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The Sony ZV-1 is a tiny vlogging powerhouse

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Sony has officially announced the ZV-1, a compact camera designed specifically for shooting video. Even more specifically than that, it’s designed for vlogging. It’s based on essentially the same core as the popular RX100 point-and-shoot camera line, but optimized for video with a few features that will appeal to people who regularly need to shoot footage of themselves.

The Sony ZV-1 will retail for $799.99 but will have an intro price of $749.99 through June 28th. It should begin shipping on June 11th.

Sony is debuting a few new focus modes for the ZV-1 that are meant specifically for vloggers. One is a one-button setting for “Background Defocus,” which automatically sets the camera up for the maximum bokeh in the background. It’s a setting you could achieve on your own by adjusting the aperture and other settings, but Sony is trying to make it easier.

The other setting is called “Product Showcase.” As with Background Defocus, it is a short cut for camera settings you could achieve on your own if you know how to navigate Sony’s arcane menu system. What it does is turn off the setting to keep the camera focused on faces above all else, so that when you bring something in frame in front of your face, the camera will focus on it.

So, if a YouTuber wanted to show a beauty product or gadget they’re reviewing for their channel, this setting would make it dead simple to make sure the camera is focused on the product when it’s in frame and on the vlogger when it’s not.

If you’re familiar with the RX100 series, you’ll be instantly familiar with the ZV-1. It’s built off the exact same chassis and has essentially the same internal capabilities as the latest RX100 VII, including shooting at 4K with all of Sony’s fancy eye-autofocus and picture profiles. What Sony has essentially done here is address vloggers’ biggest complaints with the RX100 VII and removed some of the more expensive components.

If you’re not familiar with the RX100 series, it’s Sony’s premium point-and-shoot line of cameras. They’re about the same size as the digital cameras you used to own before your smartphone, but packed with optics, capabilities, and price that far exceeds what you’d expect in such a small body.

It makes the most sense to compare the ZV-1 with the RX100 VII, since the two share the same sensor and processing power. The ZV-1 keeps the 4K capabilities, the built-in mic jack, and the extensive set of options (all found in the wildly complex menu system). But Sony has improved the hardware for vloggers in a few ways:

  • Switching to a lens with less zoom capability but a wider f/1.8 aperture. That’s important for vloggers who are usually shooting up close and will want more background blur.
  • Bringing back the built-in neutral density filter, which makes shooting in bright sunlight easier. Both the ND filter and the 28-70mm-equivalent lens are essentially the same as on the RX100 V.
  • Replacing the screen that used to tilt up with one that articulates to the side, which makes it easier to position it so you can see what the camera is doing.
  • Adding an improved on-camera three-microphone array and bundling a wind guard.
  • Adding a front-facing recording indicator and a bigger video recording button.
  • Adding a larger grip.
  • Adding Sony’s multi-interface shoe for additional mics or other camera accessories.

Those are the main improvements, but there are a few drawbacks:

  • There’s no pop-up electronic viewfinder.
  • There’s no flash.
  • There’s no focus ring around the lens — manual focus will require you to use the small dial on the back of the camera.
  • It doesn’t have a magnesium body, so it feels just a little less premium.

Finally, since it shares so many parts with the RX100, it also shares some of its well-known hassles, including charging via Micro USB instead of the more modern USB-C.

We’ve been impressed with the RX100 VII as a vlogging camera, mainly because Sony finally did the thing everybody was asking for by adding a mic jack to it. With the ZV-1, Sony is addressing yet more complaints — the company claims it actually began development as recently as October and did so in direct response to vloggers’ requests.

Even though the ZV-1 looks quite good on paper, some of those drawbacks might give pro and even semi-pro users some pause. We won’t know if they’re truly missed until we get a chance to review it for ourselves.

