The subject of this write-up is the magnificent Sony RX1R and some of the places I’ve taken it so far. Every photo you see here was shot in RAW and edited in Adobe Lightroom.
Positive points and general comments
Going to New Zealand was something I wanted to do for a very long time, and in late 2013 I finally had the means and time to do it. My trusty Canon Eos 450D was becoming unreliable after five years of heavy use, and I took this opportunity to go out and get a new camera. The logical choice would be a new Canon, as I had accumulated two nice lenses and a great flash. Mostly thanks to the raving reviews on this site, I checked out the Sony RX1R as well, and ended up buying it, to my own surprise.
It was either this camera, or an EOS 5D Mk. III. That’s not an easy choice to make, but I’m ultimately glad I went with the Sony. I was a little anxious about limiting myself to one lens, especially for the monumental price tag that the camera has (I bought it when it just came out, too), but that turned out to be unwarranted, as I never enjoyed a camera more than this thing.
New Zealand was the maiden voyage of the RX1R for me, and boy was I glad I took the plunge before going. This country has many sights that are truly awe-inspiring, and I recommend anyone visiting it at least once in their lifetime. I felt very small there many times. It is a humbling, unforgettable experience.
Besides the incredible image quality of this camera, I absolutely love this thing for its size and weight (or rather, the lack thereof). It is also built like a tank, which gives confidence to carry it all over the place. And I do. Because it’s so easy to take everywhere, I take it everywhere. I left my EOS 450D at home many times when I shouldn’t have, because I didn’t feel like lugging it around, and that’s even a small DSLR. Another advantage about its size is that it is an unintimidating camera to subjects. When you point a big, professional-looking camera with a large lens at people, they sometimes get self-conscious. The RX1R looks more like a cool-looking hobby-camera than the full-frame monster that it is. The shutter is completely silent, too. Most people have no idea what it is (including those who have nice cameras themselves), and some even think it is an analog camera. An older gentleman I met commented that it looked like his Leica M6.
At low to medium ISO settings, photos are incredibly clean. That said, the high ISO performance of this camera is one of the reasons I fell in love with it. I can take it out at night, and take hand-held shots without having to use flash in pretty much any situation. The results are great, and photos still look alive and punchy at ISO 6400 and even 12800. Things naturally get more grainy once the ISO goes up, but it’s nice-looking grain, almost film-like. I leave luminance noise-reduction completely off in Lightroom. With a tripod and long exposure + low ISO, it really shines, too.
I use the RX1R for landscapes, portraits, and as a walk-around camera. The dynamic range is really something else, and it’s possible to achieve some amazing results. Colors are wonderful, and black & white is rich and deep. It’s easy to pull tons of detail out of shadows and highlights, and I’ve never felt the need to pull tricks like multiple exposure HDR. RAW files have an incredible amount of headroom. After having owned and used the RX1R for two years, I still get blown away every singe time I load the files in Lightroom. The image quality is absolutely staggering, still in 2015.
Settings & usage
I shoot in Aperture Priority (the ring is nice) or Program most of the time, and I use Manual for long exposure shots and stitch-panoramas. The exposure compensation dial on top is a useful tool for quick adjustment. I assigned the little C-button on top to ISO-settings, which I usually leave on auto with a range of 100-6400. Sometimes I lock it when I want to go for a specific look. All 5 buttons are programmable, as well as the four-way buttons under the wheel on the back. I set metering to multi-metering, and it is generally accurate. The auto-focus does a great job most of the time. It sometimes has a little trouble in the dark, but it usually catches what I want after a try or two. I set it to one focus point in the middle. Focus speed isn’t super fast, but fast enough for me.
I never really use the flash (not needed) or video mode (I’m a photographer, not a video guy). The only accessories I have in my bag these days are a GorillaPod and an extra battery. It really feels like everything I need now.
The Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f/2.0 lens is incredibly sharp at every f-stop, and it seems to be at its sharpest at f/5.6 and f/8. The photos are so sharp in fact, that Adobe Lightroom’s default sharpening-setting of 25 is too high and creates harsh edges. Usually I end up setting it around 10-15. Having a 35mm prime lens is easy to get used to, especially when it’s as great as this one. I love primes in general; they force you to get creative and walk around to find a good angle.
The battery-life is not great. I immediately turn the camera off after I’ve taken a shot, and I don’t spend much time reviewing photos already taken. I have an extra battery, but since Sony doesn’t include an external charger (at this price point, I’d say that’s strange), I need to switch them around while the camera is hooked up to charge them. The camera has a standard micro-USB port for file transfer and charging, which means it is compatible with pretty much every standard phone charger out there, which is convenient.
Manual focus is useless without a viewfinder (save for forcing infinity focus), as focus-peaking only works with a magnified view. I don’t know why this is, as the Sony A7 cameras are able to do this on the overview view. Another little quirk is that the camera always returns to infinity focus when it wakes up or turns on. This is something I’d like to be able to lock when I’m waiting to take a shot of something that moves. Both these things are fixable with a firmware update, but Sony doesn’t seem to do those with this camera for some reason.
I miss having an infrared shutter release. That seems like a more logical choice to build into this camera than an external mic-input.
The prices for accessories are ridiculous. I’d like to have the viewfinder (partially because using a circular polarizing filter is almost impossible with the LCD screen), but I’m not paying 500 bucks for that. Even their simple metal lens hood costs 200 bucks (check eBay for knock-offs for 1/10th the price). The only official Sony accessory I bought for it was the leather case. Although that hurt my wallet, I’m glad I got it. It provides good protection, and it really emphasizes the old-school cool look.
I’ve never been this happy about a camera, or any electronic device I’ve ever owned. It is not perfect (no camera really is), but the positives easily outweigh the negatives. The more I use it, the more I love it. The Zeiss lens, overall image quality, build quality and size, make the RX1R nothing less than a masterpiece.
I would probably still love this thing if it gave me an electric shock with every photo I take.
I will visit Australia in the near future and many other places after that, so keep an eye on my website and social media pages for new photos soon. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or comments, I’m always more than happy to talk.
Many thanks again, Steve, for allowing me to send this in. Keep the website going, I enjoy the hell out of it.
Soon I will be moving out of Mexico and wanted to share with you and your readers some of my pics from my stay in this wonderful country.
Mexico is great city for street photography, people is warm and definitely like their portrait been taken. It’s a huge city, in which it only takes a bit of luck to bump into something interesting to shoot. I focus mostly in street portraits, but also managed to get some other things :).
I used different kinds of cameras Nikon DF, Sony A7ii, and Leica M240. No specific reason for the cameras, I just love all of them :)
Exif data should be intact. Hope your readers enjoy these pics as much as I enjoyed Mexico, and if anyone is thinking of passing through here a few days, please don’t doubt it, you will be surprise how great it could be.
I have been a very frequent reader of your wonderfully informative posts and reviews (via Facebook mainly) over the past few years.
In fact, I bought an x-pro 1 after reading your excellent review back in 2012 (cannot believe it was that long ago). Something about the camera really attracted me to it from the word go…probably its Leica looks along with auto focus (and a great choice of prime lenses). The camera literally pulled me out onto the streets to take pictures! Through past few years I have stuck with it (quirks and all).
The images attached here were taken in London (Shepherds Bush Empire) last year, when I was invited to see a friends band (My Life Story) play a reunion gig.
I wanted to concentrate on the backstage atmosphere (last-minute rehearsals etc.) as there were plenty of photographers to capture the show from the auditorium.
All were shot as RAW files, and the BW conversions were made using photo-shop plug-in silver FX. These were all shot around 1600 ISO using auto focus. I made frequent use of the exposure compensation dial, whilst looking through the viewfinder at the EVF to see the results instantly.
So far I have been very temped to switch to the A7s or the RX1, but have decided to wait a little longer (although fast losing patience) for the x-pro 2 release date and reviews as I have invested in lenses for this system.
Thanks for all of the great work you put into your site.
I first entered photography with a manual 1960s honey-well Pentax and 50mm lens in medical school. It was my uncles and an easy way to collect some credits. I soon expand to a canon 40d, and then the 5d mark II (85 f1.2 lens). However that 5000$ system would often sit at home and only taken out occasionally. I then read your article on the RX1 and RX100 and bought both of those at once with the slush funds of selling my previous canon system. I really loved the RX1, but longed for a little flexibility in interchangeability.
I then switched to the sony A7 and Leica summilux 50 f1.4. But for some reason I couldn’t shake my nostalgia for the RX1 and its images and feel of the camera. The Leica A7 combination felt imbalanced to me (literally b/c of the lens weight and artistically), and i re-invested in the Rx1 and sold the A7. I kept the leica lens though, maybe it’ll get me into the next leica system.
I am a Otolaryngology head/neck surgeon and recently returned from a medical missions trip in Peru. Medicine has really inhibited my interested in the arts, but photography is easily included for documentation purposes. So i hope that you guys enjoy some of my photos, with minimal touch-up and cropping. I think that the operating theater is a place that few people ever get to see the joys and awe of. It’s a place where the lighting is dramatic and where a lot of miracles happen.
Thank you for all that effort of keeping the site up and running. I take a lot from your site but unable to return much cause
none of those sites ship to my city. But your site has helped me buy several cameras and recently it’s the RX1.
