The best pocket vlogging camera available right now is the Sony ZV-1. It combines the greatest video capabilities of the Sony RX100 series, including its industry-leading autofocus technology, with design changes that make it perfect for filming YouTube videos at home or while on the go.
Its key selling point is the marriage of Sony’s Real-time tracking and Real-time Eye AF technologies with a brilliant 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens. Together, they make it simple to capture high-quality vlogs with enticing background blur and stable focus thanks to the ZV-1’s 1-inch sensor, which is bigger than those in today’s smartphones.
Similar to a Sony RX100 Mark V that has been modified for YouTubers is the Sony ZV-1. Although the final product isn’t flawless, it does address the majority of the concerns we had with the Mark V’s video shooting capabilities. It’s one of the few tiny cameras, along with the Canon G7X Mark III, that was made primarily for video.
First, the highlights. The side-hinged articulating touchscreen is the coolest new feature. In order to attach accessories to the top and bottom of the camera, this type of screen is preferable over one that tilts when recording video. Importantly, it can turn 180 degrees to face forward, enabling individuals running one-person YouTube channels to set up their pictures without the need for a second person to operate the camera.
Regrettably, Sony’s touchscreen capabilities are still somewhat constrained. While you cannot navigate menus or even zoom in on photographs, you can tap the screen to change the focus in videos, for example. It’s unfortunate for a camera intended largely for those upgrading from smartphones, but the side-hinged screen does have the advantage of leaving space for a hotshoe on top of the camera.
The Sony RX100 series’ electronic viewfinder is replaced with this hotshoe. For a stills-focused camera, losing a built-in EVF would be a significant loss. If you require an all-purpose camera for both images and video, keep this in mind. Although not nearly as much as we’d anticipated, it makes sense for a vlogging camera like the ZV-1 because its target market will mostly be utilizing the screen as a viewfinder. It also helps to lower the ZV-1’s price.
It’s a huge advantage to have the ability to connect in extras like LED lights or external mics to the hotshoe. The ZV-1 does not require an extra bracket for mounting, in contrast to the Sony RX100 VII. This leads us to another perk of the ZV-1 for vloggers: a 3.5mm mic input.
A 3.5mm port is crucial for vlogging cameras since it is useless to record stunning video if the audio doesn’t match. On the top plate of the Sony ZV-1, there is an upgraded built-in microphone that is a three-directional capsule mic with left, center, and right channels.
Moreover, Sony includes a “dead cat” windscreen with the ZV-1 that attaches to the hotshoe and reduces wind noise while filming outside. Yet, as we’ll see in a moment, an external microphone is still far superior to any built-in alternative, making the 3.5mm connection a critical addition.
The addition of a microUSB connector below the mic port is quite unwelcome. Although it’s not a deal-breaker, we anticipate that all new cameras will include USB-C connections in the near future for quick charging and general ease. For instance, the Fujifilm X-T4 includes a USB-C headphone converter that enables you to listen to your recordings while they are being made, which is not possible with the ZV-1. Yet, the Sony ZV-1 isn’t entirely dormant when it comes to charging—you can at least do so while the camera is in use.
You won’t find the Sony ZV-1’s two more practical design improvements on the RX100 VII or any of its predecessors. The first is a little hand grip. Although it doesn’t fundamentally alter the ZV-1’s behavior, this is another another function that many owners of cameras from the RX100 series have added using third-party attachments. Finally, the video recording button is now the same size as the stills shutter button for the first time on a Sony camera.
Although they may not seem vital, these are actually rather significant. They distinguish the ZV-1 as a video-first camera that can also take still photos in contrast to the RX100 series. The presence of a side-flipping screen, hotshoe, and mic port make the ZV-1 the greatest pocketable tool available for vloggers and YouTubers, even though you lose out on features like an EVF and lens control ring.
Lens and autofocus
The Sony ZV-1 combines the lens of the Sony RX100 Mark V (or at least a slightly modified version of it) with Sony’s most recent Bionz X CPU and focusing capabilities, which is what many vloggers have been clamoring for.
Why not use the 24-200mm lens used on the previous two Sony RX100 cameras instead of the 24-70mm lens from the Mark V? simply because the former’s brighter f/1.8-2.8 aperture makes it more suited to vlogging. This works well with the camera’s 1-inch sensor to provide some pleasant background blur for your films, and the ability to shoot at lower ISOs in comparable circumstances also has a positive impact on still images (albeit at the expense of that longer 200mm reach).
