Sony ZV-1 review


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Introduction

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Product photos by Dan Bracaglia

The Sony ZV-1 is a 20MP compact camera geared towards vlogging. It has a new and novel directional microphone next to the flash hotshoe and there’s a fully articulating touchscreen display. The ZV-1 shoots in 4K up to 30p and Full HD up to 120p and features a 24-70mm equivalent F1.8-2.8 lens.

Although the Sony ZV-1 is designed specifically with vloggers in mind, it’s quite capable as a conventional compact stills camera too. If you’re a hybrid shooter who is interested in capturing both video and stills,

doesn’t want to carry around two cameras, the ZV-1 has a lot to offer.

Out of camera JPEG | ISO 125 | 1/100 sec | F2

Key specifications:

  • 20 megapixel 1” BSI CMOS sensor
  • 24-70mm equivalent F1.8-2.8 lens
  • Fully articulating, 921K dot, 3” touchscreen display
  • 4K/30p, 1080p/120p and high-speed modes up to 960fps
  • 8-bit. Log and ‘HLG’ shooting modes
  • Directional 3-capsule microphone with wind-screen
  • Excellent autofocus in stills and video
  • Can be charged via USB while in use
  • 3.5mm microphone jack
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for image and video transfer
  • Rated at 260 shots per charge

The ZV-1 can be had for $800 USD. The Sony GP-VPT2BT Bluetooth shooting grip, which doubles as a compact tripod, can be purchased for an additional $98.


What’s it like to use?

The top plate controls include a large red ‘record’ button and a customizable ‘C1’ button that defaults to the Background Defocus function; it basically adjusts your lens settings so that your background is blurry while the subject remains sharp.

The ZV-1’s ergonomics might seem a little quirky at first, but are fairly intuitive once you start shooting. There’s a modest grip on the right hand side and it’s comfortable to use when shooting in selfie mode or a standard shooting position. When you are shooting with the camera held out at arms-length with the lens facing yourself, you can control the zoom rocker with your thumb and use your index finger to hit record or release the shutter.

The ability to easily swap between shooting videos and stills is one of the greatest assets of the ZV-1, made easier if you are using the memory recall functions in the camera. These let you customize banks of settings that include your shooting mode (Auto, PASM, video and so on), exposure settings, image or video quality settings, and quickly swap between them.

The ZV-1 comes with a windscreen for its mic (often referred to as a ‘dead cat’), and the Sony GP-VPT2BT Bluetooth shooting grip is optional: It doubles as a compact tripod and allows users to control video recording, shutter release, zoom and has its own customizable C1 button.

The ZV-1’s included fuzzy mic windscreen does an excellent job of cutting down on distracting wind noise when recording video, but unfortunately it also covers up the On/Off button on the camera.

On the back of the camera you’ll find the camera’s single control ring, which is the only way to adjust shutter speed and aperture while shooting. It’s not that bad if you’re using the ZV-1 to capture stills, but can be cumbersome for vloggers since the only adjustments that can be made using the touchscreen are for focus. So if you want to adjust anything other than your AF area, you’ll have to flip the camera back around.

The rear of the ZV-1 is dominated by the large touchscreen and is home to the only control dial on the camera. Unfortunately, the touchscreen’s functionality is limited, so you may have to fiddle with that dial and those small buttons more than you’d expect.

For the most part, the lack of EVF isn’t a dealbreaker here. The one time when it’s frustrating is if you are shooting in very bright sunlight, as it can be difficult to see the image on the rear screen. Luckily, even on the sunniest days the exposures that the camera captured were pretty accurate when shooting in full auto, shutter priority or aperture priority modes.

Ports for microphone, HDMI cable and charging USB are all stacked on the right side of the camera – opposite of the articulating screen, which means you can operate the camera without any of those cables interfering. Sony has omitted a headphone port for audio monitoring. Although it’s rare to see content creators in headphones while they are actually recording, not having the ability to monitor pre-set audio levels will be a deal-breaker for some users.

