The Sony ZV-E1 is the camera that YouTube can’t decide how to pronounce and figure out whether the overheating is a problem. Can you use it professionally for video work? What about live streaming? What is the new 4K 120p slow-mo update like?
If you’re a video professional like me who uses his camera equipment for professional work, you’ve probably already spent hours on YouTube looking up reviews for the Sony ZV-E1 camera because when you heard that it had the FX-3 sensor with dual native ISO, smooth dynamic active stabilization, insane low-light performance, in a small form factor body for half the cost – your brain, along with every other digital video professional’s brain, instantly went “NEW B-CAM!!”…. BUT… It overheats!
So, you scoured the interwebs trying to find answers for the questions you had about whether or not the ZV-E1 would be right for you. Every YouTuber and his grandma has made a video about it… But, to your dismay, many of the videos about the ZV-E1 left you still wondering. That’s why I decided to make this review to hopefully help some of you make the right decision for yourselves. I watched all the videos then went and bought the ZV-E1 to put it to the test myself. I’ve had it now for over a month putting it through its paces. I’m not a professional YouTuber or gear reviewer and this video is not sponsored. I’m just a guy who’s using the gear in my own media business. I figured that at the very least if I ran it through the tests and it turns out it wasn’t the right choice, I could always return it or resell it.
For those who want the TL;DR, here’s what I found – you can get the ZV-E1 to run for long periods of time, multiple hours even, but there’s a trick to it. It has to warm up. Keep watching to find out exactly how that works.
Sony ZV-E1 Live Streaming
Let’s start off with using it for live streaming since I know there are probably a lot of gamers and live-stream content creators who are eye-balling this camera.
I have to say upfront that, right out of the box, the image that you get from this camera is AMAZING!
Straight out of the box, in my office—which is about 23–24 C (73–74 F)—I hooked it up via USB-C, flipped the screen out and started streaming with it. It ran for over an hour without any overheating warning. It finally shut off after giving the high-temp warning at around 1 hour and 35 minutes of runtime. Not bad. Most live streamers won’t need more than that – unless you’re streaming some marathon gaming sessions maybe.
I let it cool down for about 15 minutes then did a second streaming test. This was where things got really interesting… it just kept going, and going, and going…
It went for about an hour and a half before it gave me the high-temp warning again. But then it kept going… I checked on it at 3 hours in and it was still going. Finally, I had to shut it down myself after 4 hours because I needed to get to an appointment.
This didn’t make any sense to me. Did it just need to get warmed up first? I decided I needed to do more testing.
The next day, from a cold start, I live-streamed a 3D sculpting session on Facebook using the ZV-E1 and OBS for 1 hour and 28 minutes, with no overheating issues.
On another day, I streamed an interview for my podcast via Riverside FM – again using the USB-C connection (which keeps the camera charged simultaneously). This time I wanted to test out my theory about warming up the camera, so I turned it on for 30 minutes to warm up, then let it cool for 15 minutes before starting the scheduled live-stream. The camera again was able to run with USB-C livestreaming for over 3 hours, without any heat warning. I had to shut it down because I had other things to get done.
I’ve since been able to replicate this result, easily streaming over 2 hours of podcasting, no problems, no heat warnings – with the battery door closed and a camera rig cage on the body.
I even tried doing 4K streaming after streaming 3 hours of 1080p. I thought that for sure this would kill the ZV-E1. It was still warm from streaming 1080p. But, to my surprise, it streamed at 4K for over 2 hours! Seems like the bad YouTube juju isn’t all it was cracked up to be – at least not for me.
The Overheating Golden Recipe
It feels like I stumbled upon a golden recipe for the ZV-E1.
Take one ZV-E1, warm up until it’s beginning to brown, then remove from oven. Let sit for 15 minutes or until just warm to the touch, then return to oven and let cook for as long as desired…
Streaming & Recording
OK, so what about if we live-streamed and recorded internally? Surely this must overheat it, right?
