THE SONY PXW-Z90 4K SINGLE LENS CAMERA REVIEW

I think Sony has a hit on their hands with this single lens camera

My quick overall opinion on the Sony PXW-Z90 is this little 4K camera is a straight-up documentary / ENG/ grab and go camera designed to be fast and quick to grab those important documentary moments needed to tell an emotional story. The PXW-Z90 has a 4K sensor is reasonably light sensitive and has the kind of useful lens which can cover all your focal lengths.

PXW-Z90

Before we jump into my thoughts let me give you some details about the Sony PXW-Z90. This little camera offers broadcast quality 4K with advanced features like a high-speed autofocus, HDR workflow, up to 960fps super-slow motion and streaming at 2.4GHz or 5GHz with QoS. The PXW-Z90 also features a continuous 120fps in Full HD XAVC 10bit 4:2:2.

The foundation of this little camera is the 14.2-megapixel (effective) 1.0-type stacked CMOS image sensor and it integrates well with up to 273 phase-detection AF points that densely cover approx. 84% of the image area, to give a shooter easy to use tracking of subjects throughout the shooting frame. More importantly, this camera was easy to use. The aperture, shutter, and ISO/Gain buttons are on the left side of the camera and in a great location for shooting while using the flip-out LCD screen for monitoring. All of this from a $2798.00 priced camera.

No Tech Nerd Ready

There was a moment when my wife wanted to grab a quick home video of my daughter and myself. She instinctively picked up the closest camera in our office and started operating it. All she had to ask was where the record button was located and she was off and shooting a nice father/daughter moment. Now, she is a still photographer so picking up a camera and fiddling with it to get it working is pretty standard for her, but she will never call herself a tech person.

Make sure to power the camera off if you’re putting it away. There were a couple times when I shut the LCD screen thinking I had shut the camera off to discover later the camera battery was totally drained. This was a minor hiccup and was mostly due to me not fully paying attention.

The battery life was good and I typically used one battery per half a day of solid shooting. I think if someone was in a remote location they could bring a cache of batteries and still not weigh themselves down.

PXW-Z904K Sensor

If you are a professional and you need professional tools the Z90 has what you need. I’m talking about 4K, High Frame Rates, Slog 2, and several different picture styles. Middle of the road is what to expect. For example, the light sensitivity of this sensor is good but not as good as a Sony A7s II and it shouldn’t be either. The image is close to a Sony PMW-400 and I think it could cut well alongside Sony FS5 or FS7 footage. There is noise in the higher ISOs but it is a small single lens camera and I think what little noise the low-light shooting produces is fine and what I would expect.

PXW-Z90 Gamma Settings

The PXW-Z90 has quite a few gamma selections ranging from Re. 709 to Slog3 with Sgamut3.cine for colorspace. It is possible to turn the overall look of your footage to best match your needs. The Cine Gamma choices are: Rec.709, Rec.709(800%), Slog 2, Slog 3, and a handful of HLG options available. You can then select the color space too. This is a great feature because it allows a shooter to match the PXW-Z90 to any camera he or she is using as his “A” Camera.

High Frame Rates

I tested this feature but I did not have shoot requiring off speed work. It works much like a Sony FS700 does with the option for end/recording for the highest off-speed shooting. At the highest, I could tell there was image loss but that is expected. I don’t think I’d use the highest off speed for much but maybe something in the middle of its capabilities and still be happy with the results.

Autofocus

The short and quick information on the autofocus is it works well right out of the box. It is configurable too. A shooter can touch the screen to go from two different focus spots to shoot an autofocus enabled rack focus. One can also set the autofocus to track a person or object with various degrees and settings. The autofocus can be locked or responsive and you will want to test each out to see what’s best for your shooting subject. I think responsive was best for faster moving objects.

We can go deeper on Sony’s autofocus features on the Z90 but we might end up with 2000 words on the autofocus feature itself. The deal is autofocus works very well in difficult situations. The autofocus worked so well I shot nearly everything when the autofocus setting engaged.

