We don't normally review camcorders as expensive as this at TrustedReviews, but the HVR-Z7E had to be an exception. At the end of 2004, Sony kick-started the HD video revolution by launching the HDR-FX1E, soon followed by its professional incarnation the HVR-Z1E. The latter soon became the de facto standard for independent videographers. If you hire a freelance cameraman, the chances are they will arrive with their own Z1E.
Since then, Sony Professional has launched the HVR-V1E, with its consumer version being the HDR-FX7E, which has been going for a song in the last few months. But this wasn't the true heir to the Z1E, and hasn't gained its iconic status. The HVR-Z7E, however, is yet another line in the sand from Sony. It's not just another professional-grade HDV camcorder, but includes a number of features which indicate a new era in videomaking.
Like virtually all of Sony's latest camcorders, the HVR-Z7E uses CMOS sensors rather than CCDs. However, where the HVR-V1E relies on a trio of 1/4in units, the Z7E incorporates three 1/3in ones instead. Each one sports 1.1-megapixels, so doesn't quite have the native resolution for HDV at 1,440 x 1,080. But they are assisted by Sony's new Exmor CMOS technology, rather than merely being ClearVid, so boast improved noise reduction via multiple analogue-to-digital converters.
The Z7E's first big surprise is its removable lens. Ever since Sony revolutionised independent videomaking in the mid 1990s with the DCR-VX1000, its ‘prosumer' models have distinguished themselves from the much more expensive full broadcast alternatives by their use of fixed optics. Not anymore. The Z7E sports a standard 1/3in bayonet fitting. Sony supplies a 12x Carl Zeiss zoom lens, but you can also get a wide angle lens and adapters to use Sony SLR lenses. So the Z7E can potentially win back the more cinematographically inclined camerapersons who have preferred Canon's XL or JVC's ProHD ranges for their lens flexibility.