Sony’s ZV-1 “vlog” centric camera arrived in 2020 and was met with some divided opinions about the direction Sony was taking with this new video-first camera. At its launch, I was the Vice President at the public relations company working with Sony’s camera division, and I recall how some of the briefings were met with more enthusiasm than others.
The ZV-1 was a new concept in an old body, albeit with modifications specifically for the video creator. The ZV-1 chassis is, at its core, the same as Sony’s RX100 line, a well-regarded series of compact cameras that debuted in 2012.
While the new ZV-1M2 addresses the focal length complaints from the original camera, it does so at the expense of a critical feature: image stabilization.
Shifting Market, Pivoting Companies
The compact still-photography-centric camera market had long since declined when the ZV-1 came out in 2020. Still, the number of YouTube and social media creators was skyrocketing, and the ZV-1 was a compelling first step at giving these creators something between a GoPro and a mirrorless camera with which to create content.
Traditional photographic outlets had a cooler reaction to the ZV-1 than “influencers” and YouTubers. Still, generally speaking, Sony was praised for pivoting to cater to a market that other camera companies were mainly ignoring.
A few standout features made the ZV-1 compelling for the video creator, most notably the product showcase setting (which switches focus to objects held between the creator and the camera and then back to the creator when the object is put down), a variable neutral density filter, an excellent noise-canceling microphone, and optical image stabilization.
As with all cameras, there were some disappointing design decisions. The biggest complaint is that the 24-70mm lens (inherited from the RX100 VI) is not wide enough for most handheld “vlog” style footage, and even with a selfie stick, the resulting framing has too much face and not enough background. Activating digital image stabilization further cropped the footage making the composition even less pleasing.
The three-capsule noise-canceling mic was also criticized for its poor reach, requiring a lot of creators to use a lav mic for their audio, and the lack of a headphone jack makes monitoring audio impossible.
It looks like Sony is increasingly hamstrung by the same body style introduced thirteen years ago because the issues that haven’t seen updates would require a new chassis. For example, the ZV-1 doesn’t get 10-bit video or the new AI-driven subject tracking, as there’s just no room in the body to put in the new image processors.
My favorite “solves the problem without actually solving the problem” update in the ZV-1M2 illustrates how cramped the chassis is. Users (myself included) complained that since the ZV-1’s battery and memory compartment is located on the bottom of the hand grip when the camera is mounted to a tripod, the tripod quick release or tripod head covers the door preventing it from opening.
When addressing this complaint, Sony clearly couldn’t relocate the battery and memory card, so instead, it moved the tripod mount to the opposite edge of the camera from the door. While it’s a functional solution, it’s also a ridiculous one. When using a selfie stick or tripod, this design decision puts the camera off-axis and makes composing an image very odd.
A Wider View, But At What Cost?
Since the biggest complaint about the ZV-1 was the lack of a super-wide lens, the most significant change in the ZV-1M2 is the new 18-50mm lens that provides a much better field-of-view for “vlog” style footage and is naturally better for landscapes and travel videos as well. In the studio, the wide-angle offers more coverage for unboxing videos and multi-person one-camera setups.
It’s incredibly complicated to make a super-wide lens with a super-wide aperture in a compact body, and constructing this lens required some compromises in other features. Most importantly, the IBIS system found on the ZV-1 is gone on the ZV-1M2.
The ZV-1M2 uses entirely digital stabilization instead of optical stabilization with the option to add digital stabilization.
The cropped stabilized image will stop many potential customers in their tracks because giving up any wide-angle focal length to stabilize an image seems to defeat the purpose of having a wide-angle lens. This is a concern that was noted in PetaPixel‘s review of the camera.
In practice, this tradeoff isn’t as problematic as it seems. Shooting at the full 18mm focal length is still possible when stabilization isn’t needed. While a 22mm crop after digital stabiliation is enabled is not as wide as an 18mm lens, a 22mm wide-angle digitally stabilized image is still wider than a 24mm mechanically stabilized one — a small amount, but it is wider.
Of course, having the ability to shoot at 18mm on a tripod or gimbal or when moving slowly is better than not having that ability. Still, the ZV-1’s lens was stabilized at the 24mm focal length, and the ZV-1M2’s lens is only 18mm if you’re not using stabilization, so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.
I understand the need to make sacrifices to get a wider lens in this small body, and I would have preferred to lose the variable ND filter than the stabilization, as most people watching a YouTube video don’t care if the exposure changes on a subject in the outdoors. Still, they care if the footage is composed well and if it’s too jittery to watch.
Like the tripod mount being to a ridiculous location to solve the battery door access issue, putting a super-wide-angle lens into a camera that must be cropped to use effectively is a very “#thereifixedit” approach to problem-solving.
Still, I’d choose the new ZV-1M2 over the ZV-1 thanks to the ability to shoot wide at least some of the time, but an ideal design would have provided an 18mm lens that was always useable at 18mm.
Bit Depth and File Formats
Sadly, the ZV-1M2 provides no updates to the recording formats over the ZV-1. It’s still a 4K/30 8-bit camera, which is… well, it’s not great.
Don’t get me wrong, most creators are shooting 8-bit footage, and 4K/30 is good enough for them. When I read complaints that a camera fails because it doesn’t offer 10-bit video or because it can’t shoot 120 frames per second, I wonder how many of those commenters would shoot 4K/120 10-bit 4:2:2.
But with the Sony ZV-1M2, the company targets a creator that would benefit from 10-bit video directly. A typical vlog-style video can go overexposed scene to an underexposed one in seconds and typically passes through various light temperatures.
