Sony ZV-1 first impressions Review

Could the Sony ZV-1 be the vlogging camera we've been waiting for?

Sony ZV-1 review
Review

Price when reviewed

£700

$749.99
Check current price

Our Verdict

With the obvious caveat that I've still to actually get my hands on the Sony ZV-1, I'm pretty excited about it. It seems to deliver everything that a vlogger could wish for in a compact camera, and crucially it comes with Sony's excellent AF system. There are features to help inexperienced photographers/videographers/vloggers get good results, the grip is designed with holding it in selfie mode in mind and exposure can be controlled automatically or manually. Add in the built-in ND filter plus Log and Gamma control and it's a very enticing camera for vloggers.

For

  • Designed specifically for vloggers but also a capable stills camera
  • Stabilised 4K video
  • Vari-angle touchscreen

Against

  • No viewfinder built-in
What is the Sony ZV1?

Vlogging has become very popular and lots of people are trying videoing themselves for the first time. However, it’s estimated that over 70% of vlogs are recorded on a phone. Sony is hoping to change that with the introduction of the Sony ZV-1, a 201.1Mp compact camera that is specifically designed for vlogging. Of course, that doesn’t mean it can’t be used for shooting stills, but unlike most compact cameras, the key focus of its design is videography and vlogging.

Specification

  • Camera type: Compact
  • Announced: 26th May 2020
  • Sensor: 20.1Mp 1-inch type (13.2mm x 8.8mm) Exmor RS CMOS
  • Lens: Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 9.4-25.7mmm (24-70mm equivalent) f/1.8-2.8
  • Autofocus: 315 focal-plane phase-detection AF points
  • Burst Mode: TBC
  • Video: 4K in-body movie recording with full pixel readout and no binning, Log & Gamma options, slow-mo at up to 1000fps
  • Viewfinder: No
  • Screen: Vari-angle 3-inch touchscreen
  • Hotshoe: Multi-interface (can connect an XLR mic via an adapter)
  • Storage: SD/SDHC/SDXC
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): TBC
  • Weight: 294g with battery and SD card or body only
Sony ZV-1 review
Features

Much of the specification on the Sony ZV-1 is familiar from the Sony RX100 series of compact cameras, but there are a few notable differences to make it better for vlogging.

No surprise then to learn that the ZV-1 has a 1-inch type stacked Exmor RS CMOS sensor with 20.1 million effective pixels. That’s a comparatively large sensor for a compact camera and, as we’ve seen with cameras like the Sony RX100 VII, it brings advantages for image quality.

In addition, the Exmor RS CMOS sensor brings phase-detection focusing – which is usually faster and more decisive than contrast detection. The ZV-1 has a total of 315 phase detection AF points which are available for use in stills and video mode.

Sony is leading the way with its autofocus systems at the moment and it’s great to see that the ZV-1 has Real-time Eye AF. That’s a feature that Sony introduced with its recent interchangeable lens cameras and it’s also featured in the RX100 VII. It does a great job of spotting eyes in a scene and getting them sharp, so it should be very useful for vlogging.

There are times, however, when Eye AF can get in the way. For example, vloggers often want to show something to their viewers but Eye AF can make it hard to get the product in focus. The Sony ZV-1 debuts a new ‘Product Showcase’ feature to counter this by deactivating the Eye AF and shifting the focus to the product in front of the camera. That’s handy for product reviews!

4K Video

Naturally, being targeted at video and vlogging enthusiasts, the ZV-1 is capable of shooting 4K footage and exposure can be controlled automatically or manually.

Sound is just as important as the image quality in video and the Sony ZV-1 offers a number of options for recording audio. The easiest is to use the built-in 3-capsule microphone. This uses technology from Sony’s advanced video camera systems and there’s a Clear Voice function that can reduce background noise while making human voices clearer.

Helpfully, there’s a fluffy dead cat type windshield supplied in the box with the ZV-1. This can be popped onto the built-in mic whenever it’s needed to cut down wind noise.

Alternatively, there’s a standard 3.5mm mic port on the ZX-1 so you can connect an external mic. This could be a lavalier, shotgun or hand-held mic, or a wireless system like the excellent Rode Wireless Go.

The third option is to connect an external mic via an adapter in the multi-interface hotshoe. This could be a professional-level XLR mic.

In another move to attracted vloggers, the ZV-1’s 3-inch screen is mounted on a vari-angle hinge that allows it to be viewed from in front of the camera. This paired with the Real-time Eye AF and 4K video capability could be a winning combination.
Experienced videographers will be pleased to learn that the ZV-1 has both Log and Gamma control modes to enable it to produce footage that’s more suited to grading.