PXW-Z90Grab N Go

The sony Z90 appears to be designed to be one of the fastest cameras to go from power on to recording on the market.  As a news photographer, I loved how quick this camera went from stored and packed away to recording. When news is happening now this single feature could save a news photographer or producer from potentially missing the moment. From stowed to hand-held was fantastic.

Image Stabilizer

This camera has a solid Image Stabilizer and makes hand-held shooting smooth enough to edit into footage shot on a tripod. I often found myself shooting hand-held because the image stabilizer was good enough to edit alongside footage shot on a tripod.

The Zeiss Lens

This lens… it has the ENG style usability. Made by Zeiss the lens has a range from 9.3mm to 111.6mm with ClearView enhanced zoom. The lens is f/2.8 at the wide end and f/4 at the telephoto end. This is very useful lens range. I’m talking about being able to shoot wide to telephoto within a second. In my experience with single lens cameras, you end up making some kind of compromise on the wide end of the lens to give the shooter telephoto shooting capabilities. Sony seems to have found a way to make both a very wide lens to a long telephoto. To see just how good it is I took the Z90 to Nashville’s Bicentennial Plaza where the end of the park is measured all the to the State Capital. I was able to shoot a very nice wide shot and then be able to zoom in and shoot a solo of just the Capital. Consider this lens flexible and just right for any type of run and gun shooting. You can find a great example below.

PXW-Z90

Professional IN / OUT Options

The Sony Z90 sports both an HDMI and SDI outputs which means to me this could be a good camera for some multi-media journalists or another live shot or streaming situation. Would I use a larger monitor for viewing on the Sony Z90? I do not think so. The Z90 is a little too light-weight to be ideal for mounting much more than a wireless mic receiver or top light.

Connectivity

One of the last features I tested I wished I tested first; the wifi connection. The Sony PXW-Z90 utilizes the Sony XDCam viewing and control app. The connection works on both older 2.4GHz and the newer 5GHz settings. It was very easy for me to download the app to my iPhone and connect it to the Sony Z90. Suddenly, I had a separate monitor and basic camera control like gain, aperture, and record. As a second camera for a news photographer, this was a huge feature because I was able to monitor the second camera from afar. I also did not have to do the “hit record and pray” thing we used to do with older GoPro Cameras. You remember those times 😉

PXW-Z90I was able to selectively record what I wanted when while I operated my “A” Camera. This was clutch for quick deadlines. I loved this feature. For the Ustream and FTP upload, I did not test these features so I will not comment on them.  It is nice to see these newsgathering features in such a small package.

In the end, the PXW-Z90 was my b-camera from the onset of this review.  I used it for broll and on occasion, I used the PXW-Z90 for off the cuff interviews when I wanted a lower profile camera. I could see this camera being a nice companion for a producer or ENG shooter. The high frame rates are an unexpected bonus for such a small camera. The 4K and good for broadcast and fits within Sony’s well liked ENG cameras. If I traveled more for assignments I think I might pick this camera up because the battery life is good and the camera requires zero accessories. It’s just ready to go at a moments notice which is important in the broadcast business. Connectivity details listed below.

  • Ustream® Direct Streaming allows you to share scenes as they happen with high quality picture and sound without a switcher
  • QoS Streaming to XDCAM air allows images to be streamed live from the camcorder for viewing at a remote location
  • FTP Transfer allows content files recorded with MPEG HD 422/420 proxy feature (CBKZ-SLMP required) and other content files shot in XAVC (QFHD/FHD) and AVCHD formats to be sent over the internet for remote storage on an FTP server
  • XDCAM air can upload proxy footage to the cloud from multiple camera operators in the field, so editing can start immediately. Uploaded content can be accessed securely from any location. News teams can even start logging clips while shooting’s still going on, saving even more valuable time when a story’s breaking
  • Wi-Fi/NFC (Near Field Communication) with Content Browser Mobile allows the PXW-Z90 to be remotely controlled from a smartphone or tablet computer (iOS 9.0 – 10.3 or Android 4.4 through 7.1) via a Wi-Fi connection. One-touch authentication is also possible with smartphones that offer NFC connectivity
  • Wired LAN connection allows the PXW-Z90 to be connected to the internet over a wired connection via the separately available VMC-UAM2 USB adapter cable and network adaptor kit (CBK-NA1), allowing files to be streamed or transferred by FTP

