Sony's Cyber Shot DSC-R1 represents an intriguing bridge between the world of user-friendly all-in-one prosumer cameras and the more complicated world of high-quality digital SLRs. It has an easily rotated LCD screen, plenty of manual bells and whistles, a sharp and versatile Carl Zeiss lens, and a 10-megapixel CMOS sensor nearly as large as those found in typical dSLRs.
The resulting images are impressive, and the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-R1 is relatively easy to operate once you've navigated through the slightly awkward interface a few times. It can take a while to sort through the features spread out among more than a dozen buttons and dials, but even relative newcomers to digital photography should be able to take decent photos right out of the box. The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-R1 is a hulk among all-in-one prosumer cameras: with a weight of 2 pounds, 3 ounces, it's the heaviest we've seen, and its 5.5-by-6.6-by-3.8-inch dimensions mean you can forget about stuffing it in your pocket. Due to its large zoom lens, the camera body is heavily weighted toward its left side, but the right-hand grip is sturdy enough to allow for an easy one-handed hold.
The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-R1 has a somewhat unusual design. For instance, you pull up and swivel the 2-inch LCD screen mounted on top. This allows you to view the screen from almost any angle; you can even hold it near your waist and shoot from the hip like a medium-format photographer. The drawback is that you have to take the time to adjust the screen each time you use the camera, unless you choose not to fold it down when you switch it off.
The DSC-R1 can be boggling at first grasp. But as you handle it a bit, a sort of logic comes through; the features you'll use most frequently are easy to manipulate while you're looking through the viewfinder or at the LCD. A few other functions--bracketing, contrast, the self-timer, and playback magnification--are more awkwardly located under the protruding viewfinder, but you're unlikely to adjust them with every shot. The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-R1 offers a broad range of automatic and manual features, but its highlights are the wide-angle zoom lens, which runs from 24mm to 120mm (35mm equivalent), and the large, almost APS-size 10-megapixel CMOS sensor. Macro photographers will be disappointed by the camera's inability to focus closer than 13.7 inches, however, and the lens isn't very fast; its maximum aperture lies in the fairly ho-hum f/2.8-to-f/4.8 range. It has a manual focus ring, which triggers a zoomed view of your subject for more precision, as well as a manual zoom ring.
The camera also supplies a useful range of color modes. Like portrait film, the standard (sRGB) mode provides relatively natural and true-to-life colors; it's best for realistic skin tones. The Vivid mode performs more like highly saturated slide film, with an emphasis on reds, blues, and greens; it's best for landscapes and botanical photography. Finally, there's Adobe RGB, which has the widest color range and is ideal for images you intend to adjust further in programs such as Photoshop. In addition to using white-balance presets for bright sun, clouds, incandescent lights, fluorescent lamps, and flash, you can adjust the white balance by up to 3 steps.
Sony has borrowed the Zebra Stripes feature from camcorders. It provides an alternative to a histogram, alerting you to blown-out highlights by filling them with animated stripes; you can then choose to reduce the contrast or darken the exposure.
Other specs include the following: an ISO range from 160 to 3,200; a TTL five-point autofocus with spot, center-weighted, and pattern metering; raw file capture; shutter speeds ranging from a three-minute bulb to 1/2,000 second; exposure bracketing in 0.3-, 0.7-, or 1.3-step increments up to plus or minus two stops; histogram views; a hotshoe for an external flash; and in-camera adjustments to saturation, contrast, and sharpness.
The Sony Cyber Shot DSC-R1 takes both Memory Stick Pro and CompactFlash Type I/II storage cards. It uses Sony's InfoLithium battery, which recharges in the camera. The DSC-R1 connects to your computer via USB 2.0 and can display your images on a TV via a video-output connection. Compared with other high-end prosumer cameras and entry-level dSLRs, the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-R1 performs respectably but not outstandingly. Start-up time is 1.3 seconds, and shot-to-shot time for a small JPEG is less than a second. Shooting in raw format, it takes 1.9 seconds from one shot to the next, which is good for an EVF model but not competitive with dSLRs such as the Canon EOS Rebel XT and the Nikon D50. Shutter delay using autofocus is 0.4 second with a bright target but increases to 1.2 seconds with a darker, lower-contrast target.
In continuous-drive mode when shooting standard JPEG images, we measured a blazing capture rate of 4.3fps--but you're limited to 3 frames, and you can't use the continuous-drive mode with raw files, making the DSC-R1 less than ideal for wedding photographers.
The small built-in flash provided relatively even lighting in a completely dark room, and it gave indoor portraits an attractive, gentle glow.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Shutter lag (bright)||Shutter lag (dim)|
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Flash shot-to-shot time||Raw shot-to-shot time|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Our test images came out clean and noise-free at ISO 160, 200, and 400. A handful of colorful speckles showed up in dark areas at ISO 800, but even at ISO 1,600, the grain was relatively innocuous in evenly lit scenes. Images shot at ISO 3,200 were full of multicolored splotches in darker areas--par for the course for digital images at this high sensitivity.