Once society found itself in the age of social media, it was clear – sharing our photos and videos online would become a “vital” part of our “real” lives…
While social media is, in fact, the reason for this strange way of life, our phones/laptops are the vehicles that power all of this 24/7, non-stop access to entertainment, sharing and even scrolling.
I, at 25, also find that ironic — phones have tried to become “proper cameras” for ages, and now “proper cameras” are 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 Apple and Samsung customers back with a budget pocket camera that looks suspiciously like a … phone.
And I know we’re on PhoneArena, but for the sake of this story, please, try to think of Sony as the maker of film-grade camera gear, rather than the company that makes Sony Xperia phones. Who buys these anyway? Oops.
The Sony ZV-1F is Sony’s second “vlog camera” but it looks more like an iPhone than a “real camera” now
Your smartphone also works great without it.
Before I go any further, I must give credit to Gerald Undone from YouTube, who made a 24-minute video on the Sony ZV-1F, which I highly recommend you watch, as it inspired me to put together this story and helped me decide on this camera. Like Sony’s realized pocket cameras are on the way out now and the company is trying to do something about it, and it’s… impressive! I always praise the manufacturers who they are attemptespecially if they are trying so hard.
Some may already be familiar but the Sony ZV-1F is, of course, the follow-up to the somewhat iconic (it’s seriously arguable how popular the pocket camera was in the age of phones), the Sony ZV-1. The two big differences between the original ZV-1 and the new ZV-1F are the price and one important hardware component.
The original Sony ZV-1 launched at $700, while the new ZV-1F is down to $500. Also, 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 variable zoom in favor of a 20mm-equivalent fixed lens.
The Sony ZV-1F’s low price and fixed lens make it more likely (at least according to Sony’s aspirations) to be a camera accessory you buy with your phone, rather than an outright replacement! But still, the Sony ZV-1F also turned out to be uncannily similar to a phone’s camera …
The FoV wide-angle, fixed lens, and aperture lens make the Sony ZV-1F the iPhone for pocket cameras, but is that a good thing?
Without a doubt, the one that screams “more like a camera phone” is the Sony ZV-1F’s 20mm fixed lens. A wider FoV lens is a phone camera feature made popular by LG’s ultra-wide-angle cameras, and later adopted by… every other phone maker. With the fixed lens comes the f/2.0 aperture, a phone camera trait that has been blocking phone cameras for ages. Ironically, the new Huawei brand The Mate 50 Pro now features a variable f/1.4-f/4.0 aperture (as samples show) which can make a huge difference when taking photos/videos of close-up subjects.
Sensor cropping, digital zoom, extensive use of computational photography and sharpening on a “real camera”
As we saw in Gerald Undone’s extensive review, the ZV-1F uses sensor cropping (just like the iPhone 14 Pro) to give you 1.5-2x lossless zoom but nothing beyond that. What’s even more interesting is that Sony uses some digital sharpening to make photos and especially videos pop, well… sharper.
While the level of computational sharpness on the ZV-1F is nowhere near as dramatic as in images captured with iPhone 14 (Apple really needs to tone it down!), it’s out there, and I can’t say I’m a huge fan. Even phone cameras like The Xiaomi 12S Ultra (which, ironically, uses a custom 1-inch sensor made by Sony), has now tried 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 stabilization, or optical image stabilization (OIS). The ZV-1F relies entirely on what Sony calls Active Mode Image Stabilization or what we phone folks know as Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS). Again, phones didn’t invent EIS, but it did make it very popular.
“Beautiful, accurate skin tones for everyone” – Software smoothing brings the Sony ZV-1F closer to a Xiaomi camera phone
However, this smartphone camera-inspired software feature is not a defect at all. You do have the option to leave it off, but it’s nice to have for those days when you might not feel like putting on makeup but still want to vlog…
As phones have become more like “real cameras”, real cameras have become more like iPhones; The Sony ZV-1F finds itself in the middle of a strange transformation
iPhone 14 Pro on the left, Sony ZV-1F on the right (Courtesy of Gerald Undone). Sony has a huge advantage in low light thanks to its 1-inch sensor, but that lead is likely to shrink if we compare it to the Xiaomi 12S Ultra.
While a pocket camera like the Sony ZV-1F still has some obvious advantages like natural photo and video processing, which means it’s likely to give you a more consistent shooting experience compared to a phone camera, Sony’s simplistic approach also happens to make the ZV-1F very Similar to a smartphone, which almost defeats the purpose of buying the camera in the first place, for example, the fixed aperture combination of the lens will limit your creative options since as you move into shooting with the ZV-1F, you find yourself with few lossless zoom options, It is a feature similar to phones The Pixel 6 Pro made me appreciate a lot when taking snapshots on vacation.
At the same time, the ZV-1F takes away the best features of a camera phone, such as its compact form factor, light weight, and instant sharing capabilities, making some use case scenarios more complex than using an iPhone or Android device.
On the other end of things, does all of this mean I’m done asking phones to become more like “real cameras”? of course not! The obvious, massive advantages of large sensors, variable apertures, and variable zoom (hopefully soon enough) is exactly the direction I want phone cameras to go.
I’m not sure “real cams” should go the opposite way?!