The other big surprise is how the Z7E records its video. A standard HDV tape transport is still available. But Sony also includes the HVR-MRC1 in the box. This is a solid state recorder which works in a similar fashion to FireStore hard disk recorders, or Sony’s HVR-DR60. The unit fits neatly on the rear of the camcorder, and includes a slot for CompactFlash cards. A 16GB card, which would set you back under £90 these days, will be enough for 72 minutes of video. The Z7E will record to tape and CF simultaneously, so you can have the rapid editing of solid state, combined with the cheap archiving of tape.
These are two pretty monumental differences to the HVR-Z1E. FireStores cost £500-£1,000, and the price of CF cards is falling all the time. So the HVR-MRC1 makes the Z7E ready for rapid videomaking out of the box with only minimal further expense – and you won’t have to contend with a fat external hard disk recorder impeding the handling of the camcorder.
Apart from these major enhancements, the HVR-Z7E offers a relatively familiar range of manual controls. A true 25p progressive shooting mode is available. You can set the shutter anywhere between 1/3rd to 1/10,000th of a second, vary the iris from F/1.6 and add or subtract video gain from -6dB to +21dB. You can create two custom white balance presets, or use the indoor and outdoor ones supplied. A neutral density filter is also built in with four levels, from clear to 1/64. Virtually every control has its own discrete switch or button, and of course audio inputs are of the professional XLR variety. The Z7E doesn’t actually have a built-in microphone, but instead is supplied with Sony’s new ECM-XM1 monaural removable unit. This has a signal-to-noise ratio of 78dB – 14dB better than the ECM-NV1 supplied with many of Sony’s previous professional models, such as the DSR-PD170P and HVR-V1E.
With its smaller 1/4in CMOS trio, the HVR-V1E wasn’t actually an improvement over the HVR-Z1E in image quality terms. This was one of the reasons why it hasn’t replaced it – and Sony didn’t pitch it as such. But the HVR-Z7E has larger 1/3in sensors with Exmor technology, and it shows. In the best lighting conditions, colours are rich and extremely faithful, with plenty of fine detail. You still get Sony’s characteristic vibrancy, where Canon’s camcorders take a more naturalistic approach. This is a matter of taste, though, and can be altered when editing.