PXW-Z90 SPECS

General

MassApprox 1020g (with lens hood, eyecup)
Approx. 2 lb 4.0 oz (with lens hood,eyecup)
Approx. 1390g (with lens hood, handle, eyecup, NP-FV70A battery)
Approx. 3lb 1oz (with lens hood, handle, eyecup, NP-FV70A battery)
Dimensions (W x H x D)121.0mm×104.0mm×274.5mm (With the accessories (lens hood, large eyecup) ,excluding the grip belt and including the projecting parts)
4 7/8 x 4 1/8 x 10 7/8 inches (With the accessories (lens hood, large eyecup) ,excluding the grip belt and including the projecting parts)
130.0 x 181.5 x 287.0 mm (With the accessories (lens hood, large eyecup, XLR handle unit) , excluding the grip belt and including the projecting parts)
5 1/8 x 7 1/4 x 11 3/8 inches (With the accessories (lens hood, large eyecup, XLR handle unit) , excluding the grip belt and including the projecting parts)
Power RequirementsDC In: 8.4V
Battery: 7.4V
Power ConsumptionApprox. 6.5 W(while recording with viewfinder and XAVC QFHD 2160/30p 60Mbps)
Approx. 6.9 W (while recording with LCD and XAVC QFHD 2160/30p 60Mbps)
Operating Temperature0°C to 40°C
32°F to 104°F
Storage Temperature-20°C to +60°C
-4°F to +140°F
Battery Operating TimeApprox. 140min. with NP-FV70A battery (while recording with LCD, XAVC QFHD 2160/30p, 60Mbps)
Approx. 265 min. with NP-FV70A battery (while playing with LCD, XAVC QFHD 2160/30p, 60Mbps)
Recording Format (Video)XAVC QFHD : MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 4:2:0 Long profile
XAVC HD : MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 4:2:2 Long profile
XAVC Proxy : MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 4:2:0 Long profile
MPEG HD422 (CBKZ-SLMP required) : MPEG-2 [email protected] 4:2:2 Long profile
MPEG HD420 (CBKZ-SLMP required) : MPEG-2 [email protected] 4:2:0 Long profile
MPEG HD Proxy (CBKZ-SLMP required) : MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 4:2:0 Long profile
AVCHD : MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 AVCHD 2.0 format compatible
Recording Format (Audio)XAVC QFHD : Linear PCM 2ch, 24bit, 48kHz
XAVC HD : Linear PCM 2ch, 24bit, 48kHz
XAVC Proxy : AAC-LC 2ch、16bit、48kHz
MPEG HD422 (CBKZ-SLMP required) : Linear PCM 2ch, 24bit, 48kHz
MPEG HD420 (CBKZ-SLMP required) : Linear PCM 2ch, 16bit, 48kHz
