Running Around with the Zoom F1 Field Recorder

17Share

The moment I saw the Zoom F1 Field Recorder, I knew that it was something I would be adding to my everyday bag. Over the years, I have been on set and worked with many audio recorders, from fully featured multi-track recorders like the Sound Devices MixPre-6 to tiny handheld options like the Zoom H1n though, for most shoots, I’ve stuck with something right in the middle—a Zoom H4n. Unfortunately, when I’m paring down my kit to a simple run-and-gun setup, the H4n usually gets cut and I replace it with either a RØDE VideoMic or plan on using music and/or voice-over. Being modular and exceptionally compact, the Zoom F1 can fill both roles of a run-and-gun mic or a fully featured audio recorder with ease.

After getting the F1 in my hands, specifically the model with the SGH-6 Shotgun Microphone Capsule, I was able to confirm that the size and design were perfect for my needs. Though it isn’t the most feature-rich audio recorder I’ve ever used, the fact that it could condense all the right features into such a tiny package is impressive. The main benefit I saw was for use as an on-person recorder with lavalier mics. Just remove any capsules, plug any standard 1/8" lavalier into the mic input jack, and you are ready to go. The recorder is pocketable, though the ideal setup is securely on your subject’s body, thanks to built-in loops for a belt. Since it has a headphone jack, as well, you could even connect this to a wireless transmitter and keep the F1 as a backup recording in case of emergencies. Other beneficial features include a Rec Hold setting so that you won’t accidentally change settings, and a Lo Cut Filter with multiple Hz options so that you can slightly limit the impact of various room noises like ACs and refrigerators.

The Zoom F1 with shotgun mic capsule

To test this, I hooked up my RØDE Lavalier and used it to shoot much of the video accompanying this article. The audio is decently clean with a low noise floor; granted, this isn’t going to be on par with something like the Zoom F8 Field Recorder, but it is exceptional for the price and size, especially if you are coming straight from relying on in-camera audio. There are really no complaints about quality here. The 3.5mm input does lack some fine controls, since the levels can only be set manually in broad terms like Lo-, Lo, Mid-, Mid, Mid+, and so on. For some shooters who need to rely on completely automatic shooting, there is also an auto level setting, as well as a limiter to prevent accidentally clipping loud sounds. On top of this, the 1.25" monochrome display is quite bright, making it easy to see even on sunny days.

For use on-camera with the shotgun mic module, Zoom includes a handy SMF-1 Shock Mount for quickly attaching the F1 to your hot shoe. This helps with handling noise from the camera and provides a nice secure mounting system for the recorder. When I mounted it on the top of my Sony a9, I noticed it is a bit larger than your average camera-mounted microphone, but the screen, physical dial, and the fact that it is a recorder certainly make up for this. One nice feature, compared to a standard on-camera mic, is that the levels can be adjusted with a smooth turn of a dial, meaning less handling noise than using the wheels and buttons on the back of the camera or on an inexpensive recorder. Also, a very useful option is to play a tone via the 1/8" output, so if it is connected to a camera, you can quickly set the camera’s levels to match the output of the F1.

Making the F1 a much more capable unit is in the use of the previously mentioned capsules. Zoom makes many different types, including the XYH-5 Shock-Mounted X/Y Stereo Microphone, the MSH-6 Mid-Side Microphone, and an EXH-6 Dual XLR/TRS Input Capsule, among others. Using any of these transforms the tiny recorder into a much different machine. I own the XYH-5, and use it as a standard handheld field recorder, much like I would use an H4n, to capture ambient sound and noises, as well as for off-camera interviews. One very tempting addition would be the EXH-6; since then, the F1 would become a great tool for using XLR mics—though it has one drawback in that it cannot provide phantom power. This isn’t the worst-case scenario, however, since many mics, such as the RØDE NTG4+ or a Sennheiser ME66 with K6 Module, can run on batteries.

