The market share war has shifted, it seems, to a new turf, thanks to the growing awareness of people on the technical aspects of photography.
Having experimented with megapixels for long, it seems manufacturers have learnt their lesson that cramping too many megapixels on a small sensor will not work in the long run. So they are all hunting for the largest sensors they can accommodate in their small cameras to make the megapixel race more meaningful. Recently we have witnessed Four Thirds and APS-C sensors taking the place of small sensors in professional compact cameras. But as a pioneer in sensor fabrication, Sony has not stopped at APS-C size, but released the world’s first Full Frame compact camera, the 24.3 megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 featuring a fixed 35mm lens.
Design and Build Quality
For a camera that aims to compete with Full Frame D-SLRs, the build quality has to be premium, and Sony has done the right thing here. The RX1 is made tough with the body and lens outer barrel made of metal. The camera has got rid of the contoured designs of moulded polycarbonate bodies, featuring a simple, box-type body. With a weight of approximately 453g (without accessories), the camera is heavy for the size, providing a secure feeling. The lens does not protrude while focussing and uses internal elements to achieve focus. The tiny built-in flash may appear flimsy, but it is mounted securely with metal holders.
As mentioned above, the 24.3 megapixel RX1 uses a Full Frame (slightly smaller than the standard 36 x 24mm Full Frame Exmor CMOS sensor, as suggested by the equivalent focal length in the specifications). The camera features Sony’s high-end BIONZ image processing engine. The RX1 has a fixed Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f/2 lens, which provides approximately 37mm frame coverage in standard Full Frame format. Its aperture ranges from f/2 to 22. The lens features an Advanced Aspherical element that reduces the overall size of the lens and provides superior sharpness and contrast. The lens features an aperture ring, similar to old manual SLR cameras, which makes it very convenient to change the aperture. It also has a Macro switch, which enables fast switching to Macro mode from normal and vice-versa. The lens focusses from 0.3m to infinity in the Normal mode and from 0.2 to 0.35m in Close focus mode (the camera does not have true Macro capabilities). Focus modes available are Direct Manual Focus, Manual Focus, Multi-Point, Centre-Weighted AF, Spot AF, Flexible-Spot AF, Flexible Spot AF (Tracking Focus), and Flexible Spot AF (Face Tracking Focus). Metering modes are Multi-pattern, Centre- weighted, and Spot. Exposure can be compensated up to +/- 3.0 EV in 1/3- EV steps. Shutter speed ranges from 30 to 1/4000 sec with an additional Bulb setting. Standard sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to 25,600, which can be extended up to ISO 50. White Balance options are Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, and Flash. Self-timer can be set to 10 or 2 sec. The built-in flash has a range of approximately 0.75 to 21.7m when ISO is set to Auto. Flash modes are Flash Off, Autoflash, Fill-flash, Slow Sync, Rear Curtain Sync, and Wireless (with a compatible optional flash). The camera features Face Detection, which can detect up to 8 faces. Shooting modes include Superior Auto, Intelligent Auto, Program Auto, Movie Mode, Panorama, Scene Selection, Picture Effect, and Manual Exposure. The Scene Selection mode provides options of Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Night Scene, Landscape, SteadyShot EIS (blur reduction) for Movie. Still images are recorded in JPEG or Raw (ARW ) format with a maximum resolution of 3,648 x 2,736 pixels. Videos are recorded in AVCHD format with the best quality of 1,920 x 1,080 (24M,FX ). The RX1 provides a choice of nine Picture Effects such as HDR Painting, Rich-tone Monochrome, Miniature, Toy Camera, Pop Colour, Partial Colour, Soft High-key, Water Colour, and Illustration. The RX1 features a multi-interface shoe, which is compatible with an external flash, electronic or optical viewfinder.
The camera uses a 3.0-inch, 1,228,800- dot Xtra Fine TFT LCD for display. It does not have internal storage, but accepts an SD/SDHC/SDXC/Memory Stick/Duo memory module for external storage. The device is powered by a rechargeable Li-ion battery NP-BX1 (supplied). The RX1 weighs approximately 453g and has dimensions of 113.3 x 65.4 x 69.6mm.
The Sony RX1 is ergonomically designed to make it as compact as possible. It has a textured rubber grip, which enhances the handling. However, we feel Sony should have provided a small projection as well. Aperture control is through an aperture ring on the lens, which is quite handy. If you are migrating from another compact camera, this might take a while to settle in memory, but once that happens, it is very easy. Images on the LCD appeared crisp and the menu is intuitive. The Function button allows you to set various parameters. Sony has tried to pack as many functions as possible by lining them up on either side of the screen. The camera features a threaded cable release, which is a welcome move.
Given the features and the lens used, we expected superlative performance from the Sony RX1, and the camera did not disappoint us. Since the camera uses a Full Frame sensor, expectations could be very high for the image quality, but do also consider that it has 24 million photosites packed on it. Again, surprisingly, the Sony RX1 does not use phase detection system for focus and rely on the comparatively slower contrast detect autofocus. Autofocus was reasonably fast under adequate light, but it struggled a bit in low light situations. The lens performed superbly in controlling distortion. In fact, we did not observe any disturbing distortion. It controlled darkening of corners like a champion. We did not observe any darkening even at f/2, which is quite remarkable.
Images appeared very sharp out-of-the-box, and the sweet spot was found to be f/4. The sharpness deteriorated slightly at f/16 and 22 due to diffraction effect seen at narrow apertures. If there is anything to grumble about, it is the prominent flare and chromatic aberration seen under strong against-the-light shots at wide-open aperture. Purple fringing was observed throughout these
images. So you might need to stop down the lens by a couple of stops while shooting against the light. The metering modes worked as expected.
The RX1 produced realistic results in Auto White Balance mode under most lighting situations. Even though we observed distinct cast under artificial light sources, it could be corrected easily in Photoshop. Native print size was 20 x 13.33 inches at 300 ppi. At 25 percent of the screen size, ISO 25,600 was noisy, yet usable. Enlarged to 50 percent, ISO 12,800 was noisy. Slight noise was observed from ISO 3200 upwards, but I would consider this negligible. At 100 percent view, noise crept in from ISO 3200, while the images up to ISO 1600 were spotless. For low enlargements, you can safely use up to ISO 12,800. But if you need to crop the image much (which may be necessary, in lieu of the fixed 35mm lens), it would be prudent to keep the sensitivity below ISO 1600.
Value for Money
The Sony RX1 retails at an MRP of Rs.1,79,900. Though the camera is a ‘professional grade’ compact, this price is quite exorbitant.
+ World’s first Full-Frame compact
+ 24.3 megapixels
+ Fast f/2.0 lens
+ Excellent Build Quality
+ Threaded cable release
+ Good overall performance
– Steep pricing
– Heavy flare and CA
– No Optical IS
|Design and Build Quality||18/20|
|Auto White Balance||3/5|
|Value for Money||4/10|
The Sony RX1 is aimed at professional photographers who need a very stealthy, high-performance body that does not expose them in often dangerous situations such as in photojournalism. This Sony, without doubt, is a good performer. Nevertheless, the camera is certainly over-priced, and hence its low final score.