Jan 112013
 

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THE SONY RX1 IN INDIA

By Richard Geltman

I ordered the Sony RX1 in September 2012 from Amazon and expected delivery in December. Departure for India was set for the 15th and it seemed likely that the camera would not arrive in time and I would be “forced” to rely upon a NEX-7 and/or the Sigma DP1/2M cameras that I had recently acquired. Happily, the camera came on December 3rd giving me some time to use it before leaving and to become accustomed with its behavior in different situations.

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The camera is weighty-feeling and very solid. It feels like a miniature M9. I was unable to obtain the EVF so used, in addition to the LCD, an optical viewfinder. I found after a few experiments that the Voightlander 28 mm finder gave the best match for the 35 mm lens field of view. I’m sure the Zeiss finder made specifically for the RX1 is nice but I think it somewhat over-priced. I fitted the lens with a 49 mm B+W clear filter and purchased a very inexpensive screw-in vented lens hood on Ebay for around $10. These two served to protect the front surface of the lens throughout 3 weeks of travel. The lens cap (solid metal) was never used at all. While a wrist strap would be quite comfortable with this device I prefer the 60 cm Lance loop-type strap which allows the camera to lie diagonally across my chest and rest on my left hip, making it quickly available yet at the same time unobtrusive and fairly safe from being snatched or damaged.

The ergonomics are pretty good. It never slipped or dropped and was never uncomfortable when shooting in any position. The EV adjustment dial lies at the top right of the body and is fairly firm. I did accidentally dislodge it two times in three weeks. The movie button lies laterally and below the EV dial. While not as bad as the NEX-7 I did inadvertently actuate the video mode once or twice as well. Otherwise, I didn’t use video so have little to say about it. This camera is really small, almost too small for my hands. The shutter is nearly silent but for shooting with an OVF, I used the focus confirmation sound (unavoidably linked to an imitation shutter noise.) This noise was not a problem on the street and generally did not draw any unwanted attention. You quickly start to know where the focus point in the OVF is although I experienced plenty of misses as well. I experienced focus misses with the NEX-7 and the RX1 is faster and more accurate. The lens is large but feels solid and substantial. The markings are engraved rather than painted on. The aperture control ring which encircles the lens is also very solid feeling but lies adjacent to the camera body. For me this makes it somewhat hard to adjust. There is a macro mode ring at the far end of the lens which allows close focus (~22 cm.) I never used this and would rather have the aperture ring in this position as with most Leica lenses, making it more accessible and more usable.

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Battery life is acceptable for my type of shooting and generally I would get more than 250 exposures when fully charged. I always carry a spare but needed to use it only once or twice. The camera will shoot slightly more than two frames per second so one tends not to shoot many frames at a time. Rather one or two and then moving on. As has been mentioned numerous times, Sony requires that the battery be charged in the camera. I find this inconvenient and so purchased some spare generic batteries as well as an external charger. Several types are available and Steve just posted about a particularly nice one. Parenthetically, the non-Sony batteries worked perfectly well.

The only other feature of the camera I would describe is the fact the when using aperture-priority along with auto-iso, which I do much of the time, the camera always tends to a shutter speed of 1/80; rather than lowing the f/stop it will raise the iso and keep the shutter speed at 1/80. Given the pixel density and, perhaps, personal issues such as age, eyesight, balance and steadiness, I would like to be able to set a minimum shutter speed, perhaps 1/125, but the camera doesn’t allow this. Annoying. While you can use shutter priority instead, you get f/4 almost all the time. Again, pretty annoying. The only way around this is to go fully manual but I’m not too adept at it and I generally find it too slow for rapid street use.

All of the above being said, this is a wonderful camera: lovely in feeling, fast in focus (without the accessory lamp,) quiet in operation, smooth and threaded shutter release (as opposed to the halting Leica,) wonderful high iso performance (out to iso 6400 if not beyond,) great malleable files fully supported by Lightroom (unlike the Sigmas,) and ultimately, very small, compact, unobtrusive and with a huge sensor. As has been said elsewhere, you can set the camera to aperture priority, the auto-iso from 100 to 6400 and go out and shoot anything and everything without any problem.

