The Sony RX1 Camera Review Part 2. The amazing full frame compact and my pick for Camera of the year 2012!
See part 1 of my RX1 review HERE
Hello once again to all of the great and loyal readers here! I am back once again and this time with part 2 of my full Sony RX1 Camera review and I have to say I am pretty excited about it. As you recall, part 1 contained the “meat” of the review with loads of thoughts and JPEG samples. I have still been shooting this camera almost non stop and even though I have had a Sony NEX-5R and NEX-6 here with me I have been spoiled by the RX1’s gorgeous image quality and it has been making it tough to go back to using APS-C sensors after shooting this camera so much. You do indeed notice the difference in quality between those cameras when you shoot them together and what has really hooked me is the gorgeous full frame sensor qualities as well as the qualities of the Zeiss 35 f/2 lens that is attached to the RX1 body.
The video showing why I call this my “Camera of the Year for 2012” as well as showing the OVF and EVF with my thoughts on them. Keep in mind the close focus minimum is .2 meters not 2 meters :)
To be totally honest, there has not been any camera that I have tested or owned in recent times that has given me the visual rewards like the RX1 has. What I mean by this can be explained with a few reasons..1st one is ease of use. The ease in which it gives you beautiful quality and rich images huge in Dynamic Range is pretty sweet to have. I also say this due to the size of the camera. No camera of this size can give you results like this. Period. You can get it with a Nikon D800 and Zeiss 35 f/2 but that combo would be much much larger, much much heavier and much much more expensive! After shooting with the RX1 for a few weeks I have grown to appreciate what it does and I seriously do not want to be without it! With most cameras, after I review them I am fine with sending them back to the manufacturer but not this time! :)
Even taking a portrait of an old cowboy in afternoon AZ light and f/2 was not a problem. The camera/sensor has the dynamic range to tackle it and the lens has the 3D quality that will give you details without looking harsh or crude. Yes my friends…the RX1 is the real deal and it can even provide a “timeless” quality to your photos as long as the ingredients are all there. When I snapped this shot the mans eyes were in a dark shadow from his hat. In the RAW file I was able to pull that detail out without any problem whatsoever. This was not the ideal light for a street portrait but it still worked and I was able to get a great image of this old cowboy.
The Sony RX1 at f/2 – ISO 100 – 1/1600s – click it for larger – from RAW – Standard Color Mode
and it can do black and white as well. This one is a JPEG, ISO 1600 at night. Plenty of DR.
Anyone who knows me or knows this site well will know one thing. I LOVE SMALL CAMERAS THAT PUMP OUT HIGH QUALITY! I also love cameras that give you a great user experience. I touched on all of this in Part 1 of this review HERE (so go read it before you read this one if you have not yet done so). I also posted some low light B&W JPEGS HERE. Bottom line is that this Sony RX1 gives me what I always wanted. Small size, great lens, amazing full frame sensor, good auto focus and manual focus, superb HD video and solid build quality that goes toe to toe with Leica. This is a camera that could have had the Zeiss logo on it and put on the shelves for $3995, and it would have sold very well. They could have called it the “Zeiss ZX-1” and I bet it would have done very well at a premium price.
From RAW – at f/2 this lens is insanely good and I get the feeling this is where it wants to be shot the most. Shallow DOF fans will be happy. This has the Zeiss Look and Feel for sure!
In fact, Some have been put off by the name “Sony”. Let’s face it, Sony is a relative newcomer to the serious enthusiast photo world. Sure they have had a ton of cyber shot cameras and point and shoot cameras but never have they tackled the serious market until just a couple of years ago with the NEX 7 camera. Now with their A99 DSLR hitting the pro market and this RX1 for all of us crazy quality starved enthusiasts they are starting to get many people to take notice, including me and not only are they talking the talk, they are walking the walk.
The Zeiss lens on this RX1 is a beauty when it comes to Bokeh. Smooth, buttery, and delicious. Just like the beer in the image below. :)
The best tasting beer in the world (imo) at f/2 and ISO 1250 and 1/80s – from RAW.
and this one too and BTW, no problem locking focus here in a dimly lit bar which was lit only by Xmas lights.
