Sony ZV-1 Mark II review, a vlogging camera with excellent video that thrives in auto modes


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Product images by Shaminder Dulai

The Sony ZV-1 Mark II is a vlogging-focused compact camera built around a 20MP Type 1 (13.2 x 8.8mm) Stacked CMOS sensor and an 18-50mm equivalent F1.8-4.0 lens. Besides the new focal length range, much of this camera remains the same as its predecessor, which was itself a competent pocket-sized video camera.

Key specifications:

  • 20 megapixel Type 1 (13.2 x 8.8mm) Stacked CMOS sensor
  • 18-50mm equivalent F1.8-4.0 lens with built-in ND filter
  • 4K/30p, 1080/120p video
  • 24fps stills in both JPEG and Raw, for up to 800 JPEGs
  • Fully articulating, 921K dot, 3″ touchscreen display
  • 8-bit Log and ‘HLG’ video shooting modes
  • Directional 3-capsule microphone with wind screen
  • UHS-I SD card support
  • USB-C charging port, which can also be used while the camera is on and for streaming
  • 3.5mm stereo microphone socket
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for image and video transfer

The ZV-1 Mark II runs $899.99 (MSRP) and comes in two color options: black or white. The camera can be paired with a black or white Sony GP-VPT2BT Bluetooth shooting grip, which doubles as a compact tripod, for an additional $139.99.


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Index:


What is it?

The ZV-1 Mark II is an entry-to-intermediate level vlogging camera designed first and foremost for users to film themselves speaking to camera from arm’s length, at a tabletop or from a tripod. It has a three-mic array designed to isolate voices speaking to the camera, a selfie-friendly zoom range and touch controls to operate the camera with the rear screen flipped out for selfie video shooting.

Recent Videos

While the camera can shoot stills in Raw and JPEG (the cheaper ZV-1F couldn’t shoot Raw), it’s very evident that Sony sees this as mainly a walk-and-talk video camera for YouTubers and social media creators; for confirmation, we only need to look at Sony’s logo on the touchscreen, which only appears right side up when it’s flipped out for a selfie.

Compared to its predecessor, the ZV-1 Mark II is an update with very few changes save for one very notable switch (arguably correction) to a wider 18-50mm equivalent F1.8-4.0 lens. The original ZV-1 had a 24-70mm equivalent lens that made it challenging to frame wide-angle selfies, especially if you cropped in by engaging digital stabilization. With the updates to the lens, we can start at 18mm equiv. or employ digital image stabilization (IS), which imposes a 1.33x crop to give approximately 24mm equiv. field of view. The change means the Mark II gives a 24-67mm equiv range when stabilized, making it more usable for on-the-go selfie vlogging.

Other than the wider lens, the rest will be very familiar for ZV-1 users. The same Type 1 (13.2×8.8mm) Stacked CMOS 20MP sensor returns, which helps it achieve fast autofocus, quick and accurate people and animal tracking with low rolling shutter. It also has the same form factor as its predecessor, with the same buttons in the same configuration, the same rocker switch for the zoom, and the same distinctive fuzzy rat over the mic array, which slightly obscures the on/off button in the same way. Also carried over are the fully articulating 3″ touchscreen, battery and ports for a 3.5mm stereo mic socket and Micro HDMI output. The multi-port has been swapped for a USB-C port. Absent once again is a headphone socket for audio monitoring.


How it compares

We’ve seen a slew of vlogging or creator cameras in recent years from Sony, Canon, Panasonic and even Nikon; there’s no shortage of options. Sony alone has produced five models in its vlogging-focused ‘ZV’ range, stretching from the $500 ZV-1F to the $2200 full-frame interchangeable lens ZV-E1.

