with award winning documentary team tony wilson and leo sullivan


Sony Z1 Hi Definition camera
Sony Z1 Hi Definition camera


The Z1 is a true 16 x 9 Hi Definition 'Handycam' camera that records HDV 1080i HD pictures to a regular sized (inexpensive) Mini DV Cassette.

The Sony Z1 produces excellent picture quality that until now was only possible with cameras costing considerably more to buy or rent. It also brings greater flexibility to post-production. Pictures shot and recorded in the HDV can be downloaded as either HD or regular DV. This can be done directly from the camera or a compatible deck. The Z1 also has the option to shoot in the regular SD (Standard Definition) DV or DVCAM and even in DV, the picture quality is exceptional.

The DV option means that at no additional expense the down-converted DV footage can fit into your existing post-production environment and edited like any other DV project. For an HDV Master the final edit list (EDL) can be used with the original HD camera tapes to reconform and produce an HD Master.

I have now completed tests with the Z1, shooting DV as well as HDV. The picture quality is clearly superior to the results achieved on the now most commonly used Sony PD 150/170 cameras. This is particularly so in HDV, but there is a noticeable improvement even when shooting in DV.

Looking at the 'specs' and from knowledge gained from tests it's clear to see how the Z1 achieves these excellent results. Among its many outstanding features are new optics; a great Zeiss 12-1 lens, that for most normal shooting requirements doesn't require an additional wide-angle attachment. The coverage is almost identical to a 150/170 with a wide-angle attached. Other features include a true 16 x 9 (3 CCD) Super HAD chip, a 3.5 inch wide LCD screen and a seemingly endless list of video and audio controls, many of which unfortunately are in my opinion poorly positioned. (Refer to my 'good' 'bad' and 'ugly' analysis below).

It's important to note that the Z1 is a far more complex camera than its predecessors. For the documentary or short filmmaker, it offers the significant benefits of HD or improved DV quality pictures over any existing 'prosumer' cameras. But errors in shooting are even more obvious than they might otherwise be in the more forgiving format of DV.

To this end, time spent with a cinematographer who has specialised and shoots almost exclusively with this style of camera would be an investment and money well spent.

Sony VHR Z1P, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Good

Excellent picture quality, even when down-converted as DV.
Great Zeiss 12-1 wide-angle lens, wider than a PD170 with a wide-angle attachment.
Ability to get 63 minutes recording time instead of 44 on DVCAM.
Records to regular DV tapes. Sony advise HDV, I mainly use SonyPRO.
Pretty good at 18db gain.
Can output HDV as DV, so fits in with existing editing systems.
True 16 x 9 chip.
Huge range of picture control in the PICTURE PROFILE settings.
Six assignable USER buttons.
Easy access to Bars.
Readout of distance and zoom length display.
24 'steps' in the iris, no clunks when changing iris or speed.
Shot transition feature, not just a gimmick but a very useful tool.
Component output to view HD on HD screen/monitor.
Ability to view 16 x 9 as 'letterbox' on 4x3 screen/monitor.
Extended Focus feature.
Skip Scan.
LCD/Viewfinder power and colour options.
LCD/Viewfinder marker guides, centre/4x3/safety zone.
Ability to remove all info from LCD/Viewfinder to see picture only.
Auto iris/gain or focus override even when set to auto.
Zoom rocker switch is good for slow starts.
Separate 2-speed zoom on top handle (START button too).
Battery display with time left feature.

The Bad

Have to go into MENU to select between Indoor/Outdoor factory white balances.
No END SEARCH in camera mode. Works only in VCR mode.
WHITE BALANCE sets incorrectly and is too 'cool' when using either the factory setting or doing a manual balance.
No option to set IRIS to an ASSIGN button.
Manually changing the IRIS overrides ND Filter warnings.
GAIN control jumps to a pre-set when going from auto to manual, doesn't just lock at the auto setting so you can get an exposure 'jump'.
No 2 year Silver Support Service as in EU countries.
Cassette mechanism very fiddly.
More awkward audio set-up. Need to select correct page in status control to see enlarged readout.
No Clearscan mode for shooting computer monitors.
Only works with Sony batteries.

The Ugly

About two stops slower than a PD170, so if you were shooting at f1.6 on a PD170 with no GAIN, on the Z1 you would have to be using +12db of GAIN.
IRIS button and IRIS DIAL is badly placed, your hand has to be taken away from supporting the camera to change.
Loses time-code when shooting HDV in PRESET mode, this occurs every time the camera is turned off when the heads 'power-down' after about three minutes of non-use when using QUICK REC. (So use REGEN)
Time lag when starting. Takes about 5 sec to start after 3 min break in recording, sometimes even having just done another shot slow to start even with QUICK REC set (in HDV mode).
Changing the IRIS when hand-holding means having to take your left hand away from supporting the camera, resulting in picture movement.
Using CINEFRAME mode (25 fps) causes strobing when panning, so is often unusable.

Z1 Picture Profile settings.

For those of you who like to experiment with the Picture Profile settings, I've made a list of each. Click to go to Z1 - Picture Profile Settings