So with that long intro out of the way let us get started into part two which will consist of everything part one did not get into. Things such as shooting in RAW, high ISO, FULL SIZE files, Video, EVF/OVF and even what I do NOT like about the RX1. So sit back, relax, and hide your wallets because once you are done reading this you just may have the urge to whip out that credit card and order one of these beautiful and sexy cameras. Don’t say I did not warn you!
RAW Conversions – RAW is good. Always.
In part one just about EVERY image was shot as a JPEG as I did not yet download the Sony software to convert the RAW files. At the time of this writing the RX1’s are just now starting to ship in the USA and RAW support from Adobe is not yet available so we are stuck with the slow Sony converter. It works but I am much more speedy and comfortable with Adobe Lightroom or Camera Raw. In any case, in this part of the review 90% of the images will be from RAW conversions.
In case you are a newbie to RAW files, shooting in RAW is always better as you can tweak anything you desire AFTER the fact. Exposure, White Balance, Black Level, Color Style, Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness, etc. This means you can “perfect” your shot and create what you intended to create in the 1st place.
Here are four full size files converted with the Sony software from RAW. You can click each for full size. That 1st spiderweb shot is at f/2, wide open where I find the lens to be at its most unique.
Shooting in RAW is always recommended but as I stated in part 1, the JPEG files coming from the RX1 are sublime. Best I have ever seen from any serious mirrorless digital camera. I would not hesitate to shoot in JPEG for street shots, even using the high contrast B&W JPEG setting but remember, JPEG’s are sharp and clean but you can get better color by shooting RAW.
High Contrast B&W Mode – JPEG
High ISO shooting with the RX1 – Hangs with the best but AF hunts in really low light
The RX1 promised many things when it was announced, including amazing low light performance along with best in class high ISO performance. After using this camera extensively I can mostly agree with these statements. The low light and high ISO quality is up there with the very best. The only thing that lacks when you are in very low light is the AF. It does indeed hunt as it needs contrast to find and lock focus. If you are shooting a dark area without contrast the camera will have a hard time. The good thing is that focus peaking is here and available so you can whip it in to manual focus and keep going if you are having issues locking it in.
But let me get a little more into this. The RX1 has contrast detect AF. This means, like I already mentioned, that the camera needs to see something with contrast in it to achieve and lock focus. If it is really dark without any light then you will have a hard time locking focus. This is true for ANY contrast detect AF camera. Cameras like the X100, X-Pro 1, NEX-5, 6, 7 and OM-D are all contrast detect AF cameras. The RX1 performs somewhere between the NEX-6 and OM-D in my experience with the camera.
As for high ISO..
I did a quick comparison with the cameras I had laying around the house. The new NEX-6, NEX-5R, OM-D and the NEX-7 at a high ISO of 6400 just to test the extremes. Take a look below at the results of this test.
ISO 6400 – pretty rough test as it is an ISO that no one usually will use. There was NO Noise Reduction applied to ANY of these files. What surprised me was how bad the NEX-7 did and how good the OM-D did. Most true to color? RX1
The image above says it all. The RX1 wins and the NEX-7 looks outdated already in regards to high ISO performance. Remember, these had no noise reduction applied. The OM-D looks damn good though the color is off. After shooting the RX1 I have not only been spoiled by the amazing files but also the nice high ISO performance.
Anytime I shoot ANY digital camera at night I turn off noise reduction as I hate the way it smears images and details. So in my samples you will see more noise than in other samples just due to this fact.
With and Without NR (Noise Reduction)
Some have asked me to post samples with and without Noise Reduction so ask and you shall receive!
click on the image for a larger version with 100% crops of a section with and without NR so you can see the effect it has on the image. Keep in mind this was shot late night and the only light was from my headlights. ISO 6400.
and full ISO testing with the RX1 with and without NR (using Sony RAW converter)
and now with Standard Noise Reduction applied by the Sony RAW converter
I always prefer shooting digital with noise reduction turned OFF. I always prefer noise and grain to smudgy details and soft blobs.
