Apple and Samsung laughing; Sony wants new $500 camera to replace your iPhone, Galaxy!

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Apple and Samsung laughing; Sony wants new $500 camera to replace your iPhone, Galaxy!
Once society found itself in the age of social media, it was clear - sharing photos and videos of ourselves online will become a “vital” part of our “real” lives…

While social media, indeed, is the culprit of this bizarre way of living life, our phones/portable computers are the vehicles that power all of this 24/7, non-stop access to entertainment, sharing, and even doom-scrolling.

The moment I reаlized phone-makers were going to take phone cameras reallyseriously was when I shot a vlog-style documentary on my iPhone 4S, some 9-10 years ago. Seeing the crisp, colorful, Movie Maker-edited, 1080p footage that came out of the iPhone 4S that fit in the pocket of my jeans, I was genuinely mind-blown!

To cut the incrediblyintriguing story of my cool teenage years short, on top of all the things they already are, phones have been trying to become “real cameras” for well over a decade now (some will argue closer to two decades). That’s exactly why 15-year-old me would’ve found it hard to believe that “real cameras” will one day be emulating phones, but... here we are!

The 25-year-old me also finds it ironic - phones have been trying to become "proper cameras" for ages and now "proper cameras" are becoming more like phone cameras? What? Why?! So, let’s take a quick look at the new Sony ZV-1F and see how Sony’s intentionally trying to draw some of Apple and Samsung’s customers back with a budget pocket camera that’s suspiciously similar to… a phone.

And I know we’re on PhoneArena, but for the sake of this story, please, try thinking of Sony as the film-grade camera gear maker, instead of the company that makes Sony Xperia phones. Who buys those anyway? Oops.

The Sony ZV-1F is Sony’s second “vlogging camera” but it’s more similar to an iPhone than it is to a “real camera” now

Before I move on, I have to give credit to Gerald Undone from YouTube, who made a 24-minute long video on the Sony ZV-1F, which I strongly recommend watching, as it inspired me to put together this story and helped me make up my mind about this camera.

Anyway, it seems like Sony’s realized pocket cameras are on their way out now and the company's trying to do something about it, which is... admirable! I always commend manufacturers who are trying, especially if they’re trying hard.

Some might already be familiar but the Sony ZV-1F, of course, is a follow-up to the somewhat iconic (it’s seriously arguable how iconic a pocket camera can be in the age of phones), Sony ZV-1. The two big distinctions between the original ZV-1 and the new ZV-1F are the price and one important hardware element.

The original Sony ZV-1 launched at $700, while the new ZV-1F goes all the way 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 drops the 24-70mm equiv variable zoom in favor of a fixed, 20mm equivalent lens.

Both the significantly lower price and fixed lens make the Sony ZV-1F more likely (at least according to Sony’s aspirations) to be a camera accessory that you buy to go with your phone, instead of completely replacing it! But with that, the Sony ZV-1F also turns out to be weirdly similar to a phone 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?

Without a doubt, what screams “more like a phone camera” most is the Sony ZV-1F’s fixed 20mm lens. A wider FoV is very much a phone camera trait that became popular thanks to LG’s ultra-wide-angle cameras, which were later adopted by… every other phone-maker.

With the fixed lens comes a fixed f/2.0 aperture, which is another phone camera trait that's been holding phone cameras back for ages. Ironically, Huawei’s brand new Mate 50 Pro now features a variable f/1.4-f/4.0 aperture that (as samples show) can make a massive difference when taking photos/videos of close-up subjects.

Sensor-cropping, digital zoom, and extensive use of computational photography and sharpening on a "real camera"

Of course, with a fixed lens and aperture, the Sony ZV-1F finds itself in the same disadvantaged position in which phone cameras have been for ages, and that’s most noticeable when you want to zoom in or take the most natural-looking photo.

As seen in Gerald Undone’s extensive review, the ZV-1F uses sensor-cropping (just like an iPhone 14 Pro) to give you lossless 1.5-2x zoom but pretty much nothing beyond that. What’s more interesting to see is that Sony’s using some digital sharpening to make photos and especially videos appear, well… sharper.

While the level of computational sharpening on the ZV-1F is nowhere near as dramatic as on photos taken with an iPhone 14 (Apple really needs to tone it down!), it’s there, and I can’t say I’m the biggest fan. Even phone cameras like the Xiaomi 12S Ultra (which, ironically, uses a custom 1-inch sensor made by Sony), now try 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 from the Sony ZV-1F is hardware or Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). The ZV-1F relies completely on what Sony calls “Active Mode image stabilization” or what we, phone people, know as Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS). Again, phones didn’t invent EIS, but they did make it very popular.

I’ve gone through a series of videos shot on the new Sony ZV-1F to conclude that even when Active Mode is turned on, footage taken with the ZV-1F ends up looking remarkably shaky. Videos come out with an unhealthy dose of bizarre wobble/jello effect, which can be extremely distracting when… well, always.

“Beautiful and accurate skin tones for everyone” - software skin-smoothing brings the Sony ZV-1F closer to a Xiaomi camera phone

Sony’s also borrowing another phone camera feature (perhaps somewhat controversial) made popular by Chinese phones and that’s skin-smoothing. Just like on any Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, or Samsung, Sony lets you toggle on a Soft Skin Effect whenever you find suitable - there are levels to it too (low, mid or high).

This smartphone camera-inspired software feature isn’t at all a drawback, though. You have the option to leave it turned off but it’s a great thing to have for those days when you might not feel like putting on makeup but still want to vlog…

As phones are becoming more like “real cameras”, real cameras are becoming more like iPhones; Sony ZV-1F finds itself in the middle of a weird transition

While a pocket camera like the Sony ZV-1F still has some obvious advantages like more natural photo and video processing, meaning it’s more likely to give you a more consistent shooting experience compared to a phone camera, Sony's streamlined approach also happens to make the ZV-1F too similar to a smartphone, which almost defeats the purpose of buying the camera in the first place.

For example, the fixed lens-aperture combo will seriously limit your creative options since as you switch to taking photos with the ZV-1F, you’ll find yourself with little lossless zooming options, which is a feature that phones like my Pixel 6 Pro have made me appreciate dearly when taking snaps on vacation.

At the same time, the ZV-1F takes away the best features of a phone camera, like the compact form-factor, light weight and instant sharing abilities, making some use case scenarios more complicated than with an iPhone or an Android device.

On the opposite end of things, does all of that mean I’m done asking from phones to become more like “real cameras”? Absolutely not! The obvious and massive advantages of big sensors, variable apertures and (hopefully soon enough) variable zoom are exactly the direction I want phone cameras to go in.

I’m just not sure “real cameras” should be driving in the opposite lane?!

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