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Which Camera for the Backcountry? Sony RX1, X100, Ricoh GR, Sigma DP Merrill, Leica X Vario?

Claude F writes:

I've been using a Nikon D800E, but I just don't want to deal with the weight and bulk in the backcountry. It's basically like carrying the Linhof. A bit less but not much and I'm working on getting my load weight down as much as possible.

I'm particularly interested in the Sony RX100 and Sony RX1. I'd be interested in the Sigma DP2 Merrill but the hassles with it are off putting.

I would like to hear your thoughts on RX100 vs. RX1 resolution from the perspective of using stitching to overcome number of pixels in the rectangle. Would four/five frames with the Sony RX100 across equal a D800E.

Great website, keep it going.

DIGLLOYD: Fascinating question given these circumstances (hiking and backcountry usage).

My working assumption is f/8 and be there. And that stitching can be acceptable sometimes, but also time-consuming and a hassle and can mean missed shots. Certainly stitching is much more of a hassle on shooting and “post” than shooting the Sigma DP Merrill and using its software. So all things in context.

All of these cameras (except Leica X Vario) are reviewed in Guide to Mirrorless.

See the compact camera gear page for pricing and stock status.

The Sony RX100 makes really beautiful images but the lens is good mainly at 28mm and at closer range and in center. I like its rendering style a lot—very pretty. And the sensor has very nice color too. Don’t expect too much sharpness from it (off center and zoomed and in the distance). Still, what a pocket wonder for what it delivers! Still, the concept is sound, see Oversampling for Image Quality (109 Megapixel Sony RX100 tulips).

Stitching with the Sigma DP Merrill as well as stitching with the Ricoh GR are also options. A 45mm or 75mm lens (equiv, DP2/DP3 Merrill) allows more resolution than the Sony RX1 (35mm) or Ricoh GR (28mm equiv), e.g., more “tiles” for the same image area). While the Sony RX100 has a zoom and thus goes to 100mm (equiv), its sharpness per pixel across the entire frame varies considerably and it is not a flat field lens.

A practical consideration is the hardware to mount the camera and rotate about the lens entrance pupil to eliminate parallax: the DP Merrill has a handy L-bracket (in particular for vertical shooting) as does the Sony RX1, but neither the Ricoh GR or Sony RX100 has nearly so nice a solution.

The Sony RX1 (RX1R) has a superb Zeiss 35mm f/2 fixed lens and a full-frame 36 X 24mm sensor. The 35mm focal length is too narrow and angle of view for me for all around use, but its full-frame sensor means high quality and sharpness and the lens is superb. Still, just too wide for landscape use—28mm is OK by me, 35mm too restrictive. I don’t want to have to stitch just to go wider than 35mm.

For ultra-light and pin-sharp at 28mm (fantastic lens), the Ricoh GR offers a stunning 16MP sensor/lens combo, terrific usability, outstanding color, low noise, long battery life and superb night-shooting ability. This would be my #1 choice for an all-around high “hit rate” super nice conventional camera if 28mm (only) is sufficient.

Sigma DP Merrill (28mm, 45mm, 75mm equiv options) deliver the highest per pixel sharpness and all three cost less than a Sony RX1 put together. That yields a nice range of focal lengths, awesome per-pixel quality, superb black and white potential. Downsides include very poor battery life, which is possibly a show-stopper for backcountry use (but the batteries are small and light and a bag-full is one option, or a solar charger). Also, the color rendition can be either stunningly good (red and yellows in particular) or not so appealing (greens). Still, for fall color, the DP Merrill cameras can produce outstanding results far in excess of its pay grade.

Then there is the Leica X Vario. It is expensive and the lens speed is very slow, but it covers the 28-70mm (equiv) range with a lens that is said to be near-perfect wide open (as it ought to be given the very slow lens speed). For backcountry use, a single camera having this handy focal range where f/8 is the usual working aperture might trump the other considerations. I have not yet used or reviewed the Leica X Vario, but I am pretty sure I would like shooting it a lot less than the 28mm-only Ricoh GR and that the Ricoh GR lens might even be superior.

Ricoh GR and Sigma DP1 Merrill and
Leica X Vario and Sony RX100
Sony RX1

Philip A writes:

Very interesting thoughts -and debate- regarding possible future photographic tools.

Just two comments:

1- I bought two months ago a Ricoh GR and completely share your comments regarding this camera. User interface, in particular is stunning, the first one on a compact camera to meet an enthusiast photographer's expectations. And its size and weight enable to carry it very easily.

2- I still use, and with pleasure, my D800E, but not with heavy zoom objective, which I sold. With a 50 mm f1.8, which is worth much more than its price, the total weight remains reasonable, the results are truly excellent, and you can carry a 24 (not the f1.4, which I have and is excellent but very heavy) or 28 mm in a (large) pocket or in a small bag. The form factor, interface, OVF, and much more, of this camera is still a pleasure to use. Sure there is a market in the future for high quality ( 50 mega pixels + very high quality captor, powerful processor, high quality OVF/EVF, ...) slr cameras, but with a lighter design (camera and lenses) than the current ones. Kind of mix of the next d800(E) and the new compact Canon dslr, but not positioned as an entry level camera.

DIGLLOYD: In the context of the rampant design incompetence of its “peers” (poor ergonomics, menus, crapware, non-locking dials, arbitrary behaviors and limitations, autofocus creep and oddball artifacts (Fuji), and so on), the Ricoh GR stands out as a stunning achievement in bringing so many things together so well.

I completely agree on the pleasure of a small prime lens. On Canon, that lens is the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM. On Nikon, the 50/1.8 is very good, but I’d probably go for the combination of the 50/1.4 Zeiss Planar and 25/2.8 Zeiss Distagon. The older Nikon 45/2.8P is not at the same performance level as the Canon 40/2.8 (I have both).

All in all, the future I hope for is a bi-focal fixed lens Ricoh GR style camera with a 36+ megapixel full-frame sensor and a 4MP built-in EVF along with an rear LCD 3.5" Retina display. Or something like that.

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