More real world. high ISO samples.. click for larger
This one is a JPEG – again, no problem focusing in this light
Tough lighting here but ISO 5000 at night – the camera makes it look much brighter than it really was. The camera hunted twice and then locked AF.
ISO 6400 indoor, no flash, f/2, from RAW. B&W Conversion using Alien Skin Exposure – AF locked on no problem, 1st time.
High ISO shooting is quite amazing with the RX1. Just as good as any camera I have tested (besides the high ISO KING, Nikon D3s and even then it is close). I remember when performance at high ISO like this was just a dream and now it is a reality and to top it off it is in a small camera body with a full frame sensor. Technology rocks.
LOW ISO. The RX1 has an ISO 50 Setting as well!
With the 1/2000s shutter speed limitation when using the camera wide open at f/2 it could run into a problem if shooting in full sunlight where you want to get that creamy f/2 shallow DOF. To combat that Sony has added an ISO 50 mode which will help out with that. Below are two test shots. One at ISO 50 and the other at ISO 100. These are slightly cropped but you can see they look identical. The RX1 also has an ISO 64, ISO 80 and ISO 160 setting.
HD Video – Full uncompressed through HDMI? Yep.
The video capabilities of the RX1 are good but I have used better. When I say this I mean I have used better for video in regards to AF speed, Image Stabilization and overall versatility. For example, I love the video from my Olympus OM-D and 12mm f/2 or 75 1.8. The RX1 takes great quality video but it has electronic IS and it does not work as good as some dedicated lenses for other systems. In low light the AF is slow when shooting video so I would recommend using manual focus when indoors. Other cameras never gave me a problem in the low light aquarium I test video in but the RX1 had a hard time keeping up with the AF and many of the shots I took were out of focus.
With that said, the sensor in the RX1 is able to record some pretty nice quality video and the camera also has a dedicated mic input for those that want to use an outboard mic. Sony will be releasing a slew of accessories for the camera including their own mic that will attach to the hot shoe with no cable needed. Below you will see a sample of the video I shot with the RX1. It is similar to what I test all cameras with so will give you an idea of what it can do. The video below is short and sweet and will upload a longer one with a better sample of video soon.
BTW, I have been asked if this puts out uncompressed video through HDMI and i have confirmed through Sony that yes, it does.
I am happy Sony included video on the RX1 but the slow AF when using video in low light is sort of a hit or miss.
The Sony RX1 Viewfinder Choice – EVF vs OVF
The Sony RX1 gives you two options for a viewfinder. You can either go with an Electronic Viewfinder at $449, which is pretty sweet and works very well, or you can go with the Zeiss 35mm Optical View Finder which is even more expensive at $599. My choice 100% is the EVF. It is big and the best quality EVF I have used on any camera to date. Also, It does indeed have a diopter for those who have asked. With the EVF you can see what you are shooting and get an idea of just how your photo is going to look. With the Optical you can not see what the camera is focusing on nor any settings. I do have one issue with the EVF though..you can not “lock” it on. It slides on without a way to lock it down so it is possible it could slide off. It did slide off on me once while in my bag and when I lifted it to my eye and did not come on I realized it was 1/4 of the way off of the shoe. Sony should have created a way to lock it in.
It does come with a nice case so you can store it when not using it though. I would say the EVF makes the user experience much better with this camera. Bringing a camera to the eye just feels so much better than holding it out at arms length. The RX1 deserves the EVF and the looks have even grown on me quite a bit :) See my video at the top of this page for more on both view finders. You can order the EVF at Amazon HERE and the Optical is also at Amazon HERE.
Shot in RAW but used VIVID mode which is why the sky is such a deep blue. VIVID adds contrast and deep color. I prefer Standard or Neutral for most shooting.
