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NAB 2023: Sony Discusses the ZV-E1 Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera

In this interview from the Sony booth at NAB 2023, Sony Senior Manager of Technology Mark Weir and Streaming Media's Shawn Lam take an up-close look at Sony's ZV-E1 full-frame, small form factor, mirrorless, vlog, E-mount camera with AI subject recognition.

March 29 brought the announcement of Sony's ZV-E1 full-frame, interchangeable-lens, mirrorless camera featuring vlog capability and Sony's bleeding-edge AI subject recognition. With the camera on full display in Sony's booth at NAB 2023, Streaming Media contributing editor Shawn Lam of SLV Live was there to get the inside scoop on the camera's features and positioning in an interview with Sony Senior Manager of Technology Mark Weir.

"This is a beautiful camera in that it has a small form factor, and it takes the very familiar E-mount or alpha line lenses," Lam begins. "Who is this camera designed for, and how does it fit into Sony's full lineup of your Alpha cameras?"
"It's actually designed for a wide range of content creators," says Weir. "Vlogging is one of its highlights, in terms of capabilities, but it's designed to put very high-end video capture performance into the hands of any content creator who needs a very, very compact size, that can go anywhere. And it's equipped with our latest technology to aid solo shooters who are often both the talent and the camera operator at the same time because it has our AI subject recognition and it uses it for some very powerful features."
"How does that work?" Lam asks.
"Essentially, the camera has the AI subject recognition that we introduced last fall in our Alpha 7RV. It can identify humans and the human form much more successfully than a camera that's just tracking face and eye. And in this camera we use that so that if you are a self-shooter--if you're. say, holding the camera up here and shooting yourself, narrating a sequence with subjects or scenery in the background that you're explaining to your audience--this camera can identify you in the frame and it can pan and zoom into that to allow you to be very, very prominent during the video that you're rolling. And it can stream that in real time," Weir explains.

Key Specs of the ZV-E1

He goes on to detail several more of the ZV-E1's marquee features. "On top of that, it's also a full-frame imager that's optimized for 4K video capture. It can shoot 4:2:2 10-bit. It can shoot in log, it can shoot in S-Cinetone, and it can shoot in a variety of not only formats, but also frame rates. So it's highly versatile. It is indeed the smallest full-frame camera with interchangeable lenses and sensor-shift image stabilization in the market today. So it's a really powerful combination, but it's designed not just to be smaller and lighter. It's designed to very powerfully enable content creators who have to manage the camera and be the talent as they're creating the videos that they're shooting."

"That happens often on YouTube, which is a great thing, right?" replies Lam. "It's driving a whole industry of content producers. Just to clarify, what frame rates does it shoot?"
"4K 24P, 30P, 60P, and 120P," Weir says. "It can shoot in both longGOP and all Intra. It can shoot H.264 or H.265. It can shoot in 4:2:0 8-bit or 4:2:2 10-bit. You have [micro] HDMI output for external recording. It's fully equipped for all of the high-end video production that you might need. But what makes the camera different is, of course, the full-frame image sensor, and the fact that it's optimized for video. It doesn't have 50 or 60 megapixels. It's designed for 4K with 10 megapixels for video. So it has extraordinarily high low-light capability and wide dynamic range. Custom LUTs can be imported into the camera. So it's a great-all around performer for a variety of video tasks. What really highlights its capability is its ability to use AI to actually perform subject framing."

How Auto-Framing Works

"Let's talk about that for a second," says Lam. "When we're using it in the AI mode where it's auto framing, auto zooming in, it's cropping on the sensor to get a punch in off that wide image in the resulting recording. Is it a single recording, or is it dual--is that wide recorded as well as the AI, or is it just the result?"

"You can record both streams," Weir confirms. "You can record the punched-in and framed scene, or you can record the full scene that the camera is seeing without that. And you can even record them at the same time. It's just that you can't record both streams at the same time in the camera. You can record the full scene, you can record the punched-in and tracking scene or you get your choice and then output through the HDMI. You can also get your choice of which you'd like to have, but the real power is to allow this processing to happen in real time in the camera and the ability to stream that to an audience in real time. So you don't have to go through a process of post where you could say, pan and zoom and use keyframes to create such a video." 

Switchable In-Camera Mic Directivity

Lam raises the issue of audio management strategies and what the ZV-E1 enables in that realm for vloggers and self-shooters. "When a vlogger is producing content on their own, how does this camera help with the audio? What tricks does it have up at sleeve?"

"Another area where the camera shines is with its internal microphone," Weir replies. "This one has a three-capsule mic in the top. And this can be user-adjusted for three different direct activities. You can set it to front directivity for someone that you're interviewing. You can set it to rear directivity in case you are shooting something that you are narrating. You can set it to omnidirectional directivity."

But the most compelling trick up the camera's sleeve when it comes to the on-board mic, Weir explains, is its AI-enabled ability to detect the shooting scenario or the mode in which the content is being captured and dynamically switch mic directivity to capture the subject.

"If a a human comes into the scene, it can automatically and intelligently change the directivity of the microphone to front directivity," Weir reports. "When a person leaves the scene and there are no recognized faces or people in the scene, it will automatically shift back to omnidirectional directivity on its own. So the ability for the AI to control that through understanding the content of the scene that's in front of the camera is another one of its powerful benefits." 

Sensor-Shift Stabilization

Another distinctive feature of the ZV-E1 is the "sensor shift" stabilization technology it uses, which is actually a five-axis system.

For in-camera stabilization in the ZV-E1, Weir says, "We use the same type of device that we use in many of our cameras in alpha. It's a five-axis stabilizer, with five steps of compensation. But in this camera, we also can allow the mechanism to have a greater range of compensation by engaging a slight crop of the sensor," he continues. "It's quite minimal, but you can barely notice it, but it allows the sensor, the sensor shift mechanism to provide a greater degree of compensation."

But wait, there's more: The ZV-E1's stabilization capabilities actually go beyond where previous alpha models have gone. "Fr the first time in this camera," Weir says, "we also have created what we call Dynamic Active mode in which we can crop in a little bit further. And this is all user-selectable and combines electronic image stabilization together with the optical image stabilization of the sensor shift mechanism. And that allows the kind of stability that you would previously only be able to get from a gimbal."

Weir explains that Sony developed this tech in response to feedback from users who said they'd rather not have to go to the trouble of setting up and balancing a gimbal to achieve that degree of shot stability in challenging shooting circumstances that don't lend themselves to that degree of setup or preparation. 

"One of the things that we're finding is that a lot of these users need to have the camera in motion, not just the subject in motion," Weir reports. "So the ability to walk or even trot with the camera while rolling and still getting stable footage is another achievement with this product. But again, it's designed around the requirements of the users, and this is a rapidly growing and rather different group of users and the requirements that they have of their cameras." 

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