One year with the Sony RX1 by Raymond Hau

Sony DSC-RX1

One year with the Sony RX1

by Raymond Hau –   http://jkspepper.tumblr.com    –    http://www.flickr.com/photos/_dhermes/

 

My setup used to be a Canon 350D with various good lenses, then I decided I needed an upgrade and so, after many a umm’ing and ahh’ing over which full-frame Canon model to upgrade to I went and bought a Sony RX1 instead.

That single action brought about a complete change to my outlook on photography and my photographic equipment needs.

Refreshing

The RX1 concept was different to anything that had existed before it and in my view rather refreshing; to provide the best photography output in as simple as manner as possible… and make it small.

It’s not for everyone, the fixed 35mm lens and lack of a viewfinder will be sure to put off hardcore gear addicts and the price will put off everyone else but for those that really know what they want out of a camera, out of photography, will never let go of this marvel.

Prince Edward

I shot manual film SLRs from my early days, had a break of 5 years or so and then ventured back into photography with both feet firmly in the digital camp with the 350D. I used it for a while and then I kinda. just. stopped. I had gradually lost interest; digital with all its technological advancements was exciting but something was missing, I loved photography but strangely I didn’t love this.

I picked it up again a few years later and rekindled an interest but it wasn’t until I set my hands on the RX1 that I realised what I was looking for and it was refreshingly simple.

Simplicity

The RX1 is in essence a simple device, it does not have a zoom; it does not have a viewfinder; it has neither the ergonomics nor an AF system that works; and it does not even have a battery charger (!). What it does have however is a wonderful lens mated to a superb sensor and that is all I needed.

Mongkok Flower Girls

The tactile feedback from the all metal construction, the well dampened focusing ring and the reassuring click of the aperture ring around the lens gives quiet confidence when your AF is failing and the battery is about to die after only 300 shots, because you know that when you go home and upload your 300 shots, each one will be as beautifully rendered as the next and just how you intended to capture that scene.

I didn’t care that the AF enjoys the hunt because like a Mountie, he always gets his man (most of the time anyway and don’t even bother trying when anything is on the move). I learnt never to rely on AF in certain circumstances and resorted doing things the old-fashioned way.

The Old-Fashioned Way

One could argue that I’m a little bit backwards; why move from a system which gives perfectly acceptable AF, flexibility of focal lengths and adequate cost for something that offers none of that? I had to focus with my feet, manually twiddle the focus ring and lighten my wallet by a fair few G’s (in HKD that is).

But that was the epiphany, the eureka moment, the realisation that I enjoyed it (well, I would certainly enjoy it more if it hadn’t cost me an arm and a leg but I digress).

What was missing from shooting with digital SLR systems (be it Canon or Nikon) was the process itself, I was no longer enjoying the physical process of taking photographs, it didn’t matter whether the output was good if I didn’t care to take the time and effort to get out there with a camera.

More Gloomy Clouds over Hong Kong

It is a slower process, I would even say a more considered one but I’m not a professional photographer so I don’t need the ability to snap a gnat doing a reverse somersault in the tuck position off a cat’s back from 200m at a moment’s notice lest my family starve from lack of income; I’m just a guy, standing in front of a camera, asking for an enjoyable experience.

The Review

When I evaluate a camera during the first few weeks of purchase, I focus on the negative aspects of the camera; once I have a handle on what I don’t like I can then decide whether I can live with it. If I can, I will love it and keep it, if I can’t it’s gonna go; you can see this when I reviewed the Sony A7R.

5

However, with this “One year in review” I will focus instead on the positive aspects of the camera, what I have found to be the highlights after owning the RX1 for a year.

35mm

I love the 35mm focal length. You either do or you don’t I suppose and I do. I’m naturally a wide-angle shooter and lengths from 50mm upwards are awkward for me; I’m always too close to the subject, perhaps I have no inhibitions about getting in close or feel that I lose the intimacy or interaction when shooting people. Oh, and I love landscapes and the close 20cm focus distance when in macro mode is also a boon for those inevitable food photographs.