I guess many of the photos here are done in low light which I think is where RX1 is most amazing. Journey was here and could only get the 100ft away seat and it still did pretty respectable at ISO8000. I was at Disney on Ice show and was about 120ft away and again I thought what came out were pretty good for a wide-angle lens with 100% cropped photo in low light. Shutter was 640secs as they were move fast and ISO was pretty low at 2000. All shot handheld with high shutter speed to compensate action and handshakes. The old man at the Journey concert
was a cheeky shot from the back at I didn’t realise iso was 12,800 and it is still usable.
There are two shots from Japanese cemetery, almost at sunset. So it was not a lot of lights but it came out OK, a
Putting an old CZ 432/35 optical viewfinder bought from eBay for $100 also helped make the camera more fun to use. Overall I love this camera and what Sony is becoming. I just bought a Vivitar 0.47x wide angle converter just to have more fun with it, so I will share more images if I can get some I think are worth sharing.
By the way, I’m not a photographer by any standard, not an avid nor an enthusiast, so I apologise if the images don’t have artistic value in them.
Many of these images have very high ISO which is the point of this post, the low lights level capabilities of RX1.
My name is Wim Arys, I’m a music producer from Belgium. I’ve been an avid reader of your excellent site for some time now, and enjoy reading your hands on tests of new cameras and equipment. I was very interested in photography as a teenager, but strayed towards music production after high school. My teenage passion was rekindled some years ago when I bought an Iphone 3S, and started taking pictures again.
After a while I became dissatisfied with the image quality and bought myself an EPL5, then an EP-5, a Fuji X100S, a Sony RX1 and earlier this year an Sony A7. My girlfriend and I have a non-profit travel blog www.freeasbirds.com, so we travel as much as possible, exploring the world whilst sharing our mutual passion for photography. For our latest trip to Kenya, I wanted to try out the A7 with a zoom lens on safari. Since there was no E-mount full frame zoom available, I decided to go for the Sony SAL 70300G f4.5-5.6 SSM A-mount with the Sony LA-EA4 converter. Not the fastest zoom, but designed to a high standard, as the G mark indicates and available at a reasonable price point.
I’ve read comments about a zoom lens on an A7, saying that this defeats the purpose of a small(er) mirror-less full frame camera, but this combo is very light and surprisingly easy to handle. I had no problems carrying it around all day and it balances well in hand. Photography on safari has many challenges: the savannah is very dusty, the roads are bumpy and the drivers hardly give you time to frame and focus your shots.
Everything in Africa is supposed to go Polé Polé (take it easy) but these drivers race around the parks like madmen. The SAL70300G with LAEA4 adapter luckily has contrast AF and phase AF on the A7 and our driver John quickly became used the sound of cameras snapping away. The AF is very fast, the only quibble I have is that all the focus points are in the centre of the frame. So if I wanted to focus off-centre, I had to set focus and reframe, which was almost impossible in these conditions. Another problem is the lack of image stabilisation on all A-mount lenses (because the Alpha range of cameras have in camera IS). All my pictures came out a bit bland too (perhaps due to all the dust in the air), but I always shoot in RAW, so with the nice A7 full frame sensor, it was no problem boosting the colours/shadows in post. I normally use Capture One for this, but it seems not to be a good match with the A7. Lightroom did the trick.
I always carry my trusted Olympus E-P5 too, preferably with the fantastic 75mm f1.8 or Panasonic/Leica 25mm. This is still my favourite street camera, although the A7 with 35mm allowed me to take different kinds of pictures when we visited a Masai tribe. After going through my 4000+ pictures at home, I started missing the image quality of my RX1. The sensor and lens combo on this little gem are amazing. It is off course a fixed lens combo, so I never could have gotten these shots with that camera.
The SAL70300G, although a descent lens in good to average lighting, does have its limitations, especially at 300mm. I like the ergonomics and styling of the Sony A7, the ‘loud’ shutter sound does not bother me at all. I think the idea of a stealth camera has become obsolete nowadays, you are fooling yourself if you think people don’t know what you are doing. The autofocus could be faster, compared to the E-P5 but I would not consider it slow. Perhaps just a bit faster than the Fuji X100s. This camera is not a DSLR killer either, I’m guessing in will take a few more versions until Sony (or another brand) gets there.
What the A7 delivers is top image quality in a compact size, though I might return this one and go for the A7r for the added resolution.
If you would like to submit your own guest article, review, or just talk about your experience with anything photographic, send your idea to Steve HERE. You can also read how to do it HERE.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On a recent trip to New York, I took the Ricoh GR, Sony Rx1 and Nikon V1 (and 32mm lens) to do a little street photography on the side. The Ricoh GR is the smallest aps-c camera, the Sony RX1 is the smallest full frame camera and the Nikon V1 is most likely the fastest focusing mirrorless camera in the world. Walked around New York in my spare time carrying these three little cameras in a very nice ONA Bowery bag.
Here are my brief thoughts working with each of the cameras and I’ve included a plethora of images for your review.
The diminutive Ricoh GR has the full frame equivalent of a 28mm f/2.8 lens and is widely touted as one of the best street cameras available. I consider its 16.2 MP aps-c sensor a sweet spot for street work. I’ve owned this camera for about a month and it took a few days to get comfortable with the menu system and features. I still have much to learn yet I was able to use the Ricoh effectively on the street.
For the most part, I set the camera on TAv mode (manual setting of aperture and shutter speed and auto iso) and adjusted aperture and shutter speed as necessary. Very easy, intuitive and important because light in New York City changes often and significantly due to buildings, open avenues, cloud cover and more. I did blow out a couple of shots when I forgot to adjust shutter speed. However, other than my miscues, the camera seemed to consistently nail exposure.
Another feature I enjoyed was every time the camera turned on it would display the function buttons and the assigned customization. Such a small feature but so nice for a Ricoh novice such as myself. And of course the exposure compensation toggle was easily adjustable with my thumb and I used it with no problem.
I really enjoyed the focusing options on the Ricoh – perhaps its strength. Primarily, I used snap focus between one to two meters but would often override by using the autofocus button. In general I stopped down as much as possible to maximize the DOF however there were situations when I had to shoot wide open at f/2.8.
Image quality from the Ricoh was outstanding. Colors looked accurate, black and white conversions were excellent and there’s plenty of detail in the 16.2 MP aps-c sensor.
Oh and I really liked the small size of the Ricoh. One day while shooting the New York Halloween Parade (with a Nikon DSLR – my El Guapo) I carried the Ricoh in my pant pocket and used it for a few wide angle shots. Worked like a charm. Also, the camera is so small and discrete people pretty much ignored my picture taking. Thanks Ricoh for keeping the camera so nondescript. Well done.
Overall, the Ricoh was the smallest and most discrete of the three, but simply worked great – the Martin Short of the Three Amigos.
The Sony Rx1 with the 35mm f/2 Zeiss lens is a superb camera and produces amazing images with its 24.3 MP full frame sensor. However, the Sony would be such a great street camera if it simply added a snap focus feature or would not revert to infinity every time the camera slept or was turned off. Of course shooting at f/8 or f/11 alleviates much of the focusing issues, but my intent was to shoot the Sony wide open to get that shallow DOF for a completely different street look than the Ricoh.
To give me the focusing flexibility I assigned the C button to AF/MF Control Toggle and the AEL button to AF/MF Control Hold. This allowed me to alternate between autofocus and zone focusing. More often than not I would focus to a particular point by holding down the customized AEL button, then release to lock in the distance. This required some extra effort but worked reasonably well. I probably looked silly randomly aiming the camera at different things in different directions to get the zone focusing distance I wanted. And of course every time the RX1 went to sleep the distance would revert to infinity. Ugh.
Overall I was willing to sacrifice the percentage of keepers to get that shallow DOF and lovely out-of-focus rendering from the Sony – so most of my shots were taken at f/2. Occasionally a scene required a greater DOF and it was a treat to hear and feel those 1/3 incremental soft clicks when I turned the aperture ring. Sweet camera this RX1.
I shot in manual mode (mostly f/2) and auto iso and adjusted shutter speed depending on light. The exposure compensation dial is readily accessible and allowed me to quickly tweak if needed.
Image quality was superb as one would expect from this camera and the shallow DOF shots were just what I wanted.
If the Ricoh GR is Martin Short, the Sony Rx1 is Steve Martin – the most successful of the Three Amigos.
Nikon V1 and 32mm Lens
That leaves Chevy Chase. I only took one lens with the Nikon V1 and that is the 32mm f/1.2. This gave me the equivalent of an 86mm super fast lens on a fast focusing camera – all in a package similar in size and weight to the RX1.
As you may be aware I am a fan of Nikon’s 1 System, primarily because it is the fastest focusing mirrorless system available. And despite the small CX sensor, the camera delivers more than adequate image quality for my street photography. Add the 32mm lens to the V1 and now I had a crazy quick rig and an entirely different look than the Ricoh and Sony.
In many ways the Nikon is the easiest to shoot because it has the fewest bells and whistles. I set the camera to manual or aperture priority and auto iso. I love shooting at f/1.2 and the greater DOF with the small sensor hides many focusing errors. Focus is set to auto-area, face-priority AF is activated and I simply let the camera rip with its silent electronic shutter that reaches speeds of 1/16,000 sec. So different than the Ricoh and Sony.
Autofocusing is fast, accurate and tracks very well – although not perfectly. If someone walked toward me I raised the Nikon and pressed the shutter. Most of the time the camera found a focus point quickly, but occasionally it hunted before finding a subject or face. Sometimes it missed focus entirely, then latched on in the second or third shot of a continuous sequence.
