Sony RX1 review

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I wondered how to approach the Sony RX1 review… The Sony Cyber-shot RX1 is certainly not a compact camera like any other ! Indeed, when Sony unveiled the first compact camera with a full frame sensor mounted behind a prime Carl Zeiss Sonnar T * 35mm f/2.0 lens surprised everyone. Avid photographers and lovers of beautiful cameras had been waiting for such a camera for ages. No manufacturer, no traditional photography gear brand, had the guts to launch a compact Full Frame camera. This is now done, and it is Sony that made it ! The operation is not without risk for Sony, since the camera is still sold more than $3,000. At this price, there will be very few photographers who will have the means to pay such an amount to get it, but at the same time, the Sony RX1 is a magnificent flagship that will gild the crest of the Sony Cyber-shot range and place Sony in the ranks of brands capable of producing the finest cameras, erasing the generalist conumer electronics image thay may have.

Sony RX1 review : camera design and operations

 

When I say that Sony has taken risks with the RX1, I don’t just say it, I do mean it : while they address an audience of traditional photographers, the RX1 is depriced of optical viewfinder. They dared ! Some will take offense, some would have preferred a buil- in viewfinder, but Sony chose to give priority to a relatively compact size. If you want a viewfinder, you have to digg into your wallet further deep and pay around $600 for one of the two optional viewfinders, one optical and one electronic. In any case, one thing is certain, with the Sony RX1, it will be mostly used via the screen as you would with any other compact digital camera for a composition.

Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-RX1
Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-RX1

To get a quality lens and a full-frame sensor in a compact digital camera, you have to make a few compromisesf. No wonder that, in the end, the Sony RX1 is not the most compact camera on the market. I could not have it fitted in my pants pocket and hardly in a jacket pocket. It is also relatively heavy, with a weight that is to put on the account of a high-end built quality, fully consistent with the high-end positioning of the camera and on the heavy lens that which  I found a bit too prominentn which imbalances also somewhat the camera. Sony RX1 is made of a metal body, the assembly is perfect, all parts are conveniently adjusted and that is a beautiful object. It is a bit heavy, it is especially dense, and this density contributes to a sense of perceived quality that I loved when using the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1. Those who do not find it compact enough for their taste can compare it to a mirrorless camera with with a lens on it. Then you find the RX1 okay, especially knowing that as a bonus, it offers a Full Frame sensor. The size issue, a relative matter, is to approach keeping in mind that the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 contains a Full Frame sensor and fast prime lens (open at f/2). We can then compare it to a Leica M9 ….

 

Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-RX1 review
Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-RX1 review

The user interface of the Sony RX1 and the way you will operate it pull the strings of tradition in photography with a rectangular casing, dressed all in black, which contrasts the orange-red circle around the lens mount which highlights the presence of Full Frame sensor. The Sony SLT-A99 and NEX-VG900 are also equipped with this distinctive orange ring and because they share the same sensor full format sensor. This is a traditional ergonomics allowed me to control the RX1 with my eyes closed, something essential when I want to take pictures “insinctively” and if you like street photography. It is in undeoubtedly in the aperture priority mode with the useful manual aperture ring directly on the barrel of the lens that I took the greatest pleasure to use Sony RX1. The manual exposure compensation dial is not locked, which is very convenient to use on the go, while its operation is not too loose and it is hard enough to avoid changing inadvertently the exposure spoilig a full serie of photos. In addition, when exposure compensation is applied, its value appears in red on the screen to alert the photographer.

 

Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-RX1 review
Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-RX1

As you can see on the pictures of the RX1, the manual aperture ring offers 1/3EV marks. Each 1/3EV is also very distinct and perfectly staged to be handled gently while sfely remaining on the right aperture if you don’t want to change it. The lens offers a second manual ring dedicated to manual focus. Finally, a small lever allows you to choose between to focusing distance ranges and to quickly set the focus to “20 to 35 cm” which is very useful for close subjects.

As to prove its respect to traditional calmera operations (widely flouted by the lack of eye piece…I have to admit) the Sony RX1 as a good old wired remote screw forecast in the trigger button. At the rear of the camera, there is a dial wheel that allows access to certain settings that can be set on the four directions, in addition to a programmable button. It will surely be quickly assigned to adjust the sensibility. I would have loved to see the Sony RX1 offering a shortcut for setting the sensitibility, and better yet, a manual ISO setting ring. But this is becoming increasingly difficult with current cameras evolving from ISO 100 to 25,600 making a whole lot of positions to mark on such a dial.

You’ll understand that we can widely customize the Sony RX1 operations through the rear dial wheel, via the “C” button, etc.. menus are also very detailed and fully allow to customize the camera according to your habits. Simply press the function button to display the most common setting among which in which we navigate to finally reach 95% of the adjustments that may be required to operate the camera on a daily basis.

 

Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-RX1 screen
Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-RX1 screen

The RX1 is not equipped with a neutral gray density filter as some advanced cameras are (lik ethe Panasonic LX7 which I tested), which may miss some. However, the 49 mm thread will mount an independent filter as well if needed.

 

Sony RX1 review :  autofocus and camera performance

 

The autofocus of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 and fast, without being an all categories champion for its reacivity. It will be beat on this point by the latest mirrorlesscameras but it is still very fast. It is a generally speaking responsive camera, not bad for a full-frame sensor, and a processor that digests 24 megapixels each time you pull the trigger. More importantly, the autofocus is accurate, which is vital for a high resolution photo, such as those produced by the RX1. The autofocus even in low light, has rarely failed to take sharp of my subjects. Naturally, those who want above all a fast pace autofocus will probably look at a DSLR. If the 24-megapixel sensor of the RX1 is what you are interested, it turns out that it is also used by the Nikon D600 and Sony SLT-A99 digital SLRs.