Smooch @ f/2.0

Carl Zeiss

Consider me a convert to the Carl Zeiss clan; before the fixed 35mm f/2.0 attached to the front of the RX1 I hadn’t had a lot of experience with Zeiss glass, only hearing about them and not giving them much thought. Now I am a true convert and have already amassed a collection of 4 (if you include the one on the RX1). I had never seen the famed Zeiss ‘3D pop’ before now and in good sunlight it is truly evident and a marvel to behold.

3D target

The glass is sharp wide open and right across the frame, the colours are pleasing and at f/2.0 is fast enough and beautiful enough (bokeh!) for me to indulge my creative side. It’s so effortless I almost feel like I’m cheating. It’s not perfect, there exists slight distortions and vignetting which can be corrected in post but for the most part can be considered immaterial.

I have read reviews and musings from the world-wide webs which go on to proffer the argument that this could be one of the finest lenses ever produced, I do not doubt them although having the lens mated specifically to a sensor with micrometer precision obviously has its benefits.

Exmor

The Exmor CMOS sensor is amazing and I am not using that term lightly. I have had access to and have regularly used a number of cameras over time and now also owning the Sony A7R, Fujifilm X-E1 and X-T1, I can empirically say the 24MP sensor housed within that tight metallic body is the best I’ve ever used. Its dynamic range (DR) and noise characteristics are exceptional.

Bar

It’s the only file where I can shoot straight into the sun and then pull every slider in post (using Adobe Lightroom) without breaking the image. It’s the only file where I can create HDR images with only one image (instead of the usual 3-plus images). It’s the only file where I never, ever, worry about artifacting in post and lets me really fire up my creative juices. The A7R and Fujifilm files are not even close on this one, like I have already said, this camera makes taking pictures easy.

Size

This thing is tiny; it’s an engineering marvel how they have managed to fit a full frame sensor inside that body. It’s by no means pocketable (unless you are a giant or like wearing trench coats) but it is vastly superior to its full frame brethren. It means that I can carry it anywhere and everywhere I go and I often do; during the last year it has been to clubs, bars, restaurants, functions, parks, hikes, events, trips; Hong Kong, England, Japan, Cambodia, India, Korea, China, Italy and more.

Dharavi Mother

It’s non-invasive, not attention worthy (especially with black nail polish over the trademarks) and not intimidating. It’s the perfect stealth camera which to many may look like an older 1990’s era point and shooter, obviously the fast and silent leaf shutter helps too.

Cambodia Boat Kid

I’ve been with friends and to people’s houses where they remarked why I hadn’t brought a ‘proper’ camera like their large Canon or Nikon systems. I merely shrug and say “I make do with what I got”, little do they know…

Shutter

It’s a leaf shutter, fast (1/4000s max, although speed limited to 1/2000s when wide open up until f5.6 if I remember correctly) and silent (it really is). It will sync flash at any speed you would want, especially useful for wide open shots during day light.

Viewfinder

There is however one thing the RX1 doesn’t give you and it’s something I know I couldn’t live without and that is a viewfinder; I was so used to optical viewfinders in all my previous cameras that it was a given that I would want the same again. Shooting using the LCD screen just didn’t give that same feel or enjoyment so I almost immediately started to look at the Sony OVF.

Man selling meat sticks

I tested one and was amazed by how large and bright it was; then I saw the ludicrous price tag and decided that it was ridiculous sum of money to pay for a piece of glass so I started looking elsewhere for third party designs from Leica and Voigtlander. What I saw underwhelmed me enough for me to eventually consider the electronic viewfinder (EVF) as I was not willing to spend so much money on what was essentially a dumb piece of glass. Let’s just say that I am now a convert to the EVF world; would I still prefer a large bright digital SLR OVF? Sure. But EVFs do offer some advantages and I can live with the negatives.

Street Meat Vendor

The Sony EVF is a joy to use and only now when I compare it to the EVFs from the A7R, X-E1 (rubbish) and X-T1 that I realised I had started out with a really good example of one. I’m not sure whether the EVF for the RX1 is the same as that built into the A7R but I swear the RX1 EVF is slightly better and is enjoyable to use even alongside the large and bright EVF of the Fujifilm X-T1.