The C1 and C2 buttons can be easily customized to your liking, although out-of-box they are set to control Background Defocus and Product Showcase. The Product Showcase mode will be useful by vloggers promoting products; it essentially automatically grabs focus onto a product when it enters the frame and defocuses any faces that it sees. The Background Defocus setting opens up the aperture to its widest setting, helping to blur the background behind the subject.


How does it perform?

Out of camera JPEG | ISO 125 | 1/800 sec | F4

The ZV-1 offers impressive image quality. While shooting, I tended to keep it set to ISO Auto with a range of ISO 125-6400. The ZV-1 generally did a good job regardless of if I was shooting in P, A, S or M mode. White balance worked well, colors were pleasant and when shooting at lower ISO the noise was minimal. Moving up to 6400 noise becomes a lot more noticeable, and at ISO 12800 it’s very noticeable. The lack of pop-up flash on the ZV-1 makes it difficult to use the camera late at night or in dark settings.

The camera’s scene selection modes are hit or miss. The ‘gourmet’ mode for shooting food works well, as does the ‘macro’ mode. ‘Pet’ mode, which is supposed to help reduce blur when shooting subjects in motion, is inconsistent and appears to add a softening effect to your furry subject. Here you are better off shooting in S mode with the animal eye tracking activated. The same is true for the other scene selection modes– especially ones like ‘Night Scene’ or ‘Night Portrait’.

‘Beauty Effects’ allow you to reprocess images that include faces in-camera with filters that include skin toning, skin smoothing, shine removal, teeth whitening and eye widening. If you crank these effects too far though you end up with images that look cartoonish.

Images shot in aperture priority mode with the ZV-1 looked slightly underexposed to me, but the Raw files are quite malleable when it comes to making adjustments to exposure, contrast and shadows. Sadly, you can’t reprocess the Raw files in camera, but if your image includes a single face you can add ‘Beauty Effects’ after the image has been shot. Each effect can be applied on a scale from 1-5, and as you would imagine, if you crank these effects you end up with images that look cartoonish. The effects don’t work on photos with multiple people in them or on pets.

The autofocus and tracking capabilities of the ZV-1 are excellent. The ZV-1 features both human and animal eye tracking which makes it great for capturing pet portraits. The camera features a scene selection mode for this, but we were happier with the results when setting the camera manually. Captured in full manual. Out-of-camera JPEG.
ISO 1000 | 1/100 sec | F1.8 | Animal eye tracking enabled

The ZV-1’s autofocus is as good as we would expect from a modern Sony camera. It’s speedy, accurate, and incredibly reliable when it comes to face and eye detection and subject tracking. The touchscreen makes it easy to use regardless of what you are shooting.

On the video side, the ZV-1 can shoot 4K/30p, 1080p/120p and high-speed modes up to 960 fps (though at far lower resolution). It offers HLG shooting if you are planning to view your footage on an HDR capable display, and S-Log2/3 for advanced users that want to tone their video in post production. But for newer users, an ‘intelligent auto’ mode automatically adjusts settings based on a scene, and there are standard P, A, S or M modes too.

Although the ZV-1 was designed with vloggers in mind the camera really excels at capturing candids, even when it is set in a fully automated mode. Out-of-camera JPEG in Program Auto mode.
ISO 125 | 1/500 sec | F4

The ZV-1 has settings for zebra and focus peaking, as well as wind-noise reduction and image stabilization (Sony calls this ‘SteadyShot’). The detail in 4K, Full HD and high-speed modes is impressive and the footage is smooth. Rolling shutter effects are minimal – especially important if you are doing a walk and talk-style shoot. The high-speed footage can be incredibly cinematic, but the need to enable buffering before shooting makes it a little hard to anticipate the footage that you are capturing. An iPhone, on the other hand, doesn’t require this extra step.


How it compares to other vlogging cameras

Compared to its peers the Sony ZV-1 is more expensive, but it’s also the only camera of its kind that features the directional 3-capsule microphone – for most people, this will eliminate the need for an additional mic when vlogging. It also has the most reliable autofocus system.

The Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III offers additional zoom with its built-in lens, and has the same size sensor as the Sony. It also has similar dimensions and a similarly-sized screen, but uses contrast detection autofocus that is prone to distracting hunting. On the other hand, its touch interface is responsive and refined, and it offers live streaming to YouTube directly from the camera (and using your phone as a hot spot).

