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Video Cameras

Startup Z takes on GoPro with interchangeable-lens E1 Camera

This Kickstarter from startup Z is a 4K action camera with a Micro Four Thirds mount. And it's more than 300% funded.

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Z Camera

In one weekend, the Kickstarter for the E1 Camera, a GoPro look- and act-alike action camera but with a Micro Four Thirds lens mount, rounded past the 300-percent mark for funding and is rapidly on its way to 400 percent. It's the brainchild of the unfortunately named startup Z -- yup, just the letter "Z" although it's sometimes referenced as "Z Camera" -- and its founder Jason Zhang, formerly of GoPro and Amberella (the chipset developer for GoPro and others).

Already in production, but still about 3 months from shipping, the E1 will cost $700 for the body and will also come in a kit with a Panasonic 14mm f2.5 lens for $1,000. (That converts to about £450 or £640 and AU$950 or AU$1,355.) It's slated to start shipping to backers in November, though at press time the cheapest backing option still available is $600 (£385, AU$810) for the body and $800 (£515, $1,085) for the kit.

The first of its kind with the ability to take third-party lenses, including optically stabilized ones, the E1 also has all the specs one expects to find in an action cam in its price range. It supports Cinema 4K/24p, 25p and UHD 4K/30p, as well as 1080/60p, 50p (the latter with clean HDMI out) all with a maximum bitrate of 60 megabits per second using H.264 encoding. That's not very high for 4K -- it's really more of an HD bitrate -- but it's typical for this type of camera and it's the same as the GoPro Hero4 Black . You'll also be able to shoot 16-megapixel stills with it, including raw files in DNG format.

It's also got an in-house developed tracking contrast autofocus system and incorporates an Ambarella A9 chip and a Panasonic image sensor that reaches sensitivities as high as ISO 102400 for video. The company says it uses MCTF for better results in low light; that's motion-compensated temporal filtering, a type of noise reduction that tries to compensate for the fact that low-light noise gets worse in video because it changes randomly between frames so you see lots of red, blue and sparkles in dark areas.

The camera's designed to operate via an app -- there are both Android (download the APK) and iOS versions -- using Wi-Fi, and maintains a persistent standby connection with Bluetooth low-energy (BLE). You'll also find a 3.5mm audio jack, DC power jack a Micro-USB port and a standard 1/4-20 tripod mount. It supports the serial VISCA protocol for remote control, and there's a software developer's kit with an HTTP-based API for easy and ubiquitous customization. You can control three cameras with the app, and a future firmware update (via the app) will add electronic image stabilization.

It also has some of the drawbacks of a GoPro: without a housing, the magnesium-body camera isn't weather sealed. Z expects to have a housing relatively soon, though. And the battery life isn't great -- it's only rated for 45 minutes -- but it will ship with two batteries.

While it's a bit larger and heavier than its GoPro equivalent, that's because of the lens mount, and it's just about the smallest it can be with the mount.

My take

I'm guessing it won't be the only interchangeable-lens model for long and that's a trend I can get behind. If it's as good as it sounds, we can finally go beyond the ultra-wide-angle-of-view videos that characterize action cams. We can't wait to get our hands on one for testing; we'll report back when we do.