Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 Review

By Yvonne

The Sony Cybershot DSC–RX1 full-frame digital camera is small and compact. However, it is not cheap.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 Review

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1

Let's get to the bottom

The Sony Cybershot DSC–RX1 full-frame digital camera is small and compact. However, it is not cheap.

The pros

  • Full-frame Image Sensor
  • Extremely sharp lenses
  • High ISO performance.
  • Rapid burst shooting.
  • Short shutter lag.
  • Aperture at f/2 fast.
  • Video capture at 1080p60
  • Excellent control layout.


  • Accessories and expensive items are extremely costly.
  • No zoom capability.
  • Slow to begin and slow to shoot.
  • Lens has some barrel distortion
  • There is no built-in viewfinder.
  • An external battery charger is not provided.

Sony made a bold decision to create the Cybershot DSC-RX1 (Amazon, $2799.99). Although it's an expensive camera, the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 will be a reliable companion to those who love its design. It has a full-frame 24-megapixel image sensor, and a 35mm Zeiss Sonnar Lens. It can slide into a larger pocket—think jacket or cargo pants—and delivers images that would spur envy in many an SLR. Although it isn't a perfect camera and not suitable for all, the Editors Choice Award for Best Prime Lens Compact was awarded to it.

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Features and Design

Sony currently has two RX1 cameras. Cyber-shot DSCX100 ($448.00 Amazon) is smaller and has a 1 inch sensor as well as a zooming, fast lens. Although it was a worthy Editor's Choice compact camera, the quality of the images is not as good as that produced by the RX1. With its image sensor, the RX1 is a standout among other compact cameras.

Sony was the first to use an APS–C sensor with a digital camera without a removable lens. In 2005, the Cyber-shot DSC-R1 was introduced. It is still the first camera with this zoom lens. The full-frame sensor's surface area is double that of an APS-C sensor. This means you will get better photos.

The RX1's 17-ounce body is compact, but it has a large lens which adds depth. The dimensions of the RX1 are 2.6 by 2.5 by 2.75 inches (HWD). This is compared to the Leica X2 (Amazon: $1,899.95), which measures 2.7x4.9x2 inches. While the Leica's field of view is identical, it is significantly slimmer. It also uses a smaller APS C image sensor and a slower f/2.8 zoom lens.

A leatherette cover doubles as a grip for the camera, however it is a little too low considering its bulky design. Sony doesn't offer an accessory handgrip for the front of the camera—although it does sell a thumb grip ($249.99) that slides into the hot shoe in order to give you a better handle from the rear.

This lens is a Carl Zeiss T* 2/35. The 35mm lens has the same view field as a film camera, but without the crop factor. Clear Image Zoom is not available. However, you can use it to activate Clear Image Zoom. This digital zoom works by cropping a portion of your sensor to create a wider field of view. Fujifilm's X100s has the same view field and aperture as its RX1, however, it also uses an APSC sensor.

The X100s has a built-in hybrid viewfinder—you can toggle between a fixed optical view or an electronic live view feed—something that is lacking in the RX1. Sony sells accessory viewfinders. OLED Electronic Viewfinder ($448.00 on Amazon) has a price tag of $450. The Optical Viewfinder costs $600.

You can adjust the physical aperture ring to change between f/2 and f/22 at third-stop increments. The RX1's aperture changes as soon as the ring is adjusted, unlike an SLR lens which remains open at all times. As you create shots, you can see the depth and depth of your images in real time. Although the display will dim slightly if you place your lens in dark environments, you can still use a larger aperture and a tripod to capture those images.

The standard focus setting ranges between 0.3 meters to infinity. However, you can change this range by twisting the macro ring located behind the manual focal ring. This innovative design allows you to focus much closer than with other cameras. The Fujifilm X100s tackles the problem in a similar manner—it can focus from 0.5 meter to infinity in its standard mode, but has a macro setting that adjusts the range from 0.1 meter to 2 meters. Sigma DP1 Merrill is a 28mm equivalent f/2.8 lens.

