Earlier this year, with the debut of the ZV-1, Sony launched a new series in its compact camera lineup. Marketed as a ‘Volga Camera’, the features of Sony ZV-1 are specially designed to make blogging easier for new users. Its highlight features include a compact body, a fully pronounced LCD, and dedicated buttons for things like background defocus.
Priced at Rs 67,990 (MRP), is the new Sony ZV-1 worth buying? I’ve been using it for weeks and here’s what I think.
Sony ZV-1 Design: Highly Pocketable
Although many Vloggers prefer to use mirrorless or even DSLR cameras, Sony aims to offer the most advanced features found in such cameras, but in a more compact form factor. The dimensions of the Sony ZV-1 are similar to those of Sony’s RX100 VII digital camera. The ZV-1 weighs about 294g, including the battery and memory card, which is still quite light. If necessary it is small enough to easily slip into your back pocket.
There is a small rubber insert on the front, which acts as a small hand grip and another on the back for your thumb. The exterior is mostly made of plastic, but it feels tough and the textured surface provides a decent grip. On top of the Sony ZV-1 is a hot-shoe connector, a three-capsule microphone and a series of buttons. There are more buttons on the back of the camera, which are smaller than the buttons above and not easy to use The rear round jug dial also doubles as a directional pad but the response is somewhat softer and not too tactile.
To make the ZV-1 vlog-friendly, Sony has moved the movie record button upwards from its usual place on the back. It is much larger, which makes it easier to use. You’ll find a large, scattered red LED indicator next to the front lens to let you know when recording video.
A 3.5mm microphone input, micro-USB port, and micro-HDMI port are placed to the right of the Sony ZV-1. Ports are covered with plastic flaps, but they are not weather sealed. The ZV-1 has no electronic viewfinder, only a 3-inch LCD touchscreen. Although unlike other compact Sony cameras, it makes it completely clear so it can flip sideways and rotate 180 degrees.
Bottom of battery / SD card with tripod mount is below. The hinge of the battery tray actually extends over the tripod mount, which means that if you have to swap batteries or SD cards while shooting, you’ll need to unload the camera from the tripod first, which can be quite frustrating.
The Sony ZV-1 has a fixed lens with Zeiss optics. It has 24-70mm (35mm equivalent), 2.7x optical zoom and an aperture range of f / 1.8 – f / 2.8. A few stops have a built-in neutral density (ND) filter for cutting exposure, which is effective in harshly illuminated environments.
The Sony ZV-1 can be purchased as a vlogging kit, with an extra battery, a 64GB SD card and a GP-VPT2BT Bluetooth handgrip. Sony sent me this kit for review, and we’ll talk about the handgrip a little later.
Sony ZV-1 Specification and Features: Impressive for the price
Sony ZV-1 has a 1-inch sensor with 20.1-megapixel resolution. Optical (stadisht) stability for steels, hybrid stability for video, 315 phase detection autofocus point (PDAF), 425 contrast detection autofocus point and maximum exposure of about 24 frames per second when using ‘high’ setting. The ZV-1 has eye autofocus (IAF) for humans and animals when shooting stills and for humans only when shooting video. The native ISO range is 100-12,800 and only the lower edge is expandable. This camera also supports RAW image capture in Sony’s ARW format.
In the case of video, the Sony ZV-1 is capable of shooting up to 4K at 30fps or 1080p at 120fps. There is a dedicated high framerate (HFR) shooting mode that captures ready-to-use slow-motion video up to 1,000fps but in a very short time. Given the price of the camera, it’s nice to see that Sony hasn’t removed professional video modes. The ZV-1 supports advanced profiles such as HLG, S-Log2, and S-Log3, among others, for HDR workflows.
Finally, the ZV-1 can be connected to your smartphone to take advantage of Sony’s Imaging Edge mobile app. The app lets you remotely control the camera using your phone as a viewfinder. It lets you transfer photos and videos wirelessly to your smartphone. The camera has built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi N, but no NFC.
Some of the new vlogging-specific features included in the Sony ZV-1 include the product showcase. This feature is very easy for anyone who wants to present or display a product on camera, as we do here in Gadgets 360 for example. When activated, it basically disables face and eye tracking so that the focus shifts quickly to whatever is presented in the lens. This feature is mapped to the C2 button by default.
Background defocus is mapped to the C1 button by default and it allows you to get a shallow depth of field between your subject / yourself and the background. The ZV-1’s Quick Settings panel also has a soft skin effect toggle, if you need to use a beautification filter for your pieces from your camera.