Considering the vlogging camera space and which cameras to compare, we thought it apt to include Sony’s ZV-1F and ZV-E10. These cameras are aimed at a similar user need as the ZV-1 Mark II, yet they’re spread across lower price points, making a features comparison useful. Among competitors, we also looked at the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III and Nikon Z30, as they fit the bill for size, weight and features aimed at vloggers, making a comparison meaningful.

Sony ZV-1 Mark IISony ZV-1FSony ZV-E10Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark IIINikon Z30
MSRP$900$500$700 (body only), $800 (w/16-50 lens)$750$710 (body), $850 (w/16-50mm lens)
Sensor20MP Type 1
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Stacked CMOS
20MP Type 1
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
BSI CMOS
24MP
(23.5 x 15.6 mm)
APS-C CMOS
20MP Type 1
(13.2 x 8.8 mm)
Stacked CMOS
20.2MP
(23.5 x 15.7 mm)
APS-C CMOS
StabilizationElectronic (Video only)

Electronic
(Video only)

Lens + electronicLens + electronicLens + electronic
AF systemPhase-detectContrast-detectPhase-detectContrast-detectPhase-detect
ViewfinderNoNoNoNoNo
Lens/Zoom range18–50 equiv20mm equivInterchangeable lenses24-100mm equivInterchangeable lenses
Rear screenFully articulating, 0.92M dot, 3″ touchscreen

Fully articulating, 0.92M dot, 3″ touchscreen

Fully articulating,
0.92M dot,
3″ touchscreen

Tilting 1.04M-dot (180° up, 45° down) 3″ touchscreenFully articulating, 1.04M-dot, 3″ touchscreen
Video

Up to 4K/30p

Up to 4K/30pUp to 4K/30pUp to 4K/30pUp to 4K/30p
Mic / headphone socketYes/NoYes/NoYes/YesYes/NoYes/No
Dials1 rear dial1 rear dial2 rear dials1 rear dials1 front dial,
1 rear dial
Card slotsUHS-1 SDUHS-1 SDUHS-1 SDUHS-1 SDUHS-1 SD
Battery life ratingStill: 290; Video: 45 min at 4KStill: 350; Video: 60 min at 4KStill: 440;
Video: 80 min at 4K
Still: 235; Video: 55 min at 4KStill: 330;
Video: 75 min at 4K
Weight292g256g343g304g405g
Dimensions106 x 60 x 47mm106 x 60 x 47mm115 x 64 x 45mm105 x 61 x 41mm128 x 74 x 60mm

If vlogging and auto mode simplicity are the chief concerns, then the Sony ZV-1 Mark II is a suitable option. It benefits from a Stacked sensor, allowing for faster readout for minimal rolling shutter, and has very responsive phase-detect autofocus to help it avoid focus hunting during videos.

However, if you’re seeking more control and want the versatility of exchangeable lenses – and don’t mind losing the outstanding autofocus, rolling shutter performance and pocketability of the ZV-1 Mark II – we recommend the Nikon Z30. It’s a trade-off that gains a larger sensor and better ergonomics, and while you may miss focus more often for selfie videos, we think the positives outweigh the negatives.


Body and handling

The ZV-1 Mark II is small, compact, lightweight and relatively pocketable at 292g (10.3oz) and 106mm (4.2″) on its longest side. The body is very boxy, with a slight bump along the front for a hand grip and a thumb rest along the back. For its size and stature, the bump and thumb rest in tandem are surprisingly efficient and comfortable in securing the camera when not shooting selfies. A wrist strap loop adds peace of mind that the camera won’t get jostled loose while in use.

When held in selfie mode, the camera can become difficult to hold steady or maintain a nice grip. We found having an external handle to screw into the tripod mount was essential for steady operation. Sony has an optional Bluetooth shooting grip (Sony GP-VPT2BT) with REC and zoom controls, which can also double as a compact tripod, for an additional $139.99, but any grip will do if you’re looking to save some money.

