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

I expect to receive a Sony RX1 for testing tomorrow. I plan on doing some immediate work on it, but as I juggle work on the Nikon 70-200/4 VR and the Sigma 35/1.4 DG HSM.

B&H Photo has had the Sony RX1 in stock recently.

UPDATE: the day after I wrote, this Camera Raw 7.3 was made available with support for the RX1! [One challenges is no Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) support; release candidate 7.3 RC does not support the RX1. The Sony RAW converter is not exactly appealing. However it appears that PhaseOne CaptureOne Pro has support for the RX1, so that’s my likely course.]

See other recent discussion of the Sony RX1: Sony RX1 — What Does it Actually Cost?, Sony RX1 — Optical Performance and Value vs Leica Alternative.

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 6000 X 4000 (24 megapixel) 14-bit images.
  • High quality Zeiss lens with fast f/2 aperture and 9 aperture blades and real aperture ring.
  • 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: 3.0"(4:3) / 1,229k dots / Xtra Fine.
  • 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 and image quality meet expectations remain to be seen; a camera is not defined by its specifications, but has to be used to make images to assess its real-world merit.

There are two optional viewfinders:

  • EVF: XGA OLED Tru-Finder™ electronic viewfinder with approximately 2,359K dots. Attaches to the multi-interface shoe. About $450. Apparently not compatible with the NEX-5N add-on EVF.
  • A Zeiss 35mm optical viewfinder (subject to all the usual parallax issues). About$600.


The Sony RX1 might use the same sensor as the impressive Nikon D600. the RX1 uses the same sensor as the Nikon D600 (and quality electronics to go with it), then we can expect it to offer image quality superior to any camera in its size and price range. And if the lens is good (really good), the results could be exceptional. We shall see. It all depends.

Focal length

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

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). In practice, I rather like the Sigma DP1 / DP2 Merrill combination.


The Sony RX1 ~$4000 system price is off-putting, but in the context of full-frame and Leica M and the Zeiss 35/2 lens, it is not as bad at seems.

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).

Design issues

Sony deserves praise for daring to produce the RX1 and with a high quality lens it.

The combination of features is very attractive, but with one very negative omission: lack of a built-in EVF. And 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.

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 to shoot means blurred images in less than bright lighting. There is no image stabilization for stills to help here.

The requirement for the EVF as an add-on wart is also a physical impediment: stow/unstow catches on things, adds weight bulk, awkwardness, won’t fit in some pockets with the EVF attached). A sleek small camera which is no longer so sleek.

Going without the EVF is possible, but what then of shooting at 1/15 to 1/125 second at arm’s length, with no mass-coupling to stabilize the camera? Since I often shoot at twilight, it makes the camera a leave behind system as opposed to something I can better stabilize.

Shutter speed

As with 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:

  • f/2 - f/3.5 (brighter than f/4): maximum 1/2000 sec shutter speed.
  • f4: maximum 1/3200 sec shutter speed.
  • f/5.6 - f/16: 1/4000 second (full speed).

The issue here is that in bright conditions, one effectively cannot use f/2 and f/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 interchangeable lenses

This is not a system camera, you get a 35mm f/2, period. 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? Suck marketing graffiti is suitable for a cheap point and shoot, not a $2800 camera. Can you imagine a Leica M with such a brazen advertisement on the body? Fire the tasteless dimwits responsible for that. The scene modes are in the same vein: could you take a Canon 1 series or Nikon D4 seriously with scene modes and similar gimmicks? If Sony wants to play in the $3K realm, this dreck needs to be removed.

Exposure compensation

Looks handy and by the looks of it might even avoid the self-changing problem of the Fuji X cameras. Worth pondering whether this should have been a Leica M style shutter speed dial instead, or both (programmable).


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. Hopefully it is not so easily turned on the RX1.


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

Sony RX1
Sony RX1

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