• Price When Reviewed: 3617

  • Pros: Excellent lens bundled. CompactFlash recording as well as tape. Great low-light performance. Top-notch overall image quality.

  • Cons: No separate power input.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10 Best Buy We rate this 9 out of 10

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This model was reviewed as part of our group test of HD camcorders.

Sony’s HVR-Z1E has become a classic, and is now the standard tool of the independent videographer – so the HVR-Z7E has a lot to live up to. But this is more than an upgrade. The HVR-Z7E may be HDV-based, but that’s about where the similarities with its predecessor end.

The Z7E uses Sony’s Exmor CMOS 1/3in chips, rather than the CCDs in the Z1E. It’s also the first Sony camcorder in this price range with a removable lens. Sony pioneered DV for news reporting, but its use of fixed lenses made Canon and JVC products popular with artistic video makers. The HVR-Z7E comes with an excellent 12x Carl Zeiss lens with rings for focus, zoom and aperture, but there’s a wide-angle option and adaptors to use Sony SLR alternatives.

The Z7E also takes a bold step with recording media. The available video formats are still HDV 1080/50i, DV and DVCAM, it has solid-state recording as well as a tape transport. This is the HVR-MRC1 unit, which fits neatly on the back and accommodates 16GB CompactFlash cards – enough for 72 minutes of video. HDV is recorded as M2T files, and DV/DVCAM as AVI or raw DV, so you can drag these into your editing app. We had no problems with Adobe Premiere Pro CS3.

Bizarrely, there’s no specific DC input. Instead, there’s a fake battery plate, making a quick switch from mains to battery power impossible. But that’s about the only downside we could find. Image quality is stunning, dispelling any misgivings we have had about CMOS technology. Low-light performance is even better than the Canon XH-A1: it’s brighter, and manages to maintain detail in darker areas too, with less noticeable grain.

The Sony HVR-Z7E is a successor to the HVR-Z1E’s crown. But the lens flexibility is attractive, and the Compact Flash recording system is a workflow champ. It’s not cheap, but should be your first choice if you can afford it.

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