a hands on review
Many of my friends in the photo industry have been telling me I would love this camera ever since it was announced. Although it is not a camera type I would normally use, I decided to give it a test drive to see what all the excitement is about.
This is a very unusual camera. It is a very small -- in fact, the smallest -- full frame camera coupled with a single superb Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f/2 lens. A package such as this is aimed at producing extremely high image quality, but the scale and limitations of the design raise questions of practicality of use. For this reason, there are two aspects of this review. The first part looks at the camera and lens combo in terms of its ability to deliver a quality image. The second part examines the camera-lens combo in practical terms of usage. In other words, does it work well as a system, and how would it fit into a typical workflow.
My brick-wall tests show an over all sharpness that extends even into the corners at wide open apertures. Full open at f/2 there is only a slight trace of corner softness, which rapidly dissipates as the lens is stopped down, and practically disappears at f/2.8 and beyond. I doubt anyone would find this degree of corner softness objectionable. In addition, there is practically no vignetting and only slight barrel distortion present at any aperture.
|Brick wall test. While no one runs around shooting brick walls as a matter of course, a test such as this does illustrate the relationship of center to corner resolution in a way that can relate to more practical uses.|
Chromatic aberration was another matter. I found excessive amounts of color fringing along the edges of typical shots of outdoor tree settings, such as the one below. Fortunately, this involved a simple lens correction in Photoshop, but this assumes you shoot in RAW and post-process images. With a high end camera such as this, I suspect most photographers would include post-processing as part of their workflow.
|Color fringing is quite apparent in this type of image with high contrast and an overly bright background. To be fair, most cameras would have trouble with a situation such as this. I did, however, find the RX1 fringing to be more excessive. Click here to download a hi res version of this photo.|
Noise levels at high ISO's were very good, as is the case with most of the high end, large sensor cameras coming onto the market now. What I term the noise threshold, that level after which noise becomes unacceptably excessive unless dealt with in post processing, peaks around ISO 2000. Below are some high ISO sample images to download.
|ISO 800. Click here to download hi res version.|
|ISO 1600. Click here to download hi res version.|
|ISO 3200. Click here to download hi res version.|
|ISO 6400. Click here to download hi res version.|
After selling off my Fuji X100 I pretty much swore off one lens cameras. I just don't see the need for them anymore with so many other quality options becoming available. As you might expect, with that attitude I have a prejudice coming into this review.
The RX1 is something of a tour de force, almost as if Sony set out to create the smallest full frame camera just so it could make the claim and garner the press play from it. At $2800 this is a very expensive camera, as you might expect from something containing such a large high end sensor and quality optics. Plus, if you are a serious user, you would probably want to add either the electronic or optical viewfinder to it for an additional $450-600, putting the entire combo around $3300. And don't forget to add several spare batteries to the package. You are going to need them. Battery drain on the RX1 is very high, probably due to its constant reliance on large live view.
All this begs the question: Is it worth the price. If it's quality you want, for that price you could buy a Nikon D600 and a great lens or two and be better off. If its small size and convenience you want, a Fuji X series with interchangeable lenses comes in at half the price.
|Optional electronic and optical finders are an available accessory. I think most users would want one or the other, although they do tend to bulk up the overall package.|
The menu system looks similar to the Sony DSC-RX100. It is convenient and easy to use.
|Quick change menu|
|The reason I find sharpness in the corners to be important is in landscape photos such as this. Focus was placed in the foreground of this image, and both foreground corners contain sharp detail. Click here to download a hi res version.|
|This close-up shot was taken at f/16 for maximum detail. Click here to download a hi res version.|
|Click here to download a hi res version of this image.|
The RX1 weighs only 1.06lb (460g), is 4.5"(11.4cm) wide, 2.6"(6.6cm) high, and 2.8"(7.1) deep with the lens. By comparison a Fuji XE1 with similar lens comes in at only 14.67oz (416g), is 5.1"(129cm) long, 2.9"(74.9cm) high, and 3.1"(78.9cm) deep with an 18mm lens attached. In terms of size that is not too different, especially considering the added features the XE1 adds to the mix.
|This is about as close as this lens can go. Because it is a 35mm lens it causes a rounding distortion effect on the subject.|
|The pop-up flash is similar to that on the RX100, but does not seem to have the same flexibility for bending it to achieve bounce flash lighting.|
|Once I discovered the 16:9 crop mode, I began seeing differently with the camera and ended up using it almost exclusively for taking panorama photos.|
If you are willing to live with a single, fixed lens camera -- something I no longer care to do -- then the Sony RX1 is best of breed in terms of image quality, and ranks right up there with the best full frame cameras available today.
The value of having such a small bodied camera producing such stellar results is negated by the large lens and inclusion of an accessory viewfinder. That, coupled with the extremely high price tag forces you to compare it to far more practical camera alternatives. For the price, you could buy a high end Nikon D600 or even D800. For half the price you could buy a Fuji Xe1 or X-Pro1. With all these alternatives you have the convenience of interchangeable lenses, and built-in viewfinder -- not to mention, they are far more convenient to use.
Perhaps Sony will expand this model in the future to include interchangeable lenses and built-in finder with an RX2 model. Better yet, I would like to see an intermediary model between the highly successful RX100 and RX1, perhaps an RX10 with APS sensor, smaller lenses, and all the popular built-in accessories. In other words, make it more like a Fuji X camera. There is a reason the Fuji X series is rapidly becoming a cult classic. Sony would do well to take some lessons from that model and produce a slightly larger camera with more practical features instead of going for the smallest sized body just to prove you can do it. The small size works perfectly for the pocketable RX100, but to my mind the small size of the RX1 prevents the camera from reaching its true, useful potential.
This is a "hands on" review and reflects my personal opinion on using the equipment. If you are a user of this item and see it differently, please feel free to post a comment. I would love to compare your opinion and see sample images that support your findings. - TG