Sony ZV1 review

With a range of video-friendly specs, is the Sony ZV1 the ultimate vlogging camera?

Sony ZV1 review
(Image credit: Sony)
T3 Verdict

Rather than updating the already excellent RX100 series, Sony’s vlogging compact makes a lot of sense. You get a one-inch sensor, a fully-articulating screen and a range of very video-friendly features. If you want a pocket-friendly vlogging model this is ideal - it’s a shame the image stabilisation and touchscreen integration isn’t just a little bit better, though.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Small, lightweight and compact

  • +

    Fully articulating screen

  • +

    Video-friendly specs

  • +

    Cheaper than RX100 series

  • +

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Image stabilisation could be better

  • -

    Can’t use the touchscreen for everything

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Sony usually updates its premium compact RX line once a year, but this year it took the decision instead to introduce a new line in the shape of the ZV1. 

Primarily aimed at vloggers and those who like to create video content, it’s similar in size, shape and weight to the RX100 line of cameras, but with a few key differences which should be more appealing to that kind of audience. 

Good examples of those kind of specifications include 4K video recording, a vary-angle 3-inch touchscreen, the ability to add an external microphone and modes such as “product showcase”. You can still use it as a stills camera if you like, and it could also be considered as a pocket-friendly camera for everyday shooting. 

Although not cheap, the ZV1 is certainly a lot cheaper than brand new RX100 models tend to be. It’s significantly cheaper than the latest RX integration - the RX100 VII. 

Sony ZV1 review

(Image credit: Sony)

 Sony ZV1 Review: Design and Handling 

Sony has made some tweaks to its premium-compact style design that it has been using for its RX100 series for several years. Although it’s roughly the same kind of size and shape, some changes have been made, generally to accommodate the video-friendly features that the ZV1 offers. The front grip, for example, is pronounced and is designed to feel comfortable when holding the camera facing forwards when recording vlogs. 

On the top of the camera, you’ve got a hotshoe, and the microphone, which takes up the bulk of the top plate. This means you sacrifice a viewfinder, but that’s unlikely to be problematic for the average user of the ZV1. 

Three buttons over to the right hand side of the top plate allow you to switch the camera on/off, select the shooting mode and start video recording. One small annoyance here is that the on/off button and the mode button are identical in size and shape so it’s very easy to press one when you meant the other - particularly pressing the mode button when you want to switch the camera off to conserve power.

The RX100 series of Sony’s premium compact cameras had tilting screens, but they’re of little use when you’re trying to record a vlog to camera. As such, it comes as no surprise that the ZV1 has instead been equipped with a touch-sensitive screen that fully articulates to face forwards. You can use the touch-sensitivity to select a focus point, and switch on focus tracking, but frustratingly you can’t use with it with either the full menu or the quick menu. 

As a vlogging camera, there’s a couple of other buttons which are particularly useful for that kind of work. The “background defocus” button immediately throws the background in and out of focus, without having to faff around changing apertures, which is particularly useful for video. One of the custom buttons can also be set to give you direct access to “product showcase” mode, which again is handy.

Sony ZV1 review

(Image credit: Sony)

Bear in mind that the Sync Module does need to be plugged in somewhere. It can handle up to 10 cameras, either the new Blink XT models or the older plain Blink models, which aren't weatherproof and can't go all the way up to 1080p in terms of resolution.

Video resolution tops out at 1080p, which puts it among the best in the business, and the 110-degree field of view is perfectly respectable too. On the downside there's no two-way audio with the Blink XT, so you can't warn away burglars or scold the cat while you're out at the office.

With Blink being an Amazon-owned company, you can of course control the Blink XT camera with Alexa: you can ask to see live footage from a particular camera on your network, or arm and disarm the entire system using your voice, which might be slightly more convenient than tapping through on your phone.

 Sony ZV1 Review: Features 

Similarly to the RX100 series of cameras, the ZV1 features a 20.1 megapixel one-inch Exmor RS CMOS sensor. That’s joined by a 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 (equivalent) lens, which although somewhat restricted should be more than enough for the average vlogger - especially those who are presenting to screen at arm’s length. 

Given that this is specifically targeted towards video content creators, the ZV1 features a special 3-capsule microphone on the top of the camera. You can also use an external microphone if you prefer, via a 3.5mm input jack or the multi-interface hotshoe via an adapter. Inside the box, a windshield is provided for use when recording outside in windy conditions.