Exposure control

Another problem that vloggers often face when they’re shooting on the move is that the exposure can change as the lighting changes. However, the Sony ZV-1 has a Face Priority autoexposure algorithm that can be activated to detect and prioritise the face in the frame. This should keep the exposure of the face the same while letting the background get lighter or darker depending upon the changing conditions.

Further good news is that the ZV-1 has a built-in ND filter to enable wide apertures to be used along with the comparatively slow shutter speeds required when shooting video.

Versatile lens

Sony has given the ZV-1 a ZEISS Vario-Sonnar T* 9.4-25.7mm f/1.8-2.8 lens. That means that the focal length is equivalent to 24-70mm in 35mm camera terms. That’s a handy focal length range that’s suitable for capturing a range of subjects, from landscapes to portraits.

Crucially for vloggers, 24mm is a good focal length for recording yourself while holding the camera at arm’s length.

Also, the maximum aperture, f/1.8 at the widest point and f/2.8 at the longest, should enable the background to be blurred. Furthermore, there’s a new ‘Bokeh Switch’ feature, which by default is assigned to the C1 button. This is designed to enable inexperienced videographers to open the aperture for greater background blur.

Bokeh Switch effectively puts the ZV-1 in aperture priority mode at the widest aperture and makes use of the shutter speed, sensitivity and built-in neutral density (ND) filter to deliver the correct exposure.

There’s also a ‘Soft Skin Effect’ feature that is said to reduce the visibility of wrinkles and skin marks while keeping the eyes and mouth sharp for more flattering footage

The lens is stabilised and combined with the onboard digital system, the ZV-1 is said to have 11x better stabilisation than the RX100 VA. Will it be effective enough to enable walking hand-held 4K footage?

Sony ZV-1 review
Build and Handling

Unsurprisingly, the ZV-1 looks quite a bit like a Sony RX100-series camera and it has a similar menu layout.

I’m intrigued by its new grip shape which is designed to make the camera more comfortable to hold in selfie mode. Sony is the first manufacturer to really do something like that and it could be quite a bonus.

Sony also offers the GP-VPT2BT and VCT-SGR1 grips that can attach to the ZV-1 via the tripod bush and connect via cable or Bluetooth to give an alternative way of holding and controlling the camera. They seem like a powerful combination for vloggers.

I’m very pleased to see a vari-angle screen on a Sony camera. Sony has seemed strangely resistant to using them, but they are very useful. In this instance, it’s essential for giving a vlogger the view they need when filming themself.

In addition, it’s good to see that the record button on the top-plate of the ZV1 is nice and big. I’m so over trying to press small, fiddly buttons to get a camera to start recording.

Sony ZV-1 review
Performance

We’re in pretty familiar territory with a 20.1Mp 1-inch type stacked CMOS sensor in a Sony camera and the equivalent of a 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens. It’s a combination we’ve seen before, for example in the Sony RX100 V, and that performs well.

However, we’re not going to make any assumptions about the Sony ZV-1. Obviously the image and video quality is very important, and I’ll test that fully as soon as I can, but what distinguishes it from a comparable RX100 camera is its potential as a vlogging camera.

The autofocus (AF) system plays a key role in a vlogging camera, especially when you’re shooting at a wide aperture to get shallow depth of field. If the AF system misses the target, the degree of blur makes the miss pretty obvious. I’m fairly confident that the Sony ZV-1 will get the focus right most of the time, but I’m looking forward to checking it out.

I’m also looking forward to seeing how the internal mic performs with its windshield fitted. It would be a nice neat solution if it can be relied upon for good audio when you’re out and about.

Another key question I’ll be looking to answer is how effective the image stabilisation is. According to Sony, it’s 11x better than the stabilisation in the RX100 VA, but will it be enough to make 4K footage look acceptable if you’re walking and shooting?

Read our Sony RX100 V review

Sony ZV-1 review
Early verdict

On paper, and on the basis of what I’ve seen and heard, the Sony ZV-1 seems like a great camera for vloggers. I was impressed with the Canon PowerShot G X 7 Mark III when I tested it, but it’s possible that the ZV-1 has a slight edge.

It’s clear that Sony has really gone back to the beginning when it was designing the ZV-1. Rather than creating a compact camera that can also be used for vlogging, it has put vlogging at the centre of the stage. If it is almost as easy to use as a mobile phone but delivers the image and video quality we’ve come to expect from a Sony RX100 camera, it could be a winner for vloggers.

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