Large sensor compact cameras are suddenly in vogue, and for very good reason; photographers who don't want to carry around an SLR or interchangeable lens camera all the time still demand excellent image quality.
Last year, Sony released the RX100 with a 1-inch sensor to widespread acclaim. The RX1 evolves one giant step forward, with a 35mm full-frame sensor inside a compact body. This feat of engineering comes at a premium price, but for the right photographer, the investment will be worth it.
Design and features
Though the RX1 shares a lot of the same stylistic elements as the earlier RX100, it is definitely the big hitter of the two. Inside is a 24.3-megapixel full-frame sensor, while a 35mm f/2 lens sits in the front, jutting out from the body almost four centimetres. Despite the bulk of the lens, it's an incredibly easy camera to hold. Out front is a textured hand grip that matches the thumb rest area at the back.
At the top of the RX1 is a hotshoe, though it only accepts proprietary accessories because it has connectors at its base. Sony calls it a "Multi Interface Shoe", which gives access to an optical or electronic viewfinder, as well as a flash. Do bear in mind that these accessories will cost you almost an arm and leg in themselves — the electronic viewfinder retails for AU$499, while the optical viewfinder almost reaches the price of the RX100 at AU$599.
The RX1 has enough customisable options to make even the most fervent tweaker excited. On the mode dial are three customisable slots; there's also a prominent exposure compensation dial at the top of the camera; and a custom setting button just next to it for ultimate control. Within the menu system, photographers can also change the settings of pretty much all the buttons at the rear of the camera.
Sony's designers have spent a lot of time getting the look and feel of this camera right. There's the classic shutter button that echoes the era of film SLRs, the power switch nestled just underneath that gives a satisfying click once turned, and the lens element itself, which is a joy to use.
Not only is the entire unit encased in a sturdy metal finish, the focus ring flows smoothly. You even get an aperture ring that clicks neatly into each stop as you ride up and down the range (that's f/2 to f/22). A dedicated ring at the very front of the lens lets you shift the focus plane from its regular configuration for focusing on objects as close as 30cm, down to 20cm for macro work.
No expense has been spared on even the smallest of components, such as the pop-up flash. Other cameras may have a flimsy release mechanism or delicate arm, but not so on this camera. It could have been even better if the flash was able to be tilted for extra bounce reach, but that may have weakened the structural integrity. Even the lens cap feels solid, with a pinch-to-release design.
Despite all these accoutrements, the surprising thing about the RX1 is that it doesn't look particularly expensive or showy from the outside — even though you're paying close to AU$3000 for the privilege of owning one. Unless you knew what you were looking for, the RX1 is as innocuous and discreet as any other black compact camera on the market. There's no telltale red dot or significant markings, apart from brand name and model number on the front plate. Even these could be taped over for more inconspicuous shooting.
The 3-inch 1.22-million dot LCD screen is bright and easy to see outdoors. Like several other Sony cameras, the RX1 supports focus peaking. This lets the photographer see more precisely what areas of the photograph are in focus, thanks to coloured outlines over objects.
At the side of the camera, ports for an external microphone jack (3.5mm), HDMI and USB out are provided. (Credit: CBSi)
At the base of the RX1 is a sturdy door that covers the battery compartment and memory card slot. The RX1 uses standard SD cards or accepts Memory Stick Pro Duo units.
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- 220.127.116.11.5Sony RX1
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
- 3.2Sony RX1
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The shutter lag time measured in the chart above is with autofocus switched on. The AF system is somewhat disappointing, given the pedigree of this camera.
Though highly effective, it can take longer than desired to focus on a subject. This may make it difficult for anyone who wishes to shoot sports or fast-moving subjects using autofocus — however unlikely that may seem, given the nature of the camera.
Manual focus does improve shutter lag issues considerably, with little to no noticeable delay. Also, when selecting manual focus using the dial next to the lens, rotating the focus ring automatically activates expanded focus. A nice touch.
In continuous shooting mode, the RX1 can hit 3.2 frames per second using the regular mode, or with speed priority activated, the number jumps to just under 6 frames per second.
Sony rates the battery at 330 shots when fully charged. We didn't quite reach this target during the testing period due to some heavy use of video recording modes.