Sony ZV-1 Review

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”Sony’s return to their heritage created the best entry-level mirrorless camera to date.”

Introduction

Initially released in the summer of 2020, Sony’s ZV-1 is a brand new lineup that departs from the long-standing CyberShot designation. It’s a new entry into the compact point & shoot arena they aim for, specifically for videographers, YouTubers, and vloggers. On paper, it looks to be similar to Sony’s existing RX100 lineup in several ways. And it inherits several proven successful features from both the RX100 V and VII.But, unlike the RX100 series, which tend to be rather expensive, Sony aims this camera at the entry-level crowd. And for new users looking to enter the world of visual content creation.

But, considering this is the first camera they’ve explicitly designed for vloggers and YouTubers, is it worthy to sway users away from Canon’s existing lineup of content-first options? Sony’s claiming big promises, but will those live up to the real-world realities? In today’s post, we assess its strengths and weaknesses and address whether this new release is worthwhile for aspiring creators.vlog-camera-screen-zv1

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony ZV-1? 

Pros:

Image Quality

It sports a 1-inch 20.1MP Exmor RS CMOS sensor and the BIONZ X processor, a similar setup as the recent RX100 lineup. And considering most compact cameras in this segment offer a 1/2.3-inch sensor, the sensor on this camera is among the largest in this category.

It also marks another Sony camera to inherit their new color science, a change first introduced in the A7 Mark III. With that, this camera offers a tweaked Standard color profile that provides more flattering skin tones.

And Sony’s explicitly developed this camera by researching various skin tones and ethnicities. So that the camera now automatically adjusts its color rendering to make every skin tone look natural and healthy.

Combined with its updated color science and large sensor, the image quality produced is on a high level. The colors are natural and pleasing, and the images are sharp with ample dynamic range.

The camera also features a ZEISS Vario-Sonnar 24–70 mm f/1.8-2.8 equivalent lens, taken from the RX100 V.  And this lens has a 3-stop neutral density (ND) filter built-in, which reduces ambient light.

Combined with its excellent aperture and Zeiss coatings, the lens produces image quality that punches far above its weight. And it provides a nice shallow depth of field and a real possibility of capturing usable low light images.

The camera also offers continuous shooting speeds of 24 fps in the high-speed burst mode, which makes it well-suited for sports and action sequences.

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Video Quality

It features uncropped 4K UHD video up to 30 fps and 1080p full HD up to 120 fps, with a full pixel readout. Both video modes shoot to the XAVC S format with a bit rate of 100 Mbps. The quality of the footage this camera produces is excellent and on a high level. It’s extraordinarily sharp, with reasonable dynamic range, and offers the same pleasing colors as stills.And in the spirit of the higher-end a6000 series, this camera also sports unlimited video recording. So, you can record indefinitely, so long as your battery or SD cards allow.

Note: The camera’s default Auto Turn-off setting disables 4K recording after 5 minutes to prevent overheating. To shoot unlimited video, you’ll need to change the temperature setting from Standard to High.

Also new for this camera is the vertical video format. And now, the camera saves the shooting orientation as a part of the metadata for proper vertical playback on smartphones. To date, it’s the only camera to obtain this feature. But, it’s helpful and saves time in editing, when uploading for Instagram or Facebook stories.

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Videographers will also rejoice, knowing the camera acquires all of the advanced Picture Profiles Sony offers, including their S-Log, Cine, Rec709, and HLG profiles.

The camera also inherits Proxy Recording from the a6000 series, which simultaneously records a low-bit-rate 720p movie when recording higher XAVC S videos. This mode is perfect for transferring the captured footage to a smartphone for immediate sharing online.

It also inherits the Slow & Quick Mode from previous RX100 models, which allows the camera to produce super-slow-motion or quick-motion videos. In this case, it records videos at 240, 480, or 960 fps for ultra slow-motion.

And it slows down the footage automatically to the selected frame rate of choice. However, this mode does reduce image quality. And the camera only shoots these videos in short bursts of a few seconds, so proper timing is key.

You can also capture still images during video recording. And these sizes range from 17MP’s to 4.2MP’s in size. Helpful.