Cameras and Photography

Sony’s upcoming ZV-1 looks like an RX100 customized just for vlogging

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Sony Alpha just tweeted out a teaser for a camera announcement coming on May 26th. All Sony will say is that it’s a “new compact camera” along with a hazy outline of some sort of camera, likely with an articulating screen. Luckily, we don’t need to guess what it is because Sony Alpha Rumors recently dropped the details. It’s almost surely the Sony ZV-1, and if Sony Alpha Rumors’ leaked specs are correct, it looks like an ideal compact vlogging camera.

It called the camera “basically an RX100VII successor made for vloggers,” and if that turns out to be the case, I’m fairly excited for it. It will have an articulating screen so you can see yourself, what appears to be a hot shoe for attaching a mic or other accessories, and a big red button for recording videos instead of the itsy one on the RX100.

There will also be Sony’s much-loved eye-based autofocus, which is clutch when you can’t directly control the camera (because you’re shooting yourself).

The RX100 VII is a compact point-and-shoot that’s actually remarkably powerful, and the addition of a full microphone jack made it very compelling for vloggers. I have used one ever since it came out. But the RX100 VII has a few features that make it arguably a more versatile still camera but also make it less ideal for vloggers.

First, Sony swapped out the earlier 28-70 zoom lens from earlier RX100 models for a 24-200 zoom. More zoom sounds nice, but the widest aperture went from f/1.8 to f/2.8 — and that makes it a challenge to get good background blur with such a small sensor and lens. It’s the opposite of what most vloggers would want. The earlier RX100 models also had an integrated neutral density filter, which made it easier to shoot outdoors without blowing out highlights.

Leaked image of the Sony ZV-1
Sony Alpha Rumors

The ZV-1, if it is indeed basically an RX100 remade for vlogging, appears to undo both of those changes. Sony Alpha Rumors says it has a “20MP 1-inch sensor” and a “24-70mm F1.8 – 2.8 lens.” There’s also apparently a “one-touch” bokeh button. Hopefully, that merely sets the optical settings for ideal bokeh shooting and doesn’t introduce some kind of software-based portrait mode.

Last but absolutely not least, it has a “better grip.” I’ve been attaching third-party grips to my RX100 cameras because they’re so small and slippery, so that’ll be helpful, too.

It all seems perfect, but with cameras (and, really, all tech), it’s safest not to get your hopes up too much just in case there are some unknown gotchas. The RX100 VII seemed like it was the perfect vlogger’s rig right up until the moment its minor shortcomings became apparent. Still, if you point a camera at your own face for YouTube on a regular basis, it’s hard not to be a little excited that Sony is working to make your life a little easier.

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Sony’s first AI image sensor will make cameras everywhere smarter

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Sony has announced the world’s first image sensor with integrated AI smarts. The new IMX500 sensor incorporates both processing power and memory, allowing it to perform machine learning-powered computer vision tasks without extra hardware. The result, says Sony, will be faster, cheaper, and more secure AI cameras.

Over the past few years, devices ranging from smartphones to surveillance cameras have benefited from the integration of AI. Machine learning can be used to not only improve the quality of the pictures we take, but also understand video like a human would; identifying people and objects in frame. The applications of this technology are huge (and sometimes worrying), enabling everything from self-driving cars to automated surveillance.

But many applications rely on sending images and videos to the cloud to be analyzed. This can be a slow and insecure journey, exposing data to hackers. In other scenarios, manufacturers have to install specialized processing cores on devices to handle the extra computational demand, as with new high-end phones from Apple, Google, and Huawei.

From left to right: the IMX500 as a bare chip and IMX501 as a package product.
Sony Electronics Inc.

But Sony says its new image sensor offers a more streamlined solution than either of these approaches.

“There are some other ways to implement these solutions,” Sony vice president of business and innovation Mark Hanson told The Verge, referencing edge computing, which use dedicated AI chips not attached directly to the image sensor. “But I do not believe they will be anywhere close to as cost effective as us shipping image sensors in the billions.”

Sony’s huge presence in the image processing market will certainly push this technology to clients at a huge scale. Hanson notes that the company has more than 60 percent market share, and shipped about 1.6 billion sensors last year, including for all three cameras in Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro.

