Good Things Come in Small Packages: My Sony RX1R Experience by Daniel Stainer

Good Things Come in Small Packages: My Sony RX1R Experience


by Daniel Stainer – His website is HERE.


From the scorching Nevada desert to the sandy shores of Outer Banks North Carolina, I’ve had six months to put the amazing Sony RX1R through its paces.

For my landscape work, I mainly shoot with the equally capable (but different) Nikon D800e, although I find it a bit bulky for spontaneous street and travel work. I always say that when you’re working the street with a larger-sized DSLR, people either want to mug you or they think you’re a member of the paparazzi. Either way, larger cameras are not as discreet and can often impact the subtle dynamic and interaction between photographer and subject. This is where the smaller Sony RX1R really shines.

Light & Shadow (Old Rhyolite Prison) (1 of 1)

So after six months, you’re probably wondering…what is my overall opinion of the RX1R? In a nutshell, It’s like owning a Leica M with a 35mm F/1.4 Lux lens, but at a fraction of the expense (so long as you’re fine using a slightly slower fixed prime). For those of you with Leica lens lust like myself, this is certainly a viable alternative – and one that won’t elicit buyer’s remorse.

While I won’t go all DxO on you with lens peeping comparisons, I can tell you that the Zeiss optics and image characteristics are simply stunning – as is the camera body fit and finish. Dynamic range and low-light/high-ISO capability is quite frankly excellent – as is color rendering and micro contrast. Much like Leica, the bokeh characteristics have a 3D quality that really pops. I can’t believe Sony was able to fit such a good 24MP FX sensor into such a small body.

Rhyolite Ghost Town (Beatty, Nevada)

Surprisingly (and as many users have already noted), the camera was actually too small for my hands weighted against the built-in Zeiss lens. Paired with a Really Right Stuff L-bracket and grip, it now balances out perfectly without compromising on the small footprint or good looks. I did initially purchase the stylish Gariz leather half-case, although I ended up selling it because I found the RRS bracket set-up to be more practical for my tripod work (boasting better hand-held stability).

Some would call the slower AF system the Achilles Heel – and I would somewhat disagree. While it’s not as blazingly fast as some of the Nikon/Canon DSLRs out there, it is very respectable (especially once you get a feel for things). I tried it out many times in lower light, and it seemed to track well – especially when coupled with Auto ISO to maintain an optimal hand-held shutter speed.

Desert Effigy (Beatty, NV) (1 of 1)

I absolutely love Sony’s Auto ISO capability. Shooting in aperture priority or manual, there’s not much this camera can’t handle – and even the high ISO shots are very clean – just about on par with my former Nikon D4 up to about ISO 6400. Combined with the speed priority continuous burst drive setting, and you’ll have a formidable dual weapon for sharply stopping action dead in its tracks.

Truth be told, the AF is not nearly as lackluster as many have reported. That’s not to say that a faster and more responsive AF wouldn’t be a welcome enhancement for fast action or street-shooting scenarios. But you can manage and mitigate these shortcomings with the right settings and technique.

Old Las Vegas Blvd (1 of 1)

As for other weaknesses, some argue that the lack of built-in OVF/EVF is a deal breaker. I did get Sony’s optional EVF – which is pretty sweet. It does make the camera a bit more bulky, but the fact that you can take it on and off and go stealthy is a nice thing IMHO. Shooting from the hip or via the beautiful-rendering LCD can also have its benefits when you’re trying to blend in. So maybe not ideal for some, it was not a show stopper for me.

Forget-Me-Not (Disabled American Vet) Big Butler Fair, PA (1 of 1)

So what didn’t I like? Well – I’m not crazy about the organization of the menu system (being spoiled by Nikon). Too many non-intuitive tabs. Also, I think the camera has too many features and options (if you’re a JPEG shooter, you’ll love all the cool filters and snazzy pre-sets). But like anything else, you can choose to ignore most of them and focus on basic minimalist RAW settings. And if B&W photography is your thing, the RX1R converted RAW files are breathtaking – with deep dark blacks and plenty of contrast to satisfy even the most discriminating user.
Probably the biggest miss from Sony is the lack of proper weathersealing. As I’m writing this review, my RX1R has been mailed to Sony service to clean up some rather noticeable dust bunnies that made their way deep onto the sensor/inner lens element. I was hoping to avoid these issues with the attached lens construction.