Pro’s & Cons of the RX1
- Small but built well
- Fast f/2 Zeiss 35mm lens matched to the sensor for optimal quality
- Manual Aperture control on the lens
- Extremely good IQ in low light/high ISO
- Nice quality LCD on the back – can be seen in sunlight
- Comparable with the top dog DSLRS like Nikon D4, D800, 5DIII
- No dusty sensor hassles
- Close focus as close as .2 meters (Zeiss 35 on Leica M is .7 meters)
- HD video with full uncompressed through HDMI
- Crop mode gives you a 50mm and 75mm equivalent shot in JPEG mode
- EVF is best I have ever used (if you buy it extra of course)
- Manual focus works well and is smooth and silky
- Focus Peaking!
- At the price of $2799 a real charger should have been included in the box!
- EVF is pricey at $449
- AF hunts in low light and can have trouble in really low light.
- Focus peaking only works with focus assist magnification on.
- Battery life is not the best (250 shots or so) so get a few more.
- Lens seems optimized for close distances. Seems sharpest up close and at mid distance.
- Video AF is slow as molasses in low light. Had trouble finding focus so manual focus is recommended if shooting video indoor.
- If you forget to turn on lens distortion correction and shoot JPEG your shots will have lens distortion.
Which Camera should I get? HELP!
Sony RX1 – This is expensive at $2799 and it is small and limited with just a 35mm lens. If you can not imagine only having one focal length in a camera then it is not for you. But if you can, and you want sublime IQ and the ability to shoot in any light without fear of noise killing your shots then you may want to seriously look at this camera. It is small but well made and the sensor/lens combo rocks. Think about what you shoot and if you feel the RX1 would help you with that. Cons? No built in EVF and the charger it comes with is the USB type that requires the battery be in the camera to charge.
OM-D – Olympus hit it out of the park with the OM-D and they have been on a roll with their lens releases. The OM-D is my 2nd camera pick for Camera of the Year 2012 and for good reason. It is like a min DSLR with amazing lenses and delivers superb image quality with 1/3 of the weight and size of a DSLR. You lose some shallow DOF effects but IQ is there and the video is super as well. Better overall video capabilities than the RX1 IMO due to the lenses you can slap on. The OM-D is priced right at $1000 with kit lens. You will not get the silky smooth files of the RX1 nor the high ISO performance but it is also much cheaper. If you cant spend $2800 then you may want to look at the OM-D.
Fuji X – The X cameras have the IQ no doubt but what about the othetr good stuff? The X-Pro 1 was a bit of a let down for me (IMO) and I still prefer the X100. The X-Pro 1 build feels cheap, AF is slow and clunky, lenses feel hollow. I was turned off when they released it mainly due to the AF mis-focusing and slowness. It frustrated the hell out of me. It is now much better though with the latest firmware and you can not fault the IQ, which has that Fuji signature all the way. In comparison to the RX1, for me, the RX1 takes it all the way. The files from the RX1 are richer, have better Dynamic Range and the Zeiss lens beats the Fuji lenses for me. The full frame of the RX1 beats the APS-C of the Fuji, again MY OPINION. The Fuji takes incredible quality shots but the user experience is not quite there yet. The X-E1 may be better. Still, the X-Pro 1 and X-E1 is a cheaper option but you do not have the FF sensor nor that Zeiss lens. At the time of this writing a Fuji X-Pro 1 and 35 1.4 would set you back $1700, still $1000 less than the RX1 without an EVF. Something to think about.
NEX – The new NEX-6 is great. At $999 with 16-50 it is a great deal for such an advanced camera. Sony has improved things but I found the AF to still be lacking. The AF has mis-focused for me on many occasions where the camera will focus on what is behind my subject (The 7 did the same). It is frustrating but I also find it lens dependent. Some lenses focus blazing fast and with accuracy, others have been hit or miss. Still, the NEX-6 can deliver beautiful quality though it can appear to be a little flat when looking at files side by side with an RX1 or full frame sensor camera. Still, at $999 it is $1700 less than the RX1 and a beautiful machine in its own right. The NEX-6 is the best NEX yet when you factor use, price, quality and sensor.