This first-generation AI image sensor, though, is unlikely to end up in consumer devices like smartphones and tablets, at least to begin with. Instead, Sony will be targeting retailers and industrial clients, with Hanson referencing Amazon’s cashierless Go stores as a potential application.

In Amazon’s Go stores, the retailer uses scores of AI-enabled cameras to track shoppers and charge them for objects they grab from the shelves. “They put hundreds of cameras, and they’re running petabytes of data, on a daily basis through a small convenience score,” says Hanson. Reports suggest that the resulting hardware costs have slowed the roll-out of these stores. “But if we can miniaturize that capability and put it on the backside of a chip we can do all sorts of interesting things.”

Amazon Opens First Cashierless Convenience Store In Seattle

Many applications of AI computer vision, like Amazon Go, require lots of expensive cameras.
Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

In addition to cost savings there are privacy benefits. If the AI chip is stuck directly onto the back of the image sensor then object detection can be done on-device. Instead of sending off data to be analyzed, either to the cloud or a nearby processor, the image sensor itself performs whatever AI analysis is necessary and simply produces the metadata instead.

So, if you want to create a smart camera that detects whether or not someone is wearing a mask (a very real concern right now) then an IMX500 image sensor can be loaded with the relevant algorithm which allows the camera to send off quick “yes” or “no” pings.

“Now we’ve eliminated what would normally be a 60 frames per second, 4K video stream to just that one ‘hey, I recognize this object,’” says Hanson. “That can reduce data traffic [and] it also helps things like privacy.”

Another big application is industrial automation, where image sensors are needed to help so-called co-bots — robots designed to work in close proximity to humans — from bashing their flesh-and-blood colleagues. Here the main advantage of an integrated AI image sensor is speed. If a co-bot detects a human where they shouldn’t be and needs to come to a quick stop, then processing that information as quickly as possible is paramount.

Continental AG annual general meeting

AI cameras are also useful for keeping robots designed to work alongside humans safe.
Photo by Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images

Sony says the IMX500 is much faster for these sorts of tasks than many other AI cameras, with the ability to apply a standard image recognition algorithm (MobileNet V1) to a single video frame in just 3.1 milliseconds. By comparison, says Hanson, competitors’ chips, such as those made by the Intel-owned Movidius (which are used in Google’s Clips camera and DJI’s Phantom 4 drone) can take hundreds of milliseconds — even seconds — to process.

The big bottleneck, though, is the ability of the IMX500 to handle more complex analytical tasks. Right now, says Hanson, the image sensor can only work with pretty “basic” algorithms. That means that more sophisticated and varied tasks, like driving an autonomous car, will certainly require dedicated AI hardware for the foreseeable future. Instead, think of the IMX500 as a simple, single-application device.

But this is only the first generation, and the technology will undoubtedly improve in future. Right now, cameras are smarter because they send their data to computers. In the future, the camera itself will be the computer, and all the smarter for it.

Test samples of the IMX500 have already started shipping to early customers with prices starting at ¥10,000 ($93). Sony expects the first products using the image sensor to arrive in the first quarter of 2021.

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How to use your DSLR or mirrorless camera as a webcam

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For those who’ve been working from residence for the previous few weeks, you’ve in all probability needed to be part of various video convention calls. Or maybe you’ve been utilizing video chat apps to keep up a correspondence with family and friends whereas social distancing. Both manner, you’ve in all probability observed that the webcam in your laptop computer is, nicely, crap. It results in blurry, pixelated video calls, and unflattering viewing angles.

There are just a few methods to handle this drawback. You would purchase a correct webcam, however good luck discovering a type of in inventory. You would repurpose an outdated smartphone and use that as a webcam, when you occur to have one mendacity round. Both of these may be barely higher than your laptop computer’s webcam.

However when you actually wish to step up your video name recreation, you may truly use a DSLR or mirrorless digicam as a webcam in your laptop and have the best-looking video of anybody in your group chat.