However, its design permits it to focus anywhere from 0.2 meter up to infinity. It's a great advantage to be able to focus closer than normal with the RX1. However, the adjustment is difficult because it has a narrow ring. There were also a few occasions when I moved it from the correct setting while trying to squeeze the camera in or take it out. The macro overlay on the rear display as well as the EVF will let you know when close focus mode has been activated.

Although the RX1 does not have the same control layout as a D-SLR it has enough flexibility to satisfy demanding photographers. Up top there's the mode dial, a dedicated control dial for Exposure Compensation—three stops in either direction in third-stop increments—and a the C button, which can be customized to perform almost any camera function via the menu system. You will find the On/Off button at the bottom of the shutter release. It has a threaded construction that can be used with either a manual release cable or an integrated soft release.

Below and to the left of the lens is the toggle switch that allows you to choose between Autofocus or Direct Manual Focus. Both the first and second functions are obvious. Direct Manual Focus lets you fine-tune focus after autofocus is locked in. To activate autofocus, press half way down on the shutter. You can also turn the focus ring to manually adjust the focus. This is a great option for those who don't need to use a switch to adjust focus manually but still want autofocus.

The rear panel houses a control dial—it adjust shutter speed in Shutter Priority and Manual shooting modes. You will also find an Auto Exposure Lock button that can be programmed to do another function, and an extra control dial with a four-way program. The top can be programmed to change the information on the rear LCD. You have the ability to program all four directions. You can use the wheel action to modify the settings of the overlay menu. The Function button opens the overlay menu.

That menu gives you quick access to common shooting settings—Drive Mode, Flash Mode, Autofocus Area, ISO, Metering Mode, Flash Compensation, White Balance, and others. These settings can all be assigned to the camera's programable buttons. You can configure your RX1 to suit your preferred shooting style and you won't have to use a menu.

It measures 3 inches in length and has a 1,229k dot resolution. This display is sharper than other compacts with 921k dots. It can be used to confirm critical focus. You can't use the focus peaking feature to manually focus the Sony interchangeable lenses cameras, like the Alpha NEX-7 (at Amazon).

A physical catch is located at the rear of the LCD to activate the flash. Although it's mounted on a hinge you cannot tilt the flash back as you can with other Sony cameras or the NEX-7. You will need an external bounce flash that fits into your camera's hotshoe. You can still use your Sony D-SLR/NEX models, however you will need to purchase the Multi-Interface Shoe Adapter (24.99), if you have strobes that use an older Minolta hotshoe design.

You're not the only one who finds the OVF, EVF and thumb grip outrageously expensive. The RX1 has been criticized by many for its lack of basic accessories and the high price. Sony did not include a charger for the RX1; you will need to recharge your battery using an AC adapter. The cost of a dedicated charger is $50, while a spare battery costs $50. You can buy them both for $70 if you want to save money.

A $2,800 camera needs a charger. You should be able swap out a battery if you are running low on juice after a long day of shooting so that you can continue taking photos. You will need to purchase the additional accessory, the lens hood. This protects the lens and reduces flare. It costs $180. You can find similar vented hoods on eBay for as low as $10. While they won't offer the same quality build as the Sony model, they will do the job.

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Performance and conclusions

The RX1 is a bit slow to start and take its first shot—requiring 2.5 seconds. The shutter lag (the time taken to focus) is very short at 0.15 seconds. A burst of Raw or JPG photos can be captured at 5.2 frames per sec. Raw+JPG shots will only allow for 10 shots. Recovery time varies based on shooting format—you'll be able to take another photo after a full JPG or Raw+JPG burst in a little under 14 seconds, with recovery a relatively short 6 seconds when shooting only Raw files. The lag time for bringing a scene to focus is longer if the lens has to move a little. It averages 0.6 seconds in bright light, and 1.8 seconds when it's very dark.

