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Reviewed: Sony PXW-Z150

For sometime I’ve been looking for a compact video camera to travel with, I’ve tried and tested pretty much everything on the market (I really mean that) – before I found the Sony Z150.  Over the coming few weeks I’ll be adding my thoughts of cameras that didn’t quite tick all my boxes but in their own right are great bits of kit.  However, to kick this off and in an effort to breathe much needed life into my new blog I thought it would be fitting to start with this great machine.

Without a doubt the current trend is shallow depth of field, this usually entails DSLR cameras or modular systems, both with interchangeable lenses.  This is all fine and well but means you start with a small camera body to which you need to bolt monitors, microphones, fit screw on or drop in filters etc…  You can end up carrying around a million and one accessories, extra batteries, a collection of lenses, brackets, cables and bits and pieces.  I wanted a travel camera that was simple; camera, battery, charger – job done.

Saying that I didn’t want a camera that produces a flat video look, this is where the Z150 comes into its own.  At first glance you may be forgiven for thinking that the Z150 is your typical pro handycam, it’s not.  This camera has a 1″ sensor which offers a similar feel to 16mm film – a very popular format for wildlife filmmaking.  The Z150 doesn’t give a shallow depth of field in the same way as a DSLR does, it doesn’t suffer from a very deep depth of field that you would find from a 1/3″ camcorder.  The 1″ sensor which is a newer design to it’s smaller brother the X70 offers the best of both worlds in a camera that is quick and easy to use that produces an incredibly beautiful image.

Build Quality…

The Z150 is reassuringly familiar, it’s a bit like getting into your first car and driving it again after many years.  The design of the Z150 is timeless.  Sony have been building pro-handycams since the 90’s and in each model the design is refined.  Even if you are not used to the form factor I’m confident you could pick this camera up and start operating it in a matter of minutes.  The Z150 fits somewhere in the middle of Sony’s range of handheld cameras and as such has a few quirks, the LCD isn’t a touch screen.  The menu options are limited and the selection of buttons under the LCD are a little fisher price.  Don’t let this put you off, this simplicity makes operation a breeze.

The camera is well built and feels great in the hand, its heavy enough to be solid but light enough to lift, carry and use.  The camera body has a nice selection of buttons, a number of which are assignable.  Built in neutral density filters means that you have one thing less to carry.  The lay out of the switches and buttons are accessible and make operating a breeze.

In the vein of carry less and relying less on bolt on accessories the Z150 is compatible with the Sony SMAD-P3, this adapter is a bridge between your Sony radio microphone and the multi-interface hot shoe.  In short you can connect your radio mic receiver to this camera and forget about carrying cables or AA batteries.

Features…

For wildlife filmmaking, or an all in one camera the Z150 has a number of very desirable features.  Firstly lets look at formats, this camera can shoot 1080P HD at 50mbps in 4:2:2 10bit.  It also shoots an acceptable 4K image at 4:2:0 8bit at 100mbps.  Whilst the HD image lends itself to grading the 4K image is a little more restricted.  Don’t let this put you off however as the 4K image is stunning, I’d go as far as say its the leader in its price range.

As well as separate rings offering independent and quick control over zoom, focus and iris the Z150 has a number of killer features.  To start with in HD mode the camera will shoot 120 frames per second, ideal for filming wildlife.  Once in the S&Q motion mode the camera will continuously record slow motion until you end the recording or your memory card is full.  Unlike a number of other Sony cameras the Z150 doesn’t buffer the video, it goes straight to card.  On the subject of cards the Z150 uses inexpensive SDXC cards, 64GB costs approximately £25.  The cameras has two cards slots, you can record to both cards, separate cards or relay record.

A very handy night shot mode which is strangely hidden deep in the menu means filming in darkness is also possible with this camera.  I reassigned this function to the LCD button on the side of the viewfinder.  The inbuilt IR light is basic but doesn’t really throw any sort of distance sadly.

The OLED viewfinder provides a great image and to save its life will automatically shut off when the LCD screen is open.  You can switch between the two with the LCD button if you don’t reassign it like I did.

The lens hood itself has a built in shutter which means one less lens cap to lose.  A simple flick opens or closes the hood and lets the lens loose at the light.  The lens itself is relatively fast and whilst not a super low light monster means acceptable low light shooting at the wide end of the zoom range.

Whilst the camera doesn’t ship with a microphone I fitted a Sony XM-1, leftover from my Sony NX30.  A directional mic whilst not ideal mounted onboard is a great improvement on the inbuilt microphone.  The stick mic combined with the wireless connected to the hotshoe is a great compromise and will get you out of a great deal of trouble you might find yourself in.

The Z150 uses tried and tested Sony NPF (L series) batteries.  Three Sony NPF-970 extended life batteries are good for a days filming with plenty of power left over.

Picture Quality…

This is where a relatively boring looking camera comes into its own.  The picture from the Z150 is incredible.  I’ve been playing with the camera for some time now and pushing it in all kinds of circumstances and find the image to be great.  The 12x optical Sony G series lens, whilst not a Zeiss, produces a sharp image that is packed full of detail.  If anything I would say the images from this camera may be a little too video like for some.  The lack of any SLOG setting means that matching the Z150 to a FS series camera will be a little trickier, this is however a small price to pay.  The Z150 also boasts Sony clear zoom which gives you a very useable 18x range on this machine.  I would say that whilst in my opinion the Z150 comes a very close second to the Panasonic GH4 in image quality the operability of it is streets ahead.

Overall…

A simply laid out, easy to use camera.  A very reasonable zoom range.  Great features at this price point.  Affordable memory cards and uses established Sony NPF batteries.  Great build quality, lightweight but solid.  Performs extremely well in auto mode with accurate face tracking.  Manual white balance and ISO/Gain control will result in a far truer and superior image.

The Bottom Line…

In run and gun scenarios or when travelling light the Z150 seemingly offers so very much.  It is a very capable camcorder and I find it very easy to use.  In my opinion I find the picture more pleasing than cameras including Canon XC10, Sony X70 and the Panasonic GH4.  My one caveat to his is that when shooting VLOG the Panasonic GH4 has a better dynamic range.  Whilst the Z150 is smaller than most of the Sony range I would dearly love to see all these features and quality in a smaller camera the size of an X70.

One thought on “Reviewed: Sony PXW-Z150

  1. Hi Simon, I’ve been using the Z150 and GH4 as my cameras on corporate shoots around the world and they’ve been great. I’m thinking of an upgrade path though now after a year or so. What are you looking at? The GH5 is a no-brainer if you have lots of MFT lenses and accessories, but I have a mix and use a metabones speedbooster. The Z150 is so good to work with the tradeshows and quick interviews. I use it more than the GH4. I’m thinking there must be a FS5 MK II coming soon which might be worth looking at. What are your thoughts?

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