Carny (Big Butler Fair) (1 of 1)

If you shoot wide open at F/2 everyday, all day – you probably won’t notice any dust. But if you stop down for any landscape work (even urban landscapes), they could become glaringly obvious. In all fairness to Sony, taking a non weather sealed camera to the desert or beach was probably ill-advised on my part. Even if you treat the camera with kid gloves, the RX1R was not designed for extreme environments (wind, sand, dust, water). Just don’t tell that to all the pros, semi-pros and advanced amateurs out there who refuse to put their cameras behind a museum display case. When all else fails, you’ve always got the clone/heal tool.

Bingo (Big Butler Fair, PA) (1 of 1)

Kennywood Amusement Park (Pittsburgh, PA) (1 of 1)

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the price. Sure, the camera with accessories can cost a small fortune. And I would agree that some of the accessories (like the obnoxiously-priced lens hood or lack of standalone charger) should be included. But when you consider the amazing optics and capabilities – it’s a veritable bargain. That Leica lens I referenced above cost $5,150 from B&H, without the camera.

On Top of Old Baldie (Big Butler Fair) (1 of 1)

Make no mistake – Sony has created something very special in the RX1R. For those looking to augment their larger DSLR system for more discreet street and travel work, I can’t think of anything better than the Sony RX1R. It’s not perfect – but what camera ever is? But in the area that really matters (image quality and lens rendering characteristics), the Sony RX1R is the king of mirrorless as far as I’m concerned – and a very strong contender to the best that Leica (or any manufacturer, for that matter) can offer.

Abandoned Fun Park Mansion (Salvo, NC)

Best of all, you won’t have to sell off your first-born to own one (ha-ha), although you might have to sell a few knickknacks on eBay to cover the rather pricy accessories. This is one camera I won’t be parting with anytime soon – even given its quirks.

Faded Glory (Salvo, NC)

Daniel Stainer

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  1. Almost two years with the RX-1, used on several continents – lattitudes from 72° S to ± 79° N – in often in quite inclement weather in dusty environments, ±25000 frames, no dust issues. What did you do to yours?!

  2. Great review. Great photos. I also am an RX-1r owner along with A7r, RX-100 and RX-10. After being a dedicated Canon (5DMk2 + lots of L lenses) landscape shooter I sort of OD’d on Sony. Horses for courses, they say. I agree the price of the camera makes sense, but the accessories (EVF & lens hood) are a big ticket! Nevertheless, the charger and batteries can be had on Amazon for not much, but the lens hood…yikes! Fotodiox makes a kit with a grip holder, cool, Leica-like rectangular lens hood and shutter release button(worthless; it will fall off) for around $100 which, while still not cheap, is more reasonable than going the RRS and Sony Lens Hood route. And they are really nice quality, except for the release button. If you are going to tripod the RX-1r, though, the RRS plate is indispensable.

  3. great photos. particularly the ones of the vet and the carnival worker. those are as good as photography gets!

  4. Still love my RX-1. Best Camera purchase sofar. And thats after owning >20 Cameras over the last 10 years.
    Fantastic Sensor & fantastic Optics = Unbeatable!

  5. I love your photos, which I agree are excellent less because of the camera than because of who was using it. The only one of the drawbacks you mentioned that gave me pause was the dust on the sensor. Given that the RX1 and RX1R have a fixed lens, I’m amazed that Sony would not have at least sealed the sensor chamber. A few gaskets would have saved more than their cost in warranty cleanings.

    • Yea – when I went to the beach a few weeks ago I was sort of bummed to see a huge dust bunny when the lens was stopped down. I did send it in and Sony has cleaned things up nicely. They even sent me before and after pictures, so I can tell you based on this one experience that their customer service appears to be excellent. But yes, better weather sealing would be nice.

  6. Nice review and great images. About once a month I decide to go for an RX1, and then I spend a few hours on eBay looking for a gently used copy at a good price, but I always stop short because of the lack of a built in EVF. I just hate using an LCD to frame shots. If Sony announces an RX2 in September, with a built in EVF like the RX100 Mk3, I will be pre-ordering one the very next minute!

  7. Great photos, Daniel. And great text, as well … you’re a really good writer. What you didn’t mention when you said “It’s like owning a Leica M with a 35mm F/1.4 Lux lens” is that it also has macro capabilities, which I find mind blowing, on my own RX1. I also own a Sony A7R, an Olympus OM-D E-M1 and a Lumix GX7. But if I had to go with just one camera, it would be the RX1.

  8. Nice write up Daniel. My only comment would be that it is owning a Leica M and a 35/2.0 Summicron not an M with 35/1.4 Summilux. But, hey, that’s a small point indeed. I own one and love it as the best P&S available.

