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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.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the clips I imported into my edit system showed four tracks of audio, the manual does not indicate that adding a second audio adapter to the intelligent shoe, or any combination of the internal microphones and integrated XLR jacks can provide 4-channel audio recording in the camcorder, which I think is a shame. This would have been a perfect opportunity for a unique feature to differentiate the Z150 from the growing assortment of 4K prosumer camcorders.

The Z150’s three internal ND filters enable you to really dial in a good exposure and make use of as low an aperture as you can get for the shallowest depth of field, even outside on a bright day (as I did in my video.) Without the in-camera ND filters, you either need to add filtering in front of the lens, increase the shutter dramatically, or iris down. Having the filters built in is a great convenience and helps realize the value of the 1" sensor.

I really liked that Sony has continued to use the same InfoLithium-L (NP-F) batteries that the company introduced in 1995 with the VX1000. They also still use an open-back battery area (Figure 9, below), enabling the end user to use any size of battery they want. These days, there are third-party batteries that are even bigger than the NP-F970, or which offer a power tap for external components. Only with an open battery compartment can you take advantage of these features.

Figure 9. Open-back battery area and dual media slots

Dual media slots (Figure 9) enable you to utilize two SD cards or Sony media in one of those slots. You can record the same thing to both cards for redundancy. You can relay-record one card to the other for continuous recording (maximum of 6 hours in XAVC/MPEG HD and 13 hours for AVCHD). You can also record proxies--a 720p version of your 4K footage so you can immediately begin cutting the HD on a lower-end laptop in the field.

One thing I did notice pretty quickly was that the menu controls on top, under the folded LCD screen, are not very touch-friendly. In my many years of using Sony gear, usually the buttons are raised, easy to differentiate by touch. They’ll have a dimple or something on them for you to be able to differentiate them by touch. On the Z150, they are all flat along the same surface, with no space or differentiation or dimples on the surface. I was constantly pushing the wrong button, or no button, and had to look at the controls to re-orient my hand. This is not what I’m used to with Sony camcorders.

The menu system itself is very similar to other Sony camcorders I’ve used over the years. It’s familiar and easy to get around and use. I had no problem finding and changing the settings during my time with the camcorder.

In Use


I really liked the Z150’s balance in my hand (Figure 10, below). It’s compact, and the grip is in the right place for the weight of the lens and a big battery on the back. This camcorder is very comfortable for handheld run-and-gun videography. Good balance is one of the advantages on a camcorder with an integrated zoom lens (don’t call it a “fixed” lens). You can also put a filter on the lens, if needed, and leave it on under the hood.

Figure 10. Hand-holding the Z150

The viewfinder has a sensor that activates the screen when you put your eye up to it, but like all sensors, it can be tricked up if you are holding the camcorder low and have the eyepiece against your body. This automatic switching can be disabled in the menus.

I found the zoom to be smooth, but lacking the softer ramp up and down that you’d see on higher end prosumer camcorders. It stops and starts abruptly, which is what leads me to believe this camera evolved from the AX100. This is unfortunate because smooth zooms are the hallmark of “professional”-looking video.

Rack focus was quite smooth and I was able to roll focus between some blowing leaves and a building some 50 feet behind the leaves (see video). Focus peaking helped me to know when I nailed the focus where I wanted it to be. In-camera zebra set to 70% helped me adjust exposure to my face. There is no in-camera waveform or vectorscope.

The internal 120 fps slow motion in HD looked good to me. I did not see any extra aliasing or artifacts as you sometimes see with high frame rate grabs off CMOS sensors. Comparatively, with the Panasonic GH4, the 96 fps is softer than 1080p60 capture, meaning that the GH4 is underpowered to deliver even 96 fps. I did not pixel-peep as I did not have two Z150’s to shoot the same shot side by side. So be sure to assess it for yourself before relying on the slow motion footage from any camcorder.

120 fps is, to me, the minimum when you want to get a good slo-mo look. I’ve tried to use 60 fps or 96 fps ramped down to 30 fps but it never seems quite slow enough. Yes, it is slower, but as my delivery is typically 30 fps now, it simply doesn’t seem slow enough to me. The Z150’s 120 fps reaches that threshold for me.

When shooting talking heads (Figure 11, below) and some other test shots, like grass (Figure 12, below Figure 11), the Z150 actually produced video that made my normally “too sharp” 4K GH4 footage look soft. Finding something that looked sharper than my GH4 was quite a surprise. I didn’t have the time with the camcorder to really dive in to the image settings and dial down the internal sharpness of the camcorder to get a softer, more natural look. But out of the box, it’s able to deliver some incredibly sharp images with the integrated zoom lens.

Figure 11. Comparing the Panasonic DMC-GH4 (left) and Sony PXW-Z150 (right) on a talking-head shot. Click the image to see it at full size.

Figure 12. Comparing the Panasonic DMC-GH4 (left) and Sony PXW-Z150 (right) on a show of grass. Click the image to see it at full size.

Part of it may have had to do with the profile settings, as my GH4 was set to a lower contrast profile setting while the Z150 was delivering much higher-contrast images with the default standard picture profile (PP1). I can, of course, dial my GH4 up, and the Z150 can be dialed down. So be aware that it may take some time to make the camera look the way you want it to look.

Color, with the default picture profile, looked good to me, and actually looked better than my Panasonic GH4, which I’ve struggled to get to produce a neutral image. People say Sony camcorders have a look that’s cooler and perhaps more clinical, as opposed to the warmer, richer look of, say, Canon cameras. I agree with that, but it’s also easy to warm an image up a bit in post. At least you don’t have to struggle with correcting any odd color casts with the Sony like I do with the Lumix DSLRs.

The Z150 also offers in-camera streaming. I did not delve into these settings during my limited time with the camcorder. The manual indicates that streaming is limited to SD or 720p, and can only be used while the camcorder is set to HD (not 4K and not AVCHD modes).

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