The handy SMF-1 Shock Mount helps with handling noise from the camera and provides a secure mounting system for the recorder.

Getting into the specs, you will find this two-channel recorder offers some very respectable stats. It features settings of up to 24-bit and 96 kHz, and has options for either WAV (which is BWF compliant) or MP3. It also has decent sensitivity for its size and price and has a micro-USB port that allows it to be set up as an audio interface with either a computer or an iOS device. I quickly plugged this into my Macbook Air and loaded up DaVinci Resolve 14 and it worked like a charm. I could see this being used with the shotgun attachment on my desk for doing some quick voice-overs. When connected, it can be run on bus power, though for most uses it will require two AAA batteries, which are enough to provide about 6-8 hours of recording time, depending on capsules and settings chosen.

In my opinion, the F1 Field Recorder is the best portable audio device for independent filmmakers. It is tiny, can become a belt pack recorder or an on-camera mic with equal ease, and has excellent audio quality. There really isn’t much more you could ask for, besides an XLR capsule with phantom power perhaps.

Do you want to get your hands on a Zoom F1 now? Any thoughts or questions about how to get the most out of this recorder? Let us know in the Comments section, below!

17 Comments

Hi,

I am completely new to this game so please excuse the ignorance. I am a bird photographer and am looking for a field recorder which i can record bird calls whilst walking in the bush & also possibly use connected to my canon 7dmk2 for video recording. I will only use this in the field & purely for recording nature. Would this be suitable for bird calls or is there another recorder perhaps more suitable for my needs ???

Thanks,

Les

Hi Les -

This recorder should do a good job for you when paired with :

The SGH-6 from Zoom  offers a shotgun microphone solution for use with the H5 and H6 handheld recorders. This capsule employs three internal microphones to achieve a frequency-independent, super-cardioid polar pattern. The SGH-6 is an appropriate choice for electronic news gathering, film, video, and other applications that call for tight, highly directional shotgun miking.

Hairy windscreen for protection against wind noise and vocal plosives
Highly directional pickup at about half the length of a standard shotgun microphone
5-volt preamp for to minimize distortion even at high volumes
The SMF-1 Shockmount for F1 Field Recorder from Zoom attaches to the belt loop of the F1 field recorder (sold separately). It can be used to reduce noise when mounted on a DSLR or video camera. Slide the shockmount onto the camera's accessory shoe and tighten the screw to attach it.
The SMC-1 Stereo Mini Cable for DSLR Cameras from Zoom is a coiled audio cable for the F1 field recorder, and has a 3.5mm stereo connector on one end and a 3.5mm stereo connector on the other. It can be used to feed the audio from the F1 field recorder (sold separately) into a DSLR camera's audio input.

Hi, i would like to check if its possible to use the SSH-6 shotgun mic capsule on the F1 together with the LMF-1 lav mic below. Also, i have tried using the EXH-6 Dual XLR/TRS Input Capsule but somehow i am only able to record one XLR input. Do you have any solutions for this? Let me know!

Hi Edward,

The F1 will work with either the capsule or the lav input, not both simultaneously. Also, the only thing I can say to check is to make sure you are using powered mics that don't require phantom power from the recorder, as the EXH-6 capsule does not provide phantom power.

I really, really want to like it, but the facts that (1) SMF-1 Shockmount ONLY comes with the shotgun version (and I already have the shotgun capsule, using on my Zoom H6), and conversely the belt clip ONLY comes with the lav version, and (2) there's no phantom power via the EXH-6, put a damper on my enthusiasm for what would have otherwise been a slam-dunk purchase decision.

While one could get both versions of the F1 and sell off the unneeded pieces to put together a complete kit (still leaving the phantom power issue, though), that would be an absurdly wasteful option. I'll be waiting for the future Zoom F1n instead, and hoping they make all mount accessories available separately plus realize many of their customers are repeat buyers (like me) who may already have the mic capsules.

