Sony’s ZV-1 launched in May 2020 and we still think it’s the best vlog camera of its kind. But now Sony has made its decision a little more complicated by releasing a more affordable version with a somewhat mixed set of features.
The Sony ZV-1F is in some ways a step up from the original Sony ZV-1 (which will remain on sale) and in others a regression. Its fundamentals are the same; is a 20MP, 1-inch compact camera that can record 4K/30p videos with the kind of natural bokeh, or background blur, that smartphones still struggle to produce.
The ZV-1F’s two main differences from the ZV-1 are its lens and user interface. One of our few complaints about its predecessor is that its 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens can sometimes be a little cramped if you’re vlogging handheld rather than on a tripod. The ZV-1F tries to solve this by offering a wider 20mm f/2 lens.
It’s a shame the lens isn’t quite as bright on the ZV-1, and photographers will lose the flexibility of zooming. But in theory, the ZV1-F should still offer the shallow depth of field that smartphones like the iPhone 14 Pro and Google Pixel 7 are trying (and often failing) to simulate with their ‘cinematic’ modes.
Sony also says the ZV-1F includes some new smartphone-style touchscreen tricks. Unlike the ZV-1, which only lets you tap the screen to pull focus, Sony’s new vlog camera lets you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to use frequently used settings or tap the screen control icons. to change things like the aperture.
But the ZV-1F also has some strange limitations. Most disconcerting is that its autofocus system, which is probably the standout feature of the ZV-1, uses an older contrast detection system rather than a hybrid setup that includes both contrast and phase detection technology for tracking. reliable.
Sony told us this shouldn’t make much difference in most vlogging situations, and the new model has a higher number of focus points than the ZV-1 (425, compared to 315). But that’s something we’ll have to test and it puts the ZV-1F more in line with older rivals like the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III, which also uses contrast-only autofocus.
The other physical differences from the ZV-1 are that the ZV-1F thankfully now includes USB-C charging instead of microUSB, but it also replaces the ZV-1’s hot shoe (which charges accessories like a shotgun mic while you use them) with a simpler cold shoe.
Otherwise, the ZV-1F is pretty much the same as the ZV-1, with a 3-capsule microphone (with a windscreen accessory included), electronic stabilization, and the handy ‘Product Showcase’ mode that makes the autofocus setup ideal. for YouTubers who do product reviews. The other final change is pricing: the Sony ZV-1F will be available to buy from mid-October for $499 / £549 / AUS$849.
Analysis: Flying too close to smartphones?
In the two years since the launch of the original Sony ZV-1, smartphones have made typically aggressive strides in video recording performance – particularly in modes like Apple’s ‘Cinematic Mode’ (recently imitated by the Google Pixel 7 series), which can apply a background blur simulation in their videos in an attempt to replicate a bright prime lens.
In fact, Sony itself has apparently made a killer ZV-1 in the form of the Sony Xperia Pro-I, which also has a 1-inch sensor and has a ‘Video Pro’ interface that looks a lot like Sony’s high-end mirrorless. . cameras. So now is there any real point for cameras like the new ZV-1F?
Margins are now certainly improving and a lot depends on your preferred type of smartphone. A compact camera like the ZV-1F, for example, offers high-quality video capture in a pocket-sized form factor for anyone who has mid-range smartphones or doesn’t want an Xperia phone. The Xperia Pro-1 also only uses a portion of its 1-inch sensor, so a ZV-1F still (on paper) has greater light-gathering powers.
But the ZV-1F also shows that Sony isn’t as committed to the basics of its camcorders as it is to professional models like the Sony A7S III. The Sony ZV series, which also includes the Sony ZV-E10, is assembled from the parts left over from some of the company’s older photo-focused cameras. The ZV-1 and ZV-1F, for example, come from the same gene pool as Sony’s RX100-series compacts.
It’s a shame that the ZV-1F’s autofocus has seemingly regressed with its contrast-only system and we’d like to see even more smartphone-style user interfaces. But the ZV-1F could, on paper, still make its way into our guide to the best vlog cameras, thanks to its new main lens and relatively affordable price.