Sony Cyber Shot RX1 (English)

Categoria: English Pubblicato: Sabato, 27 Aprile 2013 Scritto da Max Angeloni

 

f/6.3, 1/125, Iso 100

Specifications.
The full name of the camera is Sony Cyber Shot DSC-RX1.
The "Cyber Shot" line is, for sony, the compact camera line. As you know, Sony calls Alpha its DSLR line, NEX its CSC (or mirrorless, or evil) line and, again, Ciber Shot the compact camera line.
That means the RX1 is a compact camera in every aspect of this word. The thing is...this "compact" camera has one of the three best sensor available and one of the two best 35mm lens I've ever used.
We can say the RX1 is a contraddiction itself. This doesn't mean it is a bad or an off-target product.
Contraddiction also means trying to let come together two opposite starting points.

 

 

Among the main features of the new Zeiss Sonnar T F2 there's the ability to produce a marked three dimensional rendering thanks to a pronounced plans detachment and a pleasant and smooth bokeh.

 

With the RX1 Sony tries to mix the best coming from the compact cameras line's experience and the best coming from the DSLR high end line. It's obvious that this camera generates really different emotions and impressions. As soon as you see the camera you experience these mixed feelings. A tiny and discrete camera body topped with a huge lens that seems too big for that body.
In the hands you immediately notice how in 11 centimeters there are concentrated many last-generation features and technologies but, also, the lens has an aperture ring that brings you to the "old days".
There's the Exposure compensation dial but there's no trace of the shutter speed dial.
There's an efficient pop-up flash but the battery is so tiny and gives a so short life that seems coming from a smartphone rather than from a camera.
The camera has an advanced video section, highly customizable and capable of being used in full-manual mode but there's no battery charger so you have to connect the camera to the power supply to charge the battery.
Long story short... On paper the RX1 seems to be an technical exercise rather than a camera designed to match the real needs of photo enthusiasts around the world.
Is it all true?
All of our deductions based on specifications and taken before even turning on the camera are going to be confirmed or, viceversa, are going to be proven wrong?

 

f/2.2, 1/80, Iso 3200
Wide open and at high ISO values the RX1 performance are impressive. Please note how good is the picture quality even in the corners.

f/4, 1/80, Iso 2500
Stopped down to F4 the lens shows an impressive sharpness. The only shortcoming is related to distorsion, that has to be corrected in case of architectural elements.

In the field.

As soon as I had the chance to put my hands on the RX1 I instantly tried to hold it with two hands, bringing the eye to the viewfinder. But there's no viewfinder in this camera.
I said..."Oh right, it's a compact camera...". Then I decided to hold it with the right hand only but the weight is there and you can feel it on the front of the camera because of the lens. As explained in the user manual the correct position is to hold the camera with two hands, framing the picture via the lcd on the back of the camera.
Once you get used to it it's possible to use the camera with just one hand with ease, even if you have to use a slightly innatural finger position in order to avoid to accidentally push some button, especially the one reserved for the exposure lock. You also have to be aware of the increased risk to see an unexpected motion blur.
All in all it's not a big problem and, in a week or two, everyone  should be able to find its own way to handle the camera, whether it's with one hand or two. 
That's also because after the first pictures the focus will be moved on how to get the best image quality this camera can offer.

 

f/8, 1/1000, Iso 250 (Jpg OOC, Standard)

f/8, 1/250, Iso 100 (Raw LightRoom 4.4, Landscape)

Adobe's software can read the RX1's RAW files (.Arw) without any problem and also allow to select the preferred Creative Styles. 
The color shift compared to Jpegs are minimal as well as the difference with the same file converted using the bundled software Image Data Converter.
Sony's software is really powerful albeit slow and limited in some functions.