INDIA

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Travel to India was a goal for me for a number of years. I have experienced tourist travel in western Europe, Argentina, Japan, Hong Kong and China and of course the US as I’m a native New Yorker. I assumed the experience would be challenging but rewarding. In this I underestimated India. It was extremely challenging and rewarding but also revelatory, invigorating, infuriating, spiritually awakening, amazing and wonderful. There is a sense of life and vitality in India that I’ve not felt elsewhere. And this in a place with tremendous poverty, social and legal problems (witness the recent rape/murder,) and dramatic disparities in education, economics and social equality. One sees women in saris using primitive hand tools while working on construction projects. One can walk down a street in Udaipur and see a gleaming, black Audi A6 next to a cart carrying the freshest produce pulled by two water buffaloes and guided by a partially toothless old man looking straight out of the 14th century. Driving is a nerve-wracking, chaotic dance of continuous darting in and out, weaving around animal-powered carts, vehicles traveling the wrong direction (even on the few significant highways,) truly horrible roads and passing and endlessly tooting one’s horn. Frequently I was told that driving in India requires a good horn, good brakes and good luck. It also requires nerves of steel, white knuckles and continuous vigilance.

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Mumbai is the city in India that evokes the most usual sense of urban life in me. It has a population of about 21 million and at any given time more than 57% live on the street and are, strictly speaking, homeless. This does not mean that a large percentage of the homeless don’t work and to support them, as well as all the other Mumbai denizens, are vast systems of services such as outdoor laundries, lunch box delivery services and all manner of unbelievably inexpensive goods and services. A vegetarian Indian “burger” sold on the street that costs 5 cents and is wildly popular; shoe shines in the railroad station (that of “Slumdog Millionaire”) for 2.5 cents; street-level haircuts, shaves and dental extractions! India has to be the most entrepreneurial nation on earth. Everybody is selling everything and something. Everything has some value and is recycled and sold by someone who can earn a living from it one rupee at a time. All this, also, from a people who quite generally are curious and friendly with foreign travelers. There is often a sense of over all gentleness that Indians project but, of course, all generalizations such as this are easy to prove false in at least some regard.

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Chaos, dirt, clutter, litter and crowd anxiety can be a deterrent to many contemplating travel to India. Also, fear of contagion, e.g., Delhi-belly, dengue fever, malaria or worse. I experienced no illness or inconvenient health problem while there for three weeks of travel from the north of the country to the southern tip although admittedly I was careful in my habits, never ate street food (as India has the world’s highest rate of toxigenic E. Coli enteritis,) avoided raw vegetables and fruit everywhere but in the best hotels and drank only carbonated water, beer, sodas or wine. If you can overcome some of these common anxieties then India offers an unequaled travel, photographic and personal experience and I would encourage all who are intrigued to take the plunge.

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The photos that accompany this article were all taken with the RX1 rig described above. I hope they convey some of the emotions and raw beauty of the people and the country.

Richard

  59 Responses to “The Sony RX1 in India by Richard Geltman”

  1. The image quality from this camera is wonderful and your images do it more than justice. Congratulations and thank you for the fine report.

    Peter.

  2. Wonderful report and images! I traveled in India in 2006 and can only echo your impressions. What a fascinating country!

  3. Hi, Richard. I agree with everything you say about this camera exempt the autofocus.
    I was quite disappointed with the speed. It seems to go back and fourth one time too many before it locks.
    It is not as fast as sony Nex 5n and certainly nowhere near Ricoh GR4 or Nikon 1. For really fast candid street shooting I use zone focusing with the RX1. But then the full frame and fast lens is lost. Great images I would love to go to India seems like a very photogenic place. (PS your issue with the aperture-priority and slow shutter speed can be solved by setting camera to manual and auto ISO.)

    Christian

  4. Beautiful images.

  5. Living myself in India, I concur with your travel report, nicely observed and written. The RX1 seems to be a beauty, though I wish it had a time dial like the M9.
    Thanks for sharing.