Sony ZV-1 Performance and Battery Life: Not too bad
The Sony ZV-1 is a fun little camera and doesn’t take long to master. Due to space constraints, there is a ‘mode’ button instead of a dial, which allows you to cycle through different shooting modes. Most of these modes should be very familiar. This includes Sweep Panorama, which quickly takes multiple pictures and sews one after the other. Scene selection if you want the camera to automatically adjust its parameters; And general perch, shutter, program and manual modes. The ZV-1 doesn’t offer the best grip if you have a big hand, but I think it’s manageable. The back buttons can get a better touch response, but the shutter and video recording buttons are much better.
As a vlogging camera, I was quite happy with the Sony ZV-1. It is easy to handle with one hand for low weight and compact size. When shooting handhelds, I mostly used it with the Bluetooth handgrip that Sony sent. This accessory connects to the camera via Bluetooth and offers shortcut buttons for zoom, shutter release, video recording and C1 shortcuts. There is a lock switch that shuts off the handgrip to prevent accidental pressure. The base of the handgrip can be tilted back and forth or rotated 360 degrees. It is double as a tripod, which is simple.
The touchscreen was responsive, but I hope we could do more with it than just change the focus point. For example, when vlogging the camera points toward itself, it would be nice to be able to turn the camera around and quickly change settings instead of needing a flute with the buttons.
In terms of image quality, I think the Sony ZV-1 is very capable of good lighting. We start with our ISO test to see how well the camera performs across the ISO range. This is also a good indication of the type of photo you can expect in low light.
Sony ZV-1 was able to store the details very well up to ISO 1,600, after which the image began to lose some of its sharpness. This was very clear at ISO 3,200. Going up a flower stop, we noticed a slight granule in the figure and the edges of the pencil began to blur. With a maximum ISO of 12,800, the details were weak, the text was no longer sharp, and there was plenty of visible grain. However, I was happy to notice that there was not too much chroma noise and the image at the highest ISO level was still somewhat usable.
When shooting stills in daylight, the Sony ZV-1 handles the details very well, the colors look natural and punchy, and the dynamic range was adequate enough. When using the full optical zoom range in landscape shots, the details were still fairly decent, but the finer objects and textures weren’t too sharp, which is a limitation of sensor size more than anything else.
The close-ups looked good, and the natural depth you could get with the large aperture at wide focal lengths was pleasing. While shooting in good light, I got to see the autofocus at the point. The ZV-1 Focus was quick to lock, with minimal to no prey, and I could track my subject by tapping it on the viewfinder. Faces are tracked automatically and IF works well.
In very dim light, the Sony ZV-1 fights Focus because it lacks the Focus Illuminator. I find this to be a minor issue, even with close-up issues. It also struggles to locate faces accurately, which can be a problem if you plan to use this camera in low light conditions. With a decent light source all around, the ZV-1 does a fair job with autofocus for steels, although it still had a light hunting problem when shooting the video.
The videos shot with the Sony ZV-1 looked great. The colors were striking, the skin tones looked natural and the background defocus option did a great job of distinguishing me from my background. Sony includes a windbreaker in the box, which can be attached to the ZV-1’s hot-shoe to reduce wind noise. It made a huge difference in my experience, almost completely cutting off this disturbance, and I didn’t even have to bother about enabling the air-noise reduction setting in the camera.
Videos shot in 4K and 1080p looked great, with rich details and saturated color. There seems to be no limit to the recordings, but on multiple occasions, I noticed that the camera stopped recording below 15-minutes when shooting in 4K, with slight variations in the total recording length. The video shot in low light looked a bit grainy, but not too bad overall. I also had great fun shooting ultra-slow-motion video with the camera’s HFR mode, although the quality was strictly average at the highest setting.
Battery life was a bit disappointing. The Sony ZV-1 is rated for delivering around 260 shots per charge, and while it’s very achievable (I usually manage a little more), it’s not great. This is understandable, considering the camera has a pretty small battery. Having an easy way to replace the battery would make it more tolerable. Fortunately, you can power the ZV-1 with a power bank and continue if needed. With video, Sony claims that the ZV-1 is capable of shooting 1080p continuously for up to 75 minutes on a single charge.
The Sony ZV-1 has become a pretty small camera, even if you don’t mind vlogging. This is reason enough to consider the RX100 VII packing at a lower price with almost all the features. If you choose the standalone version of the camera, it will cost around Rs. 60,000 on Amazon. Vlogging kit will cost you extra money 10,000, which is a decent deal considering you get an extra battery, a 64GB memory card and a Bluetooth handgrip.
If I had to pick something that could be better, I’d say the camera would be an easy way to replace the battery and memory card while on a tripod, or some other accessory number one. I found the rear buttons to be a bit smaller and sometimes harder to press, the touchscreen could be more efficient and perhaps an AF illuminator would help autofocus in low light.
Overall, if you’re thinking of buying a Sony RX100 series camera, I’d say look at the ZV-1 instead, especially if you don’t need a high level of zoom.