Sony HVR-Z5U is the same Sony HVR Z7U, however, Sony has fixed the lens on this one. Let’s find out if it’s such a good move.
First off, the new Sony HVR-Z5U is affordable – $4200 street price ($4950 list). It’s in the same league price-wise as Sony Z1 and a bit more expensive than Sony FX1 and Sony FX7. It’s very competitive pricing considering a Panasonic HVX200 goes for more than $4,200 – and in some stores it goes to $5,000.
Let’s examine what could make you upgrade to Sony HVR-Z7U – it usually costs about $1,200 more. Both camcorders use the same electronics. The controls and I/O are a bit different but it’s more a matter of personal preference rather than anything “measurable”. The key difference is the lens – the Z7U has a 12x Zeiss lens that can be REMOVED. Just so you know, this is where your $1,200 will be going – giving you flexibility to change the lens.
The lens on the Sony HVR-Z5U is a fixed 20x Sony “G” zoom lens. In this, Sony is consistent – all its camcorders in this range have sported a similar lens – all the way back to (my beloved) Sony VX2000.
If you’re easily impressed by ZOOMs, Sony estimates the 35mm equivalent is 29.5mm – 590mm! Impressive! If you go with the Z7U, it stops at about 380mm. So in practical terms, you get a lot more tele from the fixed 20x lens. Frankly, I’m not a big bird watcher, so zoom isn’t that important to me. However, if you plan to shoot architectural videos, you might need a wider lens (or adapter).
Same as the Sony Z7U, this camcorder uses the new Sony’s ClearVid CMOS with 1440×810 photosites. Through extrapolation (i.e. software), Sony achieves 1080 resolution. The sensor deliver very similar picture to full resolution 1920×1080 sensors which cost a LOT more.
So in conclusion – do you need it? If you already have a Sony Z1 or comparable, you probably don’t need to upgrade just yet (unless money is no object).
If you’re in the market for a new camera, the Sony HVR-Z5U is a very solid choice and comes highly recommended from all the reviewers I follow. The only caveat is the fixed lens but let’s admit it, at $4,200 you won’t find a camera with a removable lens anyway.