The Nikon was so fast I was able to get a considerable number of in-focus shots out the window of a fast moving New York taxi. It could see it trying to lock onto people’s faces standing or walking near an intersection. Incredible little camera and the 32 is just plain special IMHO.
Image quality may be the worse of the three cameras but is perfectly adequate. The metering system is top notch and the small 10 MP files convert beautifully to black and white. The out-of-focus rendering of the 32mm lens is a pleasant surprise and of the three cameras it produced subject isolation the best.
The Nikon with the 32 is larger than the Ricoh, but because of the longer focal length I was able to get some nice close-ups without being intrusive. People in the street generally ignored my shooting with the Nikon and 32 and I believe I was able to get the most natural looking candids of the three.
Overall the Nikon did a great job on the street and I probably ended up with more keepers than with the Ricoh or Sony. I suspect this may change over time as I become more familiar with the Ricoh GR.
So the Nikon 1 system may not have the image quality of the Ricoh or Sony, but the one strength it has – incredible autofocusing – when coupled with the fast 32mm prime lens makes for a beautifully efficient street rig.
You may wonder why I took three cameras and didn’t just use the Nikon V1 and an all-in-one zoom lens (10-30mm) or a couple of primes (10/2.8 and 18.5/1.8). Well, the zoom lens is too slow and even with the 1 System primes, I really wanted a variety of looks and the image quality of the Ricoh GR and Sony Rx1.
I’m not a pixel peeper when it comes to image quality. In particular, street photography is less about image quality and much more about the moment and composition – and of course getting the subject in focus. But all else being equal it’s nice to have that little extra image quality or slightly different look if possible – and he Ricoh and Sony delivered.
Overall, the Ricoh GR is small, discrete and simply made for street photography. The Sony Rx1 is a bit temperamental as a street camera, but the images are so lovely and worth the extra effort. The Nikon V1 and 32mm lens kept producing surprisingly strong street images with the least amount of work.
Why else take all three? Kind of cool being on the streets of New York with the smallest aps-c, smallest full frame and fastest focusing mirrorless cameras in the world – and shooting like the wind. Cough.
My RX1R review is HERE. My Leica M 240 Review is HERE.
I am NOT using a Leica lens on the M for two reasons. A: This is a Zeiss vs Zeiss comparison. Can I put a Leica lens on the Sony? No, it has a Zeiss. Can I put a Zeiss lens on the Leica? Yes I can. and B: The Zeiss Zm 35 Biogon is known to be sharper than the 35 Summicron. This is a 35 f/2 comparison plain and simple. Of course if I used a 35 Cron, the Leica would show a little less detail. Just a little. Bokeh would be better (The Zeiss ZM looks a bit crazy here) and the color more muted and cool.
Comparison #1: Detail
What do I see in the 1st detail comparison? The RX1R has the most detail in the 1st detail comparison followed by the RX1 and then followed by the Leica M and Zeiss combo. Last place, as expected is the Olympus. Winner for detail, Sony RX1R.
You must click the image below to see the 100% crops and detail.
Comparison #2 – Overall Bokeh and Color Test
These tests were more of a for fun test to see how the Bokeh would look from the RX1R vs M 240 with Zeiss 35 Biogon, both wide open at f/2:
and a couple more..which Bokeh do you prefer?
The Leica combo will run you about $8300. The RX1R will run you $2798 and the E-P5 will run you about $1300-$1400.
The thing to remember though is that the RX1/RX1R is 35mm ONLY. That is it. With the M you can shoot focal lengths from 12mm to 135mm to more with adapters and 3rd party lenses using the EVF. More versatile and yea, It’s a Leica. The RX1R is amazing for what it is, a fixed lens 35mm camera and in that group, there is nothing better.
More Detail at f/4
This is where the RX1R really shows its resolving power and wins again in the detail department. All were at f/4. Leica M had the Zeiss 35 at f/4. RX1R wins, RX1 2nd, Leica M 3rd place. If detail is your desire, it does not get any better than the RX1R before stepping up to the Nikon D800E, and I have seen side by side crops PRINTED from the RX1R and D800E and the RX1R was every bit the equal of the D800E file. Crazy.
In the test above the RX1/RX1R wins for color as well.
USER REPORT: A Sony RX1 Review by Michael Osei-Ampadu
Actually I promised Steve this review for February already (it was 90% done by then) but I had some urgencies distracting me. Anyways – I had more to time to use the RX1 and some more to add.
I’ve always wanted a Leica for it’s compat-fullframeness so obviously the RX1 caught my attention when the first rumors hit the Net. I’ve been pondering a lot but now I’ve finally done it. Owner of the camera that Steve is praising so much, Ken Rockwell hates so much and ‘normal’ people shake their head about. It’s also the camera that Sony wouldn’t let me play with at photo plus NYC “non working prototype” and that hardline Leicaristi only smile at “haha, dude – not even close”…
I’ve actually decided before not to get it and stick with the X100 because the simple answer to the simple question “will it improve my photography” is “hell no”. Maybe that’s why I got it or maybe just because I sometimes feel that I’m victim of my logic brain and need to do something irrational.
I’ve been a Sony user (maybe fanboy – mostly because I think the Nikanon war is sooo stupid) and I’m glad that Kai Wong finally made a video about me. I use the a850 for my “serious” stuff and I’ve owned the NEX-5 and NEX-7 – and also the DSC-V3 back then…
I deeply believe in prime glass (therefore this wasn’t a hurdle) and (candid) street photography was my first love. Before getting the RX I used NEX’s (w/ Voigtlander M-Mount glass), the X100 and the Sigma DP2. Liked all of them, hated something (different) on all of them.
A lot of talk about me but that’s because I want to put my views into perspective.
2800 on the table – boom here we go. Stupid that the accessories are so effing ridiculously overpriced (does someone think he’s Leica…) and that the EVF was unavailable everywhere for the first 2-3 months. I got mine at as a bundle at Adorama with some extra swag and I finally got the EVF now a unique photo.
I don’t want to repeat what Steve et all said before (I’m afraid, I’will) but I think I have some points to add.
I used to shoot a lot candid street and whatever comes to in front of my lens when I walk around and that’s what I’m using the RX1 for. I also do portraits and fine art but that’s not my main use case for the RX1. I shot some street photography in San Francisco and Vegas and I also took the RX1 for a trip to Barcelona. I actually ended up using it for a actor portraiture assignment because I don’t have a 35 for my DSLR and wanted to shoot him in front of a graffiti in a narrow street…
After that I’m afraid that I cannot get a 35 for my DSLR anymore because the ZEISS LENS IS SOOO BRILLIANT.
My experience and feelings
I did use the X100 more… I got mine for 600 dollars and just took it everywhere and put it in my bag… pulled it out when I saw something. I hate myself for being like that but you just act different with a 600 dollar camera than you act with a 2800 dollar camera.
Other than that I’m pretty happy with the camera overall and could just repeat what Steve already said. I’m still blown away by the lens – also by the sensor but the lens is just great. Super crisp at f/2, beautiful bokeh and color. Great contrast.
As Steve also mentioned, the image quality get’s a bit weird in long distances. The lens has some distortion but Lightroom’s preset perfectly (YES PERFECTLY – way better than X100) kills that.
Focus by wire sucks but at least we’ve one of the better implementations here. I don’t get why so few people complain about this new focus by wire trend. Everyone who has ever manually focussed with a Leica glass knows what I’m talking about. It’s a different world…universe.
Build is top of the line. Fuji, you better hide – but it’s not Leica. Sorry. Maybe it’s the plastic lens barrel…
Alternatives for me?
I actually thought about selling the RX1 to free some money for a 2nd DSLR but I ended up not finding an alternative. After you’ve used the Zeiss lens you REALLY HAVE A HARD TIME going back to the X100(s) lens that is just too soft above f/4. In my opinion the only camera that is similar right now is the Fuji X100(s).
What NOT to like (Sony read this!)
1. Unclear Positioning:
Who pays 2800 for a camera? Serious folks and rich people with money to waste who think a expensive camera makes them a photographer (it actually makes them an expensive-camera-owner). Who is Sony’s target group? Obviously not the serious people… Otherwise I missed the reason for…
The menus are totally amateurish. Wish it had some more hardware buttons plus the A900 software. I understand that a lot of rich kids will buy this camera, make photos of themselves in the bathroom and then complain that it doesn’t have enough “filters” and no Facebook upload but they could’ve at least done a expert mode. This mode would remove all the things that the serious photographer never uses – such as smile-detection…*cough*… At the end of the day it’s still annoying but you get used to it and it doesn’t really affect your pictures.
But there are also things that are clearly missing. Auto-ISO gives you no control at all. You cannot set ISO and shutter limits which is – amateurish again. It always goes for 1/80 and never goes above 6400.
Sony: Force one of your product people to use a X100 or a serious DSLR and talk to a photographer…
1.2 Hardware Buttons
Again: Why is there a mode dial but no shutter speed dial?
I don’t get why Sony put it under the Cybershot brand. Ok – also the NEX and the whole SLT-Range has a lot of stupid stuff in their software but this one is a bit more stupid. Also the missing viewfinder – again…
2.0 View Finder:
Ok, this might sound weird: I got the EVF and I have mixed feelings. On one hand I highly recommend it because “Long-arm” shooting does not only look stupid but is also less “fixed” than pressing it against your head and costs you at least 2 stops. This makes the high-iso sort of irrelevant. Practically I get better low light results with the X100 than with the RX1 without the EVF. I can easily shoot 1/15 without blur – can’t with the RX1. Also there is the LCD vs. direct sun issue.
