RX1: Flawed Genius?

No, I’m not going to come out with a bunch of superlatives again after my GH3 review. I really like my GH3 but it’s an expensive video camera at the minute – I just don’t seem to use either of my M43s cameras for stills right now. I think I need to sell a whole bunch of my M43s lenses and start again and work out a body I’m keeping too (and thus one I’m selling). My E-M5 was sent for repair last week with Olympus (it had the screen housing cracking issue and it came back good as new this week). Kudos to Oly for being almost as good as Fuji at service (my only beef was paying for shipping to Oly). I was going to sell it my common sense says its too good a match with my favourite M43s primes to just sell – one to ponder.


Anyway, back to the pocket rocket, the RX1. A 24 megapixel full-frame (35mm) camera with a fixed Zeiss 35mm lens (F2). A fixed lens with a manual aperture ring (though it feels real, it must be fly by wire) that is solidly built, as is the rest of the camera. Conversely, the camera is incredibly tiny, almost too small.


What it doesn’t have is a viewfinder built in (why?) or an ND filter in the lens (why?). Further, it doesn’t have depth of field markings on the lens for zone focus (why?). In fact, I’m surprised they bothered to release it at all 😉


In fairness, (i) the bolt on EVF is excellent, bright, clear and contrasty; (ii) the controls feel so solid they almost feel, well, better than my M9; (iii) the buttons are metal, not plastic; and (iii) there are customisable buttons. About the only thing I didn’t like about the controls was that adjusting shutter speed requires you to enter shutter priority (or manual) mode and that turning the aperture ring only does something in the relevant control modes (e.g. not in Auto). Why people can’t realise that the Fuji control methodolgy of not control dial is better is beyond me…


There is also a dedicated macro mode ring on the lens. This is a big plus for me. It’s very easy to leave it on but you don’t have to think about entering or leaving macro mode. It just becomes muscle memory. This reduces the minimum focus distance to 0.2m (compared to 0.3m in normal shooting), but also limits the furthest focus to 0.35m. It isn’t perfect, but it is handy.


The battery life is fine – I usually manage about a couple of hundred shots. The batteries are tiny and the camera doesn’t include a charger in the box. I would recommend buying a aftermarket charger, I picked one up for about £4.99 that charges two batteries at once.


The screen display is very bright, very clear, even in bright sunlight. The default display is horrible though, too much in common with Sony compacts – quasi meaningless icons everywhere. Without being too rude, I really don’t need to know if face detection and scene mode are off. Or the status of dynamic range extension or which picture mode I’m in. There is definitely such a thing as too much information! Less is more etc. Thankfully, it is very easy to turn everything to a very simple display with no extraneous information.


The menus, unlike almost every other Sony compact or NEX camera, are absolutely fine. Not great, but common sense and perfectly fine. If you’ve ever used a Sony Alpha DSLR it will take about 5 minutes to work out where everything is.


Autofocus is, mostly, fine. Honestly listening to the reviews I was expecting something that hunts for focus all the time. It doesn’t. It can sometimes struggle in poor light (be prepared to manually focus when in poor light), but in normal light, including indoors, it’s about as quick as a Sony NEX or Fuji X camera.


Video quality is OK. Continuous autofocus is poor, and it’s well worth using manual focus for video. Unfortunately, focus peaking isn’t available in video.


So, about now, no doubt you are thinking this camera is average (and overpriced)? It isn’t. At least it isn’t once you see the images…


So the trick Fuji pulled off with the X100 is exactly what Sony was trying to duplicate with the RX1 – a perfectly matched fixed lens and sensor. That they’ve actually managed to better the image quality from a sharpness perspective is impressive, but of course, with a 35mm sensor there is more depth to images. Further, the image quality from this camera compares well to some other heavyweight competitors.


It’s better than either my Leica M9 or my Nikon D800E. I’ll qualify that because the M9 and D800E are both ILCs and are inevitably more flexible. But for situations where a fixed lens 35mm camera is required (or all that is necessary), I’ll be honest and state that the RX-1 is just about the best you can get. It also weighs a good bit less than my D800E! Seriously, I hope my photography is good enough to demonstrate how good this camera really is. The image quality is out of this world good. The lens is good, even wide open at F2, but gets incrementally better as you stop down. At F4 it is great, but at F5.6 it is just scary sharp. There is some distortion, some CA, some vignetting, but it can all be removed in post or through the in camera optional corrections. Personally, I tend to leave the vignetting alone and correct the other two.


The DR recovery is seemingly endless – you have to try really hard to screw up exposure on the RX-1. High ISO output is beyond good, even at ISO 6400 – with a tripod this camera can literally see in the dark.


Lastly, I should just observe that this is just about the perfect camera for family photography. It’s small, unobtrusive and doesn’t get in the way. Which is more than I can say of the 5D Mk II that another dad was wielding at the park yesterday while I snapped away with my RX1!


World’s heaviest toddler lifting contest…

In honesty, this camera has captured my attention. It is flawed, but fantastic. Who would think you could get a camera smaller than an E-M5 (a compact camera no less) with a full frame sensor. Matched with the stunning Zeiss 35mm lens this is an almost unbeatable combination. Yes, I would prefer a built in viewfinder and a shutter speed dial, but it’s hard to do anything other than marvel at the image quality.


All Taken with my RX1

RX1 is available here

3 thoughts

  1. Pingback: Oil Seed Rape and the Sony RX1 | sgoldswoblog

  2. Hi Simon, didn’t know you had a blog too, we exchanged a few messages on Flickr. I bought RX1R a few months ago and that was a very good decision. I have some wonderful pictures. Love the skin tones from this camera. – Mahesh

    • Hi mahesh, the RX1 is a lovely camera isn’t it? I confess I was going to sell mine for financial reasons, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The images are just stunning.

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