One Year In

I love the RX1. I already know I will not sell it, exchange it or need to upgrade it. When it comes to 35mm, the RX1 is all I need which is why after one year and three additional bodies I still only have one 35mm focal length in my collection and that is the one attached to this camera.

It has changed my whole outlook, my philosophy and my equipment needs.

Julian

City life trams

I want them to be small and manageable; I want that tactile old school feel of an aperture ring; I want a single focal length to keep things simple; and most if all I want to really enjoy using it.

What I would really want is a collection of RX1-type cameras at differing focal lengths; an ultra-wide (~18mm), wide (35mm), normal (50mm) and short-telephoto (85mm). One camera for one task, no changing lenses in the field and if I didn’t bring the right camera with me, I’m not going to stress over missing a shot. Simples.

14

The end.

Raymond Hau

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80 thoughts on “One year with the Sony RX1 by Raymond Hau”

  1. Raymond, what put you off of the Voightlander optical viewfinder? I am considering buying an RX1r but fear I could get use to the EVF

    Could someone who uses the RX 1and an optical finder please describe their experience and style of shooting ie I assume auto, center focus, apature priority ?

    Thanks

      1. I have EVF and OFV (not the original, but a Voigtlaender 35mm finder from the Bessa 1) for the RX1. I end up using the EVF for precision work and the OVF for snaps on the street. With the OVF you either need to turn on the acoustical focus confirm or use the mechanical feedback (feel the AF work and mechanically lock at lock)…

  2. Great shots, I really wish that the RX-100 II and the RX-1 would cover all my wants in terms of focal lengths because it would be such a lovely minimalist kit to have.

  3. A reincarnation of the Rollei 35S I used to have and love – only better: autofocus, faster lens and 35 mm focal length.

  4. Outstanding photographs!

    It caught my attention that you own the XT1 and the A7R. Given that both cameras are pretty much the same size, is it the Fuji lenses that prompt you to keep both cameras? I own an A7 and am considering the XT1 but am having trouble imagining any situation where the XT1 would fill a need that the A7/A7R could not meet.

    I apologize for the off topic questions; but given the quality of your results, I could not help but ask.

    1. Just buy as many cameras as you can afford, and choose them by the reviews, as soon as they come out. You’ll never be disappointed.

    2. Yes, pretty much. I haves piece I am writing called “My Fujifilm Love Affair” which will be a first impressions review of the X-T1 and the title kinda says it all. My other cameras can do everything the Fuji does but because of Fuji’s apparent attitude as a company, the lens ecosystem and the “feel” of the cameras I have decided to stick with them for this latest iteration.

      My head says the A7R already does everything I would need. My heart says give the little Fuji a chance.

  5. Echoing what many others have already said, this is the best type of review. I really love the images as well. I’ve been considering adding a new somewhat compact fixed lens camera to my kit and had kind of zeroed in on the X100s, but you’ve got me thinking…

    1. I have had my RX-1 since December 2012. I know other that have had them for a long time as well. I wonder where you are getting your information. I am sure people have sold their camera–I know people that have, but it is rather anecdotal, just like my experience.

  6. Great review that does hit the high points of the owner experience! You carry this little bug around and pictures just happen. My only wish is that it’s AF was a little quicker.

    The bar scene (all those bottles) and the woman and child immediately after are amongst the best I’ve seen here in a while. Great work

    It’s interesting to read comments here. If it had a built in VF and a zoom it would be bigger, heavier and the images would suffer folks… it’s not about that. It’s about eye-popping images from a compact, incredibly well-made camera. You either get it, or you do not. No harm, just is.

    For me just about anything you’d use a 28-50mm can be covered with this item. Would like to see an RX-2 with a fixed 70-80mm lens… that’s it.

    Just dived into the Leica M World for the 4th time in life. Bought 21/28/50/90. Don’t need a 35, I have an RX-1 So could go with a 21 instead… woo-hoo

    The fun with this camera is that if you’re out and want a picture that you are in (how few of those do we have guys?) you can hand it to someone and say, just hit this button and they do. With all other gear it’s either intimidating or “just no way” (think M240).