On the other hand: I never use it. You can’t really store the camera with the EVF attached so you remove it and attaching it again is so much fiddle that you end up not using it if you don’t absolutely need it. Not to mention that it’s overpriced and bulky.
BUT: The worst part is, it blocks the hot shoe. And that really really sucks. You’ve got a leaf shutter that syncs flash at every speed but you cannot use it because your viewfinder blocks the port and you don’t have a PC sync jack either.
I’ve made a little mockup how I’d have designed the external EVF if I was the Sony product manager (and someone would have forced me to make the EVF external).
3.0 Hot Shoe
Everybody kept blaming Sony for not using a “Standard HOT Shoe” for years… Well… there is no such thing. Of course there is the ISO hot shoe standard which is essentially just the dimensions plus the contact that shoots the flash. Everything else is proprietary and if you have Nikon you buy a Nikon flash and if you have a Canon you buy a 580 EX II because you want to use all the TTL and so on features. A $500 Nikon flash on a Canon (or Sony) can only fire (in manual mode).
So now Sony hot shoe is ISO? No it’s not! It’s sort of ISO but different. It’s slightly wider and has a extra contact panel in the front which blocks some “ISO standard” accessories to fully lock on. So it’s kind of a gamble. The Yongnuo flash won’t work, the Cowboystudio Wireless Triggers sometimes and I’ve heard mixed results for other stuff. The same issue exists with the new HVL-60 flash – most wireless triggers won’t fit and it does not have a PC sync jack. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG_jywhbMeg) Congrats…
Also: Sometimes there is a weird delay in firing the flash. Some NEX-6 users reported the same issue.
Honestly: I prefer the old Minolta hot shoe. This was a clear thing: You need an adapter, you buy the adapter: Works.
I’d have preferred the NEX-7 design which give more grip when holding it in one hand – or two ;). I also liked the asymmetrical lens placement. Not to mention the integrated EVF. OUCH… again…
Black and White
The black and whites are incredibly beautiful. A lot of contrast and depth. Clearly wins over the X100 and is close to the Sigma DP2 (which is a different league because of the Foveon sensor)
It’s a nice camera and a brave move from Sony which I highly appreciate. It is the best compact at the moment and in terms of IQ in a league with all the top players (D4, D800, 1dx etc.). Period. There’s a lot to love about this camera. The lens and sensor are just amazing – it’s “vehicle” is also good but could use some improvement which sounds awkward because making the lens and the sensor should be the hard part.
Do you need it? No, but you might want it because you want to be irrational. If you’re on a budget I strongly recommend getting the X100(s). The main reason for me over the X100 is clearly the lens – not the FF sensor.
Why do I have it? I want a camera that I can carry around and that does not get me in a situation where I say later “That was THE shot and I want to use it for XY but can’t because the IQ is not good enough”.
The Fuji X100s Review – The S Stands for Speedy by Steve Huff
NOTE: This Fuji X100s review is a real world use review which means I take the camera and use it for 2-3 weeks and then write my thoughts and share the images I have shot with the camera. If I run into trouble I say so. I list the pros and cons of the camera and do some comparisons along the way. Some of the photos here have been tweaked with Alien Skin Exposure. Some are direct from camera JPEG and some are direct RAW conversions. I will list what was done to each image. I have done this so you can see a sampling of all kinds of images in all kinds of situations including the use of filters and plain OOC pictures as well. Enjoy! (Product shots with Sony RX1)
The Fuji blues remain intact :) from RAW – no filters
So you know…
You can order the X100s atB&H Photo or Amazon. You can also read my long X100 review HERE as much of what pertains to the X100 also pertains to the X100s. I will only be going over the major changes here as well as showing quite a few samples.
Hello hello hello! Here I am with the long awaited Fuji X100s review that so many of you have been wanting to read and see. It has been a couple of years since the beautiful but flawed Fuji X100 (which was one of my favorite cameras of all time) and here I am with what looks like an exact replica of the X100 simply named, the X100s. But looks can be deceiving, and this X100s is much improved over the old X100 in just about every single way. Yes my friends, Fuji finally did get it right. Hope that was not a spoiler, and no the camera is not perfect but yes, this is a big improvement over the X100s, especially in the usability department.
“Road Block” – JPEG processed with Alien Skin Exposure
The original X100 was and still is a gorgeous camera and while most X100 users love their camera, there were some that were too frustrated by it to enjoy it. It is true that it had slow AF speed and an overall feeling of lag when using it but for me it did not matter because the camera was beautiful in the design, the EVF/OVF was superb and the image quality had some MoJo not far off from Leica land. But when using a current camera you love it and do not realize that just a year or two down the road its replacement will come and in most cases, this means improvements. It is how camera companies learn..by using us as their beta testers. The Fuji x100s is a result of feedback given by all of those who shot the X100, and that feedback worked and we now have the improved X100 we have been waiting for.
The X100s (just as the X100) as you may know is a fixed lens camera. You can not change focal lengths and you are literally stuck with a 35mm FOV using the 23mm lens built into the X100s. For $1299 you can get 80% of the quality of a Leica ME and 35 Summicron which will set you back $8500 new. Not too shabby huh? I am not saying the X100s equals the file quality of the new Leica M, but for less than 1/6 the price, the X100s will make 90% of shooters looking for this kind of camera very happy. The quality is superb, even using OOC JPEGS and you can slide the camera into places larger ones can not go. What is not to like?
an OOC JPEG from the X100s with “S” color mode – I love the look of this from color to rendering
But as I said, the old X100 also put out superb images but it was a bit on the slow and laggy side so Fuji worked feverishly to improve the X100s and boy did they improve it in ways that it really really needed. This is a case of “You talked..we listened”and Fuji has done what I never thought they could do. Produce a fast speedy, sexy and stealthy camera :)
The lens in the X100 is still the same, and this is a good thing. Click image for larger. This was a JPEG, not from RAW.
SPEED – GIVE ME WHAT I NEED
With this all new X100s speed is the #1 improvement and in regards to Auto Focus, Fuji has now added phase detect Autofocus to the center of the frame and it engages automatically when it can be used. I am happy to see camera manufacturers start doing this. Sony added phase detect to their current line of NEX cameras and improved the speed of their AF by quite a bit when using compatible lenses. One of the weaknesses of many mirrorless cameras in the past has been slow or dodgy Auto Focus, especially in low light. I am happy to see this changing. I remember the very 1st mirrorless Micro 4/3 cameras and they were so so slow when compared to what we have today.
I have found that the AF of the new X100s is about 2 times quicker than the X100 in good light (not scientific, just going by feel and memory). It is pretty much instantaneous – aim, fire, bam! It just works. But all is not perfect! In low light the camera still hunts a little and in fact I had an easier time focusing in low light with my Sony RX1 over the X100s (yes, this is fact). Both were similar but the X100s hunted more and missed lock 2 or 3 times. BUT, this was low light and indoors, a struggle for almost any autofocus camera. I also had some issues getting it to AF on a certain subject, even when making the AF window a teeny tiny spot focusing patch. I had this issue with the X100, X-Pro 1 and X-E1 as well.
B&W conversion look pretty good too:
X100s, B&W conversion in Lightroom 4.4
But overall, the AF is a huge improvement over the X100. The camera just feels super responsive in all aspects.
I will even say this: give the X100s some good light or decent light and it is an all out speed demon. It is not only the AF that has been improved though. In fact, Fuji claims over 70 improvements and while many of these are minuscule they all add up to make the new “S” the best Fuji digital camera to date. Yes, I just said that. The best Fuji digital to date. In my eyes it beats the X-Pro 1 and X-E1 in every area except of course the ability to change lenses.
“Sky High” – This one was from RAW, lowered contrast, lightroom 4.4
The Fuji X100s also has been sped up in the overall responsiveness of the camera. Gone are any signs of sluggishness as the new processors take this baby to new heights in the speed department. Snap a picture and BAM, it is written to your card. Browse the menu and BAM there is no lag or delay whatsoever. The camera feels slick in use and while browsing menus. It is an all new camera in the speed department, just be sure to use a fast SD card in this baby. It will use it.
The meu layout and system are similar to what you had in the X100 with some new additions including;
This is basically filters for your images if you are shooting JPEG. You can choose from Partial Color effects to soft focus, dynamic tone, low key, high key, pop color, miniature and toy camera mode. These are similar to what we now see on the Sony NEX and Olympus micro 4/3 cameras. I tried them but did not care for them as they were a bit overdone.
You can now see how many shutter fires the X100s has had, very helpful in the resale market. All cameras should have this which acts as sort of the “Mileage” of you camera.
SENSOR – X-Trans inside of the X100s
Fuji changed the sensor this time around and we no longer have the lovely and smooth 12MP sensor that was inside of the X100. Nope, we now have the 16MP X-Trans flavor of sensor and to many this is a huge welcome. I have read where some felt the X-Trans was a mistake because the last Fuji X100 sensor had some magic and I agree that is true to some extent because had its own unique look over the X-Pro 1 and X-E1 sensors. Now the X100s images have the same feel as the X-Pro/X-E1 as it is using an X-Trans sensor, but not sure what it is…maybe the lens that they were able to tweak for perfect performance with the sensor but I am enjoying the IQ from the X100s more than I did with the X-Pro 1 and E1.
