#131 The new (and exciting) Sony RX1 V2.0
I got a second crack at shooting the RX1 for just a few minutes. In the interim, the image settings had been adjusted to “superfine”, so the result is hi-res JPEG, and I got to try the electronic zoom that lets the camera emulate a 50mm and a 70mm lens.
So, after a night’s sleep, and a chance for the excitement to settle down, what is the lowdown? Here is how I see it.
There are two ways of looking at it. If you are looking at the RX1 as the king of point-and-shoots, as befits its price tag, and, as such, as your only camera, there are things Sony might have done differently to give you a better package. Basically, it is too small. The absence of a grip, the absence of a viewfinder, the absence of a tilt screen are all things that you will miss, and extras do add to an already hefty price tag. So, as a single camera, while it is fascinating, my vote goes “thumbs down”! That doesn’t mean that it isn’t any good of course for this purpose, but my guess is that there could be an RX2 that could emerge if this is the segment that Sony are after.
However, you can also look at this camera as a second body for someone who has a large, intechangeable-lens system, such as a high-end DSLR from Canon Nikon, or Sony. Such cameras are hardly go-everywhere take-with-you-everytime cameras. Most shooters I know want a backup, so that, should camera N°1 fail, they have a N°2 instead of being in a glorious place with no possibility to take pictures. Usually, N°2 is more compact han N°1, which reduces dead weight, and cost. Many times, N°2 is much smaller, so that N°2 is the take-everywhere camera that Big Bertha-sized N°1 isn’t. But they struggle, because there isn’t one system that is both small and light enough to be a true take-everywhere camera, AND produces state-of-the-art IQ. Sorry, I stand corrected. There hasn’t been one. Now there is one, the RX1 is exactly that. So my vote goes “thumbs up”.
As a backup for, say, a D800E with primes, I can’t see anything better than the new Sony gem. The IQ is great, the package is large-pocket-sized, and it is a system-in-a-single-item. Should your D800E develop mad cow disease, your RX1 will do much, much more than save the day. Its IQ is good enough that you can come home with your cards full of shots and not feel that it’s B-grade. In some respects, it outperforms Canon 5D III + Zeiss 35 f:1.4, so that is saying plenty IMHO.
Am I going to buy one? I am trapped here, because I sold my Canon 5D III and went all NEX, and having the NEX as a “large system”, and the RX1 as a backup smaller system would be strange. And going all RX1, well, you know my answer to that.
OK, enough conclusions, now to shooting session N°2. What did I learn that wasn’t known to me in the 5 minutes of session 1? White balance seems to be better at sorting out difficult situations than the NEX 7′s. Dynamic range also seems of the highest order. At least as good as the NEX 7, which is saying something. Drawing style: superb, in a spectacular fashion, with the “help” of massively over-saturated colours, not an uncommon occurrence with in-cam JPEGs. The in-your-face 3D is just great, like a Zeiss Z* 35mm f:2.0 on steroids, but without the harshness as a downside, because the Sonnar in the RX1 is silky-buttery smooth. It will focus close, and close range shots are impressive, but detail at infinity is also very good.
I could, for another few minutes, compare the RX1 to what might be closest, NEX 7 plus Leica Elmar 24mm f:3.8. A combination that is also fairly compact, and also pricey, though some 20% less than RX1 plus thumb rest and viewfinder, both of which are incorporated in the 7. The UI of the 7 is much better IMHO, as befits a system with enough size to put things where they should be. Same with the handling. OTOH, the RX1 wins hands down on quality feel, where the 7 rates middling IMHO and the RX1 very solid.
I know that some of you would dearly love to see direct comparison shots. So would I, except that I haven’t got them. The reason is the Sony RX1 JEG engine. I consider my NEX + Leica to be outstanding in terms of colours, and the RX1 JPEG results are so different that any comparison looks strange. But let’s give you some pics with comments. All of them strictly unchanged by any adjustment (SOOC, or straight out of camera)
First, a closeup shot, maybe 25cm away (10″).
Then with 1.4x zoom, or 50mm
Then 2x zoom, or 70mm
It seems to me that the zoom is more than “useable”, more like “pretty useful”, don’t you? That is, if you find how to activate it, because the menu structure is not exactly intuitive…
Now a shot which is close to the same, with the NEX 7 and Elmar 24. I say “close”, because we are talking different focal lengths, and, at this distance, it matters. For reference, I did not clean up the colour shift in Cornerfix the way I would usually, but did apply all kinds of adjustments to bring it as close to the Sony as I could without spending more than one minute doing it, and I sharpened it too.
Now the problem is this. Here is the unprocessed, SOOC shot from the NEX. That, used as a yardstick tells you how much “beautification” goes on in a RX1 JPEG: That makes meaningful comparisons rather difficult, wouldn’t you say? Bascially, I had to push saturation and vibrance massively, and the whites, and sharpen, and…
That said, it is possible that there is a milder, more neutral JPEG profile available, simply, I had no time to look for it, so there might be an easy cure for this issue.
Here are what other shots I managed to take, with the relevant obervations. Here is a shot that demonstrates very good metering, white balance and dynamic range. This is a seriously good result in very harsh mid-day light.
Last shot (I had about 10 minutes, remember):
Another seriously good result. Even discounting the JPEG exaggerations, colour differentiation is of the first order, as is spatial representation. Though, after detailed studies on my monitor, I would conclude that the sharpened NEX+Leica shot is even a bit better in these respects, which are of paramount importance for me. It remains to be seen how high the RX1 results will soar when I get properly processed RAWs from it. And let’s not forget that the Leica Elmar 24 is probably the finest lens money can buy for this sort of shot, so that sets the bar very high indeed. I think the lens is, in and of itself, at least as good as many Zeiss primes, and maybe even the absolute best in terms of smoothness. Certainly much, much better than the Sony-Zeiss ZA24.
Conclusion. Does the RX1 deliver on its lofty promise? Definitely. In spades. Criticisms are all minor, with the exception of slutty results from the JPEG engine, because, after all, it is a point&shoot, so not everyone is going to process RAWs.
Does that mean that the RX1 is the right camera for each and everyone of us? Is it, for example,a replacement for a D800 or Leica M? Definitely not. While the IQ is up there, it is a different sort of instrument, and a specialised one. I hardly see how anyone can fail to recognize the RX1′s sheer performance, and the feat that Sony have achieved in getting so much from so small a package. But I do see how many people can say “not for me, thank you”, and then some will find reasons why it must be “bad” simply because they don’t like it.
As for me, I will wait for accessories to come in (viewfinder, thumbrest, lens shade), because I can’t see myself buying this camera without them. By then Adobe support for it should be available, and I will take a second crack at it, because the lure of the ultra-thin DOF and super-smooth bokeh, with very good high ISO performance and massive 3D as bonuses, gives me a serious case of gear lust.