The ZV-1’s main strength is its brilliant lens’ combination with some of Sony’s most recent Real-time focusing technology. This is made possible by the cooperation of that 1-inch, 20.1MP stacked CMOS sensor with 315 phase-detect AF points covering 65% of the frame and the Bionz X processor (also found in the full-frame Sony Alpha A9 II).
What does all of this actually mean? The ZV-1’s hybrid autofocus, so named because it combines phase detect and contrast-detect AF systems, enables it to concentrate on moving subjects faster and with greater assurance than rivals with contrast-only autofocus, such as the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III.
Also, you get Sony’s most recent Real-time Tracking and Real-time Eye AF (for humans), which are without a doubt the greatest features available in a small camera for recording subjects in motion. If you have Face and Eye AF tracking set, the ZV-1 will automatically switch to the latter when it recognizes a person’s face, making it simple to keep moving objects in focus.
While shooting at apertures like f/1.8, it may be quite easy to lose focus on a face, therefore this is especially crucial for vlogging cameras with bright lenses. Yet other than the times we were too near to the lens, we discovered that the ZV-1 performed a great job of following our gaze for the most of the frame.
What more video-friendly features does the Sony ZV-1 provide in addition to its outstanding autofocus? a tremendous lot, which isn’t necessarily beneficial for usability.
Sony has taken a few steps to make the ZV-1 a little more user-friendly for novices because their camera menus are notorious for being about as user-friendly as a book of hieroglyphics.
Two new default settings are among them for the two custom buttons on the camera. The first of them, referred to as the “Bokeh switch,” will instantaneously switch to an aperture wide open to give your film a blurred backdrop. Unlike to smartphone “portrait” settings, this shortcut is only based on conventional optics; there is no computational trickery involved.
The second custom button, dubbed “Product display,” was created especially for YouTubers who focus on reviews and may be more beneficial.
Again, activating this has no additional functionality beyond what is available in the options, but doing so immediately disables Face and Eye priority AF as well as SteadyShot stabilization, making a tripod essential in this mode. This implies that when you hold a product in front of the camera, the focus will be locked on it rather than on your face. This works rather well because to the quick focusing of the ZV-1.
It’s unfortunate that the ZV-1 otherwise seems quite similar to a tiny camera from the RX100 series, and when you contrast its user interface with modern touchscreen programs like Filmic Pro, it might seem archaic. Be prepared to spend a lot of time configuring custom menus and navigating the ZV-1’s menus.
To be fair, the ZV-1 has a lot of capabilities, many of which are geared for expert video shooters, which contributes to its complexity. As a result, it now has a remarkable level of depth for a little camera.
For instance, the built-in ND filter is back, which is wonderful. With the previous two RX100 cameras, this feature was dropped, but it is now practically necessary for getting smooth movement in movies on sunny days as it enables you to film with slower shutter speeds without having to stop the lens down.
If you go a little further, you’ll discover compositional tools like focus peaking and zebra patterns, as well as all of Sony’s image profiles, including S-Log2, S-Log3, and Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG), for those who want to color-grade their video to extract the maximum dynamic range possible.
What about parameters that are changed more frequently, such options for resolution and frame rate? The ZV-1 can capture 4K footage at a maximum 30p, just as the RX100 Mark VII. It’s unfortunate that it lacks a 4K/60p option, but at least its 4K footage is produced using oversampling rather of pixel binning, which is a better way to get a 4K image from the 20.1MP sensor and prevents jagged, pixelated edges.
Of course, if you don’t mind recording at 1080p, there are quicker frame rates available, as well as Sony’s remarkable super slow-mo choices, which go all the way up to an amazing 960 frames per second.
In the performance section, we’ll discuss the quality loss in detail along with the stability and battery life of the ZV-1.
Vlogging cameras require exceptional picture stabilization in addition to great focusing, a forward-facing screen, and decent audio choices to aid stabilize handheld recording. Here is where the Sony ZV-1 falls short the most out of those four functions.
By no means would I say that its SteadyShot system is poor. Its strongest stabilization mode, “Active,” combines optical and electrical stabilization and is also compatible with 4K filming. As you can see in our test movies below, this is a crucial setting if you plan on performing any walkaround vlogging.
The issue with “Active” stabilization is that it slightly crops your footage in attempt to reduce the bounce that results from your walking movements. While not overly harsh, it does result in very little space around your face while holding the ZV-1 at arm’s length because its widest focal length is already a relatively close 24mm.
We still believe that this crop is suitable for handheld vlogging, especially given how well Sony’s Eye AF focusing performs. Nevertheless, if you want to mostly record strolling pictures while speaking to the camera, you may want to give it a try first.