    This is a camera that when I go out light, it’s always with me. Funny, I was soooo impressed got a couple Sigma-Merrills. Dumped them, no contest! One aspect of a good street camera is low light performance. Between f2.0 and incredible high ISO performance this camera has the goods

  7. Enjoyed your writings greatly, and you photographs even more! Have an X100, but this gem must be of another world or something! :) Maybe I should exchange my new 6D and lenses for an RX1, as I find it sitting on the shelf most of the time anyway..hmm..(oh the GAS can be painful)

  8. Excellent images and really great review that very closely mirrors my own experience with the camera. A fantastically enjoyable and freeing experience to use, particularly for travel. Also couldn’t agree more with this: “It’s so effortless I almost feel like I’m cheating.”

  9. ‘What I would really want is a collection of RX1-type cameras at differing focal lengths; an ultra-wide (~18mm), wide (35mm), normal (50mm) and short-telephoto (85mm).’

    I second that!!!

  10. Very, very nice! The A7R is supposed to be weather sealed, but Sony refuses to tell us what that means. Do you use your RX1 in light rain? What case/bag do you use, if any?

    1. I’ve used it sun, rain, dirt, snow, sand. It’s been attacked by food, drink and toothpaste. I hand carry and the bag I use is either my girlfriends handbag, my backpack or even a shopping bag. The only thing I really am conscious of is the lens but I have a Rollei filter on for that job as I don’t use lens caps when walking around and I like to clean lens in field using my breath and a sleeve :)

      Don’t worry, it’s a tough little thing. :)

  11. Well done Raymond. I could not agree more. I own the same camera for a year now. Simply put. It changed my photographic output, because the camera is always with me. The quality of the picutures is just amazing in all aspects. After all – the best camera is the one that you carry with you. I start to realize that I missed so many magic moments because I left my heavy SLR equipment in a bag at home. Nice review. Thank you.

  12. Beautiful pictures Raymond and as an RX1r owner I can’t agree with your words more, well maybe a little because this little camera really is a humbling creation. I think Sony themselves will be struggling to top this one, although I’m certain they will. Hopefully with a fixed fast zoom f 2.8 24-65ish maybe 36 MP( just cos Sony like to show off a bit), no built in EVF cos they’re not good enough for this camera yet, but years down the road (and not many) they will be and we won’t be stuck with a piece of “make do” on a piece of art. I do have and really like the EVF but not “love”. So I hope Sony take their time and get the RX2 right and if there is no RX2, well that will just make the RX1 more of the classic that it is. I hope to post some of the love children from my first six months with this little brick of a camera soon.
    Ps. Love the sky shots, this camera/lens combo does skies like nobodies business. Thanks for being in the moment.

    Pps. Apologies for saying “love” so often, just a little RXL syndrome I guess.

    1. The attached EVF rotates 90 degrees, something not seen on many cameras with a built in VF. Samsung NX20 and the Panny GX7 have that feature.

  13. Not sure if this is the right place to ask! but I hope some one who knows can help out. Is the quality of the a7+fe 35mm, equivalent to the RX1 in image quality? or doesonly the RX1 have this ‘special magic’ to its images? I am looking for a travel camera and all being equal I would like the built in view finder, but if not I can live with a tack on one for this image quality.

    1. From my experience the RX1R will give you more reliable results. I had the A7R/35 2.8 zeiss and sent it back for the RX1R. I don’t think you can go wrong with either camera, both are great but the lens sensor combo on the RX1R is special! I also like using just one focal length, It’s very refreshing.

      1. Sensor and lens are optimized as a combo; add the one stop faster and it is a really good camera, if you don’t mind the fixed lens.

        Someone asked what the difference with an X100(s) would be. Judging from what I see on the net the difference is significant; bigger (and really oustanding!) sensor for a start.

        Personal preferences will vary of course.

  14. Could not agree with you more! I ordered the RX1R several months ago and three weeks later sony released the the A7R. So I sent the RX1R back and ordered the A7R w/ the 35 2.8 zeiss, but after two weeks of use I was missing the RX1R so I sent back the A7R and reordered the RX1R. I love the shooting experience with RX1R and it’s great for the type of landscape work I do. Most of my gallery work is printed between 20x30in and 24x36in and while the A7R/d800e had a slight edge in detail I could only see it if I was closer than 12in from a print. Basically the sale of a print at those sizes, between those cameras is not going to come down to mega pixels. The RX1R is truly a camera for the history books.