I have heard many will say a sensor has nothing that will make it any different from any other sensor in regards to image quality. I disagree. The images that come from an X-Trans sensor do indeed look different than something that comes from a normal CCD or run of the mill CMOS sensor. In some situations the output can indeed appear flat with the X-Trans but in other situations it can be damn beautiful with a unique look that some will easily spot s that “Fuji” look. It also does decent with B&W conversions and the dynamic range is high but I have shot with just about every camera out there over the years and when comparing Fuji X-Trans images side by side with the big guns like Leica M, Sony RX1, D800, etc they do appear to be more flat or “digital” to my eye. That is OK though because the Fuji is much less expensive and still damn good and most shooters will never see it. It really is only visible upon side by side comparisons anyway and regardless, the results from the X100s will look beautiful as you can see with the samples here in this review.
HUGE DR is here to stay it seems. This is a trend I am seeing as all sensors progress. The sensor in the Sony RX1 has huge dynamic range. The Leica M sensor has huge dynamic range. The Nikon D800..same thing. As sensors get better and better, our images will start looking different due to the increase in Dynamic Range. What used to look a little hard, blown out or digital will now start to appear smoother and with more to the image in the dark and light areas, all due to increased DR. The X100s sensor has fantastic DR as well.
I used an Alien Skin B&W filter for the B&W conversion here.
The Fuji X100s Experience
When taking the camera out of the box you immediately hold it in your hand and it feels right. It looks right. It is thin, light, and feels solid for the most part (some parts are plasticky) but not over built. To many, this camera feels like the best camera they have ever held. The built in EVF/OVF is welcome and a sight for sore eyes, especially when other camera manufactures leave it out and then charge you hundreds of an external wart (Sony and Leica). The camera is slim, thin, light and pretty much all one really needs for fantastic photography. We also still get the shiny lens cap included :) It may not be a Leica solid feel or even feel as solid as an RX1 but it feels “right” just as the X100 did.
Everything is here – the manual aperture dial on the lens, the shutter speed dial up top, the exposure compensation dial and the customizable buttons you can set up to your liking.
The Fuji X100s is a very mature camera, much more so than the companies own “PRO” camera, the Pro 1 which I did not care for so much. Shooting the new 100S is intuitive, quick and problem free. When you see your preview snap up instantly you can tell if you nailed the shot and you also see those Fuji colors and Fuji signature.
OOC JPEGS are better than RAW right now due to no real RAW support yet
Yes, the X100s experience is much better than the X100…much like Leica improved their M9 with a better, bigger, stronger and faster M, Fuji has now done the same with their best selling camera to date, the X100!
But the Leica is $7k just for the body. $10k for the body and a 35mm lens. The Fuji is $1299. Wow. Does it hold up to the Leica M? In some ways it can (this little guy can be sharp and has great high ISO performance and give its own look) but for the most it can not (and I would not expect it to) but the fact that it can even be compared in IQ is quite the amazing thing, don’t you think? Viewing files at 100% show you the files are not as rich or deep and you do lose some shallow depth of field possibilities over a full frame setup and they do appear more digital than those FF powerhouses but is that worth over $8500 extra? Hmmmmmm, you tell me. :) If you are not into the full RF experience like myself and many others who choose Leica for that and the glass, the X100s or RX1 is your next best bet, and the X100s has that something that just draws you to it.
As a matter of fact you could buy 7 X100s’s for the price of one Leica M setup and that is Crazy! I have a sneaking suspicion that Fuji will sell a TON of these, probably even more than the X100, and the great part? It is a full mature camera and can last you a long long time because there is really nothing wrong with it or anything to irritate you or bug you or cause you to have problems when you go out to take photos.
“Horror Movie” – Shot with the X100s in JPEG mode then ran through Alien Skin for the look I wanted.
The Arrival of my own X100s
When the Fuji X100s arrived to me I first thought I was sent the X100 by mistake because it looks and feels just about the same. Besides the S on the front bottom right it would be tough to tell the difference between this and the old model. But there are differences that most X100 owners could spot just by handling the new X100s.
The dials are stiffer. The Buttons feel better and things like the Focus selector switch have been improved. The new EVF has double the resolution of the old one and no lag or choppiness when viewing through it. We still have the optical view finder as well (which as with the X100, I still do not use due to problems with AF up close though this has been improved upon).
Close focus distance has improved and you can now focus really close without even being in macro mode, as close as 0.21 meters. Fuji improved the location of the AF slider switch as well as giving us a new Q menu which I now use constantly if I want to change a setting because it is quick and easy. The built in “one button press” to activate ND filter is still here which is genius as it allows you to shoot wide open at f/2 even in bright sunlight. Fuji has even improved the already excellent high ISO of the X100 and makes a one stop improvement in this area as well. This may be the best at high ISO I have ever used. Period.
Wow. All while keeping the price the same!
What is the real story of these improvements?
Well, after shooting the X100s for a while and having extensive experience with the original X100 it boils down to one thing for me as to where I really see these improvements in real world use and that is…
SPEED – From AF to operating speed this guy is fast. In all but low dim light the AF is super fast (but not quite OM-D fast) but when the light drops some the AF slows down and if it gets really dim, it will hunt and not lock. Still, the AF is speedy, the operation of the camera, menus, write times, etc – all super speedy now. This is a mature camera in the speed department and overall faster than the Sony RX1 (in good light) and any previous Fuji digital camera.
Direct from RAW, no PP, ISO 1250
As for IQ, it is not far off from the X100 but seeing that it uses the new sensor the images will look a bit different than what you see in the X100. We have the same lens but with the new 16MP X-Trans we get that nice Fuji feel and look and with the fantastic lens on the X100s, the camera performs well. There is nothing to complain about in the speed or IQ areas of the camera. But what about other things? Are there any problems or quirks with the X100s?
This is a shot from RAW with the X100s – Adjusted sliders in Lightroom 4.4
Well, I have found no major quirks or trouble with the X100s. Fuji really did listen and delivered a product that will please just about anyone and if you own or owned the X100 and really enjoyed it, you will fall in love with the X100s as it gives you everything you wanted in the X100 but didn’t have.
But the camera is not perfect.
There were a few times I could not get the AF to lock, in bright daylight when trying to focus on a small subject, like a leaf on a tree. Even making the AF area teeny tiny for a spot focus it wouldn’t do it. The RX1 had no trouble with the same leaf so not sure why the Fuji did. Also, I still had some OOF shots when using the OVF up close (but not every time) so I would still avoid shooting the OVF of your subject is really close. Finally, in low light the AF does hunt and is slow. Sometimes it will not even lock on. This is in pretty low light I am talking, say indoors, night time, house lights on. The RX1 beat the X100s in AF speed in my house at night. So while the X100s is super speedy most of the time (Superman) it is slower at night and low light (Clark Kent).
I also had two instances where the camera back focused and I have no clue why as I focused precisely on my subject and it locked but the resulting image was back focused a tad.
Other than that I have nothing negative to say about the camera.
New Manual Focus Modes – Peaking and Split Image
The X100s also comes with some new tricks up its sleeve in regards to manual focus. Fuji added peaking but in the beginning I did not really know why. I mean, this is meant to be an AF camera. We can not add old manual lenses to it where peaking is really needed so I would guess that MF would only be used in tough to AF situations. If that is the case there is now Focus Peaking when you switch it to manual focus mode and after using it…WOW! It works fantatsic. The peaking is very pronounced unlike it is in the new Leica M (where it is very weak) and when it is in focus you will know it. I sat around in my kitchen one night messing with the peaking and it was a joy to manually focus, so so so much nicer than the old X100 which was useless in MF mode IMO.
So the peaking gets an A+!
There is another way you can manually focus the X100s and that is by using “Digital Split Image” and is almost..almost “rangefinder” like. Basically you look through the EVF or use the LCD and you line up the image. When the horizontal bands are lined up you fire and should be in focus. After trying it out I really enjoyed this way of focusing as well!
So the Split Image gets an A!
This is good news because there will be a time when a Fuji X100s owner is trying to shoot (in a pub, dark location, etc) and the camera will not AF correctly. We can now slide it to MF mode and easily and quickly achieve manual focus. Superb!
Once all of this technology is perfected in a kick ass Fuji X body look out. If Fuji ever did this in a full frame body with quality glass and the ability to mount Leica glass? Wow. As it is now I still feel the APS-C sensor lacks a bit when compared to the Sony RX1 and Leica M in the mirrorless world but every year Fuji pulls something new out of their hat. Will be interesting for sure to see what they do in the years ahead.
High ISO shooting – NO NOISE AT 3200? REALLY?
I have been seeing some say that the X100s has NO NOISE up to 3200. Well, this is not really true but if you shoot JPEG you will be very pleased with the noise levels. If you shoot RAW and turn off all NR you will still be pleased but will have a little more noise to deal with though Fuji does seem to add NR even to RAW files. What you see below is a JPEG from the camera. NR was set at -2 in camera (you can not turn it off) and I used the “S” color mode. What you see may astound you! This was in my moms kitchen at 11 pm at night with one light on above the table (the kitchen light).
