OK, people, bad news first. Yes, I played with one the very first Sony RX-1 to ship in Europe. To wit, I haven’t seen any pictures from European cameras yet. Wait, how can that be bad news. Is it not after all probably the most daring product to appear on the camera scene since, probably the Canon 5D II? Why 5D II? Because it was the first DSLR that could do video. Even though it was a very competitive camera indeed for still photography, the video capability set it apart from anything else, and it went off to be a roaring sucess for Canon.
So what is so original with the Sony RX-1? Simply put, it is the first camera in the digital age that claims to combine truly top-notch image quality with a truly minimal-size format, and no-compromise ease-of-use. Basically, the RX-1 seeks to define a new product segment: very small, almost pocket-sized, yet with an IQ that rivals not only DSLRs, but the best full-frame DSLRs. And for a price which is also squarely in top-level DSLR territory.
So, how is that bad news? Because I only had it for about 5 minutes, at night with no time to do more than just a few handheld JPEGs at speeds that were too slow. Now, maybe it hasn’t sold yet, and, if that is the case, I should get my hands on it tomorrow morning again, and will organize a shoot-out against the present sheriff of small-camera-land, the NEX 7 with Leica Elmar 24mm.
Still, what did I learn tonight? Does the RX-1 delivers on size? Yes. It feels one size smaller than, say a NEX 6 with the new 16-50 pancake. Say, the same size as a NEX 5. But, and it is significant, it is heavy. Much heavier than a 5, or a 6, or even a 7. It feels like the same weight as a 7 with a really heavy Leica Summilux lens.
Does it deliver on feel? Does it feel like the luxo object that its 3099€ price tag claims to command? Well, yes and no. Yes, because everything feels rock solid. All the knobs fit very tightly and operate a bit stiffly. Nothing loose, or lightweight about this camera. No, because, let’s say it clearly, I did not feel that there was any “soul” to this assembly of electronic components. The sort of soul that a fine watch embodies, or a fine pen, or.. a Leica. With one exception, the shutter button. You press it, and it is a dream. Perfectly weighted, no drama as you press it, no shake, almost no noise. That is class incarnate. The rest of the camera is confidence inspiring, and nothing but.
Useability? In the few minutes I had it with me, it felt a bit awkward. Sort of too heavy for the size, and not offering a good grip at all. The lack of a tilt screen a la NEX is a deep regret. The user interface is new to me. Sony have been bitterly criticized for the early NEX UI, being too menu-driven, so the RX-1 (part of the point and shoot Cybershot range, not the NEX or Alpha) And yet it kinda grew on me. Point and shoot. AF that works well enough (not state-of-the-art, mind, but competent, sort of fast enough, and not hunting too much in total darkness), point and shoot. That is a transforming experience, or will be for some. This is when you realise that there was never anything like it. Any camera this small that one could use in true -point-and-shoot mode was ridiculously compromised image-quality-wise, and this one should not be, must not be, if it is to succeed in the market. Point and shoot. It is ridiculously easy, you feel exactly like on of these idiots you see taking pictures that you already know have no chance at all of being more than just conduits to fond memories. Except that at the heart of this one lies not a miniscule sensor but an awesome full-frame 24 Mp Sony Exmor looking at the world through a 35mm Zeiss Sonnar f:2.0 custom-designed lens. This is the sort of camera Q could have designed for James Bond. And not for any James Bond, pulllleeeeze. Sean or Daniel definitely. Pierce maybe. All other 007 wannabees wait in line for further deliveries.
Finally, IQ. How good is it? Well, I have only 5 lousy JPEGS to tell, and they are not even high res. But what I can tell you is, it is mightily promising. The lens is obviously excellent. Buttery bokeh with silky-smooth transition from in-focus to out-of-focus. Very sharp even wide open (though with traces of CA, which is not a great surprise). And, as I had already sensed in samples already on line, probably world-beating 3D. Especially when you have a close-up foreground, it is almost spooky when you think it is a low-res JPEG.
One example, left strictly-out-of-camera. No sharpening, nothing.
Now I don’t know how good that looks to you for a 1/5s shot handheld wide open , but, to me, that is almost scary. Clearly better, in terms of 3D, than a Canon 5D III with Zeiss 35mm f:1.4
In summary, this, to me is a killer camera if I ever saw one. It goes where no-one has ever gone, and breaks new ground. It truly creates a new market segment. Now, all we need to find out is: how many clients populate that segment. And, more importantly, will RX-1 still be there tomorrow morning so that I can give you more shots?
Ok, I will not be a total bastard. Here is another shot, which will give some idea of the rendering for street, as well as how the lens handles flare wide open. Again 1/5s, again straight out of camera. A scene I know well, which I have shot with numerous camera bodies and lenses, and on my own Richter scale of 1 to 10, I rate it a 12…
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