Glenn Charles

Adventurer | Photographer | Connector

Today I am a Time Traveler with a Camera... Tomorrow, who knows

Sony RX1 - The Quest for Small

My quest to find the ultimate UL travel kit continues with some the testing of the Sony RX1.  Many of you know that I am a big fan of the NEX series, having shot extensively with the NEX-5 and the NEX-7.  In search of something that would provide me with the IQ equivalency of my FF D800E, I rented the little Sony RX1 for a week of shooting.  All of the reviews to date had been outstanding so I was excited to see how it performed. 

The two items that intrigued me the most about the RX1 was the small form factor, the full frame sensor and the Zeiss lens.  On my D800E I shoot exclusively with Zeiss glass because I love the look and feel of those lenses.  After many years of searching for the best glass, I finally found nirvana with my ZF lenses.  Would the little RX1 with its fixed 35/2,0 lens be up to the task? 

I shot the NEX series as a UL travel companion for the last 3 years so I am intimately familiar with both the good and the bad of the Sony UI.  There is much to like and still much to be done, but that is another post altogether.   

There are lots of reviews that go into the miniscule details on the RX1 so I encourage you to go search these out for the technical bits.  For me, I wanted to know if this camera would not only produce the images that I was looking for but also, how would it fit into my UL travel kit? On my recent Alaska winter expedition I carried the little NEX-7 along with my D800E and a full compliment of Zeiss glass.  I was incredibly happy with the images I brought back, but carrying the load was a bit difficult. 

For me, an optimal solution would be something with a fixed lens like the RX1 and then a NEX-8 with several small primes to fill the gap.  I am a firm believer in the two body shooting style, it just fits my way of shooting much better.  Having a RX1 with a fixed 35 would be a perfect compliment to something wider or longer, depending on the location and shooting situation. 

The RX1 is built beautifully!  The feel is top notch and with the exception of some small ergonomic issues (give me a small grip or indentation to securely hold the camera), it was perfect.  I chose not to rent the EVF and that was a mistake.  For the record, I just do not like shooting from an LCD unless it is at weird angles, and then, I want an articulating screen.  The lack of that feature on this body is probably my single biggest complaint. 

The image quality is simply outstanding.  I have zero issues with what this camera produces, and the Zeiss 35 lives up to the reputation and performance of its ZF.2 brothers.  The lens/sensor combo is simply stunning, period, end of story.  Just absolutely beautiful images from wide open to stopped down.  There is plenty of room in the files to work the images, giving you the ability to manipulate as needed. 

Functionally I had two issues with the camera, one of which is fixable with firmware.  I found the focusing to be extremely slow on the camera.  Being used to the NEX series, I am certainly familiar with what they are capable of, but I found the little RX1 to hunt way too often.  The other issue, is applicable across the NEX and the RX1 lines and that is focus point selection.  I still find it incredibly difficult to quickly switch the focus point on these cameras. Personally, I would love to see a mode that puts the rear dial into focusing mode all the time. 

As it is right now, it is a two press technique that flips you into 'focus selection' mode and this is just not intuitive when you are shooting 'In the Moment'.  The camera needs to get out of the way, and that is something that it just does not do.  This issue is certainly a FW fixable issue, and something that Sony should really take care of.  At this price point, it is safe to assume that you are dealing with a good number of Photographers that also own DSLRs and are used to simply moving their focus point on demand.

So, now within the last week we have Sony releasing the R1XR, a version of the camera w/o the AA filter.  I found the current version to be sharp, so I can only imagine how the new model performs.  I am going to rent the R1XR w/EVF and in the spirit of due diligence, give it another go.  I can clearly see how this camera could fit into my travel kit, especially if we get an updated NEX-8 that addresses some of its weaknesses.  With the release of more E-Mount Zeiss glass, the drought of lens choices is now being addressed thus making the Sony line more appealing to my needs.

Price is an issue whenever people talk about this camera.  Certainly if you are familiar with Zeiss lenses you know that they are expensive.  Given the performance of this lens, I find the price to be reasonable, although like many others, I find the prices of the accessories to be extreme! 

A complete set of images from my week of testing are over on Flickr, with a few selects in the gallery below.