I got over the accessories pretty quick, but the lack of phantom power on the XLR capsule (even if it was just one) really did change the equation. Still, my main use is either as an on-camera mic or a belt lav so it works out quite well regardless. I do completely understand though I wish I could pick up the belt clip on its own.

The Buy first needs to be Aware

Zoom F1 Lapel recorder does not come with any shock bracket and requires the SMF-1 shock mount for the F1 which only ships with the shotgun version ..it is a total pain not having the SMF-1 bracket..

Fair point Michael, I would recommend getting the shotgun version and adding a lavalier to the kit instead of going the other way around. You do miss out on a belt clip, but the F1 is very pocketable and does have points for sliding a belt through.

Hi Shawn,

Thank you for the great review of the F1. Can you recommend an outdoor, out in the field, mic and recorder setup that will be able to grow as our “out in the field” podcast for landscape photography grows?  I’ll need to conduct interviews and capture the mood and feeling of the wild environments we find ourselves immersed in. Thank you in advance. 

1st requirement: mic up the guy in front of the camera. On a mountain, at a roaring waterfall, on the beach, in the wind, etc. 

2nd Conduct Field Interviews: 1 - 28 miles from civilization  

3rd: no more than 20 min behind a pc. To produce quality  YouTube instructional videos. 

And most importantly, capture the wild beauty and share it...

Hi Randy,

If you are looking for a single field recorder than can be expanded with multiple mics going forward I would have to say the Zoom H6 may fit the bill. It has four XLR inputs and can take all the Zoom modules mentioned here that the F1 can take. It's small enough and has a good control system. As for mics, I've been preferential to Rode for their relative affordability for their quality. For that I would say guy in front of camera should have a lavalier (may want to invest in a solid wireless system like Sony or Sennheiser though if you can budget it), field interviews could just add a second lavalier if it is on camera maybe, or go with a shotgun if the person is on camera, shotgun can also be used to capture the ambient sounds more specifically or you could use the stereo pair that comes with the Zoom for that.

Shawn, you mention using the MicroUSB port with an iPad.  Could you say a little more about you create that connection?  Thanks for the great review; my B&H cart has the shotgun version ready to go!

Chuck

Hi Charles,

In order to do this you will need to get the appropriate cables or adapters to connect the micro-USB of the F1 to the iOS device's Lightning port. Once that happens you will need an app that supports standard USB audio interfaces, there are a lot out there now and I believe even GarageBand for iOS should support it.

Thanks to this great post, I discovered the Zoom F1 and the existence and compatbility of the EXH-6 Dual XLR/TRS Input Capsule. This is a great setup for interviews with 2 XLR mics. Any chance you want to gift a packages? haha

I am looking for tools to do 1-on-1 interviews for a podcast series I am planning. For now, my tech. is a Blue Yeti USB mic that I would hook up to my Android phone. 

What do you think?

Merci

Sofiane from Montreal

Hi Sofiane,

I would say that the F1 could be a good choice, but if you are only planning on doing 1-on-1 interviews, you will probably be better served with something like the Zoom H5, which is slightly larger but has built-in XLR ports and can do phantom power to the mics (something the EXH-6 Capsule cannot). The F1 is a more portable option, with certain limitations.

Interesting Shawn. I will have a look at the  Zoom H5 on your website and different review websites. For simple good XLR microphones that can go on simple mic. stands (for easy positionning on a table for interview), should I go Shure, Audi-technica, Rode with the H5? So many brands and specs. 

I am a noob in audio so I am ready to learn but the entry-level technically (and hopefully price-wise) would need to be ...simple?

I would just find something decent within your budget, there are so many brands and specs but it is pretty hard to find one that is bad these days. If you want to learn more about some setups I would highly recommend this article by Jason, who handles the technical work the B&H Podcast. And if you have any more questions please feel free to ask.

Article: https://bhphotovideo.com/explora/audio/buying-guide/podcasters-buying-guide

You are awesome Shawn! THx

Close

Close

Close