  6. “The only way around this is to go fully manual but I’m not too adept at it and I generally find it too slow for rapid street use.”
    I thought this way as well, but then I switched to fully manual on the RX1 for the first time. The aperture is controlled on the lens; the shutter speed is the wheel near your thumb on the back and ISO can be auto. That really isn’t a hard shift and then you can dial your shutter to 1/125 like you want and aperture to whatever you want and walk around all day with only the ISO changing to accomodate the various scenes you shoot. I was very surprised at how easy it was to shoot manual with the RX1. I’d encourage you to give it a go.

    • Will try and let you know the results.

    • Hi again– I tried your suggestion of full manual with auto-iso and it works well. Thanks. The only issue is that the wheel at the back of the camera which changes shutter speed is quite easy to dislodge so I frequently inadvertently change shutter speed without being aware of it. But, I can probably adjust my working habits to minimize this.

      Richard

      • Richard, in manual exposure, if you hold down the AEL button while you adjust the aperture ring, the shutter speeds will also change to maintain the same exposure. That is a really quick way to adjust DoF while maintaining the exposure.

      • I am glad you tried it and I hope you’re able to make the small adjustments to make this workflow work, because it can work very well. Good luck Richard.

  7. Great read, Richard. Thank you!

    Steven

  8. lovely images!!

    i finally got my hands on the RX1 today, played with it for almost an hour (and took the files home for closer look). the IQ is indeed nice, build quality is good, but not as great as people would like you to believe. the shooting experience though, was very NEX like…which i’m not impressed, considering its price tag. this camera really needs a shutter dial…

    • There is a shutter dial on the back upper towards the right… a thumb wheel… only the settings are posted on the LCD and/or EVF in highlighted orange numbers when you spin the dial, not physically on the wheel. It is quite functional unless you actively change shutter speeds at hip level.

  9. First of all thanks to the writer of this real life experience with this camera. There are really invaluable information in this review for me to support my view that this is an over-priced camera. Especially the points regarding the inabilites and insufficiencies listed about the AP mode have been a good alarm point for me too.

    In fact, I don’t know why, I was already suspicious of such a disappointing possibility somehow and we must thank to the writer of this review that he has clearly shown that my worries about the performance insufficiency of the AP mode in this camera. If the price was right I would not make so much fuss about this but if you are a company like SONY and if you are ripping 3,000 USD (or Euro, if you are living in EU) than such an insufficiency can definitely not be forgiven or over-looked in anyway.

    This is an over-priced camera by all means. A camera that is at this level, which doesn’t have a built-in view finder no matter what the sensor size is, and no matter what the picture quality is definitely and OVER -PRICED camera by definition in my opinion. Because a camera at this technological level with this sensor size means that it is being offered to serious photographers and offering a full frame camera without a proposer built in view finder is like mockery with serious enthusiasts.

    Thanks again to the writer of this review.

    • You have a strong opinion on AF even though it is apparent you have never used the camera. Why is your opinion of any value when you have not used the camera? This of us who own the camera seem to have muddled through somehow and produced the occasional photograph that is in focus.

      As far as overpriced, that is an invalid concept. In our economic system something is worth what people are willing to pay for it and many people have paid full freight for the RX1. Just because it is too expensive for you, or you can’t afford it and are jealous of those who can, does not mean it is overpriced. It is only overpriced for you.

  10. Thanks for the report. Here are some recent photos of Mumbai taken with the M8/M9:

    http://www.acuitycolorgrain.com/latest-exhibits/mumbai-replay/

    Fascinating city.

    Best Regards,

    ACG

  11. Beautiful images – i’d wish i could see some more as the are very intriguing. If you have a Flickr account or such please share.

  12. Do you have a link to eBay hood you purchased?

  13. In spite of other observations, the build quality is extremely good, as good as any except maybe Brand “L”. Certainly the match of “C” or “N”.

    Nothing like an NEX to me. Far more balanced than an NEX with comparable glass, and even then will have to see an NEX (any of them) with a Zeiss 24mm match IQ

    Seems as though firmware could give you a choice of minimum shutter speed without too much ado. Though it obviously DOES have a shutter speed dial when in “S” mode

    Have to admit, I was a bit taken aback by Steve’s first review and thought he was a bit “bought” by Sony hospitality (Carmel is nice!). But once I got this little bugger it is hard to put down, figuratively or literally.