I started a stream at 1080p 30fps while internally recording 4K 30p. I just had standard stabilization on, everything else set to normal. (Side note – you can’t stream with a picture profile on – it just doesn’t let you. So your recording will just be of the image as it comes out of camera without a picture profile. So no streaming and recording SLOG internally). The camera streamed 1080p 30p while recording 4K internally for over 2 hours. It was warm to the touch, but no heat warning.
This was after I had updated to the new firmware. So, I’m not sure if Sony fixed something – but you should do the firmware update anyways.
So, that’s great about live-streaming. But my primary professional use of this camera was to be a B-CAM for paid client work, and to have a light camera body for gimbal work and B-roll which can match the quality of my FX-3.
I did some recording tests around the city in the summer on one of the hottest days. The weather app said it felt like 34 C (93 F). I was running around in direct sunlight, shooting 4K SLOG-3 at 24p, 4K 60p, 1080p 120p slow-mo (because I didn’t have the 4K 120p firmware yet). I used the camera as I would have normally for capturing the B-roll. Each clip was between 30 seconds to about 1 or 2 minutes.
After shooting for a few hours in the hot sun, I had no problems with the camera. No heat warning or performance issues.
After that full day of galavanting around the city shooting B-roll, I decided to put the camera through another torture test. I set it up on a tripod in direct sunlight on that hot day and hit record at 4K 24p – the camera was still slightly warm when I started. It recorded for 28 minutes before giving up the ghost. Not bad, but also not great. But then again, how often am I going to be recording long-form video in broad daylight in the heat after recording B-roll for hours?
I then let the camera cool down and restarted the recording in the heat of the day outside, but this time in the shade. It recorded 4K 24p for 47 minutes this time. So, it seems like a little shade goes a long way.
OK, so we know that the ZV-E1 doesn’t have super long recording times internally because of overheating… especially not outdoors in the heat. However, what about if we gave it the ideal conditions indoors? After all, the majority of my client work for long-form video will probably be recorded in more controlled environments indoors.
I set up the ZV-E1 in my basement office and hooked it up to an Atomos Ninja V external recording monitor via HDMI. I recorded on the Ninja V to ProRes, and the camera was plugged in via USB-C for charging. Here’s what I got:
It recorded 4K 60p 422 10-bit SLOG for only 20 minutes and 26 seconds. That was a bit disappointing. So, I restarted it again to see what would happen after it warmed up and it recorded the same settings but only for 10 minutes and 36 seconds. It seems like, unknown to me, I thought I had set the camera to record 24p, but the external recorder was recording 60p. So the ZV-E1 was outputting a 60p signal – which was why it recorded less time.
At this point I noticed the oddity. When the “Record Media During HDMI Output” setting is turned on, the Ninja V recorded at 60p even thought the camera was recording 24p internally. However, when you turn that setting off, you can’t record internally to the SD card anymore, but you can still record externally at 24p. Also, when it’s turned off, you can’t livestream.
Anyways, after figuring that out, I let it cool down fully then recorded 4k 24p 10-bit SLOG to the Ninja V on ProRes 422 LT for 41 minutes and 44 seconds. I let it cool down after overheating for 15 minutes then restarted the recording to see if the same trick would work. It did! The camera recorded externally 4K 24p 10-bit SLOG via the Ninja V for over 2 hours – after which I had to shut it down because I had to go to sleep.
So, it seems like that trick works as well for doing long-form videos using an external recorder.
However, it seems like if you don’t let the camera cool down enough between recordings you won’t get the longer result. I did another test, recording from a cold start – plugged in via USB-C, battery door closed, SmallRig cage on, 4K 24p 422 10-bit SLOG externally recorded and it ran for 46 minutes. Then, I only let it cool down less than 5 minutes, and it ran for another 23 minutes. I again gave it only a short 5 minute break then recorded again for 35 minutes before shut down.
So, it seems like you do need to give it about 15 minutes between long-form recordings to get the best results. This might have something to do with what the ideal internal temperature for the camera is. I’ve found that swapping the battery out and keeping the doors open doesn’t really affect the results much.