The camera is sparse on buttons. Along the top plate and rear are a limited set of buttons, a rocker switch for the zoom and one rear dial. There is no viewfinder on the ZV-1 Mark II, which may present a challenge when used in bright sunlight if you’re not shooting video in selfie mode.

On the back, there’s a button for the Fn menus and 4-way dial to make quick adjustments to camera settings, but aside from the prerequisite shutter button, menu button and some additional customizable function buttons, the ZV-1 Mark II delegates most operations to the touchscreen.

We found the touchscreen to register inputs quickly. With the screen flipped out for selfie video, the touchscreen allows quick adjustments to shutter, aperture, ISO and white balance settings, but anything more requires swiping the panel to bring up additional quick menus. For instance, if you want to activate the ND filter or switch from touch focus to touch tracking, you’ll need to swipe up on the touchscreen to bring up the Fn menu. Starting and stopping recordings can also be done through a touchscreen button, but we found it far easier to use the physical record button on the top plate. Having a tactile confirmation you are recording is nice, but we also appreciate the inclusion of a tally light and a red border that appears around the screen when recording. However, adjusting beyond basic settings requires accessing the main menus, which became an issue when shooting in selfie mode.

With the screen-flipped out or selfies, the touchscreen becomes your main way to control the camera, with all basic settings a tap away, including focus and the record button.

While on the go, thankfully the ZV-1 Mark II is quick to boot up and be ready to shoot. Users can turn the camera on/off via a power button along the top plate. However, this button ends up obscured and buried under the fuzzy rat accessory which sits over the three-capsule microphone, but there is an alternative. The camera can be set to turn on and off by flipping open or closing the rear touchscreen, and this quickly became our preferred way of activating the camera.

Battery

The ZV-1 Mark II retains the same 4.5Wh NP-BX1 battery from the original ZV-1, which is CIPA-rated for 290 still frames per charge (it’s pretty normal to achieve at least twice the rated value). This is a reasonable level of endurance to squeeze out of a small battery. The CIPA rating for “Actual” video recording is 45 minutes. In practice, we landed closer to 30-35 minutes for video, which became a pain point.

New to this version is a USB-C port, which can be used to recharge the battery. Using this method, we could recharge the battery from nearly empty to full in about 35 minutes. You can also power the camera while in use over USB. Hence, an external power bank becomes an option for longer shoots than a single battery will allow, but this also defeats the purpose of a small form factor and highly portable design.


Video

The ZV-1 Mark II can capture up to 4K/30p, but that drops to 1080 if you want to use slow-motion frame rates. Unlike its predecessor, this version does not have lens or in-body stabilization. Stabilization is only available in video as a digital process, which crops the frame and takes its video from a moving frame within the cropped region to correct for motion. It works fairly well when capturing 4K video, and the crop turns the 18mm equiv. into about a 24mm equiv. This crop feels intentional; to deliver a camera designed to be a stable 24mm equiv., an unstabilized 18mm equiv. lens was required. (If you’re curious, the original ZV-1’s digital IS had a crop that turned the 24mm equiv into about a 30mm equiv.)

Sony has included HLG modes, which are designed for viewing on HDR displays, and S-Log2 and S-Log3, which are aimed at retaining additional tonal information about the scene to give users more control over how they color grade their footage during editing. But there’s just one problem. The camera only has 8-bit color depth. This is unusual for HLG and has a major drawback for Log footage.

Capturing in 8-bit risks the footage falling apart if you try to adjust color too far; this is because a wide dynamic range is stored with too few data points, and the result is images can start to degrade, band and posterize as you try to make large adjustments. S-Log3, which tries to maintain a very wide dynamic range, is particularly susceptible to this. We’d tend to stick with S-Log2 on this camera.

A few creative modes and dedicated buttons also return from the ZV-1 for vlogging ease. A defocus button tells the camera to prioritize a shallow depth of field and a ‘Product Showcase’ mode uses face detection but tells the camera to automatically rack focus to any objects you hold up close to the camera, which should help for anyone doing make-up tutorials, cooking demos, unboxing videos or anything where you need to demonstrate something and shift focus from your face to the object. A 3-capsule mic array also automatically adjusts to isolate the speaker’s voice, whether behind, in front or around the camera.

