When society was in the age of social media, it was clear that sharing photos and videos of ourselves online would become a “vital” part of our “real” lives…
While social media is indeed the culprit of this bizarre way of life, our phones/portable computers are the vehicles that power all of this, 24/7 access to entertainment, sharing and even doom scrolling.
The 25-year-old Me also finds it ironic – phones have been trying to become “real cameras” for ages, and now “real cameras” are becoming more and 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 win back some of Apple’s and Samsung’s customers with a budget pocket camera that’s suspiciously phone-like.
And I know we’re on PhoneArena, but for the sake of this story, please try to think of Sony as the maker of movie-quality camera gear, rather than the company that makes Sony Xperia phones. Who buys these anyway? Oops.
The Sony ZV-1F is Sony’s second “vlogging camera,” but it’s more like an iPhone than a “real camera.”
Your smartphone works great even without it.
Before I continue, I must give credit Gerald Undone from YouTube who made a 24 minute video on the Sony ZV-1F which I highly recommend as it inspired me to put this story together and helped me decide on this camera. Anyway, it seems like Sony’s realized pocket cameras are on the way out now and the company is trying to do something about it, which is… admirable! I always recommend manufacturers that are to attemptespecially if they try.
Some might already know it, but the Sony ZV-1F is of course a successor to the somewhat iconic (one can seriously argue how iconic a pocket camera can be in the age of cellphones), Sony ZV-1. The two big differences between the original ZV-1 and the new ZV-1F are price and an important hardware element.
The original Sony ZV-1 launched at $700 while the new ZV-1F goes down to $500. Also, the ZV-1F is the company’s second vlogging camera to be built around a Type 1 sensor, but it now ditches 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 (at least according to Sony’s aspirations) a camera accessory you buy with your phone rather than a full replacement! But with that, the Sony ZV-1F also turns out to be oddly similar to a cellphone camera…
Ultra wide-angle FoV and a fixed lens and aperture make the Sony ZV-1F the iPhone of pocket cameras, but is that a good thing?
What screams “more like a cell phone camera” is without a doubt the Sony ZV-1F’s fixed 20mm lens. A wider FoV is a phone camera feature that became popular thanks to LG’s ultra wide-angle cameras, which were later adopted by… all other phone manufacturers. With the fixed lens comes a fixed f/2.0 aperture, which is another phone camera feature that has held back phone cameras for ages. Ironically, Huawei is brand new The Mate 50 Pro now has a variable f/1.4-f/4.0 aperture which (as examples show) can make a big difference when taking close-up photos/videos.
Sensor cropping, digital zoom and full use of computer photography and sharpening on a “real camera”
As seen in Gerald Undone’s in-depth review, the ZV-1F uses sensor cropping (just like an iPhone 14 Pro) to give you a lossless 1.5x to 2x zoom, but pretty much nothing beyond that. More interesting to see is that Sony uses some digital sharpening to make photos and especially videos appear, well… sharper.
While the degree of computational sharpening on the ZV-1F is nowhere near as dramatic as in photos taken with one iPhone 14 (Apple really needs to make it quieter!), it’s here, and I can’t say I’m its biggest fan. Even cell phone cameras like that Xiaomi 12S Ultra (which ironically uses a custom 1-inch Sony sensor) now tries to keep photos and videos as natural as possible.
Electronic instead of optical image stabilization – the Achilles’ heel of the Sony ZV-1F
Another omission of the Sony ZV-1F is the hardware or optical image stabilization (OIS). The ZV-1F relies entirely on what Sony calls “active mode image stabilization” or what we telephonists know as Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS). Again, phones didn’t invent EIS, but they did make it very popular.
“Beautiful and accurate skin tones for everyone” – Software skin smoothing brings the Sony ZV-1F closer to a Xiaomi camera phone
However, this smartphone camera-inspired software feature is not a disadvantage at all. You have the option to leave it off, but it’s a great thing for those days when you might not feel like makeup but still want to vlog…
As phones become more like “real cameras,” real cameras are becoming more like iPhones; The Sony ZV-1F is in the middle of a strange transition
iPhone 14 Pro on the left, Sony ZV-1F on the right (courtesy of Gerald Undone). The Sony has a massive low-light advantage thanks to its 1-inch sensor, but that advantage will likely shrink when we compare it to the Xiaomi 12S Ultra.
While a pocket camera like the Sony ZV-1F still has some obvious advantages like more natural photo and video processing, meaning it tends to give you a more consistent shooting experience compared to a phone camera, Sony’s streamlined approach also makes the ZV-1F to similar to a smartphone, which almost defeats the purpose of buying the camera. For example, the fixed lens and aperture combination will seriously limit your creative options as you switch to photography with the ZV-1F. You’ll find yourself with small lossless zoom options, which is a feature phones like mine use Pixel 6 Pro has really appreciated me when taking snaps on vacation.
At the same time, the ZV-1F takes away the best qualities of a phone camera, such as the compact form factor, light weight and instant sharing ability, making some application scenarios more complicated than with an iPhone or an Android device.
On the other hand, does that mean I’m done asking phones to become more like “real cameras”? Absolutely not! The obvious and massive benefits of large sensors, variable apertures, and (hopefully soon enough) variable zoom are exactly the direction I want to take with cellphone cameras.
I’m just not sure if “real cameras” should be driving in the oncoming lane?!