The camera also provides a clean 8-bit 4:2:2 output via HDMI out, for use with external recorders.

Low Light Performance

Low light performance is good for a compact camera. It features a native ISO range from ISO 100 to 12,800, and users can expect usable results up to ISO 3,200.

Focusing Performance

It obtains Sony’s latest Fast Hybrid AF system, where 315 points use phase-detection, and 425 points use contrast-detection. This system also acquires Sony’s acclaimed Real-Time AF for both stills and video plus Eye AF for humans and animals.

It’s a similar iteration as their higher-end a6000 and a7 series, which uses machine learning and AI to perform subject recognition. And focusing is essentially perfect.

The focus virtually never hunts or drifts from a subject. It recognizes faces and eyes immediately, even when they turn in profile or wearing accessories. And for casual users and the demographic this camera aims, it’s perfect and easily class-leading.

Sony claims this system obtains focus as fast as 0.03 seconds. And while challenging to test individually, the focusing is incredibly fast, tenacious, and accurate. With this camera, autofocus is now at a point where you can entirely forget about it, and that’s quite impressive to see.

For those who prefer manually focusing, the camera offers focus magnification and focus peaking.

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Display & Viewfinder

It features a 3.0-inch touchscreen TFT LCD with a resolution of 921K dots. And it now officially marks the first Sony compact camera to obtain a side-hinged, fully articulating screen and the first camera to bring this to market.

All other rivals, including Sony’s RX100 lineup, employ tilting screens, be it flip-up or flip-down. This design, however, is the ideal choice as it provides maximum versatility for both high or low-angle shooting. It also removes any of the issues that occur with blocking due to the use of accessories.

The screen itself also provides excellent viewing angles and enough brightness for shooting outdoors. It’s reasonably sharp with good color rendering. And since it’s a touchscreen, it also supports helpful gestures such as touch focus, touch shutter, and tracking.

Also of note, if you close the screen facing inwards, the camera automatically shuts off, helpful.

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User Interface

It features the standard Sony interface and user menus. There are some subtle differences. But, if you’re familiar with the Sony menus, you’ll be immediately familiar with this camera operation. And newcomers will find them moderately easy to navigate and master, though they are still quite lengthy.It obtains the customizable Function Menu (FN), which allows users to access 12 most used functions for quick access.

It obtains the customizable My Menu, which allows users to add their favorite settings to a single menu page and save time digging through the main menus.

The camera obtains the Memory Recall (MR) shooting mode, allowing users to create three sets of custom shooting setups for immediate access.

The camera provides two customizable buttons, C1-C2.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

At first glance, you’ll immediately see the resemblance with Sony’s RX100 lineup. And like the RX100, this camera is also extremely compact and lightweight, weighing 267g body alone. However, unlike that series, Sony’s successfully re-imaged the RX100 form factor for video-centric creators.

And comparatively, this camera offers some notable changes videographers will surely appreciate. Firstly, it houses all of the dedicated ports on the opposite side of the side-hinged screen, a subtle change.

But, one that removes any hassle or frustrations when using accessories, and a change most manufacturers usually overlook. Secondly, it features a very large and conveniently placed Video Record button.

Interestingly, it’s the largest button on the entire body, which makes it super easy to find. Lastly, they’ve added a grip handle, which significantly improves the handling and comfort of the camera. This change, in particular, is greatly appreciated, as ergonomics on the RX100 is one of their weak points. Overall, the ergonomics and form factor on this camera are excellent, considering its compact size.

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The camera offers a dedicated zoom lever for smooth and gradual zoom control.

It marks the first camera to feature Background Defocus, which Sony also calls the Bokeh Switch. They mapped this feature to Custom Button (C1) by default. What it does is that it simplifies achieving a soft out of focus background.

And it offers a simple and intuitive solution to switch between levels of background blur (bokeh). And with the flick of the switch, you can change between a sharp background or a soft background, without needing to understand the principles of depth of field.

And it makes getting a blurry background incredibly automatic and straightforward. If you’re curious how it works, it sets the lens wide open at f/1.8 and automatically adjusts shutter speed and ISO to maintain proper exposure. It’s similar to Aperture Priority mode, but it changes the settings in real-time for accurate exposure.

