Sony ZV-1 Review: the All-In-One Compact for Content

If you make content but you don’t speak camera, Sony has your back. The ZV-1, Sony’s compact do-it-all camera hit the scene in June and immediately made waves with its long list of innovative features designed especially for video content creators who don’t want to mess around with multiple lenses or large camera bodies.

What’s it do?

At just over 10cm long, 6cm tall and 4cm wide, and weighing in at under 300g WITH the memory card and battery in place, the ZV-1 is immense in its convenience. This camera will fit in any designer backpack, coat pocket or handbag with no trouble, and you’ll barely even notice you’re carrying it with you. 

Don’t let its size fool you though – the ZV-1 sports a 20.1 megapixel CMOS sensor, 4K video, high frame rate slow-motion video modes, a side-flipping screen for forward-facing monitoring, and a bright 24-70mm lens with maximum aperture f1.8 at the widest end, and f2.8 at its most zoomed in.

What does this mean? It means enviable slow motion B-roll sequences, incredible ease of use, great performance in low light, and crispy photos and videos with actual background bokeh – that lovely blurriness that makes the foreground person or object pop. That last one is a huge feat in itself for a compact camera.

It can also shoot raw stills, which means maximum photo editing potential, though you might need to update Adobe Camera Raw to read them if you haven’t in a while.

Who is it for?

The ZV-1 was designed specifically for video content creators – your Youtubers, Tiktokers and IGTV aficionados – and trust me when I say they’ve thought of everything you might need for creators in that space.

Makeup and beauty vloggers need never hold their hand up behind a product to help their camera focus again – Product Showcase Mode makes the camera aware you’ll be needing quick shifts in focus, and keeps it ready at the touch of a button. The feature comes automatically programmed to the C2 button on the bottom right of the back of the body. I was shocked at how quickly it changes focus in this situation – usually cameras struggle a bit with rapid focus shifts or deciding what to focus on outside of an eye- or face-detection situation, so seeing this tiny compact conquer such a long-running struggle blew me away. Of course it’s designed with showcasing products in mind, given the name of the feature, but I could see it being handy for a whole host of other creators too. For me personally, I often make dance video content, and focusing on a person rapidly approaching the camera has been a tricky thing for most cameras to cope with. The ZV-1 on product showcase mode wouldn’t have any trouble.

Another one-touch feature that makes life easier is C1 button’s “Bokeh Switch”. Want more background blur, or less, but don’t want to get into the technicalities of what aperture means and how to use it? Hit that C1 button to activate Bokeh Switch and you can have all the creamy blurry goodness without any of the Skillshare classes. It won’t look quite like f1.8 looks on an interchangeable lens camera body, but it does give enough separation to be adequate and to look deliberate without needing to change to a manual or semi-automatic shooting mode.

Screen Queen

A flip-out touch screen is pretty standard these days, but I appreciate that the ZV-1’s is thoughtfully positioned. Flipping the screen out doesn’t block access to any of the camera’s other controls or inputs, so it won’t interfere with your shotgun microphone functionality. As someone who shoots top-down videos of art and bullet journalling, I found the flip-over point of the ZV-1’s screen – the point at which it determines the image needs to be turned upside down so that it displays the right way up when facing the same direction as the lens – happened a little late. That means the screen has to be almost completely facing the front before it flips the image upside down, when I would have loved for it to be a few degrees sooner.

Shot on the Sony ZV-1 1/40 sec, f3.5, ISO 125 Check out that background blur!

Magic Mic

Audio is important these days – I know this because people are still commenting on some of my earliest videos to tell me the music is too loud or the audio is crappy, even though they’re now 4 years old and I have learned to make not-crappy audio for all my videos since. Hopefully this won’t be a problem for bourgeoning content creators going forward – the ZV-1 has a directional 3-capsule mic that claims to record your voice clearly, even in a crowd, and even comes with an adorable fluffy wind screen that slots right onto the Multi-Interface shoe to perfectly cover the mic. Awww. I agree that it did pretty well, but in certain situations other microphones will still give a better result – and the presence of a mic input allows for that too. If you’d like to hear how the ZV-1’s audio checks out, watch the video embedded at the top of the article – I only used the ZV-1’s built-in mic for the entire time I was testing it.