  15. Great review, thank you for posting. I liked everything about the RX1 except for one thing: Its too slow for action or street. The image quality is abfab in all respects, colour, noise, detail, all lovely. Size and build, lovely, although a 2.8 lens would be smaller and therefore even more pocket-able. Overall if it had been (a lot) quicker I would have bought it.

    1. Oddly I find Sony cameras desirable: absolutely love the A7R and the Sony zeiss lenses? I also love other cameras such as my recently received leica M. Your unsophisticated negativism is not unusual on the web. Brian

        1. @Michiel953:

          “…Ahh! A Sony fanboy, that finds all Sony cameras desirable. A real find…”

          Michiel, you have been (deliberately ?) misreading Brian, me thinks…

          I could now turn back and state polemically: “… Ahh! Michiel953 is a Sony Alpha/NEX/ILCE hater…”

          Doing so would not do justice, I hope.

          PS: I am not a Sony fanboy, but I _do_ like my NEX-7s, my A7 and my RX1.

          I would not call the Sony RX1 ‘the best camera I ever had’ – to that position it is beaten by my trusty old M4P with ‘Lux 35, ‘Cron 50 and 90 – but it comes quite close… if now EVF and thumb rest could be placed tighter, it would be a bit closer….

          1. Sorry – something went wrong whilst posting.

            “…could be placed tighter…” meant to say “…could be placed together and fixed tight…”

  16. Raymond Hau,

    This is how reviews are supposed to be done. A year long review holds more weight than these fly by night one day reviews. Nice images. BTW, do you happen to have any picture of your “stealth” RX1?

    I couldn’t pull the trigger on the RX1 because of the lack of the viewfinder so I got the A7 w/kit lens, 35mm f2.8 Zeiss, and the HVL60M flash for $2500. It is by far one of the best cameras that I have ever had the pleasure of using.

  17. These are wonderful pictures. I purchased an RX1-R several months ago and truly enjoy using it. Only two items really bother me. I use my camera in manual focus mode. In order to get the most accurate focus, I have to keep the lens set to f2 while focusing, then turn the aperture ring to the desired stop when I shoot. Then open back up to refocus. I wish it worked like an SLR with the lens at widest aperture all the time and then automatically stop down to the aperture set on the ring. The other item can be corrected in software: The EVF shows a distance scale with infinity at the right and the closest distance to the left. But the focus ring works exactly opposite. Turn the focus ring to the left to focus on infinity. It can be disorienting. Otherwise, the camera is wonderful and goes with me everywhere.

  18. What did you use to black out the branding on your RX1 and did you do the orange ring also? I’m wanting to black out my A7r but not sure what to use.

    Great images btw. I had to sell my RX1 to fund my A7r purchase but it wasn’t easy. I adored the RX1. I loved the build and the images out of the camera were stellar. But I did miss a view finder and I couldn’t pull the trigger on the EVF add on. I’m really enjoying my A7r, but there was something really special about the RX1.

  19. Great images and great story – the part I like most is the fact that you shoot for yourself and enjoy doing it. It takes a long time to learn to come to this conclusion, but it’s heaven when you finally get there !!

  20. Beautiful images Raymond! The RX1 was truly a ground breaking camera in that it was the first to put a full frame sensor into a compact camera for less than a third of the price of a Leica + lens. It will be interesting to see if Sony releases an RX2 though, as I see the A7 and A7R as the logical evolution of the RX1.

    The A7 bodies are comparable in size and handling to the RX1 – and they have the viewfinder and ILC capability that many felt were the missing link on the RX1.

    That being said, the RX1 deserves a place in the camera Hall of Fame (if there is one)

  21. Amazing pictures.. Really really nice pics. Terrific processing to. Inspiring as hell!!
    I got the RX1r, and im insanely happy with it.
    I got a Nikon D800 as well, but this little beast kicks it´s ass.
    Thinking about getting the Otus 50, since now bitten by the Zeissbug as well.
    Great review!
    /Greg

    1. How, exactly, does it “kick” the “ass” of your D800, for which you’re splashing out on the most expensive “50” in town? Please illuminate me.