It could also be worthwhile to examine alternatives or accessories if stability is crucial to you. As you can see in our comparison video up top, the GoPro Hero 8 Black and DJI Osmo Mobile 3 (when used with a smartphone) both provide better picture stabilization than the Sony ZV-1. The Sony ZV-1 with a gimbal like the Zhiyan Crane M2 may be the best of both worlds; we’ll update our review after we’ve had a chance to test that pairing.
The internal three-capsule microphone of the ZV-1 produces respectable audio for a small camera. As our demonstration video up top demonstrates, the accompanying “dead cat” windscreen is especially crucial if you’re going outside in windy weather.
Nevertheless, the focus motors of the camera will undoubtedly cause some noise interference, so if you want to record audio as good as your films, you need use the ZV-1 in conjunction with an additional microphone.
Thankfully, the 3.5mm microphone connector on the side makes it feasible, and there are many different microphone alternatives available, from the Sony ECM-XYST1M Stereo Microphone to something more covert like the Rode Wireless Go. If you’re just getting started, an inexpensive lavalier (or “lav” lapel mic) is an affordable method to improve the audio on the ZV-1 as well, especially if you’ll be speaking mostly to the camera.
The Sony ZV-1 does feature the same slow-motion capabilities as the RX100 series, which is a little more entertaining. These possibilities range from 250 to 1000 frames per second, while the latter two suffer significantly from resolution and quality losses. Although we’d often stay away from such, the ZV-1’s narrow depth of field works well with the 250 frames per second setting. The main drawbacks are that you can only record four-second clips and that it is still difficult to set up the slow-motion settings.
How does the Sony ZV-1’s battery life do considering the number of processing-intensive recording modes it has? Not very well, as expected; it can only fit the same NP-BX1 battery as the RX100 VII, which equates to about 260 photos or 45 minutes of video.
Although it is possible to use the camera when it is hooked into a battery pack or wall charger, it is advisable to take a backup battery or two with you. Another benefit is that while shooting 4K video, it is now possible to exceed the standard five-minute recording time restriction. To do this, set the “auto power off temp” to “high” and the camera will keep recording until the battery dies or the memory card is full.
While the ZV-1 was warm by the time we were finished recording a 44-minute continuous 4K video clip in this mode, it wasn’t hard to hold, and Sony claims that utilizing this mode won’t harm the camera in any way.
Image and video quality
The ZV-1 downsamples its video footage to 4K after oversampling it, just as the most current Sony RX100 cameras. This method yields finer results than competing methods like pixel binning, as seen by the 4K footage, which is extremely crisp and detailed with no crop unless you’re using “Active” stabilization.
It’s a little unfortunate that the ZV-1 doesn’t have a 4K/60p option because you could slow down 4K footage with no quality loss. It’s not a huge flaw, though, and the 4K/30p mode stands out for not having rolling shutter, a CMOS sensor side effect that may occasionally produce distorted lines during rapid panning motions.
The ZV-1 inherently suffers a little more in lower light due to its 1-inch sensor, but the built-in ND filter also helps to make movement pleasant and smooth in bright circumstances. Picture profiles like S-Log2 can help you extract more detail from scenes with extreme contrast, but you’ll need to be confident with color grading before you try it.
The hue and exposure of human features is one aspect of image quality that Sony has focused heavily on with the ZV-1. Sony claims to have developed a “optimized color algorithm” based on user feedback that ensures skin tones are realistic no matter where you are from. In order to ensure that the vlogger’s face appears bright and well-exposed in all lighting circumstances, the ZV-1 reportedly allegedly employs its facial recognition technology to obtain exposure readings.
Although we haven’t yet had a chance to test it on a variety of faces, this has definitely worked rather well in our experience. The ZV-1’s skin smoothing effect was one item we did change, though; it is rather powerful by default, so we erred on the side of turning it to “low” or off completely. The greater skin smoothing varieties still appear a little too artificial for our tastes, despite Sony’s efforts to make it more natural-looking than many comparable smartphone options.
Must I get the Sony ZV-1?
Get it if
You want a powerful, portable vlogging camera.
The greatest little camera for YouTubers so far is the Sony ZV-1. It simply slips into your pocket and captures 4K video that rivals that of a smartphone, making it the perfect travel companion. The ZV-1 is the greatest camera in its weight class, but bigger cameras like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III are even more capable.
You desire the top focusing system available.
The brilliant lens and industry-leading focusing mechanism of the Sony ZV-1, which combined are excellent for vlogging or shooting anything at close range, are its key advantage over smartphones. This is the greatest pocket camera for video bokeh until smartphone manufacturers figure out how to fully master it.