Panasonic’s G100 also has a novel microphone set up, using three small microphones and software for ‘audio tracking’ of talking subjects. In our testing, we found the Sony to sound a little better, though. The Panasonic’s contrast-detect autofocus may ‘wobble’ too much for your taste, and it has a substantial crop in 4K that makes vlogging at arm’s length nigh impossible.

The Apple iPhone 11 will give you the widest field of view and the largest screen – not to mention it’s also the lightest and you’re likely to just have it with you. Its smaller sensor though will limit how much you can blur your background.

Sony ZV-1 Canon G7 X Mark III Panasonic Lumix G100 Apple iPhone 11
Type Compact camera Compact camera Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera Mobile phone
MSRP $800 $750 $749 (w/ 12-32mm lens) $700
(64GB)
Sensor size 1″-type
(116mm2)
1″-type
(116mm2)
Four Thirds
(225mm2)
1/3.6″-type
(12mm2)
Zoom range 24-70mm equiv 24-100mm equiv 24-64mm equiv 23mm equiv
Autofocus type Phase detection Contrast detection DFD (contrast-detection) Contrast detection (on front-facing camera)
Video spec Up to 4K 30p Up to 4K 30p Up to 4K 30p
(1.26x crop)
Up to 4K 60p
Screen 3.0″ 0.92M-dot

3.0″ 1.04M-dot

3.0″ 1.04M-dot 6.1″ 4.45M-dot
Media format
  • SD
  • SD
  • SD
Internal / Cloud storage
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth (for transfer of GPS data)
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • 4G cellular internet connection
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
Dimensions 105 x 60 x 44 mm 105 x 61 x 41 mm 116 x 83 x 54 mm (exc lens) 151 x 76 x 8 mm
Weight 294g 304g 352g (exc lens) 194g

Conclusion

The ZV-1 is a unique camera with a very specific style of user in mind – and its settings speak to that. The guts of the camera are similar to the RX100 VA and if you can live without a viewfinder and a pop-up flash, the ZV-1 is very capable when it comes to shooting stills.

The ergonomics of the camera actually make it easy to swap between video and still settings, especially if you take advantage of the memory recall functions within the camera. It’s comfortable in hand, but still compact enough that it won’t feel like a burden to bring along. The directional 3-capsule microphone with dedicated wind-screen makes it fast and easy to record video clips with quality audio.

This video summary was filmed on the ZV-1. Did you find it helpful? Let us know.

We do wish that the camera had a headphone jack so you could actually monitor those audio levels, and that the wind-screen didn’t cover the On/Off button when attached to the top of the ZV-1. It would also be nice if you could adjust settings from the touchscreen.

Image and video quality are excellent and the autofocus, regardless of the situation, is accurate. It would be nice if the screen was slightly brighter, as it is difficult to see on sunny days and without a viewfinder that’s the main way you compose your frames (to be fair, you could also pair the camera with your smartphone).

Though almost every camera on the market these days can shoot videos and stills (and using one’s phone is quicker to record and publish instantly), the ZV-1 is a good option for vloggers who are interested in having something a little more advanced. The ZV-1 is also a good option for photographers who are interested in dipping their toes into the world of vlogging, or simply capturing quality BTS video of their process. In the end, the ZV-1 may have been designed for vloggers, but we think this would be an excellent compact camera for families, travelers and creatives of all kinds looking to document what they do.


Scoring

Sony ZV-1
Category: Enthusiast Large Sensor Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Optics
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The ZV-1 is a solid option for vloggers and photographers looking for a compact camera with a fast lens and great video and still image quality. Its novel microphone and video-friendly ergonomics are big plusses, but we want to see Sony introduce a more modern touch interface and update their menus to appeal to a wider audience. Overall, whether you're a dedicated video maker or just want an easy-to-use camera for good quality clips, the ZV-1 is worth a look.

Good for
Vlogging and video capture, travel photo and video, family photography.

Not so good for
Users that need a longer zoom range and users that have no need for video or the video-focused features of this camera.
85%
Overall score


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