A Content Creator’s Dream with a Few Flaws
The Sony ZV-1 made a big splash when it landed earlier this year. It’s a vlogging-oriented compact point-and-shoot with a rotating screen and an impeccable auto-focus system that, under certain conditions, tracks faster than my Sony A7iii. The fast f/1.8 lens captures video and images with soft, pleasant bokeh (background blur). Heck, there’s even a convenient button that tells the camera to prioritize an open aperture to create this effect. The camera handles of range of skin tones well, and it generally produces pleasing colors on the default settings. All these features are packed into a a device small enough to fit in your pocket.
The ZV-1’s ease-of-use and diminutive has me reaching for it regularly when shooting clips, even when I have more technically capable cameras available. My arms never get tired holding it (and shots are less shaky as a a result). It’s easier to press up against my body when space is tight. I like to use it with a cage so I can attach a handle and microphone as well. But what really makes it great for self-shooting content is that the way the autofocus can snap between close-ups and more distant shots without searching around. Getting close in for detail shots is seamless.
The ZV-1 also works great for live camming or Zoom calls. I run the mini-HDMI out from the camera into a BlackMagic Recorder 3G capture device that then connects to my Mac via a Thunderbolt 3 cable. Once the drivers are installed, it shows up like any other webcam. It’s small and light enough that you may even be able to clamp it to some monitors.
While I would heartily recommend the ZV-1 to any content creators, there a few things that I hope Sony will improve in the next version.
A common complaint about the camera is that the lens’ angle of view isn’t wide enough for selfies. I share these frustrations. I’d readily trade some zoom distance for more width. In fact, in order to situate yourself optimally in the frame, you need to fully extend your arm or even use a short selfie stick. Luckily, there is a relatively easy way to remedy this issue: Lensmate sells an adapter kit that enables you to attach filters to the camera. With this kit in place, you can then add a wide angle adapter. You definitely lose some optical quality, but I use this setup regularly and am satisfied with the results.
A less talked about issue with the camera is that the Volume Limiter for the External Microphone Input is permanently engaged, and, based on the test recordings I’ve made, it appears to be equally aggressive no matter how much you turn down the Input Gain. In practice, this means that, even when the Input Gain is turned to “1,” dialogue picked up by a standard shotgun microphone (e.g. a Sennheiser MKE 600) comes out unusably distorted. The camera will take an attentuated signal from something like a Rode VideoMic NTG, but, then, when you adjust the volume to proper levels (either using the camera input gain or in post-production), you’re stuck with heavy background hiss from the cheap preamps in the camera. I’d love to see a firmware that either makes the limiter become less aggressive at low Input Gain settings or that allows users to disable it altogether. For now, I’m stuck bringing a portable audio recorder to every shoot.
One final (relatively minor) gripe I have with the camera is that locking the exposure (a function Sony calls “Auto Exposure Lock” or “AEL”) is a multi-step process that won’t be obvious to everyday users who don’t know to go looking fo it. Although the Intelligent Auto Video Mode produces amazing results in mosts cases, in situations where you’re shooting with windows other light sources in the frame (as I often like to do) the default auto exposure is a problem. Models’ movements tend to trigger frequent exposure adjustments that ruin the shot. The solution (as with all cameras) is to lock the exposure. The default way to do this on the ZV-1 is, counterintuitively, to push the Trash button after you start recording. But even this just temporarily locks focus until you let go. This is silly for a camera designed to be used in selfie mode. It’t not even possible to reach that button while self shooting. To make the exposure lock stick, you have to go into the settings menu and reassign the Trash from AEL Hold to AEL Toggle. Only then will the exposure stay put for the duration of the recording. Sound confusing? It is. Such a crucial feature, should be prominent and easily accessible. I’d like to see a dedicated button similar to the Background Defocus button. And it should be clearly labeled. Only the most seasoned users will have any sense of what AEL means without researching it first.
None of these issues, however, are deal-breakers; they have workarounds and the camera’s combination of simplicity and quality is unparalleled. It’s easily one of the best new products of the year for content creators.
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PJ Sage is an academic sociologist and journalist writing on tech, sex, and the adult industry. His popular writing has been published in VICE’s Motherboard, The New Inquiry, and Real Life magazine. He co-founded the Theorizing the Web conference and Cyborgology. He is also an XBIZ-nominated clip producer and photographer who creates audio rich smut.