 18x/24x “Clear Image Zoom.”

This camera felt a bit like the prosumer-ization of the AX100 4K consumer camcorder (Figure 3, below) that featured an XLR adapter. Same 1" sensor, same 20 MP, same 12x optical zoom, Wi-Fi camera control, etc. But everything around that starting point has been made more professional: larger lens setup with three dedicated rings, a lot more direct user control of features, built-in XLR and handle, dual media, and more.

Figure 3. The Sony AX100 was a decent consumer camcorder, but the Z150 gives it a lot more capabilities, and makes it a lot more useful. Image from Cinema 5D.com. Used with permission.

There’s nothing wrong with this evolutionary approach; every camera manufacturer does it. But it can lead to unexpected limitations when approaching this camcorder as you would any other professional camcorder. In this case, one result of taking this approach the inability to have video on both the viewfinder and the LCD screen. Or, if you have an external monitor or recorder connected and you hit Record, you can have video only on the built-in screen or the external screen. Only one screen with video on it, wherever that screen may be.

If you planned on using the Z150 in a studio and need to give the operator a feed, and then send the video off to a video mixer in the control room, you’ll have to rely on monitors that can pass through the video signal. The camera settings can still be seen on the Z150’s built-in LCD, but not the active video signal if you are sending it externally and recording at the same time. If you are not recording, then you can have video on the camera’s internal screen, and one external connection.

Compare this to the currently less expensive, larger-sensor, interchangeable-lens JVC GY-LS300, which can record 4K and feed the image out to the viewfinder, the LCD, the SDI, and the HDMI, all at the same time. That's professional-level connectivity.

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