Audio / Hands-on Review

Running Around with the Zoom F1 Field Recorder

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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!

7 Comments

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

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