Just a test snap here…remember, the true test of high ISO performance is shooting in low light, when one would use high ISO. Not studio shots with lighting and using NR. That is in no way a real test of high ISO. Still, the X100s is kicking some serious booty in this department. Click the image for the full size OOC files. These are truly DIRECT OOC, from my SD card to this site. Below that is my HIGH ISO torture test between the X100s, RX1 and Leica M 240.
and ISO 6400
You can also see my Leica M review where I tested the X100s against the Leica and Sony RX1 at high ISO as well as low ISO. You can see that test HERE and the X100s appeared to win as far as noise goes. BUT, Fuji implements some in camera NR that can not be turned off, so this may indeed be why it wins. The Sony and Leica in that test had ZERO NR but I have realized Fuji applies some NT no matter what to the files. Below is a JPEG torture test comparison. I am using JPEGS for this test because the Fuji X100s RAW files are nor fully compatible with LR 4.4 yet. Keep in mind the Leica is not so hot at JPEG, the Sony usually is and the Fuji is as well:
The High ISO TORTURE TEST!
Dark conditions, ISO 6400, FULL OOC JPEGS from the Fuji X100s, Sony RX1 and Leica M. This is how high ISO should be tested because it is most likely a situation in where you will need it. Using studio lights to test ISO is silly as that will not tell you how a sensor will perform under conditions when you need these ISO’s.
As you can see when you click on the images for the full size, the Fuji applies some level of NR. It can not be turned off but I have it set to -2. the lowest it will go. This still creates mushiness that I hate. The Leica M has zero NR as does the Sony. Remember, this shot was in DARK conditions on a late night flight. Each lens was set to f/2, camera to 6400 and the shutter speeds were still low. This is a test for NOISE levels at 6400 in dark conditions.
First, the Fuji. Click each image for full size OOC JPEG file. Fuji had minimum of -2 NR (It can not be turned off)
Now the Sony RX1 – Zero NR
Leica M 240 – Zero NR – This camera can show banding at 6400
Having 6400 capability on a camera is nice but in reality, not needed. These crazy ISO’s really rarely get used in real life. I counted the number of shots in my photos from 2012 that were shot at 6400 or higher. I counted a few but they were test shots for reviews! I did not use 6400 or higher for ANY personal shots in all of 2012. They were all 3200 or below and the good news is, any camera APS-C or larger today can give you wonderful ISO 3200 results.
Full size files from RAW
It still seems that Lightroom 4.4 has an issue with Fuji X100s files. They fixed the issues with the X-Pro 1 files but the X100s still has some watercolor effect going on. Here is what you can expect until that is fixed if you are using Lightroom 4.4. Below is a full size file from RAW and you can click it for the full size but keep in mind that the odd results at 100% in the leaves is from Lightroom, not the camera or sensor. If you use Lightroom, I suggest shoot JPEG until the issue is fixed.
You can see detail and sharpness but there is also that oddball watercolor issue due to the RAW converter not being compatible yet. Once it is this issue will go away. The Fuji has no issue with sharpness or detail especially since there is no longer an AA filter in this camera. I found the lens is a little soft at f/2 and sharpness up by 2.8 and reaches max sharpness by f/4. You can get nice shallow DOF with it is you shoot up close to your subject but you will not get full frame shallow DOF or creaminess. Still, you do not really need all of that and what you get out of the X100s is very very pleasing to the eye..colors are nice, sharpness is nice, and it somehow gives you the warm and fuzzies just shooting with it. The built in EVF/OVF makes ALL of the difference in the world and EVERY camera should have one instead of a wart on top.
Portrait at ISO 2500 at 2.8 – direct from camera – yes, ISO 2500 without any lighting (the room was actually very dim)
RAW vs JPEG, two full size files
Many have been talking about the “watercolor” effect of the X100s RAW output when using Lightroom 4.4. I have been asked to put up two of the same file, one JPEG and one JPEG converted from RAW. Below are the two images. Can you spot the RAW file? (HINT: 1st one is from RAW, 2nd is an OOC JPEG, using LR 4.4)
Is there ANYTHING bad to say about this X100s?
Well, I tried and tried to drum up something and all I can think of is I wish it had a bigger battery, wish it had faster AF in low light and wish it had image stabilization with HD video as well as fast focus for video. I tried to shoot video with this using AF and it was a no go. Motor noise and slow/dodgy AF just did not work. So video is a no go for me with the X100s. The battery is not really an issue as I have 3-4 on me when shooting (they are cheap on Amazon) and the AF in low light is solved by using peking or split image MF, which works extremely well. If I could have one wish for the next X100 it would be to see a full frame version with even faster AF for low light. THAT would be the best camera ever in the world of 35mm fixed lens cameras.
Is this the new Leica M?
I keep hearing things around internet land where some are calling Fuji the new Leica. You guys know I shoot Leica and I love the M camera system and I am also the 1st to say that it is overpriced for the masses. The fact is that Leica makes a gorgeous camera system and if it is something one can afford it is a joy to shoot, hold and use. The results are up there with the best though it is not the best there is. I love my Leica M (gallery here) and for me there is nothing on the market that compares to shooting with an M rangefinder, notice I said “for me”. The X series from Fuji is nothing like shooting a Leica M in use, handling, framing, or output/quality but every year Fuji seems to get closer. It does have Leica inspired styling and great output but the files are not up there with the full frame M. Again, $1299 vs $10k..so this should not come as a surprise. Just the facts and I only bring it up because I see some out there saying this camera beats a Leica. Maybe an X2, but not an M.
an OOC JPEG
But! I do give Fuji credit because they are releasing cameras that are very “Leica-like” and these cameras are very unique on the market as well. They are priced right and perform with great quality output. The X bodies had some issues out of the gate but I think Fuji is onto something big here as they just keep getting more and more photographers on board who swear by them and the X100s is as good as it gets in the X world.
Fuji as a company really seem to get it, and they may just be like the new Leica when it comes to designing beautiful and functional cameras that will deliver the goods, all for MUCH less than a Leica and in the future they may just release a full frame body that can take Leica lenses for 1/3 the cost. We shall see.
Pros and Cons of the X100s
Still the same size and design of the X100
MUCH faster processing and camera has no real lag
Improved AF speed in good light making it very snappy
New Manual focus modes are a nice welcome, and work well.
New Q menu with easy access to all settings
Built in ND filter really comes in handy
Improved high ISO making this quite amazing at high ISO
Same lens but said to perform even better due to enhancements
Improved EVF, no lag and clearer image with more resolution
Can close focus even closer without engaging macro mode
High Dynamic Range
$1299 price tag is great for what this camera can do
Knobs and dials are now stiffer
They seemed to have fixed the Mac OS/SD card error bug
No lens aperture rattle
AF still lags in lower light and sometimes will not lock
Close focus with OVF still not super reliable
Wish you could turn OFF noise reduction completely
Lens is slightly soft at f/2 but still performs good
As you can see my cons list is small. Yes, I slightly prefer the old X100 sensor and look but that is just my tastes and preference and may be because that is what I am used to. The new sensor is highly capable as well and this is the best Fuji digital camera to date, period. It is fast and feels like a mature camera. No more quirkiness to work around and the experience of shooting is a pleasure. While it cant quite compete in output with the Sony RX1, a camera most similar to the X100s, it has its own style and flavor of IQ for much less and is more responsive and fun to use (love the built in EVF/OVF) and some just may prefer it. The X100 was and is a much loved camera and the X100s will be as well. In fact, I bet it will sell even more than the X100. It is well worth the cost and a better camera than the previous 100. If you enjoyed the 100, you will LOVE the X100s.
I would own it if I did not already own an RX1, and while I prefer my RX1 I can state that the X100s is a gorgeous little camera that when placed in the right hands can and will produce stunning results. It is well worth the cost. As for Bokeh lovers, the Fuji will give you much more DOF than something like an RX1 as well. For example, you can see my RX1 gallery HERE and you can notice the shallow DOF you can achieve with it. The X100s will not get you there if you are looking for it because it has a 23mm lens which will give you more DOF over a 35mm lens of the same aperture. Sometimes this is a good thing. The X100s also has an APS-C sensor where the RX1 has a full frame sensor.
All in all, the X100s may be the hottest camera of the 2013 year. Giving you stellar results for a fraction of the cost of the big boys. I congratulate Fuji on creating what I feel is hands down, their best digital camera to date.
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Weekend Tidbits. Canon EOS-M, RX1 lens rated and new Leather straps…
Hello to all and happy Saturday! I’m feeling a but better today after going through the worst flu of my life for the past 6 days straight. I have had so much bed rest during these past 6 days I am starting to go stir crazy! I am now feeling a bit better I NEED to get out of the house and see some sunshine. Since I have not done too much work over the past week I want to get caught up and post some things I will be talking about and reviewing soon.
Canon EOS-M – Dud?
I have had a Canon EOS-M here for about 5 days but did not even take a serious look at it until today. I fired off some test snaps with the included 22mm f/2 pancake and was all set to write the shortest EOS-M review ever (not good). One reason why is that the AF on this guy is turtle slow and makes the Fuji X cameras appear to be speed demons. The EOS-M is also very small and overly simplified to the point where it is basically a point and shoot with an APS-C sensor. There are no real dials or enthusiast buttons and I am puzzled as to why Canon even released this.
