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Nikon D600 or Sony RX1?

Having tested the Nikon D600 recently and currently testing the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM A1 for Nikon or Canon and also testing the Sony RX1 full-frame compact, a thought popped into the empty space I keep reserved for such things.

  • A Nikon D600 + Sigma 35/1.4 (excellent) is about $2900. A Nikon D800E is about $3900 with a Sigma 35/1.4.
  • A Sony RX1 with its Zeiss 35/2 (excellent) is about $2800, and close to $4000 with accessories.

The D600 and RX1 are both 24 megapixels, and the actual sensor might even be identical. For my money though, I’d go with the D800/D800E.

The D600 has a built-in optical viewfinder and high-res rear LCD and can be used with a huge number of lenses and in general is a state of the art DSLR with all the pluses and minuses of a DSLR. And it is relatively large and heavy with lens.

The Sony RX1 is amazingly compact, the smallest full-frame camera available today. An optional EVF and thumbgrip and extra batteries (all mandatory in my view) cost extra, pushing the price towards $4000. Its only lens (Zeiss 35mm /f2) cannot be changed.

So what we have here is a very interesting tradeoff: a big and heavy DLR system versus a easy-carrying but higher cost and far less versatile compact camera. But with image quality fairly called equal.

Assuming one is in the market for a ~$3000 camera, this crystallizes the decision points pretty starkly. Ask yourself: “what do I really want out of a camera?”. There are powerful arguments on both sides, but I feel like I’m in an endless loop in taking a position, even for myself alone!

This comparison is just one expression of a serious threat to the camera business of Nikon and Canon. We’re not there yet (price is way too high for starters). But we’re not that far away either.

Pictures below not to scale.

Nikon D600 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM A1
Sony RX1

Herb S writes:

Thanks for your interesting findings so far with the Sony RX1. Mine did very well on the first days of pro shooting. I only adjusted the color
in Lightroom / Camera Raw with a Color Checker passport profile. Both Adobe and Sony color are too yellow/orange to my liking.

I agree the EV-finder is mandatory as are spare batteries. I might like a thumb grip as well but it is not compatible with the EV-finder.

The comparison between a Nikon D600 / Sigma 35 mm and the RX1 is one that a lot of photographers might find interesting. For high image quality both will do the job also at higher ISO's.

For myself I made the choice to shoot the general purpose 35 mm lens with the RX1 and the 15mm - 24mm and the 85-135 mm (macro) lenses with the dslr.
So I prefer to have both which is of course the more costly option.

For general purpose shooting in public spaces the big dslr is often too intimidating. Hold your RX1 a bit down, flip up the EV finder and shoot without getting noticed. Like a Rolleiflex. Combined with the high image quality at least to ISO 1600 makes the RX1 invaluable.

If there would be an RX2 with a f/2 90 mm macro lens, then I would only use my dslr for the 15 mm and the 24 mm T+S lenses.

And if the Sigma DP2 Merill had the higher ISO performance of the RX1 I might as well choose the Sigma for general shooting,
now I use it like a mini view camera on a tripod.

But with one full frame NEX camera with the RX1 ISO performance I could do anything. Mount my ZF.2 lenses, wide angle and tele/macro or shoot compact with a 35 mm lens.

DIGLLOYD: I have a lot more planned for the RX1.

As for Zeiss, etc on NEX, this is not a winning combination ergonomically in my view. Seems a hole lot more reasonably to shoot Zeiss on a D800E. For most shooting, I still prefer the DSLR form factor, but it all depends on what I’m doing.
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