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Sony RX1 24-Megapixel Ultra-Compact Full-Frame Camera

This is an update of my September 13 post, with a few more details and comments. New comments in red (update).

Sony RX1
Sony RX1

I deem the Sony RX1 a breakthrough camera, a “first” because of the following features which are unprecedented in this combination:

  • Full-frame sensor with 14-bit images.
  • High quality Zeiss lens with fast f/2 aperture and 9 aperture blades and aperture ring (no fiddly push-dial crap, a real aperture ring) , image Stabilization optical and digital.
  • Manual focus assist with focus peaking.
  • 24 megapixels (Leica M240 is also 24 megapixels, for an interesting comparison).
  • Ultra compact form factor (for full-frame). 1.06 pounds, 480 grams.
  • 1/3 the cost of a comparable Leica M + 35/2 Summicron ASPH.
  • Ultra high resolution rear LCD; makes the Leica M9 look like the stone age.
  • Built in flash — the #1 thing I adore about the RX1’s little brother, the RX100, is how its built-in flash makes for perfect outdoors portraits and self portraits, via fill flash at -1.7.

Whether the ergonomics work well remains to be see; I’ll be assessing that when I review the RX1.

It is my understanding that there are two optional viewfinders, though the Sony web pages seem to omit any mention of them.

  • The same EVF as on Sony NEX can be used on the RX1.
  • A Zeiss 35mm optical viewfinder (subject to all the usual parallax issues).

Sensor (update)

The Nikon D600 sensor is very impressive. If in fact the Sony RX1 in fact uses the same sensor as the Nikon D600 (and quality electronics to go with it), then we can expect it to offer image quality far superior to any camera in its size and price range. And if the lens is good (really good), the results are potentially drool-generating. We shall see.

Can we hope for a 36 or 48-megapixel sensor in a future RX2? The possibilities are intriguing.

Focal length (update)

The concept of an ultra-high quality camera with fixed non-interchangeable lens is at first a bit frustrating.

But what if Sony offers an RX1-35mm and an RX1-21mm, RX1-70mm? Why not just carry two cameras, each with a lens designed for optimal results for the sensor, with none of the design constraints of an interchangeable mount?

Aside from price (which can be lowered with time), the concept is quite attractive for many shooters looking to avoid dust and complexity, looking for the simplicity of interchangeable batteries, cards, charger and the redundancy of two camera bodies. Try traveling to Iceland and dealing with the dust on the sensor with a Leica M9 (for example).

Sigma does this with the DP1 Merrill (28mm) and DP2 Merrill (45mm). It is a fine concept and one I hope to see more and more (starting with Sony!).

Pricing

The Sony RX1 $2798 price is certainly off-putting, but in the context of full-frame and Leica M and the Zeiss 35/2 lens, that is not an entirely fair criticism. Still, the RX1 is really a $3400 camera once one adds the “optional” EVF, which apparently costs $599. Wow. More on that non-feature below.

Let’s be fair and deem the Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens to have a value of $1100, since that’s what a Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon costs for Nikon or Canon. Which means you are paying $1700 for the camera body (plus $600 for an EVF). Which straddles the price of the Nikon D600, which is also 24 megapixels, but far larger and heavier and bulkier than the RX1. But the Sony RX1 cannot take any other lenses either.

Design issues

First kudos to Sony for daring to produce this camera and with a high quality lens it (or so one must assume). Nothing but praise for taking this market risk, and the combination of features is very attractive, with one fatal flaw.

No matter how good the RX1 might otherwise be, there are several things get in the way of getting the job done, at least for what I’d want.

Shutter speed (update)

It seems that like the Fujifilm X100, the Sony RX1 limits its top shutter speed at wide apertures, due to its in-lens leaf shutter. While a leaf shutter is highly desirable for flash sync as well as much lower vibration over a focal plane shutter, a leaf shutter cannot open and close fast enough to cover the wider apertures.

The limitation appears to be as follows:

  • ƒ/2 - ƒ/3.5 (brighter than ƒ/4): maximum 1/2000 sec shutter speed.
  • ƒ4: maximum 1/3200 sec shutter speed.
  • ƒ/5.6 - ƒ/16: 1/4000 second (full speed).

The issue here is that in bright conditions, one effectively cannot use ƒ/2 and ƒ/2.8 (image could be blown out, too bright). The workaround is to mount a polarizer or neutral density filter to reduce the brightness.

No built-in EVF

A rear LCD (only) is an impediment for those of us with advancing presbyopia (e.g. EVERYONE from mid 40's and older, presumably the bulk of the prospective audience due to cost). Holding the camera at arm’s length is a disaster in terms of sharp images and composition (wavering framing as one shoots). And except for wanting to look like a newbie or tourist or incompetent, it’s a secondary way to shoot, not a primary approach.

The EVF as an add-on I deem a FATAL design flaw. Sleek is good, but a $599 EVF wart on top of the camera is problematic for my usage: a design and ergonomic disaster for field use (stow/unstow, catches on things, adds weight bulk, awkwardness). Who wants to carry extra crap around on a sleek small camera? Self defeating. And the added expense makes it doubly irritating.

No interchangeable lenses

This is not a system camera, you get a 35mm f/2 and that’s it. Which restricts the range of shooting to a certain style.

No sense of (Sony) style

Why do we need things like “35mm FULL-FRAME CMOS IMAGE SENSOR” on the lens? Makes the camera look like a shitty point and shoot. Can you imagine a Leica M with such an label on the body? Fire the idiots who did that.

Exposure compensation

If this handy dial is as easy to hand as on the Fuji X-Pro1, it means that many of my images will be damaged by a stop or so of underexposure by the self-moving dial that I don’t notice changing. I hope I don’t have to tape the damn thing down to fix the problem.

Why isn’t this a shutter speed dial anyway? Then one could shoot manually in a right proper fashion.

On/Off

The ON/OFF switch is not my favorite; on the Sony NEX-7 it drained the battery to zero one day as I discovered when I pulled it out of my pack to shoot.

Grip

A little nub on the right front would have been nice.

Sony RX1
Sony RX1
Sony RX1
Sony RX1

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