They only have two lenses for it, the 22 and a 18-55 kit quality zoom. That is it. For $799 with the 22mm (which will almost give you a 35mm equivalent due to its APS-C sensor) and no EVF, VF or real controls, I would buy a NEX-6, NIkon V1, Olympus OM-D or even a Fuji X-E1 over the Canon EOS-M. I just do not get who it is for but have a feeling hardcore Canon fans are the ones who are buying it because it is NOT a fun camera to use due to the slow AF, lack of VF, and the fact that it feels like a small P&S. It does not really inspire me in any way. You figure Canon would have been able to release something to kick all of the others to the curb in the mirrorless world but nope. Not even close.
I will still shoot with it over the next week though and even will be trying out a Leica 50 Summilux ASPH on it to see how much fun it is with manual quality glass. To me, the 50 Lux ASPH is the best Leica lens ever. I’ve always been stuck between the 35 Lux and 50 Lux but the 50 is THE ultimate Leica lens, period. My best shots over the years have come from this lens and I plan on making this my exclusive lens with the new Leica M. Not sure how it will do on the EOS-M though, but I will see soon enough :) I enjoyed using it on my OM-D a while back and it delivered that “lux” magic even with the smaller OM-D sensor. It is a lifetime lens and no longer has year-long waits, in fact Leica dealers should have a few in stock right now and I know for a 100% fact that Ken Hansen has a LOAD of them right now.
Still, I would never buy the EOS-M to shoot Leica glass on anyway as Leica glass works so well on the Sony NEX, Fuji X or Olympus OM-D (and best on the Leica M bodies) due to them having actual viewfinders. So first impression of the EOS-M without any shooting time is a big disappointment. I can tell the IQ is good but it does nothing that other APS-C sensors can not do but give you those Canon colors.
The Sony RX1 Ziess lens tested by DXO..and it’s a beauty!
So DXO tested the Sony RX1 Zeiss 35mm Lens and boy did they REALLY RAVE ABOUT IT. This will give you an idea on why the RX1 is priced as it is..THE LENS is the heart of the system and tested better than the stand alone $1800 Zeiss 35 1.4…
“Its optical performance is outstanding, and particularly noteworthy for its consistent sharpness and homogenous imaging across the frame. With excellent image quality at maximum aperture becoming outstanding at f/2.8 and on, the Zeiss Sonnar T* 2/35 is likely to become a classic, against which all others are judged. Of course the lens can only be obtained with the purchase of the RX1, a camera that is not entirely without its own quirks and shortcomings. In spite of this, if you have the money to invest, then close to perfect imagery is assured.”
“With a high overall DxOMark score of 33, the Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* is a superb performer optically. That score puts it comfortably ahead of the $1,850 manual focus Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1.4/35 (35mm f/1.4) on a Nikon D3X, which achieved a DxOMark score of 30.””
So there ya go. This Zeiss lens is “likely to become a classic, against which all others are judged” – Same thing I thought from the get go without needing to do any measurements. The RX1 is a beast.
Hand made Leather straps – Tap and Dye
A few weeks ago I received some straps from a company called “Tap & Dye” who told me their straps are hand made in the good old USA (New York) and I have to say they are very nice quality straps. With so many strap manufacturers out there today it is not hard to find a great strap but sometimes it can be tricky to find one that really gives you what you are looking for when it comes to comfort, usability, security, length, etc. I have seen some Leather straps selling for $200+ but Tap & Dye straps come in under $70 which makes them a good buy for a strap that will last you a lifetime.
These straps will get soft over time and wear in to your own body but when you first get them they will have some stiffness going on.
You can order in any size from 38″ to 48″ and they also sell hand straps using the same quality leather.
Each strap is made from Full Grain,Cowhide leather. All edges will be left unfinished and distressed for a vintage antique look.
Each strap features durable, high quality antique nickel plated solid brass rivets.
The Sony RX1 in B&W by Steve Huff and other RX1 owners
The Sony RX1 has been out for a few months now and many owners have been happily shooting with the camera, myself included. Sure, I have access to just about any camera out there on the market but for my personal use I keep 2-3 cameras on hand and lately, my RX1 has taken the #1 spot for my personal shots, family use, etc. It is a jewel of a camera and I have been using it almost daily since it arrived to me and I have yet to have any issues with the camera, no matter what my situation.
That is not to say that if the new Leica M 240 is everything it is cracked up to be that it will not be added to my arsenal, but I can state with 100% certainty that this RX1 is here for the long haul, much like my M9 was.
It is just such a joy and pleasure to use and while not perfect (no camera is) the results that come from this little guy are so damn pleasing. I have recently found out that due to the dynamic range and high ISO capability and sharpness/character of the Zeiss lens that has been matched and attached to the camera that when shooting plain old B&W JPEG with the camera set to B&W the output is quite amazing.
In my review I touched on how easy and simple it is to get results with this camera..without having to fight it for those results. When you mix that with everything else the camera offers, your JPEGS come out looking GREAT and if you want that last ounce of performance then shooting RAW will take you there. I have been hearing from many owners of the RX1 who feel the same way as I do and they also love shooting it in B&W and for the most part, these shooters are just like me, enthusiasts who appreciate great cameras and gear but also LOVE shooting and capturing those memories.
Just a few days ago I noticed that many of the photos posted in the RX1 group on facebook were being posted in B&W. It seems others were coming to the same conclusions that I was..that the RX1 is a great B&W shooter and a fantastic street camera as well.
It also happens to be amazing in color and if you have not yet seen the shots over at the RX1 files HERE or my RX1 gallery HERE then take a look :) Yes, it is expensive. But it does what it is advertised to do and it does it very well while being very solidly built and like I said, it has never given me one issue.
Direct from camera JPEG. Had the camera set to shoot in B&W with lower contrast by 1. Click it to see a larger image, and yes, this is my Son Brandon. Time flies huh?
The RX1 is for me a good tool for my passion street photography. Street photography is to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, to highlight the poetry and the simple feeling of human endeavor.
simply moments of life. If you won’t mind I would be very grateful if you could find some time and look on my photos
I love shooting with the RX1 for black & white images, as a digital student of photography it is quite difficult to see in black & white. The RX1 and its evf not only inspire but aid in training your eye to see in black & white.
I sent you two photos taken with the RX1. Best camera I have ever had, period. Thanks for your reviews which helped me make the purchase.
HOW TO: Wide Field Astrophotography With a Camera and Tripod
Shooting with the Sony RX1 and Olympus OM-D
By Chris Malikoff
Hi Steve, I’ve been enjoying your site now for some time. Your reviews helped me change my mind about my heavy DSLRs, and as a consequence, I’ve bought into the Micro Four Thirds system with an OM-D. I couldn’t be happier. Recently, I’ve gone and taken the plunge and bought a Sony RX1 based on your reviews as well. Perfect!
Having now dropped my Canon 5D Mark-II and 40D, I thought that my astrophotography hobby was probably over. It’s pretty-well accepted within the general astro community that if you don’t use a high-end Canon you should forget it. Astrophotography needs cameras with super-sensitive sensors that display great high ISO performance and very low noise characteristics. None of the mirror less cameras are ready, say the pundits. I say, in response, not true.
1) What We’re After
The secret of taking decent wide field photographs of our night sky is TIME, and lots of it. You need to expose your sensor to very feint light coming in through your lens’ aperture and let the sensor wells soak up as many photons as possible before writing the data out to the processor and on to your memory stick as an image. The only way to do this is by employing bulb mode and letting the camera sit there for up to tens of minutes at a time – depending on your intended object or part of the sky. Throwing a spanner in the works, unfortunately, is this little problem we have with the sky at night. It, and everything it contains, seems to revolve around us as the Earth spins underneath it on its 23 degree axis once every 24 hours. This poses a curious problem to the average photographer – how long can I expose an image for before the stars and my brighter objects, such as “emission” nebulae, start to show blurred trails in the photo instead of presenting a nice clear image? This depends on a number of factors.
2) The Problem
First: The quality of your overhead sky really matters, especially down near the horizon if you want to incorporate a foreground in your shots. By this, I mean that the more light pollution there is in your neck of the woods, and as a consequence your contrast ratio is low. This means that in city areas the night sky is so bright from light reflected off the ground due street and other lights, that you’ll have almost no stars in view let alone the lovely wisps and gaseous tendrils of something as beautiful as the Great Orion Nebula or band of the Milky Way. From a location that suffers from a brightly-lit sky, you can’t expose for long periods of time because you’ll only get a washed-out white mess as a result. The tip is to get into your car and drive away from the city – as far as you can. Typically, I use a 100 kilometre (60 mile) rule that says you should be no closer to a city than this to see an “acceptably darkish” night sky in order to obtain a decent result. The further, the better. I’m lucky here in Australia – we have a lot of room. In the southern hemisphere we also have an advantage over our northern cousins in that our position on Earth lets us look in towards the galactic centre of our Milky Way galaxy, rather than seeing out towards the thinner edge. This means that our Milky Way is generally brighter than that which you get to see in the north.
Second: The moon is your enemy. Depending on what part of its cycle it’s at, it can range from nothing at all because it’s below the horizon, a dim sliver of light to a full-blown angry ball of white light. A full moon simply paints the atmosphere in visible white light that, like the previous point, serves to wash you out. Download a moon calendar app for your mobile device or computer which can show you what nights the moon is at its lowest output – and the best is when it’s not around. This is called the “new moon”. This phase lasts for two or three days every month. You really,really need to try astrophotography on these nights to get a good result. The moon is pretty – but it kills your chances of capturing decent photos of the night sky.