Balancing the color from shot to shot under studio lighting is hard enough, but throw in the changing conditions of a vlog-style shoot, and 10-bit footage is suddenly really valuable.
Sony’s up against its size limitations. It takes a faster processor than the one found in the ZV-1 and ZV-1M2 to capture 10-bit footage or to capture 8K, but there’s just no room for the newer processors in this body, and the small size means that if the camera could capture in 10-bit, it would likely overheat pretty much instantly.
While the ZV series is designed for the video creator, the only ZV-series camera with 10-bit recording is the ZV-E1, as the ZV-1, ZV-1M2, ZV-F, and ZV-E10 are 8-bit only.
Yet Sony clearly knows the importance of color grading, as the ZV-1M2 has creative “looks” that crop the footage to a cinematic aspect ratio and “color grade” the footage. Simulated color grading, yes; 10-bit actual color grading, no.
Nothing says that a $900 camera needs 10-bit capabilities, but you won’t get higher bit color fidelity if you want to upgrade from the ZV-1 to its successor.
A Touchy Interface
The ZV-1M2 is much easier to use than the ZV-1 thanks to the touch-driven interface that now supports nearly every function and operation. It’s possible to swipe between menus, pinch and zoom images, tap for focus, and tap for auto exposure.
The new interface is so much improved over the ZV-1 that, for me, my ZV-1 be relegated to the studio and other B-camera uses where the settings can be locked off for shooting. The ZV-1M2 is the superior choice for any real-world A-camera use since it’s possible to use the camera without constantly turning it around to push the buttons on the back.
The ZV-1M2 has all of the powerful software-based features of the ZV-1, plus a few new tricks. The ZV-1M2 has one-touch bokeh, product showcase, skin softening, and the same variable neutral density filter as the original.
It also has touch exposure, a closer minimum focus distance than the ZV-1, and minor tweaks like the ability to set in and out points for a video to transfer to your phone or computer.
The most significant hardware improvement (aside from the microphone that doesn’t only point forward) is the inclusion of a USB-C port instead of a Micro USB port. The ZV-1 is the last camera device I own that uses a Micro USB cable, and I can’t wait to be done with them.
One “improvement” in the ZV-1M2 drives me insane: adding a Photo/Video/S&Q button on the top plate. Unlike the ZV-E1, which has a slider switch to transfer between modes, the ZV-1M2 has a toggle button. As a result, if you’re in photo mode and want to switch to video mode, press the button once, but if you’re in video mode and want to go to photo mode, you have to press the button twice to toggle through S&Q before going back to the photo. The multi-step nature might not bother everyone, but it drives me crazy.
Minor Upgrades That Make It Worth It, Mostly
In interchangeable-lens cameras, a “mark” level update usually features a new processor, higher resolution, and/or new video capabilities. With the ZV-1M2, the “mark” gets you a wider lens and a USB-C port, plus touchscreen enhancements and a better interface.
With the ZV-1 priced at least $100 lower than the ZV-1M2 and both cameras having identical imaging sensors and file formats, the ZV-1 becomes more attractive to the creator that wants to save money and end up with the same image quality as the more expensive update.
If you own a ZV-1 and are happy with it, the ZV-1M2 is likely not worth the upgrade price, but that’s partially because if you need a lens wider than 24mm, you wouldn’t have bought a ZV-1.
If you’ve been looking at the ZV-1 as a compact “vlog” style camera but have been put off by the 24mm focal length, the ZV-1M2 is a better choice—keep in mind that using digital stabilization will bring that lens a lot closer to 21mm than 18mm.
Sony points out rightly that the Type 1 sensor in the ZV-1 series is much bigger than that in a smartphone and capable of capturing footage in low light and challenging situations. The company also talks about all the creative possibilities of a camera with a variable-aperture lens and full camera controls.
But Sony’s playing this both ways, as its Xperia lineup of cameras feature 4K at 120p, HDR, and massive, beautiful displays. When the company launches a new phone, it discusses how much it functions like its Alpha cameras.When Sony talked about the ZV-1M2, it talked about the easy-to-use one-touch features that don’t require formal camera training.
So Sony phones are good because they’re more like Sony cameras, but the ZV-1 is good because it’s more like a phone?
After thirteen years with this body design, it would be nice to see Sony develop a new design that’s cutting-edge and optimized for video creators, not just repurposed for them.
Canon recently released the V10, a video camera designed for selfie-style vlogging videos. While the camera has a lot of shortcomings, it’s the first genuinely vlog-only physical design we’ve seen come from a major camera company. The fact that this design came from Canon and not Sony is surprising.
As the ZV-1 series body enters the 13th year of relative sameness, it continues to be a serviceable, albeit not thrilling, camera. The ZV-1M2 (largely) fixes the ZV-1’s primary complaint, and the new touch-driven interface significantly improves the ZV-1. The massive oversight with the front-direction-only microphone has been corrected, which makes the ZV-1M2 usable from behind the camera.
What the ZV-1M2 does not do is fix things like the missing headphone jack, add a larger HDMI port, improve the battery life or relocate the port, or provide improved video.
The ZV-1M2 is therefore a mixed bag of an upgrade. Luckily, the ZV-1 is still in the lineup for those who want the least-expensive 8-bit video camera but don’t need the wider lens, touch screen, or USB-C connectivity. For those shopping for a new compact video-creator camera, the ZV-1M2 is better than the ZV-1. Still, the ZV-1M2 is not nearly as compelling as most of Sony’s major-version updates on their full-frame camera line.