Once society found itself in the age of social media, it became clear: sharing photos and videos of ourselves online will become a “vital” part of our “real” lives…
While social media is, in fact, to blame for this bizarre way of living life, our phones/laptops are the vehicles that power all of this 24/7 uninterrupted access to entertainment. , swapping, and even destination scrolling.
My 25 year old self also finds it ironic: phones have been trying to become “proper cameras” for a long time and now “proper cameras” are becoming more like phone cameras. What? Why?! So, let’s take a quick look at the new Sony ZV-1F and see how Sony is intentionally trying to lure some of Apple’s and Samsung’s customers with a budget pocket-sized camera that’s suspiciously similar to…a phone.
And I know we’re at PhoneArena, but for the sake of this story, try to think of Sony as the maker of cinema-grade camera gear, rather than the company that makes Sony Xperia phones. Who buys those anyway? oops.
The Sony ZV-1F is Sony’s second “vlogging camera”, but now it looks more like an iPhone than a “real camera”.
Your smartphone also works great without it.
Before I continue, I have to give credit to gerald undone from YouTube who made a 24 minute long video on the Sony ZV-1F which I highly recommend watching as it inspired me to put this story together and helped me make my decision about this camera. Anyway, it seems that Sony realized that pocket cameras are coming out now and the company is trying to do something about it, which is… admirable! I always congratulate manufacturers who are hardespecially if they try really hard.
Some may already be familiar, but the Sony ZV-1F is of course a follow-up to the somewhat iconic (how iconic a pocket camera can be in the age of phones is highly debatable), the Sony ZV-1. The two big distinctions between the original ZV-1 and the new ZV-1F are price and a major hardware element.
The original Sony ZV-1 launched at $700, while the new ZV-1F is down to $500. Additionally, the ZV-1F is the company’s second vlogging camera to be built around a Type 1 sensor, but now it drops the 24-70mm equivalent variable zoom in favor of a fixed 20mm equivalent lens.
Both the significantly lower price and the fixed lens make the Sony ZV-1F more likely (at least according to Sony’s aspirations) to be a camera accessory you buy for your phone, rather than a replacement outright! ! But with that, the Sony ZV-1F also feels eerily similar to a phone camera…
The ultra-wide field of view and a fixed lens and aperture make the Sony ZV-1F the iPhone of pocket cameras, but is that a good thing?
Without a doubt, what screams “more like a phone camera” the most is the 20mm fixed lens on the Sony ZV-1F. Wider FoV is very much a phone camera trait made popular by LG’s ultra-wide cameras, which were later adopted by…every other phone maker. With the fixed lens comes a fixed f/2.0 aperture, which is another phone camera feature that has been holding phone cameras back for years. Ironically, the new Huawei Matte 50 Pro it now features a variable f/1.4-f/4.0 aperture which (as the samples show) can make a world of difference when taking photos/videos of close-up subjects.
Sensor crop, digital zoom and extensive use of computational photography and sharpening in a “real camera”
As seen in Gerald Undone’s extensive review, the ZV-1F uses sensor cutout (much like an iPhone 14 Pro) to give you lossless 1.5-2x zoom, but pretty much nothing beyond that. What’s more interesting to see is that Sony is using some digital sharpening to make photos and especially videos pop, well… swindler.
While the level of computational sharpness on the ZV-1F isn’t as spectacular as it is on photos taken with a iPhone 14 (Apple really needs to tone it down!), it’s there, and I can’t say I’m the biggest fan. Even phone cameras like the xiaomi 12s ultra (which, ironically, uses a custom 1-inch sensor made by Sony), now try to keep photos and videos as natural as possible.
Electronic image stabilization instead of optical: the Achilles heel of the Sony ZV-1F
Another omission from the Sony ZV-1F is hardware or optical image stabilization (OIS). The ZV-1F relies entirely on what Sony calls “active mode image stabilization” or what we phone callers know as electronic image stabilization (EIS). Again, phones didn’t invent EIS, but they made it very popular.
“Beautiful and accurate skin tones for everyone”: Skin smoothing software brings the Sony ZV-1F closer to a Xiaomi camera phone
However, this smartphone camera-inspired software feature is not a drawback at all. You have the option to leave it off, but it’s great to have for those days when you might not feel like putting on makeup but still want to vlog…
As phones become more like “real cameras”, real cameras are more like iPhones; Sony ZV-1F is in the midst of a strange transition
iPhone 14 Pro on the left, Sony ZV-1F on the right (courtesy of Gerald Undone). The Sony has a huge advantage in low light conditions thanks to its 1-inch sensor, but this advantage is likely to be reduced when compared to the Xiaomi 12S Ultra.
While a pocket camera like the Sony ZV-1F still has some obvious advantages, such as more natural photo and video processing, which means it’s more likely to give you a more consistent shooting experience compared to a pocket camera. a phone, Sony’s simplified approach also makes the ZV-1F also similar to a smartphone, which almost defeats the purpose of buying the camera in the first place. For example, the fixed lens and aperture combination will seriously limit your creative options as when you switch to taking photos with the ZV-1F, you’ll be left with few lossless zoom options, which is a feature that phones like my pixel 6 pro They have made me appreciate a lot when I take vacation photos.
At the same time, the ZV-1F removes the best features of a phone camera, such as compact form factor, light weight, and instant sharing, making some use-case scenarios more complicated than with an iPhone or Android device.
On the opposite end of things, does all that mean I’m done asking phones to become more like “real cameras”? Absolutely not! The obvious and massive advantages of large sensors, variable apertures, and (hopefully soon enough) variable zoom are exactly the direction I want phone cameras to go.
I’m just not sure “real cameras” should be driving in the opposite lane?!