Relying in your digicam and your laptop, this may be so simple as putting in a bit of software program and simply utilizing a USB cable to hook your digicam to your laptop. You probably have a comparatively trendy Canon digicam and a Home windows PC, there’s an app now accessible that permits you to hook up the digicam to your laptop over normal USB and use it as a webcam. There are software-only options for different cameras and for Macs as nicely, however they usually contain “digital” webcams created by software program which some apps can’t use (including, sadly, Zoom).

The “best” methodology thus consists of spending some cash. Most individuals will in all probability want some additional {hardware} that converts a digicam’s HDMI output right into a USB enter. These units are known as USB seize playing cards and customarily run $100 or extra. Due to the worldwide pandemic, they’re additionally very troublesome to search out in inventory. However we’ve examined this IOGear model and it really works nicely. Not like the favored Elgato Cam Hyperlink, the IOGear mannequin is on the market from B&H Photograph proper now.

Additionally, you will want an HDMI cable that may plug into your digicam, which probably means a Micro HDMI on the tip that goes to your digicam. You may both get a full-length Micro HDMI cable or an adapter that converts the bigger HDMI plug right down to a Micro HDMI. As soon as the digicam is related, you’ll wish to allow “clear HDMI” output, which is able to eliminate the entire digicam publicity info and offer you an unobstructed video feed. Relying in your digicam, that is both completed by placing the digicam in its video mode or toggling an possibility in a settings menu. Seek the advice of your digicam’s handbook for the way in which to do it in your mannequin.

Along with the USB seize gadget or software program in your laptop, you’ll additionally wish to have some technique to mount your digicam for video calls. This may be so simple as a fundamental tripod, however when you’re seeking to put the digicam above a desktop monitor, like a standard webcam, issues can get a bit extra difficult. There are mounts and clamps you should purchase to affix the digicam to your desk and convey it as much as eye degree, however you’re simply going to have to determine get it to work in your personal scenario. I’ve been capable of get a GorillaPod wrapped round my monitor arm to work, but it surely’s not essentially the most elegant resolution.

Lastly, since utilizing your digicam as a webcam means it’s mainly on and streaming video to your laptop always, you’re going to wish to get an A/C adapter to energy the digicam as a substitute of counting on its batteries. Some cameras may be charged by way of USB-C battery banks and chargers, whereas others require particular A/C adapters from the producer. Additionally, you will wish to disable any computerized energy shutoff options within the digicam. Seek the advice of your digicam’s handbook to see what you want.

Different issues to pay attention to:

  • Most webcams have wide-angle lenses, so it’s simple to remain in body. For those who primarily wish to use this setup for video calls, you’ll wish to use the widest lens you will have in your DSLR or mirrorless digicam, in any other case your video calls will likely be all face and also you’ll always drift out of body.
  • You additionally ought to attempt to use the quickest lens you will have accessible. The decrease the aperture (the quantity after the f/ in your digicam’s lens), the extra blurred and nice your background will look. You’ll wish to be a minimum of at f/2.8, however when you can go decrease, that’s higher. I set my 16mm Fujifilm lens to its lowest aperture of f/1.four for the perfect impact.
  • Your digicam probably has some form of face detect autofocus, which it is best to allow. That manner when you shift your seat or transfer, it can simply comply with your face to remain in focus. You’ll in all probability hear your lens refocusing because it retains observe of you, however odds are individuals on the opposite finish of your video chats won’t hear it.
  • Maintaining the digicam always on and feeding reside video to your laptop for lengthy durations of time could make the components in your digicam sizzling, and in some cases, a digicam would possibly shut down if it overheats. It’s good to show off your digicam in between calls.

On the left is a picture from my laptop computer’s built-in 720p webcam. On the appropriate is a shot taken with my Fujifilm mirrorless digicam related to my laptop.

After getting the entire components, organising the digicam is so simple as plugging the cable into the aspect of the digicam, plugging the opposite finish into the seize card, after which plugging that into your laptop and turning your digicam on. Each Home windows and macOS will routinely acknowledge the digicam as a webcam and it will likely be accessible as an possibility in Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime, or no matter different software program you employ for video calls. From there you may simply bask within the glory of the picture high quality out of your overpriced webcam.

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