4K 120p Slow-Mo
Lastly, let’s take a look at the 4K 120p slow-motion out of this camera.
For short bursts, recording on a hot day in daylight, it’s fine. I recorded some B-roll at a local RibFest in the summer heat and it did great… That’s probably the harshest conditions you’ll get, with the hot sun and hot grills. You’re probably never going to try doing long-form video at 120p, unless you’re some sort of madman…
Recap & Recommendations
So, for those of you who are still watching – you were probably going back-and-forth between whether or not the ZV-E1 would be the right camera for you.
Here are my recommendations:
If you’re a video professional looking for a light camera body with 422 10-bit SLOG capability, great in-body stabilization that you can use on your gimbal and hand-held for B-roll shots, 4K slow-motion, and can match the quality of an FX-3 or A7SIII, then this camera will be great!
If you’re looking at this camera as a B or C camera for video recordings that are under an hour to match your 10-bit SLOG A camera, generally speaking, this camera will do the trick – unless you’re in a hot environment. For best results, use an external recorder and the warm-up method I described in this video. Obviously, results will vary depending on the climate you’re in. For me, I’m in Southern Ontario in Canada. I’d imagine that using it in the tropics would deliver different results. However, if you really need to have guaranteed run time (maybe you shoot weddings or long-form corporate events), you’re better off getting an A7IV or FX-30. Both of those, for a similar price, will deal better with heat and can record 4K 422 10-bit for a long time internally with no problems (plus dual SD cards). Also, remember that this camera doesn’t have weather sealing like the other Sony cameras – so shooting in wet conditions is probably not a good idea. The best results will be in indoor, controlled climate situations. So, if that’s what you primarily shoot, then this camera might be a worthy consideration. At the end of the day, this camera is NOT and FX-3 in a smaller body – because that’s impossible, especially without a fan. So don’t expect it to be that.
I think part of the reason for all the hype and confusion around this camera is that video pros heard that Sony stuck the FX-3 sensor in a small body and got excited. But this camera is designed for a particular audience and use case. So you have to set your expectations. You can’t be expecting an FX-line performance out of it because that’s not what it is. And if you’re trying to use it as if it were an FX-3, then you need to come to terms with the fact that you’re using it outside of its designed purpose. Once you do that, you’re good!
If you’re a YouTube content creator and/or vlogger – which is what this camera is primarily aimed at, this is an amazing camera for you – but a bit pricey for that use case. However, if you’ve got the budget for it, it’s going to be one that you can potentially use for a long time. The dynamic active stabilization can pretty much replace the need for a gimbal for vlogging purposes. However, just FYI, it does have some issues with jitter for smooth horizontal pans.
If you’re a live streamer wanting to use this for gaming or podcasts, then I think this could also work well for you. Especially if you’re in a room that’s at 24 C or lower, you won’t have many overheating problems unless you’re doing extremely long streaming sessions over an hour and a half. However, again, if you want to be sure that it’ll run that long without shutting down mid-stream – then use the warm-up method before your stream and it should perform well.
For me, I’m keeping this camera and have been very happy with it. It’s a great companion to my FX-3 as a B-cam and light-weight B-roll camera. I can’t tell you how many times I reach for it over the FX-3 because of the small form factor when I need to just get a quick shot for a video. It’s so easy to throw in a bag with a small prime lens, turn on the dynamic active stabilization and get some amazing hand-held footage instead of having to lug around a bigger camera and gimbal. And knowing that it will match my FX-3 footage in editing is a huge win. Also, if you’re going to use this camera professionally – pick up a SmallRig cage for it. Trust me, it’s a good, cheap investment – and doesn’t seem to affect the thermal performance of the camera. It makes the ergonomics of this camera a whole lot better so your pinky isn’t falling off. And having an HDMI clamp is good for peace of mind that this dinky micro-HDMI port won’t get ripped apart if you snag the cable on something.