(Pocket-lint) – Sony’s camera launches have become increasingly more targeted and niche over the past few years as it seeks to offer cameras to cater to all manner of specific use cases and customers. Among those is the ZV range, which is its smallest video-centric camera line.
Its latest model in that range is the most budget-friendly: the ZV-1F. Its aim is to bridge the gap between a smartphone and ‘proper’ camera, giving you better quality and more functionality than your phone, but making it as easy as possible to make that transition. Has it worked though?
In the end, the impression we get from the ZV-1F is that it’s a camera for aspiring content creators. If you want to try vlogging – either for TikTok or Youtube – or if you want to try your hand at live-streaming from a desktop gaming PC, or if you want to try it all and not have to invest in lots of different cameras, the ZV-1F is like a gateway into that world.
Image quality – overall – is better than what you’ll get from your phone and the fact it doubles as a simple, good-quality plug-and-play webcam gives in an edge that may just convince you it’s worth having alongside your phone in your mobile shooting kit.
You get a compact, yet powerful and feature-rich camera that’s easy to use and doesn’t cost a lot of money. Its appeal is quite limited, like most dedicated cameras, and we can’t imagine the vast majority getting dramatically more from it than they can get from their smartphone, but it is worth considering if you’re wanting to take live streaming and vlogging a little more seriously.
- Small and lightweight
- Wide field of view
- Effective auto-exposure and object tracking
- Proper flip-out touchscreen
- Easy plug and play webcam
- Fixed lens
- Focus hunting at times
- Not much to grip on to
- Battery life could be better
- 105.5 x 60.0 x 46.4mm – 226g
- Flip-out touchscreen
- Dedicated background blur button
One of the things we appreciate most about the ZV-1F is the design. And when we say that, we don’t just mean the way it looks. It’s about more than just aesthetics, because there’s nothing especially eye-catching about the Sony ZV-1F. This camera is designed to be practical, user-friendly and unobtrusive.
What’s more, it’s equipped with all you need to get started. First of all, the prime lens on the front is fixed. So no having to mess around with removing and reattaching lenses to the front. Plus, that lens is surrounded by a really sturdy-feeling metal ring that protrudes further than the actual lens, to ensure it’s as well protected as it can be against knocks and drops.
For some, the lack of interchangeable lenses will be a bit of a downside. However, Sony does offer the ZV-E10 which is a little more expensive but features the Sony E-mount to support a wide range of lenses. It also has a larger APS-C sensor inside.
The ZV-1F is all about bringing a more affordable, ready-to-go camera to market without the need for extra expense beyond buying a memory card, which – these days – isn’t much of an expense at all. On that note, it supports SD cards and Sony Memory Stick, with a slot that fits both near the battery, and with the door on the underside of the camera.
Sony’s focus on making a very compact and lightweight camera has led to some compromises. For instance, there’s not much in the way of a grip. Where a larger camera might give you a big grippy protrusion on the front, the ZV-1F doesn’t have much. There’s a small, cylindrical area in the corner, but it’s so small, we’re unsure whether it really makes any difference. Saying that our right-hand fingers instinctively curl around it while our thumb automatically found the small grip on the back, so it clearly serves some kind of purpose.
What’s impressive, however, is how well Sony has used very little space. For instance, the flip-out touchscreen that lives on the back takes up most of the space on the back of the camera. Plus, it flips out and rotates, so you can have it facing forwards, or rotate it to face up or down, or rotate it to face inwards to protect it while it’s stowed away.
The user interface on this touchscreen has also been designed to make the camera easy to use. With its colour-coded menu system, it’s easy enough to find and change the settings you want – whether that’s the video quality or focus mode. Plus, right from the main view you can switch and adjust different convenient settings like exposure control, zoom, and enable or disable the product showcase mode (more on that later).
Otherwise, there are plenty of buttons to press too. All – due to constraints – are quite small, but they’re still easy enough to find. The small shutter button on the top has a zoom lever and sits on the top, alongside the red-accented movie button for recording video, the button for switching between video, photo and slow/fast recording and – lastly – the background blur button.
This last one’s actually quite cool, and lets you quickly enable a bokeh for the background, giving you a depth effect when you don’t want the background distracting from you. Or – when you do want to show your background – switch it off.
Unlike larger cameras, you don’t get dedicated physical dials for exposure, aperture or shutter speed. It’s very much designed for point-and-shoot, or recording everything in automatic modes, like a phone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t change those settings, it’s just not quite as convenient to do so.
Other buttons are all placed on the back and include the usual menu button, the rotating dial for navigating menus and the gallery, display and delete buttons.
- Plug and play webcam
- Just connect to your Mac/PC and it works
As well as being a handy little vlogging camera with some tremendous automatic tools, the ZV-1F also doubles as a very good webcam. And unlike some other dedicated cameras, you don’t need to download any software or drivers in order for it to work. There’s no complicated set-up process either.