Naturally, 4K video recording is available, while there’s also in-body image stabilisation and Real-Time Eye AF which works even when recording video - another very useful feature vlogging, to ensure you’re always in focus. 

One thing which is lacking from the ZV1 - especially in comparison to the latest RX100 models - is an inbuilt electronic viewfinder. That’s potentially bad news for stills shooters hoping to use this as a travel camera, but it makes sense for vloggers who would have no use for it. It also perhaps helps to keep the price down, so it shouldn’t be too much of a deal-breaker for most people, and certainly not the intended audience of the ZV1. 

Sony ZV1 review

(Image credit: Sony)

 Sony ZV1 Review: Performance  

There’s two aspects to look at when it comes to performance with the ZV1. In terms of still image quality, you can take very nice shots with it. They are bright and punchy and there’s a good amount of detail. Although 24-70mm isn’t super flexible, it should be more than enough for most everyday scenarios, and having the f/1.8-f/2.8 maximum aperture is great for low light and creating shallow depth of field effects. 

For these reasons, although not the primary objective of this model, the ZV1 could be considered a decent pocket-friendly camera for everyday shooting and for travel, especially if you don’t have a particularly well-equipped smartphone (or just prefer to keep your devices separate). 

However, the main consideration of this camera is for vlogging and video performance. The ZV1 copes well with tracking the subject as you walk along “presenting” to camera, with Eye AF being very good at keeping you in focus. Image stabilisation however is a little on the shaky side, so if you’re somebody looking for ultra-smooth footage, you might be better suited to cameras with even stronger stabilisation, such as the GoPro Hero 8.

Sound is also something to consider. The in-built microphone copes well indoors, and even does well outdoors if you attach the inbuilt windshield to the top of the camera. It might struggle in very crowded places with lots of background noise - for obvious reasons, we weren’t able to test that - but an external microphone would likely be a good investment for any dedicated vlogger anyway. 

Sony ZV1 review

(Image credit: Sony)

Sure, there are some rough edges (especially in the app), but these cameras are sturdy, reliable, and easy to set up. It's definitely worth considering these as budget options for blanketing your home with a network of cameras. Even just having them in place might be enough to put off would-be trespassers.

For the very best in home security though, we'd look elsewhere – you don't get any advanced face or person detection, you can't set activity zones, and the video recording isn't as reliable or as high quality as it is on some other security cameras we've tested in the recent past.

Being able to pay your money, set the cameras up, and then not have to pay anything else goes a long way in the smart home market, and those are the areas where the Blink XT really excels. If those are the factors most important in your choice of smart home security camera, the Blink XT fits the bill.

 Sony ZV1 Review: image samples

Sony ZV1 Review: Verdict 

If you’re a vlogger and you’re in the market for a new camera, then you’ve got quite a lot of choice at the moment. You could even just stick with your smartphone. 

However, if you’re looking to give your vlogs a little extra sheen, the ZV1 has a lot of tools to help you do that. We particularly like the background defocus button and the fact that the screen flips all the way forward. Sound is recorded pretty well, but again, including a windshield in the box is a nice little extra which should save you from immediately having to rush out to buy an external microphone. 

If you’re somebody who just wants a good-quality pocket-camera, you might also consider the ZV1. While there’s no denying that the latest RX model - the RX100 VII - is certainly better for shooting stills, it’s also almost twice the price. 

The ZV1 is not without its quirks though, which is a little bit frustrating in an otherwise excellent device. The buttons on the top of the camera being the same size and shape can lead to accidental presses of the wrong one, while the touchscreen not being able to be used for menu changes is annoying for those used to working with their smartphones. 

It’s also not the smoothest for those who are recording videos with a lot of movement in. It’s not too terrible for just walking along, but if you’re keen to record any kind of action - such as mountain biking, you’d definitely be better off with something like the GoPro Hero 8.

Still, overall, this is a camera which pretty much does what it sets out to do and for the price and size, comes highly recommended as a vlogging camera.

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Amy Davies

Amy Davies is a freelance journalist that covers cameras for T3 and many other sites. She is also Features Editor at Amateur Photographer magazine and, when she's not writing about cameras, she's probably taking pictures of her cute dog.