Sony DSC RX1R Review
It could very well be a Point & Shoot user’s wildest dream come true – a small unassuming body that belies a powerful full-frame sensor inside it. Imagine the possibilities in store for someone who shoots with a ½.3” sensor when he gets a full-frame sensor in more or less the same frame.
When we usually speak of the metaphor ‘best of both worlds’, we really wish sometimes it were 100% true. With this camera, it is every bit of truth. Measuring just 113.3 x 65.4 x 69.6mm and weighing just under 500 grams, with the battery and memory card plugged in, the DSC-RX1 / RX1R sports a fixed 35mm f/2 Carl Zeiss lens and boasts of a long list of features that are guaranteed to wow you. So, read on.
The DSC-RX1 / RX1R comes with a fixed 35mm f/2 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens. This is a great lens for everyday grab and shoot type photography. The wide f/2 aperture is wide enough for all practical purpose. Remember it is mounted in front of a full-frame 35mm sensor. As such low light performance is going to be significantly better compared to any tiny lens on any tiny Point & Shoot camera.
With this package Sony is aiming at its closest competition – the Fujifilm X100 and the Fujifilm X100S both APS-C sensor based cameras with fixed 35mm lenses. However, the DSC-RX1 / RX1R outguns both these cameras as the world’s first compact camera with a 35mm sensor.
The moment one hears a fast wide aperture such as f/2 it is hard not to speculate about the possibilities in terms of bokeh. To increase your excitement let me state that the aperture diaphragm is made of 9 blades. The fact that this lens sit in front of a large sensor means you have a big advantage compared to anyone else in the block shooting with a Point & Shoot.
The lens comes with a multi-layered coating that prevents ghosting and flares typical of wide fast lenses. The lens has three aspherical elements including one Advanced Aspheric element.
Another big plus point of the lens is its close working distance. You can shoot a subject as close as 30cm from the sensor in its normal setting. For further macro capabilities, a ring around the lens can be turned to enable this. At such close working distances, you would expect to have some problems with light. It is a good thing that the sensor is full-frame.
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The large 24.3 megapixel (effective) 35mm Exmor CMOS sensor beating inside the camera is what makes all the world of difference. This is the highlight of the camera if you strip it down and focus on just the image quality.
Image processing and overall performance
Auto-focusing performance is one area where the camera isn’t the best, especially in low light conditions. At times the camera keeps hunting for focus in low light situations.
Overall image quality is good. JPEG performance is acceptable and so is RAW. Obviously RAW gives a lot more flexibility in terms of post-processing. A wide aperture lens with a wide angle of view suffers from both barrel distortion and chromatic aberrations. In both these areas, Sony has done a commendable job of correcting the problems internally. Built-in chromatic aberration correction is good. Barrel distortion for a wide angle lens is also acceptable.
Weight and ergonomics
The DSC-RX1 / RX1R is designed surprisingly well for one hand operation. Except for the dedicated flash release button that’s perched at the top left of the rear LCD screen, which is impossible to be reached with your thumb rest of the controls can be reached easily and basically this is an easy camera to use.
A lot of the designing will invoke the feeling that this camera is inspired by the RX100 series cameras. Sony somehow has taken the design elements of the RX100 and combined that with a full-frame sensor borrowed from the A99 and gelled everything together.
There are a bunch of buttons and dials littered around the top plate and the rear of the camera. Most of them slot into place and assist in the effortless shooting, except for the video recording button. For some reason, Sony engineers thought it best to position on the edge of the camera. It can still be operated by the right thumb but the positioning isn’t the most obvious.
The weight of the camera with the memory card and the battery slotted in is just 482 grams (as per Sony website). This is just a fraction of the weight of a pro DSLR with a 35mm f/1.8 lens combo. The camera comes with a number of features including a multi-interface hot-shoe that allows you to connect a number of external accessories including viewfinders and sound recorders, a dedicated exposure compensation button, a built-in flash a dedicated Manual focusing override mode and an external mic port for recording stereo sound via an external mic.
Rear LCD screen
A 3” TFT LCD screen with a resolution of 1229k pixels. The brightness of the screen can be controlled by up to 5 steps in manual mode. Else, you can also select from one of the preset brightness modes.
The DSC-RX1 / RX1R does not have a dedicated viewfinder, electronic or otherwise. Having said that it is a minor disadvantage as you can always plug in an external optical or electronic viewfinder using the multi-interface hot-shoe provided with the camera.
Modern DSLRs with mechanical shutters have a serious disadvantage and that is they are limited in terms of sync-speed with a strobe/flash. It’s usually 1/200 – 1/250 of a second. The DSC-RX1 / RX1R comes with a leaf shutter.
To be precise leaf shutters are incredibly fast. Which in other words mean you can fire a flash and sync with the camera at something like 1/2000 of a second. This is unthinkable in DSLRs without high-speed sync functions or tweaking one thing or the other. This feature results in images that have negligible to no blur at all in low light conditions when shooting with a flash/strobe.
I have already mentioned about the precarious positioning of the dedicated video recording button of the DSC-RX1 / RX1R. That small detriment apart, this is a full featured camera for shooting videos.
It shoots full HD videos at 60 fps and the cinematic 24 fps while recording stereo sound. You have the option to attach an external stereo mic via the dedicated port provided for that. Each clip can be a maximum of 29 minutes only. The only thing missing would be native 4K capability.
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The DSC-RX1 / RX1R does not have any wireless connectivity functions. It comes with standard micro USB, micro HDMI, 3.5mm mic port and the multi-interface hot-shoe option.
The only thing that would probably work against this camera is that you cannot buy an additional lens and make use of the large sensor. This is a full-frame camera but one that is inherently still a Point & Shoot.
Now, why would someone spend a large sum of money and invest in a camera that you can’t zoom or mount different lenses when you can buy a decent full-frame camera and get all the features you need? Even a full-frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens camera like the Sony A7R II is a better bet though the price is more.
- 42.4MP Full-frame back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor
- 35mm F2.0 ZEISS Sonnar T lens with macro capability
- World's first user-selectable optical variable low-pass filter
- Fast Hybrid AF with 399 focal plane phase-detection AF points
- Retractable 2.4-million dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder w/ ZEISS T coating
Rajib is an avid travel photographer and an overall shutterbug. He loves to test and review new photography gear. He has been writing about cameras and lenses for over 10 years now. You can consider him as your “master guide” here at PhotoWorkout.
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