Leica – Leica has the X2 and D-Lux 6 but neither can beat the RX1 files. The X2 is a beauty no doubt (my review is here) but the RX1 gives me a richer and deeper file to work with as well as having more DR, better high ISO, faster AF, smoother operation and the Zeiss f/2 character. Also focuses much closer than the Leica X2. The X2 with EVF is about $2500. The RX1 with EVF is $3150 so the Leica is actually LESS expensive but you lose the FF sensor, lose ISO ability, lose HD video, lose an f/2 aperture, lose close focus and yes, even lose some build quality. If you love Leica like I do then the X2 make you a very happy shooter. It is indeed a Leica and has that timeless quality to the design and feel but I have to give credit where it is due and to me the RX1 is the better camera with more capability though it is more expensive as well.
A B&W conversion using Alien Skin Exposure – click for larger
The RX1 – My final bottom line conclusion
I have now written over 11,000 words in part 1 and part 2 of my review of this camera. Bottom line? The RX1 is a beauty. Like you have already read in the title, I have chosen it for my “Camera of the Year 2012”. My 2nd place choice is the Olympus OM-D and 3rd place is the Leica Monochrom. The RX1 takes the top spot though because I have never used a camera that has just given me gorgeous results like this so easily. It is almost like the camera knows what I want..like it is reading my mind. Of course this is not actually a true statement but the main reason I enjoy the RX1 so much is probably due to two things. The Sensor and the Lens. These make up the heart of the camera and with these two thing matched and combined it delivers the image quality that is flat out gorgeous with that Zeiss 3D color and quality we know and love. Dynamic Range even in the Harsh AZ sunshine was fantastic and this is a camera that can motivate.
If you have the cash to spend and want a serious compact and can live with a 35mm only focal length then this is a camera you will most likely cherish and adore. It is not perfect though! Be sure to read through my “cons list” above because it does have a few things that could have been improved upon. The AF is fast but not super speedy. In low light it will hunt because you need something with contrast for it to lock on to. It does not have phase detect AF, only contrast detect AF. So when the lights get low be prepared for it to hunt somewhat. If there is some light around it will lock on an AF just fine. If it is dark you need to switch to manual focus for best results. Video and AF in low light is worse and it is locks focus VERY slowly so I recommend manual focus for video.
Battery life is not the best but luckily you can find batteries on Amazon for $8 a pop that are actually more powerful than the included Sony battery. I bought 3 extras.
When this camera was 1st shown to me months ago and I was told the price I thought deep inside my brain that Sony was nuts. $2700 for a small compact SONY. Ummm. No way. But after using it, shooting it, and making memories with it I can say that I feel this camera is indeed worth the money for me. The image quality has its own special look and it is spectacular. It may not beat out a Leica M for landscape detail shots or overall joy of use but for almost any kind of image you want to take it has a special quality and character that is so unlike “Sony”. It has the magic..the mojo..and the rendering that was once only attainable with expensive Zeiss glass or Leica lenses. Some will not agree with me of course but I call it like I see it, and I have used EVERYTHING. Being a reviewer gives me the chance to try anything I want. The RX1 is hands down my favorite camera of 2012 and one of my favorites of all time and this is only with just over 3 weeks of use.
The build is solid, the lens feels great, the manual control of aperture on the lens is a godsend and the silent shutter means that for street shooters this camera will be just what they have been looking for. High ISO is superb as well.
I think I have said all I can say but for me the pros far outweigh the cons because when you see those results on your big screen or in print you will sit there with a huge grin. If you like the Zeiss look you will love the Sony RX1. It is not for everyone though so be sure to weigh your own pros and cons before taking that $2700 plunge!
TIP: BE SURE TO TURN ON LENS CORRECTION BEFORE USING THE RX1! It ships with it turned OFF, which is silly as the lens will give you some barrel distortion in JPEGS is it is off.
Where To Buy the Sony RX1 and Accessories?
I would buy this camera from ONLY a reputable source such as Amazon or B&H Photo.
