Cameras for YouTube (2021): What I Bought and Why

It’s hard to believe that I’ve now been creating YouTube videos for more than four years. What’s even crazier is that my channel has garnered more than 1.6 million views in that time! I share this not to brag but because I honestly just learned this information.

Since starting my channel, a lot has changed. When compared to earlier videos, you can see that my on-camera energy has greatly increased, my lighting has improved (although I know I still suck at it), and my format has solidified into something I think works well. All the while, I’ve been using the same camera I purchased used on Amazon all those years ago. But, due to a few different factors, I recently decided it was time for an upgrade.

So, what led to my decision to shell out some money for a new camera, why did I end up picking the Sony ZV-1, and how did I score a good deal on my purchase? Let’s dive into all of that and more:

Why it Was Time to Upgrade

My previous camera

Back in 2017, when I was getting started with YouTube, I decided to purchase a Sony RX100 II. More specifically, I elected to buy it used on Amazon for around $400. What I loved (and continue to love) about the RX100 was its small point-and-shoot size while offering strong video quality and features. Indeed, the camera has served me well for the past four years and I plan on continuing to use it as a backup. Nevertheless, there were a few key reasons why I decided now was the time to look for an upgrade

Future-proofing

At the time that I bought the RX100 II, Sony was already up to the RX100 V. In other words, I was already buying a somewhat outdated product (which I knew but was willing to sacrifice for the savings). One of the most notable drawbacks of this older model is that it doesn’t support 4K video. Granted, I still don’t feel as though I need to be shooting in 4K for the types of videos I create, but this resolution is quickly becoming the standard. Thus, I figured it was a good idea to not only have a device capable of capturing 4K footage but to also get some experience editing with proxy files and ensuring that my workflow/machines can handle the larger videos if needed.

Technical issues

Now for what’s really the biggest reason I started looking for a new camera: some minor flaws that I’ve discovered or that have cropped up with my RX100. The first (and smaller of the two) is that the camera can only shoot 29 minutes of video at a time. Apparently, this is pretty standard and is something I really should have known, yet I only came across it recently. That’s because, due to the format of my videos, I don’t typically shoot for that long. However, on back-to-back shoots, I hit this limit and was dismayed to see that my camera just shut off. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal except that, when I went to watch the footage in both cases, the camera had managed to lose sync with the audio somewhere along the way.

While the 29-minute limit didn’t typically impact me, a strange glitch that my camera developed proved more problematic. For whatever reason, every so often, my camera thinks that I’m turning the function wheel. This leads it to stop recording my current video and forces me to reselect a mode. Oddly, there are times when I can shoot my whole video without issue and other times where my shoots are interrupted multiple times. Needless to say, this is infuriating, but it could be worse. Again, due to the format of my videos, these unexpected shut-offs are inconvenient but not world-ending. Meanwhile, it’d be a much different story if I needed to shoot something live — like I occasionally do when covering the Disney Parks — and the camera cut it off. Thus, I started to think that these annoyances needed to be remedied before they caused larger issues.

Reinvesting

The final reason I decided that now was the time to pick up a new camera for myself involves finances. As I’ll discuss much more in a future article, I recently created my first ever sponsored video. Once the job was done, I realized that it might make sense to utilize the money I made from this brand deal to reinvest in my channel. Was this just me trying to rationalize spending money on something I wanted but wasn’t sure I should buy? Probably — but the logic tracks, so I went with it and started doing my research. When I did, I was led to the Sony ZV-1 as a potential replacement for my RX100.

Sony ZV-1: What Led to My Choice — and How I Scored a Good Deal

Convenient features

If you were to set the Sony ZV-1 and the RX100 II next to each other, you probably wouldn’t notice a ton of major differences at first — and that’s exactly what attracted me to this option. I love the form factor of the RX100 and its pocketability, so I knew I’d want to stay somewhere in that realm. Yet, in that small body, the ZV-1 packs in some features that I think will be greatly beneficial to me as a content creator.

Let’s start with what’s one of the most obvious and most hyped aspects of the ZV-1: its flip-out screen. Now, when I bought the RX100 II, I decided I didn’t really need a flip-up screen like the one offered on the Mark III and above. After all, I don’t do a ton of vlogging, so I figured that this was a feature I could sacrafice for cost savings. Although I think that was probably the right call overall given the price difference, I had to say that having a flip-out screen (which is even better than flip-up in my opinion) is incredibly nice. There have definitely been times that I’ve set my frame, hit record, and walked in front of the camera only to find that I’d messed something up. More often than not, I was able to “fix it in post,” but it is very reassuing to be able to continually check my frame.

On a somewhat similar note, I love that the ZV-1 has a light on the front indicating that you’re recording. Normally, I have audio signals on so I know when my recording cuts out, but there have been times when I thought I was recording and wasn’t. No more!

Of course, on the topic of futureproofing, I should note that the ZV-1 supports 4K recording. Even better, the camera forgoes the video recording limits that my RX100 has — although you may need to adjust some settings to allow for this. That way, you can keep shooting until the card is full or your battery runs out.

