Sony RX1 hands-on preview

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Sony cyber-shot DSC-RX1
The Sony cyber-shot DSC-RX1

As you may know last week I visited the Paris photo show and seized this opportunity to visit to Sony booth where the Sony RX1 was just waiting for me. This was my first encounter with the Sony RX1, this premium compact camera which is also the only camera of its kind : the very first full frame compact camera.

Sony RX1 first impressions

The Sony RX1 (or Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 should we actually call it), is a dream camera for most of photographers, this is a camera many have been waiting for ages. Highly desirable, the Sony RX1 has really a lot of qualities, talking about its technical data specification sheet, but there is one huge issue as well : its price tag. Announce at the price of $3,300, the Sony RX1 is not going to be a camera for everybody. When I planned my coverage of the Paris “Salon de la Photo 2012”, there were many other cameras which I really wanted to to grabbing in my hands, test, touch and feel, but the Sony RX1 was the camera I was really anxiously waiting to discover. Here is a quick hands-on preview of the Sony RX1.

 

Sony RX1
The Sony RX1 is probably the most expected camera.

I almost got emotionally impressed when I first saw to Sony RX1 on Sony’s booth. I know that this camera is going to be a game changer, it is going to be an iconic camera, a camera most photographers will be dreaming of without being able to actually buy it. It’s very expensive, but there is a reason, it build quality is outstanding, it has a full frame 24 megapixels sensor inside and a very nice prime lens. I had the opportunity to play around with the Sony RX1 for a few minutes and have to say that quality is among the best of the market.

 

Sony RX1 lens
Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f/2.0 lens…

 

 

Sony RX1 : more compact than I first thought

Surprisingly, the RX1 is not so big, it is actually much smaller than I originally thought. I’ll get back to this surprisingly compact form factor later in this post. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 design is a success to me : I like its traditionnal shape and the orange metal circle, that underlines the full frame sensor, is gorgeous and will surely act like a distinction apparat. It decorates all full frame Sony cameras or camcorders like the SLT-A99, the NEX-VG900… So you get the idea : the RX1 is a premium camera, no plastic feel, all metal feel, robust design, outstanding build quality and a rather compact format which tends to enlighten the density of the camera which procures a secure feeling.

The lens is, after the 24MP full frame sensor, the second most valuable asset of the Sony RX1. The Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f/2.0 is also very well built and its optical quality makes no mystery. This prime lens is going to kick ass and will serve well the 35mm sensor. Yet, till now, nobody really has tested it.

 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 offers manual controls and a very well designed exposure compensation ring.

 

Sony RX1 lens, manual aperture ring

Talking about the lens, you will find a manual aperture ring around it, which reminds us of a traditionnal camera and adds a lot of fun to taking photos with the Sony RX1. The way it turns is perfectly tuned, the lens barrel is marked with aperture values and dashed with 1/3EV marks which was not necessary to me and may even damage the aperture reading. I tested the LX7 recently and liked the way the manual aperture setting dial around the lens was marked with only full EV values. The RX1 aperture ring will make the camera a real pleasure to be used in aperture priority mode, especially combined with the exposure compensation manual dial that is well located right under your thumb and is not too loose like on the Fujifilm X100, X-Pro1, X-E1.
If you will adore the traditional way of taking photos with the Sony RX1, you may miss a viewfinder. Yes, its screen is also a high-end screen, but there may be occasions where you really can’t use it and need a viewfinder. Sony will sell optional viewfinders, one OLED EVF and one optical viewfinder, but both are extras, expensive and external.

 

Sony RX1 screen
The SOny RX1 1,229,000 dots LCD has BlackMagic technology. Its image is very detailed and colors are vibrant.

The Sony RX1 1,229,000 dots Black Magic LCD screen is among the best screens on the market if not simply the best (with Samsung’s AMOLED) and fully matches the high-end position of this premium camera. Sometimes, we see luxury cameras going out with basic or really average screens. Not at Sony’s.
On the back of the camera, you will notice two dials which improve navigation and settings.

 

Sony RX1 flash
The Sony RX1 has a pop-up flash ! Almost an event when considering the mirrorless cameras often don’t, like the NEX-5N and NEX-5R…

Sony did not sacrifice the flash on the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 and I like it because I agree, flash photography may not be always the best looking images you can produce, yet, there are many situations where you need a flash to get rid of shadows in fill-in flash, because the scene is simply too dark. The RX1 has an external flash hotshoe but also a pop-up flash, always on, always ready to fire. It pops up in a funny way. It is a bit too close to the lens and I suspect this will produce nasty shadows on close ups.

 

Sony RX1 ZEISS LOGO
What’s in a name ! Carl Zeiss speak for itself.

The blue iconic Zeiss logo underlines the premium optical quality of the lens. The German optics manufacturers is a serious caution for the camera’s final image quality.

 

Sony RX1 camera
The AF lever

 

The front of the camera is virgin of buttons and only shows this autofucus lever which will be helpful to set the AF on the right mode. I grabbed the opportunity to check the speed and reactivity of the RX1. One could fear that with a 24 megapixels sensor it would be a bit lazy…. but it is actually pretty fast and focuses without real delay, like any other modern compact camera. Sony is actually good at that. It has 2 burst modes : one is slower with an average 2.5 fps burst rate but offers Af tracking and the other one is faster, 5 fps, but with the focus locked on the first shot. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 is not a formula 1 but offers reactive operations.

 

Sony RX1 lens
The RX1 lens, aperture ring and focus range preset

This close up shot of the lens shows how well built the RX1 is. The orange ring could lead to think it is a lens mount and that you can switch the lens but nope, the RX1 is not an interchangeable lens camera although it would have been awesome. I played with Sony’s product manager acting like I was trying to unscrew the lens and had a lot of fun looking at his worried face ! I would bet Sony is testing the market with the RX1 and that a mirrorless full frame camera is going to be released in the coming months / years. If the RX1 had a lens mount, it would also be thicker…

 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 size comparison

 

I wrote it earlier : the Sony RX1 is smaller that one can think. I covered the show with a Panasonic LX7 camera. Its sensor is just 20 times smaller than the 24MP full frame CMOS sensor of the RX1, but look at these images I shot with my iPhone : both camera bodies are almost exactly as compact and the RX1 is not thicker than the LX7 ! Of course, the prime 35mm lens of the Sony RX1 is much bulkier as it needs to feed a wider area but thumbs up to Sony’s engineers for having designed such a compact camera !

 

Sony RX1 vs Panasonic LX7 size comparison

 

 

The Sony RX1 measures only 113,3 x 65,4 x 69,6mm
The Sony RX1 measures only 113,3 x 65,4 x 69,6mm and weights 482 grams.

Sony RX1 hands-on preview : what I liked

  • Outstanding build quality
  • Suprisingly compact format for a full frame camera
  • Unique 35mm sensor compact camera
  • Promising 35mm f/2 lens
  • Traditionnal photographic user interface
  • PSAM modes combined with advanced multishot modes, HDR, swipe panoramas

 Sony RX1 hands-on preview : what I liked

  • Would dream of an interchangeable lens mount
  • Find the price tag 30% too high, yet, the RX1 has NO competition
  • Built-in optical viewfinder

 

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