    • Having both the RX1 and Zeiss 24mm on a NEX, I can confirm the lens/sensor combo of the RX1 produces significantly better IQ than the NEX/24mm combo, which itself is quite good. This lens is also quite a bit shorter from the body front than the 24mm as well, helping with balance and looks.

      And agree, a fantastic camera with some limitations that can be overcome. I could only imagine the challenges of travelling with a DSLR in India.

      • Spooky little thing

        The new “M” better be something special

        Let’s see…

        RX1 – 2800
        SP2 – 999
        SP3 – 999

        hmmmmmmm

    • I have shot hundreds of comparison photos like this:
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayhawk/8365664855/in/photostream/lightbox/ (nex 5N and Zeiss 24)
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayhawk/8366736258/in/photostream/lightbox/ (RX1)
      That test isn’t perfect – all are handheld. That’s why I’ve shot hundreds.
      The RX1 is clearly better as ISO increases and I don’t think it’s even close. But the Zeiss 24 is a really good lens. It’s just not as great as the Zeiss on the RX1. The RX1 is world class, I think. But if I had to only use my NEX 5N and Zeiss 24 then I’d largely be very happy with that combo with regard to picture quality.

  14. Very nice photos and great to see you enjoying the camera.

  15. Thanks for the report. I cant but laugh since I just returned from India as well. I agree with all what you wrote. chaos but very rewarding at the same time.

    Did you do any shooting late at night or early mornings when it was still dark and/or twilight? If so how did the colors come across?

    Cheers!
    Matt

  16. Hi Richard

    Impressive IQ along with great images, well done.

    Cheers, Jason.

  17. These are the first really great images I’ve seen from a photographer using the RX1. Excellent work!

  18. Richard:

    Excellent review! Having been to India I echo your sentiments about this most fascinating country.
    I’ve had a chance to shoot with the Sony RX1 and it is, indeed, a superlative camera. The build
    reminds me of a ‘baby’ Leica M6 TTL. Nice and solid! I’ve had a chance to compare images taken
    with the RX1 to those from my Canon 5D Mark III & Zeiss 35mm F2.0 ZE lens. The RX1 images
    looked slightly better from my perspective (this observation aside, the 5D Mark III remains a ‘stellar’
    DSLR in all respects!). Was curious, Richard, why you selected the Voigtlander 28mm viewfinder
    rather than Voigtlander’s 35mm viewfinder for use with the RX1?

    • I tried two 35 mm finders including the Voightlander but found them too tight. For whatever reason, the 28 mm Voightlander seemed to be about right.

      • Richard:

        Thanks for the courtesy of your prompt reply to my viewfinder question! I visited your
        dropbox collection of photos from India. Nice, very nice! India is all about people in
        addition to a compelling array of cultural traditions. Your people images show a deep
        & abiding respect. And as for the RX1, I predict very soon there will be available
        from third-party vendors an L-bracket, front grip, and a thumbs-up device that will be a
        little less costly than Sony’s version.

  19. For those interested in a more complete selection of photos from my India tour they can be seen by following the link below.

    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/gtyoua33w21pz58/pfDGk_6wLg

    Richard

  20. It is VERY rare that I see a post like this and am gobsmacked by the images that accompany it. With that first photo (the two women and the man in the background), I sat up straight in my chair and uttered a profanity…. Good stuff. I’m going to your dropbox now.

  21. I spent my childhood in India, so always interested in seeing good photography of this fascinating country.
    Your photographs certainly catch the hustle and the bustle, and also the light and colour, which you probably had to sweat for(very hot no doubt).

    The RX1 seems a superb camera, and you have caught some gems with it from looking at your Dropbox portfolio – I am sorely tempted, but am hesitating on account of the price.

    Andrew

  22. Stunning images, especially the first…Really shows what the camera is capable of. Your shots are some of the most compelling that I have seen from this camera. I appreciate you sharing these!

  23. Nicely done.

    Richard, I am thinking of picking up a Voightlander viewfinder for my RX1. You said the 28mm is a better match than the 35mm? Can you tell us a little more about that?

    • Sorry, Richard, I think you answered the question above.

