My Sony ZV-1: Four Months Later

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I have had my Sony ZV-1 for nearly four months now. It has been a fantastic little camera. It is doing the jobs I expected it to do, and it is doing them quite well.

I considered waiting another month or two before writing this follow-up blog post. I’ve been very much underutilizing my poor ZV-1. We’ve had month-long medical emergencies, cold, rain, a long cat-related medical emergency, and then snow, power outages, and extremely cold weather here in Plano!

I certainly expected that I’d haul the camera and an FPV miniquad out with me on some rides on my Gotway Tesla electric unicycle and talk at the camera about something interesting by now. It just hasn’t happened. I’m confident that it will.

What made Pat buy the Sony ZV-1?

When Jeremy Cook invited me to be the co-host of The Create/Invent Podcast, I knew I needed a camera upgrade. If I wanted to be the best-looking guy on the podcast, I needed something better than my Logitech C920 webcam.

Under ideal conditions, the C920 isn’t a bad video camera. I noticed last week when Brian and I tested the functionality of for podcasting. Brian’s Logitech C922 didn’t look bad, but something looked off. When I analyzed his locally recorded video, I noticed that quite a few frames wound up being doubled.

I’m using the Sony ZV-1 with an inexpensive USB-to-HDMI adapter. It is the same inexpensive HDMI adapter used by the Pi-KVM project. How cool is that?!

I don’t seem to drop any frames. The ZV-1 really shines under poor lighting conditions, but when I light myself well, the C920 really isn’t all that far behind.

Except for the inconsistent frame rate. That’s just awful.

Adjusting settings while recording a podcast is challenging!

I record all my podcasts using manual exposure settings. I want to get as close to a 1/60 shutter as I can. I also want as much blurring of the background as I can get, so I want to make sure the ZV-1 is wide open at f/1.8. That leaves me with control of the ISO, so it isn’t difficult to tune things in.

The only problem is that the camera is looking right at me. Sure, the screen is flipped around, but I have to reach around the other side to work the limited numbers of buttons and knobs on the Sony ZV-1. Yes, up is always up, but left and right are reversed. I often move cursors in the wrong direction or hit the wrong button. I’m glad I can get this stuff set up before we start recording an interview!

I did finally manage to get the Android app working. It certainly helps with this, but connecting an app to make these adjustments brings its own kind of pain. You have to find the app, make sure the camera is in the right mode to accept a connection, and even then you might try two or three times before it works. Even when everything works correctly, this still takes quite a bit of time.

Firmware update turns the Sony ZV-1 into a USB webcam?

As soon as I heard about this firmware update, I downloaded it immediately. Could I really use my Sony ZV-1 as a webcam and skip my HDMI-to-USB dongle?!

Sort of. It works. With the new firmware, the ZV-1 does indeed show up as a plain old UVC webcam as long as you activate the correct options in the menu. It most definitely isn’t a replacement for using a USB dongle.

The ZV-1 is limited to 720p via USB. It claims to run at 30 frames per second, but the output sure doesn’t look like it. It is an upgrade in picture quality over the Logitech C920, but the ZV-1 has that same sort of stuttering frame rate problem over USB.

It is worth spending $20 on an HDMI cable and a USB dongle to get smooth 1080p or 4K video out of your Sony ZV-1.

Do you really need a brand-new Sony ZV-1?

It depends. Just a few weeks ago my friend Alex sold his Sony RX100 IV to my friend Brian, and Alex snagged a used Sony ZV-1 off Craigslist. They both got extremely good deals, and I am most definitely envious.

I got to do a good amount of research when Brian was trying to figure out if the older RX100 would be a good fit for him. The Sony ZV-1 is really an RX100 VIII. That’s four hardware revisions newer than Brian’s used RX100 IV.

NOTE: That’s Brian talking to the camera about Tailscale using his RX100 IV.

Brian wants to use his RX100 as a webcam and as his top-down camera in his recording studio. His older RX100 has a comparable lens and exactly the same 1” sensor as my Sony ZV-1. The RX100 IV also has good eye-tracking autofocus.

It is very well possible that 5 years of image-processing improvements mean my ZV-1 makes better use of that sensor, but at least we know they’re working with the same hardware.

I’m quite confident the RX100 will work just as well as my ZV-1 would for his intended use case. I don’t want to tell you how much money Brian saved.

I’m not saying you should buy a used RX100 IV. It may not be the best value. For all I know, you can find newer cameras in the RX lineup for less. The MK4 just happened to be the one that traded hands within my circle of friends recently!

What are the advantages of the ZV-1 over previous RX100 models?

The Sony ZV-1 has some really nice upgrades over the previous models, especially if you’re planning on doing the talking-to-the-camera shtick. The built-in microphone is much improved, and the screen has more comfortable articulation if you want to film yourself. Most of the RX100 series even lacks a microphone input.