MPEG HD Proxy (CBKZ-SLMP required) : AAC-LC 2ch、16bit、48kHz
AVCHD : Linear PCM 2ch, 16bit, 48kHz / Dolby Digital 2ch, 16bit, 48kHz
Recording Frame RateXAVC QFHD (3840 x 2160) @29.97p, 25p, 23.98p 100Mbps/60Mbps
XAVC HD (1920 x 1080) @59.94p, 50p, 29.97p, 25p, 23.98p, 50Mbps/35Mbps
XAVC HD (1920 x 1080) @59.94i, 50i, 50Mbps/35Mbps/25Mbps
XAVC HD (1280 x 720) @59.94p, 50p, 50Mbps
XAVC Proxy (1280 x 720) @59.94p, 50p, 29.97p, 25p, 23.98p, 9Mbps
XAVC Proxy (640 x 360) @59.94p, 50p, 29.97p, 25p, 23.98p, 3Mbps
MPEG HD422 (1920 x 1080) (CBKZ-SLMP required) @59.94i, 50i, 29.97p, 25p, 23.98p, 50Mbps
MPEG HD422 (1280 x 720) (CBKZ-SLMP required) @59.94p, 50p, 50Mbps
MPEG HD420 (1920 x 1080) @59.94i, 50i, 29.97p, 25p, 23.98p, HQ mode(35Mbps)
MPEG HD420 (1440 x 1080) (CBKZ-SLMP required) @59.94i, 50i, HQ mode(35Mbps)
Recording Frame Rate (Cont.)MPEG HD420 (1280 x 720) (CBKZ-SLMP required) @59.94p, 50p, HQ mode(35Mbps)
MPEG HD Proxy (1280 x 720) (CBKZ-SLMP required) @59.94p, 50p, 29.97p, 25p, 23.98p, 9Mbps
MPEG HD Proxy (640 x 360) (CBKZ-SLMP required) @59.94p, 50p, 29.97p, 25p, 23.98p 3Mbps
AVCHD (1920 x 1080)@59.94p, 50p, PS mode (28Mbps)
AVCHD (1920 x 1080) @59.94i/50i FX mode (24Mbps) FH mode(17Mbps)
AVCHD (1920 x 1080) @29.97p/25p/23.98p, FX mode (24Mbps)
AVCHD (1440 x 1080)@59.94i, 50i LP mode (5Mbps)
AVCHD (1280 x 720)@59.94p, 50p, HQ mode (9Mbps)
Recording/Playback TimeXAVC QFHD @LPCM 2ch 100 Mbps
Approx. 65 min with 64 GB memory card
XAVC QFHD @LPCM 2ch 60 Mbps
Approx. 100 min with 64 GB memory card
XAVC HD @LPCM 2ch 50 Mbps
Approx. 120 min with 64 GB memory card
XAVC HD @LPCM 2ch 35 Mbps
Approx. 170 min with 64 GB memory card
XAVC HD @LPCM 2ch 25 Mbps
Approx. 220 min with 64 GB memory card
MPEG HD422 (CBKZ-SLMP required) @LPCM 2ch 50 Mbps
Approx. 110 min with 64 GB memory card
MPEG HD420 (CBKZ-SLMP required) @LPCM 2ch HQ Mode
Approx. 170 min with 64 GB memory card
AVCHD @LPCM 2ch PS Mode
Approx. 305 min with 64 GB memory card
AVCHD @LPCM 2ch FX Mode
Approx. 360 min with 64 GB memory card
Recording/Playback Time (cont.)AVCHD @LPCM 2ch FH Mode
Approx. 495 min with 64 GB memory card
AVCHD @LPCM 2ch HQ Mode
Approx. 880 min with 64 GB memory card
AVCHD @LPCM 2ch LP Mode
Approx. 1540 min with 64 GB memory card