Shoot 4K Forever (Sort Of)

I know we’re asking for a lot from such a small camera, but I would have loved to see the battery last a little longer. I’d even accept a bigger camera size to accommodate a larger battery if that’s what it took, but as it stands the battery will only get you around 45 minutes of video shooting. That’s not a long time for a run-and-gun vlogger, product reviewer or video essayist. It’s not a total dealbreaker – the ZV-1 can be charged from a portable battery pack or even plugged into the wall outlet and still operate while it charges, so for people who shoot long form video, there are options out there for you. Having to carry a portable charger does negate the convenient size of the camera a bit, so if it were me, I’d buy a few extra batteries and rotate them out as needed. 

Speaking of which – if you want to shoot 4K video for longer than 5 minutes at a time, you’ll need to go into the settings and change the “auto turn-off limit” to high. It’s automatically set to standard, which will cut you off at the 5 minute mark, as I learned the hard way, but changing this setting will let you record for as long as you like, limited only by the size of your memory card, battery life and the potential overheating of the camera.

It’s important to note that the tripod attachment screw is fairly close to the battery and memory card cover door on the bottom of the body, so if you’re mounting the camera on a tripod or grip, you’ll need to remove it in order to access the battery or memory card.

 

Shot on the Sony ZV-1 (pictured holding cameras that aren’t the ZV-1) 1/160 sec, f2.8, ISO 125

 

Slow It Down

High frame rate modes are so much fun, and a lot of us want the option to make fancy-pants slow-motion B-roll content to elevate our videos these days. The ZV-1 offers 250fps, 500fps and 1000fps options, which made throwing toys at my cat and capturing his expression as they hit him in the face so much fun. Really, watch the video at the top of the post – it’s worth it if only for that part. I didn’t kick up past 250fps because it was plenty slow enough for my liking. You only get three seconds of record time, so you’ve got to be ready to go, but you’ll soon find out that a lot can happen in three seconds.

 

Grip it good

Sony very kindly provided the GP-VPT2 Bluetooth grip for me to test alongside the ZV-1, and it made life so easy – making record, shutter, and even a custom setting button available without needing to move your hand off the grip. It has two small legs that fold out to make an instant mini-tripod, and suits both vertical and horizontal shooting which makes it a great option for the Tik Tok and IG crowd. The packaging claims to help make shooting smoother, which I didn’t find to be the case, and retailing at $199.95 makes it a steep investment when you’re already shelling out $1299.95 for a compact camera, but it was a helpful little addition to my kit while testing out the ZV-1 and could be a great option for a lot of creators who make content on the go.

 

RIP the 2020 Ekka but at least there were still strawberry sundaes. Shot on the Sony ZV-1 1/40 sec (handheld), f1/8, ISO 125


Oh but also…

Despite having touch screen functionality for shooting, the menus can only be operated with the button and dial camera controls – touch functionality doesn’t extend to the menus. That’s a little annoying when you’re already sitting in front of the camera to record yourself or shoot a selfie, and the screen is already facing you but you need to get up to see the back of the body to change something in the menu. I’m not the biggest fan of Sony’s menu system anyway, so this just makes it extra tricky.

What’s the verdict?

This is a great camera all round. The ZV-1 would serve almost anyone well – regardless of the type of content you make, or even if you don’t. It holds its own despite its diminutive size, and is quite literally made to make your life easier.

Review score:

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: High performance, small and light

Lowlights: Short battery life

Manufacturer: Sony

Price: $1299.95 (on Teds.com.au)

Available: Now

Review conducted using a loaned retail unit provided by the manufacturer.

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