The camera features a Tally Lamp, a light on the front face that indicates when video recording is on. Helpful to ensure you don’t accidentally forget to hit the record button.

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Niche Features/Extras

It has a built-in panorama.

It has a built-in intervalometer for time-lapses.

It features a microphone input. And you can adjust the audio levels via the menu.

The camera obtains Sony’s multi-interface hot shoe from the RX100 lineup, allowing users to connect Sony’s shotgun microphones without using cables.

The camera supports USB charging and continuous power, perfect for charging on the go or live streaming.

It features what Sony calls a three-capsule microphone, which is a unique set of forward-facing internal microphones. This design and structure uses spatial filtering to capture audio in front of the camera, without picking up distracting ambient sounds. And interestingly, Sony even includes a windscreen (Dead Cat) that attaches to the hot shoe.

Attaching the windscreen improves recording quality dramatically. And it’s quite rare to see one specialty built for use right out of the box. However, the caveat is that it takes up the entire hot shoe, making it unavailable during use. Nevertheless, it’s exciting to see Sony address the poor audio quality that typically plagues most built-in microphones with this update. And the fact they’ve optimized it without the need for special accessories is a welcomed touch.

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It features the new Soft Skin Effect, which softens the image quality to create more pleasing skin tones with smoother gradations. This effect also has three levels of intensity, which helps tailor its impact based on the shooting situation.

It features SteadyShot Image Stabilization, which blends both Optical Stabilization (O.I.S) with Electronic Stabilization (E.I.S). It’s a similar lens-based system taken from the RX100 VII camera. And this system provides three levels of intensity, ranging from Standard to Active. And the most aggressive option, Active, works quite well to provide very smooth videos.

The caveat here is that enabling this mode results in a 1.2x crop into the frame, effectively increasing the lens’s focal length 28mm at the wide end. Considering that 24mm is already cutting it close, the additional crop eliminates most of the camera’s wide-angle ability. Thankfully, Sony’s recognized this is an issue. And even if SteadyShot is disabled entirely, the camera remembers the gyroscopic measurements and embeds the information into the file.

And, surprisingly, you can enable stabilization in post using Sony’s Imaging Edge software. Overall, this is one of the better image stabilization systems in a recent compact camera, and well suited for most applications.

The camera features the new Smart Auto-Exposure (AE) function, which optimizes the exposure for faces. This is a new type of AE that prioritizes the subject’s face as the marker for proper exposure. Essentially, this new algorithm makes sure that the face is always evenly exposed, rather than the background or the brightest sections of the image. And it acts as a spot exposure that recognizes faces and colors in skin tones. It’s an excellent addition that works well when filming in changing lighting conditions and does a good job of making sure the subject’s face stays evenly lit.

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The camera offers built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. And you can remotely control the camera and transfer images using Sony’s Imaging Edge app. It also now has a movie add-on, which lets you also edit footage directly on your phone for sharing online, nice.

New for this camera is the Product Showcase Setting. It provides a fast and precise focus transition from you to the featured product. By default, Sony maps this feature to Custom Button 2, C2. And basically, this mode temporarily disables Eye AF, then quickly focuses on the object closest to the camera by widening the field of view.

Just hold a product in front of the camera, and it’ll immediately focus transition to it, which is perfect for reviewers. To date, it’s the only camera to provide this feature. But it greatly simplifies the process of showcasing products for creators.

Note: Product Showcase disables the camera stabilization. So if you’re using this mode, it’s best to have the camera on a tripod.

The camera ships with the optional Wireless Commander Grip with dedicated shutter release, video record, zoom, and background defocus. This grip connects wirelessly via Bluetooth and also doubles as a tripod.

You can even use the grip to shoot vertical videos without rotating the footage later. And overall, it’s an excellent addition and a worthwhile option if it suits your needs that generally makes the camera a lot easier to use.

Cons:

Image Performance

The camera only offers a 1-inch sensor, which means it’s not particularly strong in low light. And this also means if you want maximum background blur and subject separation, subjects will have to stay relatively close to the camera.

As you start to move further from the camera, the depth of field isn’t nearly as shallow as an APS-C or full-frame equipped camera.

