The Sony ZV-1F is a strange twist on the world’s best vlogging camera

Sony’s ZV-1 launched back in May 2020 and we still think it’s the best vlogging camera of its kind. But now Sony has made your decision a little trickier by launching a more affordable version with a slightly mixed bag 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; it’s a 20MP 1-inch compact camera that can shoot 4K/30p video 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 tight if you’re vlogging handheld, rather than on a tripod. The ZV-1F attempts to solve this by instead offering a wider 20mm f/2 lens.

It’s a shame that lens isn’t quite as bright at the ZV-1’s, and photographers will miss the flexibility of having zoom. 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 that the ZV-1F includes some new, smartphone-style touchscreen tricks. Unlike the ZV-1, which only let you tap the screen to pull focus, Sony’s new vlogging camera lets you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to use frequently-used settings, or tap the screen’s control icons to change things like aperture.

But the ZV-1F also has some odd limitations. The most baffling is that its autofocus system, which is probably the ZV-1’s standout feature, uses an older contrast-detection system, rather a hybrid setup than includes both contrast- and phase-detect technology for reliable tracking.

Sony told us that this shouldn’t make a lot of difference in most vlogging situations, and the new model does have a higher number of focus points than the ZV-1 (425, compared to 315). But this is something we’ll have to test and it does put the ZV-1F more in line with older rivals like the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III, which also only uses contrast-only autofocus.

The other physical differences from the ZV-1 are that the ZV-1F thankfully now includes USB-C charging, rather than microUSB, but also replaces the ZV-1’s hotshoe (which charges accessories like a shotgun mic while you use them) with a simpler coldshoe.

Otherwise, the ZV-1F is much the same as the ZV-1, with a 3-capsule microphone (with a bundled windscreen accessory), electronic stabilization, and the handy ‘Product Showcase’ mode which makes the autofocus setup ideal for YouTubers who do product reviews. The other final change is the pricing: the Sony ZV-1F will be available to buy in October for €650 (around $630 / £565 / AU$1,015).

Analysis: Flying too close to smartphones? 

(Image credit: Sony)

In the two years since the original Sony ZV-1 launched, smartphones have made typically aggressive strides in video shooting performance – most notably in modes like Apple’s ‘Cinematic mode’ (recently aped by the Google Pixel 7 series), which can apply a simulated background blur to their videos in an attempt to replicate a bright prime lens.

In fact, Sony itself has seemingly made a ZV-1 killer in the form of the Sony Xperia Pro-I, which also has a 1-inch sensor and has a ‘Video Pro’ interface that looks very similar to Sony’s high-end mirrorless cameras. So is there now any real point to cameras like the new ZV-1F?

The margins are now certainly getting fine and a lot depends on your preferred type of smartphone. A compact camera like the ZV-1F, for example, gives offers high-quality video capture in a pocketable form factor for those who have mid-range smartphones or don’t want an Xperia phone. The Xperia Pro-1 also does only use a portion of its 1-inch sensor, so a ZV-1F does still (on paper) have greater light-gathering powers.

But the ZV-1F also shows that Sony isn’t quite as committed to the entry-level sector of its video cameras as it is with pro models like the Sony A7S III. The Sony ZV series, which also includes the Sony ZV-E10, is assembled from the parts left behind by some of the company’s older stills-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 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 fight its way into our guide to the best vlogging cameras thanks to its new prime lens and relatively affordable price tag.

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