Speed performance is comparable to other compacts with big sensors. Although the Sigma DP1 Merrill takes a little longer to set up and take photos, it can do so in 2.9 seconds. It also has a 0.3 second shutter lag and can produce 7 shots at 3.8 frames per sec. However, there is a much slower recovery time when using the SanDisk 95MBps card. In good lighting, the DP1 takes 0.6 seconds to focus and lock on a subject. It can take 1.8 seconds for dimming light.

Imatest was used to test the sharpness and quality of the 35mm f/2 lens. Even at its widest aperture it scored an impressive 2,275 lines per picture height—much better than the 1,800 lines required for a sharp photo. Even wide open, edge performance is exceptional with mean scores of just below 2,000 lines. Sharpness averages 2,400 lines at F/2.8 and is maintained around this level through F/8. Barrel distortion of 2.5 percent is the only problem with this lens.

Raw images can have this corrected using Lightroom. The camera also has built-in correction for JPG shots. The Leica X2's Elmarit lens is nearly as sharp, hitting 2,089 lines at f/2.8 and peaking at 2,318 lines at f/5.6—but it's a full f-stop slower. Because of the larger aperture and bigger image sensor, the RX1 allows you to blur background in photos to an even greater degree than with the Leica.

Imatest can also measure noise. This can reduce detail and make photos look grainy as the sensitivity to light increases. Although the RX1 can shoot JPG photos at ISO 12800 with less noise than 1.5 percent, detail is affected greatly. Although raw files taken at 12800 have sharper images, they are very grainy. JPG detail at ISO 6400 is much better than at ISO 3200.

Although the RX1 performs at high ISOs, its images are not as sharp as the Editors Choice Canon EOS 6D ($1,699.00 Amazon). This camera also has a better ISO 12800 noise control and can get a little Continue reading detail from shots. The 6D, however, is almost a stop superior in JPG quality starting at ISO 3200.

Video can be captured at 1080p60 or 1080i60 resolutions. It records at excellent quality and can focus during recording. The speed of video autofocus is about the same as that for still images. There's no manual aperture control available when rolling footage—in decent light, the lens stops down to f/5.6 to increase depth of field, but the iris does open to let more light in when rolling footage in a dim environment.

If you need to make serious video, the microphone input port can be used. A micro USB interface is also available that can be used to connect the AC adapter included for charging in-camera batteries and a micro HDMI connection. The RX1 is compatible with Sony's Memory Stick Duo format, as well as SDHC and SDXC cards.

The only problem with the Sony Cybershot DSC-RX1 is its price. It costs $2,800 before accessories. This is more than most D-SLRs. Even full-frame models such as the Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D. The price also includes an exceptional Carl Zeiss Sonnar Lens that supports autofocus. This Zeiss 35mm Distagon T* lens for Nikon or Canon SLRs is available at a premium of more than $1100 and it's purely manual-focused.

It is not equipped with a viewfinder, so if you wish to purchase an electronic one, the cost of the package will rise to $3,250. The Fujifilm X100s is a comparable camera that has a built in viewfinder. Although it has the same field of view as an f/2 lens and similar apertures, its APS-C sensor will not produce as much depth at comparable apertures.

The RX1 isn't a camera for everyone—casual shooters wouldn't even consider spending this much on a digital camera, and wildlife and sports photographers can't live without a 100-400mm zoom lens. Some may be offput by the size of the lens in relation to the body—without taking the lens into account, the RX1 is impressively compact.

Sony could have chosen to reduce the size of the camera with a different lens design—a 40mm f/2.8 is a traditional pancake design for SLRs and rangefinders alike—but opted for a faster lens that, amazingly, is sharp from edge to edge. The RX1 will be a great choice for anyone who has used a 35mm lens to cut their teeth and doesn't need another focal length. It delivers the same image quality as a high-end D-SLR in a compact size. Despite its price tag, we give the RX1 Editors' Choice Award.

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