 

The image quality... It's unbelievable the image quality this camera can produce. In any shooting condition, any lighting condition, any aperture selected the Sony RX1 is, today, the best one can wish. Obviously, if you love the 35mm focal lenght. Wide open the Zeiss Sonnar T F2 is razor sharp, the bokeh is amazing and with few rivals. Honestly...not "few rivals", it has just one and it also comes from Germany. The threedimensional rendering of the lens is fantastic and it is always there, no matter what aperture is selected. Even stopped down to F11, despite the extended depth of field, the pictures taken with the RX1 show an amazing threedimensional rendering. The image quality is really even between the center and the edges of the frame. Zeiss was able to create a modern lens without losing the quality and feelings of the old days. The only shortcoming of the lens is the distorsion. Even if it doesn't so heavy, it's always there and is evident.
Vignetting and chromatic abberrations are "normal". The Jpeg engine of the camera applies automatic corrections to all of these areas.
The same happens when you use Image Data Converter (Sony's proprietary software) to convert your RAW files.

 

f/4, 1/1000, Iso 320
24MP distributed on a full frame sensor are a resolution that allows to perform even heavy crop, without compromising the overall quality of the final image.

The way the new 24 megapixels Exmor sensor and the lens cooperate to reach the final image quality is close to perfection. Probably the new sensor is not the cleanest at high ISO settings but is capable of record an incredible amount of details and informations. I don't like the way some companies deal with noise, trying to flatten the noise via software thus introducing artifacts, smudging and similar to create a false "clean" rendering.
I rather prefer a little more "grain" but I want all the original details compared to a clean and flat file. I'm talking about RAW file, of course. Files that you can manipulate heavily even if taken at high ISO, without the risk of damaging them.

 

f/8, 1/640, Iso 100 (Raw, LightRoom 4.4, Color Efex Pro 4)
As we are used to, we try to discover the limits of each camera even applying exaggerated software manipulations.
With the Sony RX1 is really hard to find shortcomings in this area.

For what concerns the AF I have to admit I was biased given what people say about it. At the same time I knew that cameras equipped with contrast detection AF have to be understood to be able to get the best from them. Indeed, on the field, the AF speed is not slow. Sure, it's not as fast as you'd expect from a camera with this price and ambitions, but it's not bad at all. However I expect improvements in this area via firmware updates in the future. But, again, the speed and the accuracy is ok in almost every situation.

 

f/5.6, 1/100, Iso 100

f/5, 1/800 Iso 100

f/4, 1/80, Iso 160

f/2, 1/80, Iso 800
Regardless the kind of photographic situations, as shown in the four pictures above, the RX1's AF has proven to be always accurate and fast enough.
Of course it's not the best AF in its category and a further step forward in its responsiveness is desirable especially for street photography and similar.

What I can't really stand is the colour of the AF area. It's so neutral that often easily disappears in the frame, and this happens in every lighting situation.
Also, when the light is too high in the sky or too bright it is really difficult to use the lcd monitor on the back. If you also consider that the lcd display of almost every camera is quite unusable in vertical position if you wear polarized sunglasses, you easily understand how difficult can be to shoot in the brightest hours of the day.
This is something to be taken into account.
It's not fair to push people to solve this with the purchase of a very expensive external viewfinder. Leave this to other companies with a different background, built with decades of history.
It is fair to expect perfection since the beginning from Sony. 
The same perfection with which the body has been designed and assembled.
The same perfection that allows a smooth experience with the camera, without any noise, or mechanical imperfections.
Smooth, silent, but you hear when the af is locked, the leaf shutter closes...Is a pleasure, a phisical pleasure, almost impossible to explain in writing.

As well as it is impossible to explain in writing the different impressions this little camera can give when you find the way to master it. Don't use it as a compact, it's a big mistake. But, also, it's not so difficult and demanding as a high end device may be. You can use the "program mode" if you want, and it works great, even if the real difference is with the aperture wide open. From F2 to F4 the sony RX1 is a joy to use for selective focus addicted and for shallow depth of field and bokeh lovers.

 

f/2, 1/2000, Iso 100 (-1EV)
With such kind of lens is typical to see chromatic aberrations or purple fringing. The intensity of such phenomenon is obviously strictly related to the kind of lighting, the selected aperture and the subject.
Jpegs are automatically corrected as well as the RAW opened in Image Data Converter. The use of different softwares require to manually correct all of this.