The lens doesn’t offer a mechanism to attach external neutral density filters. If you want to add extra ND, you’ll have to modify the lens slightly to install them.

Video Capabilities

Like many cameras in this class, it too suffers from rolling shutter when panning. With that, take caution when panning quickly to avoid the distortion that occurs.

Battery Life

Battery life isn’t great. It inherits the same NP-BX1 battery as the RX100 series cameras. Sony rates the camera at 260 shots per charge or 75 minutes of video recording. Typically, a 350 shot lifespan is the industry standard for a compact camera. Thus, you’ll need extra batteries with this camera for longer shoots.

Display

It lacks a built-in electronic viewfinder. If you want this feature, you’ll have to consider Sony’s RX100 series instead.

Menus

Sony continues to use the same non-touch interface and menus, a shame considering rivals offer this ability. With that, you’ll have to navigate the entire camera using the rear d-pad.

Ergonomics

Like most compact cameras, both the battery and SD cards live in the same slot underneath the camera. And unfortunately, it makes quickly changing either tedious when using the commander grip or tripod.

Lacking Features

It lacks a headphone input.

The camera lacks a built-in pop-up flash. However, it’s a worthy trade-off for the updated microphone. If you want this feature specifically, you’ll have to consider Sony’s RX100 series instead.

It lacks built-in sensor-shift stabilization, which makes sense considering its size.

Unlike the RX100 series, it lacks the customizable function ring that surrounds the lens barrel. This ring was helpful for manually focusing, and also doubled as a function button. Now without this ring, manual focusing occurs using only the camera’s d-pad.

Which unfortunately, is incredibly difficult, slow, and less intuitive than the focusing ring. Overall, unless desperately needed, avoid manually focusing on this camera.

The camera lacks weather sealing.

Is this a good beginner camera?

Yes.

This is an excellent beginner’s camera for the price. It offers class-leading autofocusing performance and a competitive feature set in a small form factor. Features like Smart Auto-Exposure and Background Defocus make this camera a strong choice for those wanting to get results immediately without any fuss. Sony designed this camera to be as easy to use as possible.

For that reason, it’s an excellent beginner’s camera for those desiring to jump into the world content creation. And to date, it is the best camera in the class for this purpose.

What are the best lenses & bundles for the Sony ZV-1?

Extra Batteries:

Sony NP-BX1

SD Cards:

SanDisk Extreme PRO 64GB 
SanDisk Extreme PRO 128GB

Tripod:

Manfrotto Compact Action Aluminum 5-Section Tripod

Commander Grip:

Sony Wireless Bluetooth Shooting Grip and Tripod

Microphones:

Sony ECMGZ1M Gun / Zoom Microphone
Sony ECMXYST1M Stereo Microphone

Is this a good camera for you?

Yes.

In the end, Sony’s ZV-1 is a home run release on Sony’s part. It’s an excellent camera that’s perfect for the target audience. And one that goes a step above the competition in automation and features that make the process of creating great content that much easier. Is it perfect? No. But, considering its only real limitation is battery life, it’s flaws are mostly negligible.

It delivers a large 1-inch sensor, high-end lens, unfailing autofocus, unlimited 4K video, log profiles, a mic input, and an articulating screen. Compared to rivals, it’s a slam dunk, particularly for vloggers. And these features combine to make this camera the current leader of the class in the sub $1000 compact segment. It’s clear that Sony listened to the feedback from their community, and that feedback has created the perfect vlogging camera.

And hands down the best option on the market to date. Sure, in many ways, this camera is just the amalgamation of the best features and recent successes from various RX100 releases. But, even so, it’s something special. And while it doesn’t replace their existing RX lineup, it’s an excellent companion tool for current shooters.

And an option that surprisingly provides better value for those specifically looking at purchasing the RX100 VII. All this considered, this camera makes it extraordinarily easy to create content. And, if you’re looking for the complete point & shoot camera, this is your best option.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
3.8

Summary

With the ZV-1, it’s apparent Sony’s listened to user feedback. And they’ve gone far above our expectations with this camera release, with a feature set that now makes them the leader of the class in the sub $1000 compact segment. And the current top dog for vloggers and aspiring content creators.