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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.


The Z150 has a lot going for it beyond its compact construction. It shoots 4K and HD, and it has XLR jacks, dual media slots, many different video outputs including SDI, HDMI, and it even offers two composite (SD) video outputs (one requires an adapter).

The 12x zoom is about the minimum you’d want to have in an integrated zoom lens. It’s limited to 12x because of the 1" sensor. The larger the sensor, the harder it is to get optics big enough for a long zoom. The larger sensor delivers better low-light capability, and a shallower depth of field than camcorder with a tiny sensor and longer zoom lens. This enables you to get a more “cinematic” look to your video.

In HD you can shoot up to 120 fps. You can also slow the capture frame rate down to 1 fps and then have the camera record it at 24 fps for some fast motion. Unfortunately, it did not seem possible to do the speed-up part with 4K as well. Like with my GH4, I don’t understand why we can't capture fewer frames per second and then record them as a normal 24 or 30 fps file.

In HD, you can also shoot 4:2:2 10-bit video internally (Figure 4, below). This is good if you’re going to do extensive grading of the image in post. Unfortunately, the bitrates in HD only seem to extend up to 50 Mbps, even when you select 10-bit, so it’s still heavily compressed video. The Z150 offers a 100 Mbps bitrate for 4K, so it’s clearly capable of recording at 100 Mbps.

Figure 4. Internal recording formats

The Z150 has Wi-Fi capability built in (Figure 5, below). You can use Sony’s free Content Browser Mobile app to remotely control iris, focus, zoom, and record start and stop, as well as see the camera image remotely (Figure 6, below Figure 5). You can also use it to play back clips from the camcorder. While not as capable as the mobile apps from Panasonic or JVC, it covers the basic camera features well.

Figure 5. Built-in Wi-Fi

Figure 6. The Sony Content Browser Mobile app

The Z150 also features NightShot, which is Sony’s method of using infrared LEDs to illuminate what’s in front of the camcorder. The IR filter swings out from in front of the sensor and then you can literally shoot in complete darkness. With apparently only one LED doing the emitting, the results were good, but the autofocus had some trouble keeping locked on when I zoomed in.

There are external IR LED lights that can be added on top of the camcorder (Figure 7, below). Plug them into the intelligent hot shoe of the camcorder so they turn on for recording, and off when not needed. They can provide brighter and further illumination of your pitch-black scenes.

Figure 7. Camera-mountable external IR LED lights

There’s a lot of manual control to the Z150 (Figure 8, below). The iris button enables a dedicated geared dial. Three ND filters are built in. There are copious audio controls. Two dials control the levels of the two audio channels. You can select between the internal stereo mics, external XLR jacks, or a device plugged into the intelligent hot shoe on the camcorder.

Figure 8. Some of the manual controls on the Z150. Click the image to see it at full size.

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