    • Thank you for the clarification. I think I was just trying to say that this Zeiss lens is not too far off the mark optically when compared to one of the best Leica lenses. Of course, the 35/1.4 is faster and may offer better background separation (bokeh) depending on the shot. But all things being equal, they are pretty close. In terms of a pure apples to apples comparison, it would be the 35/2.0, so you are correct.

  9. to be honest, these are very nice pictures, but I think cameras have got to a point where I cannot tell the difference from one camera to the next and whether shot with an Olympus o Sony or Nikon or whatever each photographers shots are identical and only quality of post processing differentiates, and for Web uploads all that resolution is pointless.

    I’d just stick with a Fuji X100s and be done, that camera is The Best Digital fixed lens.

    • For a lot of photography that is true to an extent especially if you going with ‘artsy’ shots with heavy photoshop. But as a RX1 owner myself I must say the files that it produces are downright amazing at times especially at low light. Sometimes it’s almost stupid easy to get good files out of it.

      I was thinking about a Fuji X100s as well but jumped on a used RX1 at a really good price.

    • Hi Ibraar. Thank you for commenting. I would generally agree that the technology has gotten to the point where it is hard to really tell the difference between cameras. That being said, I do think this Zeiss lens (and Leica lenses for that matter) have a certain signature look that I don’t see in my Nikon lenses. Maybe the differences are subtle and incremental, but they are there. We tend to look at things from a camera-centric point of view. But really, it’s all about the optics, which is not to say that Sony’s sensor and internal algorithms aren’t optimized specifically for this lens.

  10. I bought a RX1R last October, and I fully agree with Daniel’s opinion. I have a D800E too, but not adapted to street photography.But did you take these B& W pictures with the built-in converter or are they RAW files converted in B& W in a post-treatment process (LR , SEFPro…)?
    This camera is amazing.

  11. I agree agree the autofocus is very good with this camera. In particular, once you factor in the shutter lag, it’s better than the A7R. No idea why, but it’s another of those little things that makes me facepalm about the A7R but remain incredibly impressed with the RX1R.

    I have one too and I love it for being small enough to carry when you don’t have room to carry a camera, looking like a compact so I can take it to social situations without freaking people out and being able to take it to places where a larger camera might cause issues. I actually started out with a RX1, loved that camera, sold it to fund another purchase, missed it loads and bought a RX1R second hand for the same money. Lucky me!

    When Sony releases a replacement, maybe I’ll trade my camera in. Maybe not though? 🙂

  12. I think your posted photos are fabulous. I just purchased that camera a few weeks ago. I was worried that my purchase may have been off the mark with all the newer offerings, but affirming with what you have said here I am happier. I was thinking Leica, but could not commit to that cost and liability of making myself a target for theft. I think Rx1r is a good alternative as you said. The Zeis lens is really the icing on the cake.

  13. exactly how I feel about my RX-1 (non-R).

    there are always folks who find fault… must be a very draining existence to always try to pick nits.

    have other cameras for other situations, but my going out for fun camera is this one

  14. Beautiful images. Great colour and composition, sometimes a bit too sharp? Maybe not. Anyway, that fantastic image quality is what you can get when a great sensor is optimized to one great lens.

    It’s a lovely camera but, particularly because of the lack of a grip, too small to hold comfortably for any length of time. So on comes the RRS grip. Then the lack of a viewfinder makes itself felt, so on comes the ovf or evf. It’s a bit bigger now (but still too light for effectiev slow shutterspeed use). Makes you wonder why DSLR’s are still used. Then it turns out to be non-weather sealed. Mmm.

    I took my old D700 to Dubai over two years ago. Lots of sand there and yes I changed lenses on a daily basis, preferably with my back to the wind if any. Never any spots on that sensor, as the next owner established before he forked over his money…

      • That a lot of people rave about the small size and light weight of a particular camera, only to realize later that some bits and pieces need to be added to make it fully functional. Also the lack of weathersealing seems disappointing. You don’t want to be constantly aware of the vulnerability of your camera.

        So, Sony needs to improve a few things, and then they’re on to a winner.

        • @Michiel953, ok I get it. I agree with you; to have the ‘fullpackage’ you need to spend a lot $$$ more an still having non-weather sealing… So Sony, did you read this?? 🙂

          • And I’m also fully aware of the constant battle between light weight/portabilty and mass/fully grown ergonomics. There’s no ideal camera, although the RX1/r comes close if 35mm eq suffices.

    • Thank you kindly to Emilio and all the other folks who took the time to comment and leave thoughtful feedback. I’d also like to thank Steve for giving me the opportunity to share my images and thoughts! Hope to post again in the future with an RX1R follow up. 🙂

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