 

Conclusions

Without any doubt the Sony RX1 is almost perfect and on top of the entire camera market for what concerns the image quality. The image quality is astounding and I must admit that, in so many years spent in photography, very few times I had the pleasure to rely on a device capable of so much in almost every situation you can face with a 35mm focal lenght.
I'm still perplexed for the choice made by Sony to place this camera in the compact camera line . This extreme choice may add some charm to the camera, if you want, but at the same time introduces limitations that have to be cleared and eliminated.
Sony is a company based on innovation and on its design capabilities and skills. This should allow this company to face every photographic challenge.
The RX1 is the summary of all this.
A summary that shows how good the digital photographic technology can be but at the same time, shows how important is to have the right "on field experience", something Sony sometimes seems to overlook.

Formula 1 cars are designed by engineers, refined through simulations and wind tunnel but, in the end, pilots decide the final settings, the corrections and give the feedback to improve the car. When Sony will accept and understand this crucial aspect this will allow them to make the final step into the photographic heaven. We're talking about little things that can't be done with schemes, electronics or software.
Little thing that only photographer's experience may add to an electronic device.
Move the video button somewhere else, because it's frustrating to see the decisive moment and then find out that you accidentally hit the record button instead of the shutter button.
Move the AE lock button because it's annoying to find the "perfect" picture heavily over or under exposed because you hit the AE button.
Evaluate the opportunity to provide a tilting lcd to better deal with different lighting and shooting conditions.
Little things, but still important. Obvious considerations if you want, but that's for people who use the camera every single day. Probably not so obvious for people who don't use the tool and work in a laboratory or behind a computer.

Again, little things that may bring the RX1 in a different market segment, from "rich and collectors" to the photographic enthusiasts segment. It's not about the price. With few tens euros Sony could have add 3 spare batteries and a battery charger. Together with a neoprene camera case the customer could travel the world without the need to worry about anything else.  Little things, as I said. Little, like that centimeter more that could bring the RX1 right into the history of photography. That centimeter in which there should be space for the sophisticated Trufinder 2 OLED (the viewfinder), a more useful battery, a more rational dial layout with the shutter speed dial.  
Who knows if all of this is not already planned, who knows if the RX1 is in reality only the first stage of something new and revolutionary. Something that may intimidate someone in Germany, let's say in Solms.

We'll see.  However if you really want the image quality above all, if you love the quality without compromise you should try, at least once in a lifetime, the new Sony RX1.
A perfectible camera capable of producing pictures close to perfection...

 

As per our tradition along with the review we propose a bunch of pictures to allow you to have all the elements to evaluate by yourselves.
The Sony RX1 has proven to be a flawless travel companion. The small dimensions are at the same time the biggest drawback and one of the best quality of this camera, thanks to its simplicity and convenience.
Simplicity and convenience that allowed us to carry the RX1 around Italy with the ease you usually expect from a compact camera.

The pictures:

Pozzuoli (lungomare)
Napoli (Via Toledo, Quartieri Spagnoli, Galleria Umberto I, Piazza Plebiscito)
Roma (S.Pietro, Back stage Fotoromanzi Grand Hotel)
Subiaco (Monasteri, Santa Scolastica e San Banendetto)
Sant'Agata dei Goti (Benevento)
Benevento

 

f/8, 1/1000, Iso 800


f/8, 1/1000, Iso 500


f/2, 1/250, Iso 100

 

f/8, 1/400, Iso 100


f/2.8, 1/2000, Iso 100


f/2.2, 1/80, Iso 500


f/2.8, 1/640, Iso 100


f/8, 1/200, Iso 100


f/4, 1/3200, Iso 100 (-1.7EV)


f/4, 1/1000, Iso 125


f/8, 1/1250, Iso 1250


f/5.6 1/1000, Iso 100


f/6.3, 1/125, Iso 100


f/4, 1/200, Iso 100


 

f/5, 1/640, Iso 100

f/4, 1/640, Iso 200


f/4.5, 1/1000, Iso 100

f/4, 1/80, Iso 200

 

f/8, 1/500, Iso 100


f/4, 1/80, Iso 1250


f/4, 1/80, Iso 2500


f/4, 1/80, Iso 200


f/2.5, 1/80, Iso 1250

f/2, 1/80, Iso 640


f/7.1, 1/125, Iso 100

 

f/2, 1/80, Iso 1250


f/2, 1/250, Iso 1250

f/2.5, 1/80, Iso 500


f/2, 1/160, Iso 100

f/8, 1/1600, Iso 100