 

The Sony RX1 has a small tab on the which allows to quickly switch between manual focus and autofocus, with an intermediate position that is automatic with manual focus adjustment.

 

Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-RX1 AF
Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-RX1 AF

As to forgive the lack of viewfinder, the RX1 has a beautiful screen of 1,229,000 dots, and if it is not sensitive, its wide field of view allows you to see the image comfortably even when holding the camera at arm’s length above your head. I already appreciated this screen when testing the Sony RX100 for its review.

 

Sony RX1 review : image quality

 

Well, we do not buy a Sony RX1 only because it is good looking, nor only for its ergonomics and traditional USI, nor for for its prestigious orange ring …, We mainly buy the RX1 for its image quality. If you are ready to invest $3,000 in a compact camera, this is because the chosen one has some major advantages and this is naturally the case of such a camera that contains a Full Frame sensor. The image quality of the Sony RX1 is unrivaled on the compact camera market. The subtle progressivity of the gradient blur of the RX1 images and controlable  depth of field can not be achieved with any smaller sensor than a 35mm sensor. In conjunction with the nice 35mm prime lens open at f/2, even at wide-angle, we get a nice and smooth bokeh effect, smooth and aesthetically exquisite. The RX1 produces images that provide the signature of a full-frame.

Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-RX1-review-2
  The RX1 at f/2 offers a smooth bokeh.

Large sensor = high sensitibility, and Sony is now a master in the design of high performance sensors. The Sony RX1 evolves from ISO 100 to 25,600. In lower sensibilities, I found the ilmage quality superlative thanks to ots high definition 24-megapixel sensor, well served by a fine quality lens, including some optical defects which are corrected by the firmware of the camera when used in JPEG. Examination of RAW photos can show a relatively large distortion, chromatic aberration and some loss of sharpness in the corners though.

 

The optical defects of the lens (chromatic aberration, distortion, vignetting) are balanced by the camera firmware or, if you work in RAW, in your software as Lightroom 4 or DxO Optics Pro 8. Again, the image is extremely sharp and detailed, but it is surprising that a prime lens, especially designed for this camera and sensor has such optical defects to be caught up in software. The lens quality certainly pays the compactness of the camera for which Carl Zeiss optical engineers had obviously to make some compromises to achieve a fast lens that feeds a large optical circle of 35mm.

Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-RX1-review-1
Click on the image to go to my Flickr RX1 review page and download all full defintion images.

The full-frame sensor of the Sony RX1 is excellent in high sensitibility. Even the maximum position of ISO 25,600 can produce usable images, not really without grain, but a grain that can be used for the photographer, especially black and white and may even serve the photographer’s creativity. It is very difficult to detect the presence of color noise between ISO 100 and 1,600, even ISO 3,200 I would say. We can therefore use the RX1 within this ISO range without any fear for the image quality, while keeping in mind that s you dial further down in sensibility, you earn extra dynamic range oo the sensor, and all the way round.

It might be called a prosumer camera, yet, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 still offers a variety of creative filters and effects built-in. Some modes may come as a surprise in such a camera, but others are quite adequate to give a special touch to the kind of photos that capture the RX1, I am talking about to the retro style and pop colors, or sepia and black and white of course.

 

Sony RX1 review : conclusion and pleasure factor

 

It is difficult to judge the most expensive compact digital camera on the market. Sony RX1 is definitely a camera that combines the advantages of the highest image quality quality, fine traditional ergonomics, effective, a fast prime lens, with a Full Frame sensor that makes it unique, but the panorama of RX1 is not free of shade. Price, lack viewfinder, the RX1 will loose large part of its potential buyers. In the end, the Sony RX1 is both a machine to produce fabulous images, with its gorgeous professional grade Full Frame sensor, but also a camera that will provide “photographic pleasure” which is a key factor for me… quite exhilarating.

 

Sony RX1 review : sample image gallery

Here are the images I shot with the Sony RX1 for its review (yet to be published, just need a few days to have it written). At the end of this post, I add a link to my Flickr Sony RX1 album page where you can download the images bellow in their native form, full resolution, 24-megapixel, straight out of the camera.

sony rx1 review
Sony RX1 at ISO 800 – f/2.8 – 1/200s

 

Sony cyber-shot dsc-RX1 review
Sony RX1 at ISO 800 – f/2.8 – 1/200s

 

Sony RX1 review gallery
The Sony RX1 at ISO 800 – f/4 – 1/60 – exposure correction +1EV
The Hermès store in Lyon, France. If you go to my Flickr gallery and download its full resolution version, zoom on the watch and see what the small dust captured by the RX1 and its nice piece of glass.

 

Sony RX1 review
The Sony RX1 at ISO 800 – f/4 – 1/80s
Sony cyber-shot dsc-rx1 review
Bridge over the river Rhône in Lyon, France. Long exposure of 1.3s with the Sony Cyber-shot DSCRX1 at ISO 160 and f/4.

 

sony rx1 camera review
Sony RX1 at ISO 1000 – f/5.6 – 1/2s

 

Sony RX1 review
The Sony RX1 at ISO 1,600 – f/2.8 – 1/40s

 

sony rx1 full frame camera review
The Sony RX1 at ISO 1,600 – f/4 – 1/30s
Still possible to get pretty sharp images handheld in low-light with the 35mm lens in spite of its lack of built-in image stabilization.

 

Sony rx1 ISO 12,800
The Sony RX1 at ISO 12,800 – f/8 – 1/20s

To download these images in full resolution, see my Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 review Flickr album.


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