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The standard 1/4-inch screw mount on the bottom means you can mount the camera – as usual – to any standard tripod, and you can get those small enough to sit on your desk for very little money. Then, just plug in the USB-C cable into the camera and your desktop or laptop, and it’s ready to go.
While it’s plugged in it will use power from your computer to charge. So all you need to do after plugging it in is switch it on, then ensure whatever app you’re using to video conference or live stream from has the Sony ZV-1F camera selected as the video source.
While you’re using it as a webcam, you’ll see it using its ability to keep your face as well exposed as possible. It knows that needs to be the focus, and so adjusts to keep your face lit. Or – at least – that’s the theory.
In most instances, it works really well, but it can struggle sometimes. On our video calls, we’re generally sitting with a big bay window to our left, so that can get quite bright. We found if we were sitting a little too far from the camera, it would not adjust the exposure to our face properly, instead adjusting the exposure to make the window dimmer, dropping the exposure on our face and making it darker.
With that said, it was still better than most webcams in that situation. We weren’t turned into a silhouette, and you could still see our facial features, it was just darker than if we leant a little further forward towards the camera.
Despite its size, you still get enough physical ports. There’s a USB-C port for data transfer and charging, a micro HDMI for video output and a 3.5 port for microphone input. There’s even a cold shoe on the top, right on the left side, for mounting additional accessories you might need. Although, if you’re shooting outdoors, it’s probably best to use that for the included fluffy windshield if you’re relying on the camera’s built-in microphone for audio.
- 20.1MP – 1.0-type Exmor RS sensor
- 4K up to 30fps – 1080p at 60fps
- 425 contrast-detection AF points
- Up to 4x zoom
Sony’s vlogging cameras are, of course, all about video capture. And it’s not just about resolution, frame rates and bitrates. Sony has built a lot of smarts behind its cameras. With the ZV range in particular that means keeping your face well exposed even when light conditions around you change.
For the most part – as with the webcam usage – this works well when recording. We found that when we moved between bright backlighting to being in shadow, the camera smoothly adjusted the exposure on our face to ensure you could see us clearly. All in real-time too, so we don’t have to mess around in the edit. The gyroscope-powered stabilisation also ensures the footage is nice and smooth.
There are other neat features too, like the product showcase mode. When enabled, it can quickly and automatically focus on a product that you hold up to the centre of the camera. It works generally quite well, even when holding things close to the camera. In this mode, however, we did find that when we’re in the frame without a product it seemed to do a lot of focus hunting, resulting in that jarring motion where you can tell the camera is looking for something to focus on.
However, with the tap-to-track feature – where you can tap on an object on the screen and it stays locked onto it – the focus was very effective. We shot some close-up video in regular mode and slow-motion of some small berries being blown in the wind, and the camera was very good at keeping that fast swaying object in focus.
What we like about Sony’s approach to colours, contrast, detail and light is that it’s all designed to look realistic, so you don’t find many exaggerated colours and saturation, and you won’t see the contrast cranked up too high either. The end result is something that’s attractive, but still natural.
The wide angle of the prime lens means it’s primed (sorry) and ready for wide shots, and that makes it ideal for capturing yourself at arm’s length. That is more than enough distance for this lens to capture the top half of your torso and head, while also getting in a good amount of background. Plus, with the fluffy windshield over the microphone, it offers decent enough capture of voice and sound.
With that said, there’s no denying you’d still get better sound if you used a dedicated microphone. The overall tone is a little tinny and doesn’t sound especially natural or crisp but it is clear and it does seem to do a good job of elevating the voice above background noise and elevating it. If you want improved sound tt’s easy enough to fix a dedicated system to the ZV-1F too, thanks to that cold shoe and the 3.5mm input for microphones or wireless receivers.
With still photos you get great detail from the 20.1-megapixel sensor, and a sense of realism that’s missing from a lot of smartphone cameras. You also get a much nicer and more natural-looking background blur from the Sony camera than you get from pretty much any phone. Plus, with the sensor crop-based zoom, you can get a nice 2x-4x zoom without really losing any detail or image quality.
Battery life is just about okay, you can probably get away with just over an hour’s worth of shooting with the display switched on before the battery gets low. The convenience of it charging via USB-C can’t be overlooked, and the small battery can charge relatively quickly. You’ll probably want to carry around a battery pack for charging if you’re out and about, away from a wall outlet.
The ZV-1F is that is a camera built for aspiring content creators. Whether you have your eye on TikTok or Youtube, or you want to try your hand at live-streaming from a desktop gaming PC, the ZV-1F is a gateway into those worlds, without needing to invest in lots of different kit.
Writing by Cam Bunton.