CineVlog mode

New to this version is CineVlog mode, which automatically sets the camera to a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with the 24p frame rate used in cinema and a gentler ‘film-like’ color profile. It also lets you apply color filters and adjust focus speed to mimic the big screen presentation.

Within CineVlog mode, a unique subset of color filters are broken down into “Moods” and “Looks.” Broadly speaking, Moods adjust color response and Looks adjust tonal response and contrast. Both can be used in combination with each other to dial in a preferred presentation.

Looks:ChicCleanMono
Moods:ForestGoldOcean

Four Mood options (Auto, Gold, Ocean and Forest) and five Look options (Classic, Clean, Chic, Fresh and Mono) exist. Autofocus transition speed may also be set between Hi, Mid and Lo.

The idea behind CineVlog is to produce ready-to-share videos directly from the camera. However, it should be noted this mode has baked-in black borders and the 2.35:1 isn’t the native format YouTube and other social media platforms use.

File management and Sony’s Creator App

One appeal of dedicated vlogging cameras is improved file management. Whereas a smartphone requires freeing up internal memory to continue shooting or a possibly slow and tedious download process that halts work, a camera with an SD memory card allows for quick swapping and downloading of files independently of a camera being used for filming.

In addition to memory cards and USB-C tethering, the ZV-1 Mark II can transfer files to mobile devices using Sony’s Creator App (Android or iOS). With the app, files are meant to be moved directly from camera to phone and appear in the phone’s photo/video library. In practice, we found the iOS version of the app was finicky with failed connections and frequent signal drops mid-transfer. We did not test the Android version.

Image stabilization performance

The quality of the stabilization will vary, depending on how much movement the camera is experiencing and in which direction. As you may expect, the slower and more steady the movement, the better the result in digital stabilization.

Walking at a normal pace – not briskly or intentionally slow to steady the camera – we found the stabilization to be better when moving forward and backward in the same direction as the walker talking to the camera. Vlogging to the camera was smooth, and pointing the camera out as we walked forward also yielded decent results.

Once we introduced walking turns around street corners and panning there was a noticeable drop in quality, with the the stabilization trying to grab onto the framing and then releasing as it reached the limit of what it could correct, giving a jerky experience. It’s a very noticeable pain point that doesn’t come up often, but it can make your work look amateur when it does.

Another option is bypassing the in-camera stabilization to use Sony’s “Catalyst Browse” software. The camera records movement metadata from its IS sensors, making it possible to take unstabilized footage into the software and utilize the greater processing power of a computer, rather than expecting the camera to deliver results in real time. With this software, our stabilization results ranged from decent to marginally better. The extra steps to take this route are cumbersome and bring to question the camera’s design ethos of steering users toward auto settings to make things quick and easy.


Audio performance

The ZV-1 Mark II has a directional 3-capsule microphone that can be set to auto or manually to capture directional sound from the front, back or all around. It is the same system used in the original ZV-1.

We tried a few simple tests to evaluate how much separation the microphones produce between the audio we want (a person talking to the camera) and the ambient noise in the environment. The results were mixed.

In Auto, the camera does its best in quiet and outdoor spaces but struggles indoors and in noisy environments, such as windy beaches or heavily trafficked city streets. Reverb is an issue with all audio capture, but on the ZV-1 mark II it is particularly bad indoors and gets worse as the distance between the speaker and camera increases. Auto audio mode struggles to discern where sound is coming from in these environments, and it’s a guessing game if it will decide to use omnidirectional pick-up, recognize where the speaker’s voice is coming from, or get fixated on the reverb source in the room.

We also noticed when rotating the camera 180 degrees, (Read more…)