THE SONY HVR-Z5P - REVIEW
SONY HVR Z5P BY Tony Wilson, ACS, JANUARY 2009
The Sony Z5 is in many respects identical to the Z7 reviewed elsewhere on this website (same chips, same LCD etc), so in this review I'll be looking mainly at the differences between the two cameras, with occasional references to the trusty Z1 which many people will be considering upgrading from.
THE 20-1 LENS
The most obvious difference (aside from the rearranged controls) is the lens size, a (fixed) 20-1 as against the (interchangeable) 12-1 on the Z7. This is both a good and a bad thing depending on the type of shooting you mainly do. If your 'bag' is sport or wildlife then the 20-1 would be the better lens to have, however if 'fly-on-the-wall' and available light film making is more your style then the Z5 may not be the 'preferred option' for you, but more on this later. Other differences between the lenses are that the Z5 has a slightly wider wide-angle (always a good thing), however it does not have the focus distance and zoom size lens markings that the Z7 has, nor the FOCUS MARKING feature of the Z7, nor the DIGITAL EXTENDER.
LOW LIGHT DISADVANTAGES
Both the Z5 and Z7 lenses in low light when at their widest zoom position open up to f1.6, so no difference here. It's when you start zooming in low light that you really start to see a difference. Fully zoomed in the Z7 closes down to only f2 (f2.8 on the Z1), but if you zoom to the matching image size on a Z5 (about 92% of the zoom range) the aperture will be f3.4, a difference of close to two full f-stops, or nearly 12db Gain! A simpler way of describing this difference is that when using the telephoto end of the zoom in low light the Z5 requires nearly four times the light - or conversely, the Z7 can shoot in a quarter the light needed by the Z5. And in case you were wondering at what point from the widest end of the zoom range the Z5 starts to close down past f2 - it's at just 32%, not even a third down the zoom range!
REARRANGED TAPE TRANSPORT AND PICTURE CONTROLS
There are some major changes here, some excellent (especially to those familiar with the Z1), and some less so. The Z5 has a Z1 type ND FILTER and AUTO/MAN slide focus switch on the camera body, unlike the Z7 which has a far more complicated arrangement involving moving the focus ring toward or away from you for auto or manual operation and then setting up the PUSH AUTO (Z1 type) facility to an ASSIGN button.
The tape mechanism has been moved back to the left as on the Z1 and the Camera/VCR/Power switch is now back to its thumb operated Z1 position too - to my way of thinking all very sensible changes. The Power switch is back with the On/Off control
Less understandable are some of the following. The Menu button, and many of the other buttons, have been recessed into the camera body to such a degree they are awkward to operate, especially the PUSH AUTO focus and IRIS/EXPOSURE buttons which are even more tricky to operate.
The most difficult to control is the Menu SELECT/PUSH EXEC wheel, the one you need to use the most. It is recessed to such a degree I found it awkward to turn, and often found myself accidentally pushing and 'executing' something whilst spinning through the menu looking for something entirely different. I'm not sure who designed these controls, but they must have VERY small fingers! Operating wearing gloves would be almost impossible.
The Z5 has 7 ASSIGN Buttons and for the first time (Hallelujah!) it is possible to put the PUSH AT IRIS control to an ASSIGN button - and I recommend that the very first thing you do after unwrapping your new camera is go to the OTHERS menu and in ASSIGN BTN set PUSH AT IRIS to ASSIGN 7 which is the assign button behind the right hand zoom rocker control.
Now when you move to a scene with a different light level just hit this, which puts the light meter to auto and resets the iris, (and if you need to 'tweak', do it with the main iris ring on the lens). This is the perfect position for this control as you now don't need to take your left hand away from supporting the camera as you had to do with many earlier cameras (except the wonderful PD150 and VX1000).
Another less practical ASSIGN button change is the need to use up three of them to use the SHOT TRANSITION feature, ASSIGN 4, 5 and 6. The Z7 had its own set of dedicated controls (under the top handle). If you're a frequent user of this feature, what may have seemed like a decent number of ASSIGN buttons has suddenly shrunk considerably.
My personal ASSIGN favourites are (in no particular order) - MARKERS, BARS, LAST SCENE REVIEW (which when you have seen enough converts to END SEARCH if you press it a second time), PUSH AT IRIS, REC REVIEW and EXPANDED FOCUS.
The Z5 like the Z7 comes with a (quite good) directional mic which was an extra expense on the Z1. It also comes with an internal mic like the Z1, the difference being that you can now assign it to one (or both) of the audio channels. On the Z1 it was one or the other - internal mic or XLR inputs.
The other significant change is that the ever confusing REC CH SELECT switch ( 'the bugger switch' as we call it), has been moved from adjacent to the INPUT 1/ 2, LINE/MIC/+48V control block near the XLR inputs on the Z7 - to the AUDIO LEVEL controls section (under the Perspex cover) on the left side of the camera. It is now part of a switch that also selects which channel you want the internal mic to go to - even I had trouble trying to work out how to use this! Here's my take on it though.
The top controls relate to which sound source goes to Channel 1. The left switch in the down position takes its source from the Input 1 XLR input (often the camera shotgun mic) but in the top position takes the audio from the Z5's internal mic. The middle switch selects between controlling the source either in Auto or Manual, and when in Manual the wheel to the right controls the levels. Easy peasy. The lower controls relate to which sound source goes to Channel 2 and are a little trickier, but only in that the left switch now has THREE options. In the lower position sound is sourced from the XLR input 2 (possibly another mic), in the middle position from whatever is plugged into XLR Input 1, and in the top position from the Internal camera mic. All clear - good, now we can move along!
WARNING - be sure to check in your headphones and not just by looking at levels on the meter that you are hearing the sound sources you want to be hearing and not something else, it is very easy to get this wrong - with dire consequences
At first glance the Z5 appears to be much the same camera as the Z7, but less expensive, as it doesn't have an interchangeable lens nor the MRC-1 memory card unit, (a $1,600 plus option). On closer inspection though, there are mitigating factors that make a purchasing decision between the two more clear cut. The first of these is the appreciably better performance of the Z7P in low light, and if that's a significant part of your film making practice, reason enough to shell out the extra dollars.
Whether spending many extra dollars to get a set of more finger friendly controls is perhaps more debateable
On a more positive note, some of the more 'professional operator friendly' controls on the Z7 have been replaced by more 'Z1 like' user friendly ones - a definite plus - and the option to put the PUSH AT IRIS to an ASSIGN button (7) is one of the best things about the camera. And yes, having a 20-1 lens offers many more 'noice, different, and unusual' picture opportunities, which I know will be the deciding factor for many. Whichever way you go - good shooting!
To see a more comprehensive review of the HVR-Z7P which shares many features with the HVR-Z5P, go to sony HVR-Z7P HDV Camera