  22. Very interesting to see your pictures and read your comments on the 35mm focal length. I’m hoping for a similar experience with my Fuji X100S when it arrives (and am a bit curious why you chose the Sony in preference).

  23. Almost all the images I’ve seen with this camera seem to be of static subjects – landscapes, still lifes, details, portraits. Rarely are people using this camera to capture complex, moving situations, as is regularly seen with images from the Fuji X100s or the Ricoh Gr. Is this something of a limitation of the camera or is it that its owners are still at the ‘testing’ and ‘pixel-peeping’ stage where the image is less important?

    1. I do have a small percentage of my shots that are moving from what I can see going back but I don’t do a lot of these types of photography (even if the AF on the RX1 did allow for it!).

      From what I see, the X100S and Ricohs are very popular cameras with photographers who shoot candid street or from the hip and I assume the speed allows for it. I guess I could do it with the RX1 but I’m not sure why I would want to.

    2. This lens on a full frame sensor won’t let you get away with anything, with no real image stabilization camera shake is more of an issue than AF, I found after getting the EVF thus creating a three point contact my keeper rate improved dramatically. The RX1 has really challenged me to get my game on, the camera is ready to meet you at every level. As a consolation though, I believe the ” soft” shots are still on par with APS-C with more depth. I also have many sharp shots “from the hip”, learned to plant the camera firm against my body. The results really are worth the effort.

      1. In the old days (;-) ), people used to produce sharp images at shutterspeeds slower than recommended (f.i., 1/15 with a 35mm, on 35mm film). I wonder how they did that without “image stabilization” and similar gizmo’s. They must have been superhuman.

        1. Yeah, I wouldn’t think twice about shooting at 1/30 back on my old OM 1, but if the sensor is four times shaper than film or more, probably, it’s as equally less forgiving in the sharpness department, there’s always a price! All praise the deep pockets of digital ISO. Still think I’m just treading water in a different ocean sometimes:o)

    1. The Sigmas surely have amazing image quality but I think the f/2.8 lenses on APS-C sensor are somewhat “artistically limited” for the choices of many people (low light & shallow DoF).

  24. While I do believe I would like your photos if they were taken with a 350D or an RX1, I must say the detail in these images is stunning – really amazing

  25. I dig what you’ve done with your camera. Nice work, and I too, love the simplicity of the RX1. If I could afford one, I would really like the EVF, too. I guess that is the beauty of the X100S, too. I like the way the B&Ws turned out. Still less expensive than a Leica MM… not bad.

  26. Beautiful shots Raymond! The RX-1 is a beautiful piece of kit!!

    I’d love to own one, though it’s just a little out of my wallet’s comfort zone.

    However, if Sony were to give me a version of my beloved ‘Minolta Hi-Matic’ (an RX1 with a 40mm f1.7 lens) I would sell an organ to get one! :D

  27. Nice review and lovely pictures. I especially like your description of yourself, “… I’m not a professional photographer so I don’t need the ability to snap a gnat doing a reverse somersault in the tuck position off a cat’s back from 200m at a moment’s notice lest my family starve from lack of income.” What a great line!

    1. Thanks! I think people get carried away with specs and the ability to for one camera to do it all when all you really want is one that does just enough most of the time and which you feel comfortable with.

  28. Beautiful photos and I loved reading your commentary. From corner to corner there are interesting details in all of your photos. Your color palette looks painted on. The sharp areas stop the eye and the bokeh is creamy. Gorgeous. There is something about the build quality and ergonomics of the RX1 that I still like more than the A7R. I hope the RX1 is not a one-off for Sony and that Sony comes out with a RX2 with interchangeable lenses and a built-in in viewfinder. This RX camera, to me, is the one camera that is knocking on the door of Leica. If the RX1 had a built-in viewfinder, I would’ve dumped my X100S for it.

      1. I have both. IQ wise, both are top. But the RX1 feels much more like a premium product with its superb build quality and that wonderful aperture ring. It`s a jewel with a beautifully rendering Sonnar lens, the best sensor & 35mm lens combo.

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