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Sony ZV-1: Vlogging for dummies

Oh boy, after a week since the first leaks of the Sony ZV-1 surfaced, the Japanese electronics giant has unveiled their latest point-and-shoot camera and it looks awesome. It finally looks like Sony took a long hard look at their RX100 series and wondered: is there a better way to do this?

For a while now I’ve haven’t quite understood the purpose of the RX100 series. Especially when it came to the Mark 6 and Mark 7, I always felt like they were cameras out of their time. After all, smartphones were already excellent point-and-shoot cameras that were easily pocketable.

Finding people who would drop RM5,000 for a camera like that when they could easily hop into Sony’s own mirrorless Alpha interchangeable lens system for less always felt like a stretch to me. Yes, the RX100s would have better image quality than a smartphone, but I don’t think you could say the same about their APS-C bretheren.

Sony then went on to push the whole “vlogging” angle with the RX100, but that always felt a bit like an afterthought to me. After all, the biggest upgrades they gave to their Mark 6 and Mark 7 cameras were the new telephoto cameras. But the new ZV-1, however, feels a lot more like they’ve put a little more thought and effort into it.

By simply looking at it, you can probably tell that it shares a lot in common with the Sony RX100 cameras, and it does. This camera still features a 1″ 20.1MP Exmor RS CMOS sensor and it’s capable of shooting 20MP stills as well as 4K video up to 30fps. It’ll also do 1080p up to 120fps with additional slow motion high framerate options of up to 960fps.

On top of that, they look pretty much identical save for the extra beefy grip which was something I always wished the RX100 series would have. That being said, there are a number of notable differences in external features.

For starters, the ZV-1 features a fully articulating touchscreen instead of the flippy-uppy thing on the RX100. I love this addition because I’ve always felt that if manufacturers wanted to make an articulating screen, it should be a fully articulating one. This just has so much more flexibility as well as a lower likelihood of having stuff on the top of your camera block your display when you’re vlogging.

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Speaking of stuff on top of your camera, the ZV-1 now packs a hotshoe mount as well as a sophisticated-looking built-in microphone that has also been designed for vlogging. Sony calls it their directional 3-capsule microphone and it’s designed to focus on sounds in front of the camera while blocking out surrounding noise. It also comes with a wind screen (ala-dead cat) that clips directly onto the camera so you won’t have to glue cotton wool over the microphone holes like you did with the RX100.

Now, I haven’t had the chance to use this camera just yet, but the demonstrations I’ve heard online do make it seem like the microphone has a bigger focus on clarity. Yes, that means it will sound better, and help your voice stand out, in noisy environments, but it also means you lose the richer tone that you can achieve with a proper shotgun mic. However, since this camera has a hotshoe mount, a microphone port and a screen that flips out sideways, there’s literally no reason you can’t also stick a better microphone into it.

One feature I did appreciate looking at the ZV-1 is the fact that there’s a neat recording light located right next to the camera’s lens. This is super useful when you’re shooting yourself because it’s a quick and easy way to tell when you’re actually recording without having to shift your gaze or hunt for the REC text on the LCD display.

Speaking of the lens, the ZV-1 does not come with the same lens as the RX100 VII. Instead, it features an 24-70mm equivalent focal length lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8-f/2.8, that also has optical stabilisation. If you need more stabilisation, you can enable the Active setting in the SteadyShot menu to have the camera also employ electronic image stabilisation but at the cost of a bit of a crop.

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Personally, I already think that 24mm is a little too tight for vlogging (I much prefer 16mm) so being forced to add a layer of crop on top of that just to get Active stabilisation is a little bit of a bummer. Still, the upside is that the stabilisation in Active looks really good from what I’ve seen and could be well worth the hassle depending on the circumstances.

That being said, I think one of the best things about this camera is where it’s being positioned in the market. In the US, the Sony ZV-1 will retail for an introductory price of USD749.99 (~RM3,272) until the 28th of June 2020, before it goes up to a retail price of USD799.99 (~RM3,490). This makes it way more affordable than its RX100 cousin.

And with a price tag like that, this camera becomes way more attractive to people who are looking to start vlogging or start getting into cameras or even livestreaming, but don’t want the hassle or cost associated with picking up a mirrorless shooter.

Plus, it looks like this was Sony’s strategy all along because there are a bunch of neat features built-in that are designed to take the difficulty out of creating content. For starters, it has a built-in ND filter that can be activated at the touch of a button, and an option called Background Defocus which automatically sets the camera up in the widest aperture for maximum bokeh. On top of that, there’s a Product Showcase mode that tells the camera’s excellent AF system to stop prioritising faces so it will focus on whatever products you hold up to the camera instead.

Naturally, you can do all of this if yourself through the individual settings, but anyone who has ever used a Sony camera will know that the labyrinth that is the Sony menu system can be intimidating to newcomers.

But, this isn’t just a dumbed down toy unsuited for “serious” creators. In fact, it packs a lot of the kind of features you’d expect in a proper Sony mirrorless camera. It has the company’s excellent Eye AF, what looks like a decent amount of programmable function buttons, no video recording limit, as well as the ability to shoot in S-Log 2.

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Obviously, there were sacrifices that had to be made to keep the price down compared to the RX100. There is, for example, no pop-up EVF, the body is also reportedly no longer made from magnesium, and there is no programmable command ring around the lens.

Those are pretty big omissions, as a lot of those have been a staple on the RX100 for a while now. But, you do get the many other benefits that come with the ZV-1 plus that more accessible price tag. On top of that, reports have indicated that Sony will be pushing software that will allow you to use your ZV-1 as your computer’s webcam via USB. There are no exact details surrounding that just yet.

As for stuff I don’t like, well right off the bat the image quality does look a little soft for my liking, and I’m also not a fan of the fact that the camera still relies on a microUSB connection instead of moving to the far more versatile USB-C. I do like that you can charge and use the camera indefinitely if you hook it up to a power source, but I’m kind of disappointed that battery life for video recording is still hovering around the 1 hour mark.

Nevertheless, the Sony ZV-1 does look like a fascinating camera that could be a good entry point into the whole camera world. A gateway camera, if you will. I don’t know if it will be enough to move smartphone content creators off of their smartphones, but it certainly presents a compelling argument for vloggers who need portability and don’t have a big wallet.

The Sony ZV-1 will be available in Malaysia from July 2020, however there is no information on how much it will retail for locally. As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think of the Sony ZV-1, so be sure to drop them down below!

For more details on this camera, check out the Sony website.