Are these features worth $150 to $300 or more compared to one of the previous RX100 models? For me, the answer is easily a yes!

The older the RX100, the bigger the difference in price, but the difference in performance grows wider with age, too. It is easy to start pointing at improvements on the spec sheet to find $150 or more extra value in the ZV-1.

I told Brian that I’d be buying that RX100 IV just to keep it mounted in my office if he didn’t buy it. Even if I did buy that camera, I would still want my Sony ZV-1 to take with me for recording on the go.

Using the Sony ZV-1 for photography

I don’t know that I have a lot to add to this part of the discussion since my first few days with the camera. I don’t like using the ZV-1 for photography. It doesn’t have a viewfinder. If I’m going to hold a camera up in my hands without being able to help hold it steady with my face, I might as well just use my phone.

That said, the Sony ZV-1’s dynamic range is much better than I ever expected! My aging full-frame Canon 6D is supposed to have somewhere around 12 stops of dynamic range. I did some pretty simple tests in my office. I shot very underexposed pictures on both the ZV-1 and 6D and pushed the raw photos up to a reasonable exposure.

My tests were terrible, and it didn’t feel like a fair comparison. The ZV-1 seemed like it could be pushed even brighter from underexposure than the Canon 6D, but the 6D has much nicer color science.

I really only have one actual photo that I’ve taken with the Sony ZV-1. At the time I took this photo of a hot air balloon, I didn’t have a recent enough version of Darktable to edit the raw file, so I just published the jpeg on Instagram.

I’ve since upgraded Darktable, and I can edit the ZV-1 raw files. I definitely feel like it is worth shooting raw on this camera. This isn’t a heavily edited photo. The extra blue in the sky and the shade of green of the grass was probably my choice, but the raw file really let me recover detail in the shadows so you can see the texture of the grass. The jpeg from the camera just didn’t have that possibility.

Did I buy the right camera? Should I have paid more for a Sony a6600?!

I’m doing a bad enough job at taking my Sony ZV-1 with me. I haven’t gotten any vlogging done over the last four months except for a couple minutes of test footage. If I’m not going to manage to take my tiny ZV-1 out with me, I would never manage to take an APS-C body and lens out on the road!

This is like comparing apples to oranges, but at least they’re both fruits. There’s a lot of overlap in functionality, and there’s a lot that the Sony ZV-1 can do nearly as well as the Sony a6600.

Both cameras are going to do well when I can control the lighting. Sure, a nice lens on the a6600 would improve my podcasts a bit, but would that be worth spending three or four times as much money? Maybe someday!

The a6600 without a lens is larger and weighs nearly twice as much as the Sony ZV-1. Add even a pancake lens to the a6600 and it just won’t fit in my front pocket. Having the option to drop the Sony ZV-1 in my pocket is awesome, and when I do, I am carrying a camera, lens, and reasonable microphone with me!

Hey Pat! What about your DJI Osmo Pocket?!

When I bought the Sony ZV-1, I was asking myself if I would continue to use the Osmo Pocket for vlogging. I wish I figured out the answer to that question over the last four months. I’m sure I’ll have a better answer over the coming months, but I’m going to give you the facts.

I’m excited that I can fit the ZV-1 in my pocket, but that’s not the whole story. There’s only so much you can do without some sort of tripod. You most definitely can’t hole the ZV-1 up in front of you and talk to the camera without a small tripod!

My smallest tripod is bigger than my DJI Osmo Pocket, and if I take the Sony ZV-1 out for a ride on my electric unicycle, I’m going to have to bring a tripod anyway.

This is where I start to ask questions. Why carry two things when the Osmo Pocket is smaller than either the tripod or the ZV-1?

I’ve tried vlogging with a phone. Every time you turn on the phone you have to unlock it, find your camera app, flip the camera around, then hit record. I can take the Osmo Pocket out with one hand and be recording myself in less than 5 seconds, and I don’t even have to look at the thing to do it.

I don’t have an answer. I expected I would have posted at least two or three vlogs with the ZV-1 by now. I’ve been doing a bad job and it hasn’t happened yet!

The conclusion?! Already?!

Yes. We’re already to the conclusion, or at least the conclusion so far. I’m doing a bad job. I should have used the Sony ZV-1 for more work over the last four months, but life has gotten in the way.

I will try to do a better job utilizing my new camera over the coming months, but so far it has been doing its primary job of replacing my webcam quite flawlessly. It is a huge upgrade, and I’m happy to have it!

What do you think? Did I write my update post on the Sony ZV-1 too early? Am I underutilizing it? Am I missing out on some important features, or do you think I bought entirely the wrong camera?! Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!