Third: The Earth’s rotation. Herein lies a choice you need to make, as you can take two distinctly different types of image of the same night sky.
3) Type of Image – Your Choice
The first, and most common images taken by astrophotographers, are of star trails. All you need is a statically positioned tripod and a camera fitted with a remote release or intervalometer to give you long (one minute) exposures. Simply point the camera towards either the north or south pole, depending what hemisphere you’re in, and watch as long trails of light start to appear in your images as the Earth rotates. Bright stars literally draw circular lines of coloured light on your sensor or film as they move around your local celestial pole within frame. There is freeware available called “StarTrails” that lets you stack these one minute images together which joins the sixty-second trails together into a circular mass of lines. These are great images, but they’re not what I’m after.
I prefer to see a still set of stars that show the bright patches of iridescent gas that burns as nebulae in between. To do this, you need to be able to counter the Earth’s rotation by moving your camera’s lens around the pole at what is termed the “sidereal” rate. By mounting the camera on a device who’s rotating axis is pointed directly at your local celestial pole, and that rotates in the opposite direction to the Earth’s spin at EXACTLY the same rate, you can “hold” the night sky still. This device is known as an “equatorial” mount. Normally, a decent computerised equatorial mount will set you back many hundreds or even tens of thousands of dollars. These are designed to carry a telescope payload that may or may not include a camera mounted at “prime” focus on the telescope. By using an equatorial (EQ) mount to place your camera and lens combination alone on, one can shoot the same patch of sky, literally all night, depending on the quality of the mount and how well it’s been aligned to the celestial pole in your region. There are usually, and necessarily, complex procedures involved in “polar alignment” that would take a few pages to explain. Unless your system is perfectly aligned with the pole, you will never see round stars appear in your long exposure images. Fact of life – nothing you can do except do the work.
Sony RX1 – 518 Seconds – f/4 – ISO 800
4) The Equipment
OK – so I don’t have a gazillion dollars to throw at a full-blown telescope EQ mount, but still want to take photos of the night sky without any star trails in evidence. Answer – purchase a portable EQ mount designed to sit on a common tripod. There are several varieties and brands available, and these are a fairly recent addition to the astrophotographer’s tool kit. They range in price from three hundreds-odd dollars to just over a thousand if you buy all the options. The unit I chose is called the Vixen “Polarie” – made in Japan by Vixen – a long-time supplier of premium telescopes and mounts. The Polarie will set you back around the $400-500 mark, depending on where you are. Others are “AstroTrac (UK) for just a little more, and the new iOptron SkyTracker which will cost you a fair bit less. Quality differs, but they’ll all do the same thing in the end – spin your camera around your polar axis.
Once you have attached your chosen device to the top of your tripod using a geared head or very solid ball mount, you need to do two things. You must point it in the right direction relative to the horizon, and then you’ll need to point it up into the sky to the right elevation so that the central rotating axis of the unit is pointing as close to either the north or south celestial pole depending where you live. In the north – you have it easy. All you need to do is find the Pole Star, Polaris. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polaris) This star is easy to find and closely marks the north celestial pole. All you need to do, with the Polarie for example, is use the sight tube built into the casing of the unit to sight this star through it. Lock your ball or geared head. Mount the camera and lens to the front of the unit on a second ball mount and point your camera to where you want to start shooting. Fire away. If you live in the south, as I do, then it’s a little more difficult. There is no star handily pointing out your local pole. You can use the optional “polar scope” to fine-tune which way you’re pointing after you use a compass (set to point to true south, not magnetic) and inclinometer (angle meter) to set the square faces of the unit in the right direction. If you’re in the south, then you have to know what your position’s latitude is, and use this to set the inclinometer so that you point high enough off the horizon to see the pole. I live in Sydney, which has a latitude of 34 degrees south. I set my inclinometer to 34 degrees and then set it against the front face of the Polarie so the it tilts back at 34 degrees. Then use the compass to point the front of the unit to true south. To do this you’ll need to know what the offset from magnetic south is for your area – it differs greatly depending on where you are. Use your smart phone and set it to show true, rather than magnetic south and it’ll work it our for you.
OK – so we’re nearly there. You now have your EQ mount sitting on your tripod and its main axis is pointing at your local pole. You’ve mounted your camera on the rotating front ring and it’s pointed somewhere interesting in the night sky that you’d like to photograph. What next? You need to set up your camera and decide on a field of view. Tip: The shorter the focal length, the wider the image and consequently the less critical your tracking needs to be.The longer the lens, the more critical your tracking is. My ideal length falls in the range 24mm to 50mm. Any longer and it’s starting to be a world of pain. Don’t be tempted to stick a 300mm tele on, because unless you have one of those huge telescope-grade EQ mounts, you’re going to end up with fuzzy, out of round stars. There is a weight limit on these small EQ mounts of around 2.5kg (6-7lb).
Deep-sky wide field photos require exposure time. A few seconds simply doesn’t do it. You’ll capture a few of the brighter stars, but that’s all. You need to take exposures of two, three, five and even seven or eight minutes to get the “fluffy” stuff. Set, as a starting point, place your camera in full manual mode.
A) Focus: Set your ISO to 1600 or higher if you can. This is only temporary, and is needed to show you stars as bright as you can possibly see them in live view if you have it. Set your lens to manual focus. If you don’t have live view, set your focus to infinity as a starting point. With live view, you should be able to see these stars with your focus set to infinity. Adjust focus with live view’s zoom feature set to as close in as you can get. Canon gives you 10x, if you run an OM-D it’s 14x. You’ll see the star focus to a sharp point, with it becoming a soft disk either side of proper focus. Take it out of live view. Take a 10 second exposure. You should see sharp stars in your image.
B) Set your aperture to around f/2.8 – either via the lens or from a menu if it’s entirely electronic and fly by wire. Fast lenses are good here, as long as you don’t open them right up as you’ll start to see vignetting and/or spherical aberration creeping in. Stop it down a stop or two and just expose for longer. If you have a slower lens then don’t panic – time will fix it. I have an old f/4.5 tele that I use regularly and it works beautifully.
C) Switch on your EQ mount so that it starts moving at sidereal (star) rate – not lunar or any other rate that you may have on the dial.
C) Take a 30 second exposure. If you see round stars and no obvious trailing, then you’re good to go.
D) Now set your ISO value to around 400. Turn on ICNR (In-Camera Noise Reduction). This will help mitigate thermal noise in your image.
E) Set your exposure to 30 seconds and see what you get. If your camera can expose for longer than 30 seconds, like the OM-D at 60 seconds, try that. The OM-D’s brilliant “LiveTime” feature is phenomenal here. It will let you start exposing and you simply watch the image form on-screen in real-time. Brilliant for this job.
F) Now step up your exposures(if you don’t have LiveTime) to 60 seconds and beyond, with a cable or remote electronic intervalometer or release. I’ve managed 15 minute exposures with this setup, but you need REALLY dark skies to pull this off. Otherwise, you’ll start to get white-outs. Speaking of which, if you start to see this, simply decrease your ISO, step down the aperture another stop or two or reduct the exposure time. You’ll find a balance.
Once you have a bunch of successive images of the same area, you can use any number of stacking programs, including Photoshop CS4 or newer, to stack them which results in better signal to noise ratio. This means that, by averaging-out the noise between stacked images, that you can push the levels of the image to increase the dynamic range – and suddenly your images will start to pop. That’s an entirely different subject for a different day.
Sony RX1 – 446 Seconds – f/4 – ISO 800
Have fun – and post your images somewhere where we can all see them.
I was in my office this morning and saw the dog on my office chair. It was very dim in the room so I figured I would test the RX1 in B&W JPEG mode at higher ISO to see if the camera focused correctly and to see how the noise would be with an OOC JPEG in B&W. These are untouched direct from camera JPEG’s and the camera was set to B&W. Focus was spot on and in the 2nd shot the camera chose ISO 6400 in Auto ISO to get to 1/80s. It was that dim in the room though you can not tell it from these photos. That is what a good lens will do..brighten up the scene which in turn, adds dimension and depth to the photo.
Take a look at the snaps below. You can click on the image for a larger 1800 pixel wide version (resized without sharpening) and BTW, Noise reduction was OFF in camera. The grain from the high ISO shots is not offensive at all in the images. The RX1 could easily make for a great B&W street shooter, even at high ISO.
ISO 5000. Click on the image for a larger size to see the detail, even at this ISO and the image being a JPEG. Below the image is the 100% crop.
Here is one at ISO 6400 and 1/80s. Focus was quick and locked on (use center point, not spot!) and again, the noise at ISO 6400 in this B&W JPEG is not bad at all!
Here we are again but for this one I had more light coming in so it was taken at ISO 1600. I think I will be shooting the RX1 in B&W JPEG mode for a while to see what comes of it. I am digging it for sure.
I always speak the truth of what comes from my experience with the cameras I use. The RX1 is a beauty and like I said in my full review, it just works and it always seems to give me beautiful results, even if the scene is nothing exciting. It inspires one to use it so once again I say THANK YOU to Sony for building this camera. I just have one request for the RX2..built in EVF and $1000 less expensive so more people can enjoy this jewel :)
UPDATE – For those who said the RX1 can not do high ISO with COLOR, there is one image below I snapped in color at ISO 5000. There are also quite a few in part 2 of my full review of the RX1 HERE.
ISO 5000 – OOC JPEG – Click image for larger with 100% crop