    • When I tried two different 35 mm finders they seemed to “tight” to me in that I would frequently cut of part of the shot– particularly the bottom. After I started using the 28 the problem was solved.

      I’ve used OVFs on several cameras from the Sigma DP1/2Ms the the M9. No question that it’s a combination of issues including psychovisual factors that are hard to verbalize and quantify. For fast street shooting I find an OVF with autofocus to be the best. For precise framing, not so good. The OVF on the Leica only really works with wide angle shooting using zone or hyper-focal focussing. In my opinion, that is.

      In any case, for all these reasons, I found the 28 mm Voightlander most closely matched my “vision” as we’ll as what I would see when experimenting with match up to the LCD.

      Hope this help, a little.

      • Richard, thanks. It does help. I also suspect viewfinder manufacturers err on a slightly tight frame as they reason it is easier to crop down than add what is missing.

  24. Excellent pictures. Awesome quality. Your post looks like a travelogue. I’m originally from south India and I should say that you have made the point. You can see people from every scale, from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich. So diverse is India. Given the population, the country is busy 24 hours a day.

    Which half case do you have on your RX1? Is that the one from Gariz? I’m considering buying one for my NEX 6.

    • The case pictures are Steve’s. I don’t use a case as I’ve never had a camera damaged when I was walking around with it and don’t want the extra bulk. Personally, they strike me as a little effete– sort of like the “bras” people put on the front of automobiles. But I’m sure there are many who would find such things valuable.

  25. Set your camera customers to various auto iso limits. That will remedy the minimum ss and aperture issue.

  26. Richard, do you have any thoughts on the image quality differences between the Rx1 and your Sigma cams- obviously we all know the Sigma’s limitations, thanks, j

    • Yes, it’s simple. The Sigmas have easily seen higher resolution. I brought them to India but didn’t use them. First I was particularly interested in the RX1. Second, as a tourist, the frequently changing environment and luminance- indoors, out, temple interiors, bright sun- made the Sigmas hard to use because of the iso issues mentioned before. However, nothing short of a Nikon D800 or medium format beats them for resolution.

  27. While some of the shots are quite nice. They also show the inherent slow autofocus.

    • LOL. You mean those nice laughing school girls? That is why Robert Capa could never get any combats shots–no auto focus.

  28. Richard

    My wife and I toured India in 2007 with my M8 and the 35/2 and 50/1.0, we had an amazing time and I experienced much of what you describe. What a beautiful, conflicted and frustratingly marvelous country.
    The people are lovely, genuine and incredibly generous irrespective of how much or little they have.
    Your pictures are really quite lovely, demonstrating lovely DR, IQ and selective focus.
    Your essay and photography have taken me back to that trip and made me realize it’s time for me to get back there.

    Thank you for sharing and for demonstrating what a wonderful photographic tool the RX1 is

    Cheers
    J

  29. I jump way too fast on the new gear (Nex-5, rx100, d-lux4, ect) so this time I will wait for version 2. But hell 35-49-70 (or is it 75) is very apealing as 35 is great for about 70% of my shots, 50 for another 20% and the rest needs wider or longer. Ah… 24 or 28 on the wider side would be nice but then…. you could start with a 40mp sensor and cover 28-35-49 and 75 all at f2.8, imagine, a whole camera bag in something smaller than any bridge with a huge sensor….. wohhhhaaaa…. the possibilities are limitless… By the way I still think that the Rx100 is a lovely tiny thing, the Nex has not seen the light of day since I own it…Cannot wait to see future developements of that concept… the good thing with Sony is that we should see it in a year or so…. I guess the M I had envisionned around my neck may never materialise… Buy an Rx1 and fly to Bombay with the change for a test drive. Thanks for sharing your pictures and confusing my unstable mind.

  30. I live in Mumbai for six months of the year and have to congratulate the author of this report on the accuracy of his observations about this remarkable and crazy city. Only one point: I eat the street food all the time, it’s delicious, gob smackingly cheap and I have never been ill because of it. Eating in second rate hotels however is very dangerous!
    I shoot 5D3/DM2M and X100 in Mumbai and am just about to jump to RX1. This report helped.

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