Finally, another feature that the ZV-1 offers that my RX100 didn’t is an external mic port. Although I currently record audio separately anyway (in most cases), I do love having this as an option now. Plus, the ZV-1’s internal microphone is apparently greatly improved, so I might not even need another mic if I’m making videos on the road or otherwise away from my typical audio setup.

Reusing accessories

Not only do the ZV-1 and RX100 look fairly similar but they also support many of the same accessories. At the top of the list, the two models utilize the same batteries. This is a big plus for me as I already own a couple of batteries that I’ll now be able to use as backups for my new camera.

While that’s easily the largest shared accessory benefit, there are some other smaller parts I’ll be able to reuse as well. For example, I have a GoPro mount that slots into the hot shoe of the camera. This tiny part has come in handy on past Disney Parks assignments as I was able to shoot close-ups of shows with my main camera while letting the GoPro cover the wides.

Why not the ZV-E10?

If you’re up on your tech news, you may be wondering why I didn’t opt for the new Sony ZV-E10 that’s being releaesed just a couple of weeks from when I’m writing this. As the name implies, the ZV-E10 is a continutation of Sony’s content creator-centric ZV line, but this model has some major differences. For one, the E10 has interchangable lenses.

I’ll admit that the announcement of the ZV-E10 is what initially jumpstarted my search for a new camera. And, after seeing reviews, I started to consider the idea of using the E10 as a gateway into experimenting with different lenses and more advanced setups. However, after thinking about it, I realized that this just didn’t make sense for me. In reality, I’d probably end up sticking with the kit lens because — shocker — camera lenses are expensive! Plus, while I could carry the body of the camera in my pocket, even sticking with the kit lens would mean carrying much more gear with me than I’d want to. Thus, I was pushed toward the ZV-1 instead.

Incidentally, another impact the release of the ZV-E10 had on my decision to buy the ZV-1 was that it seems as though it may be a while longer before we get a ZV-1 II. Had such a model been announced this time around, I’d probably need to think a bit harder about which model made more sense for my needs. But, with no word on when a legitimate sequel to the ZV-1 will arrive and no major features I think I need in such a successor, I felt confident in buying the original now.

How I purchased my ZV-1

As I mentioned, I purchased my RX 100 II used on Amazon and was happy with the results. Thus, when I was ready to buy the ZV-1, I went to see what Amazon had available. Although they did have used models for sale, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the prices. In fact, the lowest price I could find was $619, which was only in “good” condition and didn’t include shipping. So I decided to look elsewhere.

That’s when I landed on Best Buy. Although I had seen open box deals in the store before, it never occurred to me that they might have similar offerings online. Well, it turns out they do — and they had some for the ZV-1. In this case, the open box item was billed as being in “Excellent” condition and included all of the original accessories. The price? $622 with shipping included. That amounts to a savings of $127 when compared to the $749 retail price. Even better, my wife’s Chase card had an offer for 10% cashback at Best Buy (up to $35). I also shopped through Rakuten for another 1% back… but cameras were one of the exclusions for this offer, so no dice there.

In addition to the camera itself, I did decide there was one was accessory I wanted: Sony’s “vlogger kit.” This actually includes a grip/mini tripod that can be used to control the camera as well as a 64 GB SD card. As awesome as this kit is, it wasn’t exactly cheap, coming in at $148. So, to offset this expense, I turned to the Amazon gift cards I’ve been earning via my Mode Phone. Those totaled $60 plus I had a $40 gift card I purchased around Prime Day in order to earn a bonus, so my out-of-pocket total was around $50. That means that I was effectively able to pick up the camera and the vlogger accessory kit for less than the retail price of the ZV-1 itself. Not too shabby!

Of course, I guess I could have just waited a bit longer as the MSRP of the ZV-1 has dropped to $700 with the arrival of the ZV-E10. In turn, the open box deal at Best Buy is now $581. However, that $35 Chase offer is gone, so my effective cost would have been about the same (I paid about $5 more overall). But, the moral of the story is that the ZV-1 is now an even better deal!

It’s now only been a few days since my Sony ZV-1 has arrived but I’ve already enjoyed exploring its new features and capabilities. On the other hand, the upgrade is bittersweet as I will miss my RX100 II and appreciate everything it’s done for me. Meanwhile, if you’re looking to upgrade your current camera or even get started with YouTube, I’d recommend at least giving the ZV-1 a look. If you decide it’s a good pick for you, then I’d also urge you to check out potential used and open box deals — which I’d bet would become more available as the ZV-E10 rolls out — helping make your investment a bit more affordable.


Also published on Medium.

Author

Kyle Burbank

Kyle is a freelance writer and author whose first book, "The E-Ticket Life" is now available on Amazon. In addition to his weekly "Money at 30" column on Dyer News, he is also the editorial director and a writer for the Disney fan site LaughingPlace.com and the founder of Money@30.com.

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