Lens

Lens MountFixed
Zoom Ratio12x (optical), servo
Focal Lengthf=9.3 – 111.6mm
equivalent to f=29.0 – 348.0mm on 35 mm lens(16:9)
equivalent to f=32.8 – 393.6mm on 35mm lens(3:2)
IrisF2.8 – F4.5
auto/manual selectable
FocusAF/MF selectable
10 mm to ∞ (Wide)
1000 mm to ∞ (Tele)
Image StabilizerON/OFF selectable, shift lens
Filter DiameterM62 mm

Camera Section

Imaging Device (Type)1.0-type (13.2mm x 8.8mm) back-illuminated Exmor RS CMOS sensor
Effective Picture ElementsApprox.14.2M pixels(16:9)/Approx.12.0M pixels(3:2)
Built-in Optical FiltersOFF: Clear, 1: 1/4ND, 2: 1/16ND, 3: 1/64ND
Minimum IlluminationStandard [60i] 3lux(1/60 Shutter Speed, gain 33dB)
Standard [50i] 3lux(1/50 Shutter Speed, gain 33dB)LowLux [60i] 1.7lux(1/30 Shutter Speed, gain 33dB)
LowLux [50i] 1.7lux(1/25 Shutter Speed, gain 33dB)
Shutter Speed[60i]: 1/8 – 1/10,000
(1/6 – 1/10,000 when shooting with 24p)
[50i]: 1/6 -1/10,000
Slow & Quick Motion Function[60i]:2160p:Frame rate selectable 1,2,4,8,15,30fps
[50i]:2160p:Frame rate selectable 1,2,3,6,12,25fps
[60i]:1080p:Frame rate selectable 1,2,4,8,15,30,60,120fps
[50i]:1080p:Frame rate selectable 1,2,3,6,12,25,50,100fps
Super Slow Motion[60i]1080p:Frame rate selectable 240,480,960fps
[50i]:1080p:Frame rate selectable 250,500,1000fps
White BalancePreset(Indoor:3200K, Outdoor:5600K±7 steps, Color temparature set range:2300-15000K)
Onepush A, B, Auto selectable
Gain-3, 0, 3, 6, 9, 12,15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30, 33 dB, AGC
Gamma CurveSelectable

Input/Output

Audio InputXLR-type 3-pin (female) (x2), line/mic/mic +48 V selectable
Video OutputIntegrated into Multi/Micro USB jack(×1), Composite 1.0Vp-p, 75Ω
Audio OutputIntegrated into Multi/Micro USB jack
SDI OutputBNC (x1), 3G/HD/SD
SMPTE 424M/292M/259M standards
USBMulti/Micro USB jack (x1)
Headphone OutputStereo mini jack (x1)
Speaker OutputMonaural
DC InputDC jack
RemoteIntegrated into Multi/Micro USB jack
Stereo mini-mini jack (Φ2.5mm)
HDMI OutputType A (x1)

Monitoring

Viewfinder1.0cm(0.39 type)OLED
Approx. 2.36M dots
LCD8.8cm(3.5 type)
Approx. 1.56M dots

Built-in Microphone

Built-in MicrophoneOmni-directional stereo electret condenser microphone

Media

TypeMemory Stick Pro Duo™ and SD/SDHC/SDXC compatible x1 SD/SDHC/SDXC x1

Wi-Fi/NFC

Supported formatIEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Frequency band2.4 GHz bandwidth
5.2/5.3/5.6/5.8 GHz bandwidth
SecurityWEP/WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK
NFCNFC Forum Type 3 Tag compliant

Supplied Accessories

Supplied AccessoiesXLR handle unit (1)
Lens hood (1)
Lens cap (1)
Large eyecup (1)
Accessory shoe kit (1)
USB cable (1)
Rechargeable battery pack (NP-FV70A) (1)
AC Adaptor (AC-L200D) (1)
Power cord (mains lead) (1)
Wireless Remote Commander (RMT-845) (1)
Lithium battery (CR2025 for the Wireless Remote Commander) (1), Pre-installed to the Wireless Remote Commander
Operating Guide (2)
CD-ROM “Manuals for Solid-State Memory Camcorder” (1)
Warranty (1)

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Brian Hallett, is the senior promotions producer at the NBC affiliate in Nashville, TN, and an award winning cameraman, editor, and producer. He has shot everything from broadcast television news, promotional image campaigns, music videos,…

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5 Comments on "THE SONY PXW-Z90 4K SINGLE LENS CAMERA REVIEW"

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Nigel Traill
Nigel Traill

I use GH5’s for doc work, but would love to have a Z90 type option for those occasions where grab and go is required. You mentioned the colour space options would make matching different cameras easier – what’s your opinion of matching the Z90 with say Panasonic GH5’s or an EVA1?

jobsnews24

4K Sensor is great. My father is using this for his photography. I’m also try it some time. but I’m not well to control the frame. It’s really awesome for professional guys…

Neil Sadwelkar
Neil Sadwelkar

No ‘true’ 24.00 fps. That’s required for many a documentary submissions.

Clayton Moore
Clayton Moore

I would expect SONY might roll more into this with a firmware update once they get good customer feedback and see what the competition will do this year.

wsmith
wsmith

I can’t consider any cam unless I can read a review regarding its streaming capability.