Optical VF – AMAZON
EVF – AMAZON
Great Batteries for less – AMAZON
December 6th 2012: UPDATE: I will be adding to this review in the next 2-3 weeks with more samples shot at smaller apertures. I will include full size files as well as tripod mounted shots. There will also be a comparison with the NEX-6 with the same images, etc. Check back here over the next few days. Thanks!
My open letter to the few who feel I am too “enthusiastic” in my reviews
After I posted part 1 of my review I had 1 lonely email from a rather bitter individual who felt I was lying about the RX1 for some reason..or was possibly “on the take” as he said. This person felt I was too “in love” with the camera and that I should not be so enthusiastic because I run a review site. This guy demanded I remove my Amazon review I posted there as well..yes, demanded I remove my own review on Amazon (which was posted to offset a fake 1 star review from someone who never even held the RX1)! This was from an individual who called himself a “Journalist” and said I was obviously being paid off by Sony to write a gushing review and when I replied back that I was not paid off he said I was indeed paid off! Why? He said just by going to the Sony Event in CA where they launched the camera was a pay off and he told me I should re-imburse them for that week long trip. Sort of ridiculous. Guess some people have nothing better to do than be bitter, angry and stressed. I guess I should have refused that invite because as he said “David Pougue would have never accepted it”. Well, not me..! I’d go every year if I was invited. No doubt.
I guess these type of individuals do not know me very well or have not been reading this site for very long. From day one this website has been about inspiration, enthusiasm, excitement, sharing of images, stories and experiences and not just about me, but about all of YOU who come here as well. When I review something that is THIS good, you guys will know about it as I never hold back. It is in my writing. It oozes out of me like honey from a squeeze honey bear bottle. When I merely “like” a camera you can also tell by the way I write. For example, I had a Nikon D4 here for a month. I did not like (for my use) it so I did not even review it. I could have hyped it up like everyone else and made some $$ with affiliate sales for sure but why would I when I did not like it myself? When I loved the Nikon V1 I was attacked on that one as well. When I raved on the Leica M9 I was accused of being paid off by Leica. To those accusing me of hyping this camera by lying about it all I can say is either TRY the camera and see for yourself, or if it bothers you that much then go to the other review sites for your reviews and do not come here. I would not go to a site that I did not enjoy. Period.
The fact is that this Sony RX1 is a superb camera. I love it, for ME. I have tried to write down my feelings, emotions and share my enthusiasm like I always do when I talk about something I really love and hell, if Sony decided to give me a free camera to use long term…then I say “HELL YEA”. In fact, I will invite them to do so right now! Hint, hint.
I used to be called Leica “fanboy” all of the time because I enjoy my Leica M’s so much. I would respond with “I guess I am a Leica fanboy, because I adore my M’s”. I just find it quite ridiculous when someone emails me and demands I tone down or take down my reviews. Makes me chuckle. To those individuals, nothing is changing here, I will keep doing what I have always done for the past 3 1/2 years. I am not about doing what other sites do..that is the whole reason I created this one!
Oh and I do not consider myself a “Journalist”..my grammar is too horrible to ever be one, but I do consider myself to be a normal guy who likes to write passionately about the things I love..and my passion is right here and right now on this very website each every day and I thank YOU for coming here and reading, no matter who you are or what you believe. The fact that even the haters come here and read what I write is sort of a compliment. BTW, part one of my RX1 review had over 130,000 views in the 1st day, a record for this site!
With that said, I will leave you with a few more RX1 samples :) ENJOY!!! OH! and if you want even more of the RX1, take a look at this Tumblr page with a collection of some of the best RX1 shots on the internet!
KEEP IN MIND THE IMAGES BELOW ARE ALL SHOT IN RAW AND CONVERTED WITH THE SONY SOFTWARE. Some have different color modes applied such as “Vivid”, “Standard”, “Neutral”, “Portrait”, etc.
click these samples to see them how they should be seen
and next to it’s excellent baby brother, the Sony RX100
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