Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sony RX1: Intimacy

In my previous post, I mentioned that I saw a great deal for the Olympus E-PL3.  I had been curious about Micro Four Thirds because of its fast autofocus (at least for still subjects) so I ordered one, and I was looking forward to trying it out.  Instead, my plans took an unexpected detour...

Yup.  I got the Sony RX1, the full frame point-and-shoot.  In this post I'll discuss how I ended up with it, and then I'll talk about my first impressions.


During the past couple of months, the only lens I've used on the D600 is the Sigma 35 1.4, and I've really enjoyed it.

Nikon D600 + Sigma 35 1.4
So much so that I felt that if I could have only one lens and one focal length, this would probably be it.  What I like about the 35mm focal length is that it makes the viewer feel closer to the subjects.  Here is a shot of my kids with the 85 1.8G on a D7000 (effectively 127.5mm):

Nikon D7000 + Nikon 85 1.8G

Here is pretty much the same scene, rendered through a 35mm (with my wife).

Nikon D600 + Sigma 35 1.4
In both cases, the magnification of my son's head is about the same.  However, in the shot with 35mm, the viewer feels closer to the subjects.  The perspective is not quite totally normal but not wide either - it's just slightly wider than normal, but enough to create a feeling of being close to the subjects, without being so close that the subjects are obviously distorted (as in the case of an ultrawide).

Nikon D600 + Sigma 35 1.4
My only complaint about the Sigma 35 1.4 is the inconsistent autofocus.  Sometimes it's accurate, sometimes not.  Off the top of my head I would guess a hit rate of 2 out of 3.  The autofocus is compounded by the very small AF area of the D600 (covering only approximately the central 1/9th of the screen, crucially missing the rule of thirds intersections).  The other thing is that the Sigma is quite large.  About the same length as a Nikon 24-70 2.8 (i.e. huge).  With a 35mm focal length I usually have to shoot quite close to the subject.  Having a huge lens in your face is not fun for a subject.

All of these issues are addressed somewhat if I use live view.  With live view's contrast detection (as opposed to phase detection) AF, the Sigma 35 1.4 focus is extremely accurate.  Second, in live view, I can move the AF point anywhere in the frame.  Finally, when using live view it seems that it is less intimidating for the subject compared to peering into the viewfinder.

I used liveview to capture this candid shot.  Nikon D600 + Sigma 35 1.4
Unfortunately the D600, like other older DSLRs, wasn't designed for live view, so its autofocus during live view is slow (slower than a point-and-shoot).  This made me think about mirrorless cameras.

Mirrorless cameras all use contrast detection (at this time, only a few also have phase detection).  So I think shooting with them is a lot like using live view on a DSLR except that they're designed for it, so they have better autofocus performance compared to a DSLR using contrast detection.  Moreover, mirrorless cameras are thinner, and there is an emphasis on trying to make cameras and lenses light and small.  A small camera would be less obtrusive and would be helpful for shooting at close range with a 35mm.


I identified several possible candidates for a mirrorless camera with a 35mm focal length equivalent with wide aperture.  There was the possibility of Micro Four Thirds and the Panasonic 20 1.7.  Fuji had the recently-released 23 1.4 for one of their X-cameras.  Then of course there are the Sony A7 and A7R.  There is a 35mm lens available to them but the maximum aperture is a little narrower at f/2.8.  There was a promise of faster lenses in the future, but the 35 2.8 was already $800, in addition to the cost of the camera.   And even if Sony created a 35 1.4 for the A7 or A7R, I'm sure it would be quite expensive, and probably too large to be pocketable.

There was the Sony RX1 which had a reasonably fast f/2 lens, and was somewhat pocketable even with the lens.  The only problem was the cost.  I did think of getting one, but it was just wishful thinking.

But then, yesterday, I came across a Sony RX1 at an unbelievably good price and snapped it up.  Here are my first impressions and a few samples (with only light edits).


RX1 at f/2 (from Raw)
Size: yes it's small.  The body is only slightly larger than that of an LX5.   However, the lens protrudes from the body.  Not so much that it would look like a zoom lens but enough so that it would be hard to fit the RX1 in your pants.  It would be more reasonable to fit it into your coat pocket.  But it is small enough that a layperson would probably assume it is just a point and shoot.

Build quality: yes like everyone says the build quality is impeccable.  It feels substantial for its size, like an expensive watch.

Autofocus speed and accuracy:  Ironically this was my biggest worry even though one of the major reasons I was looking for a mirrorless system was autofocus.  In terms of speed, I would say it is about the same as the LX5.  In very low light, it can take a couple of seconds to focus.  However, in moderate low light, it focuses quickly:

RX1 at f/2 from JPEG

RX1 at f/2 from JPEG

In terms of accuracy it is quite dependable.  The limitation is that the AF point is kind of large.  Sometimes the camera focuses on a high contrast object within that AF point resulting in the wrong focus.

One challenge to autofocus is close subjects.  The closest focusing distance is 0.2 meters   However with any distance less than 0.35 meters, you have to switch to macro mode (limited to 0.2 - 0.35 meters).  Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether I'm simply too close for the RX1 to focus.  You also have to remember to switch back to regular focusing when you're done shooting macros.

Lens Quality: so far, as good as I had hoped.  The lens is very sharp at all apertures.  There is noticeable distortion but it can be corrected in Lightroom (or automatically corrected in the camera if you use JPEG only).  Very low chromatic aberration.

Image quality: AFAIK, the RX1's sensor is related to the sensor used in the D600. The noise is very low even at high ISOs.  One difference from the D600 is that the colors on the RX1 are more pleasant and accurate compared to the orange-ish colors on the D600.

Another characteristic I did not expect is that the JPEG files have a lot of recoverable highlights in them.  Check out this JPEG (SOOC).  The flame looks almost totally blown.

Here is how much was recovered from the JPEG file:

I also found that the RX1 was good at setting the white balance to neutral.

Controls:  I appreciate that there's an aperture ring with 1/3 stop detents, and a dedicated dial for exposure compensation.  There is a ring that not only rotates but also serves as a 4-way control pad, used not only for moving the cursor but also to assign each button/direction to a function for quick access. For a small camera, it has quite a few direct-access buttons and (though nowhere near as convenient as a mid- or pro-level Nikon).

One source of frustration is that I could not move the AF point right away.  Instead, I had to press at least one button before I could start moving the AF point.  Moreover, in the screen for moving the AF point, the overlay for the Rule of Thirds disappears. And I haven't found a way to quickly reset the AF point to the center.

The menus are also kind of cumbersome to navigate through.  Let's just say I'm still getting used to it.

Lighting:  lighting seems to be a strong suit of the RX1.  First of all, the hot shoe is the standard one.  Not the strange Sony/Minolta hotshoe.  Second, it has an unlimited sync speed thanks to its leaf shutter.  Third, like the Nikon D600, it has the option to specify whether exposure compensation affects ambient only or both flash and ambient.

Shooting: on the plus side, it's extremely quiet due to its leaf shutter.  On the other hand, after you take a shot, the screen blacks out for much longer than on a DSLR.  However, the best part about shooting with the RX1 is that due to its low profile, it doesn't attract attention and people seem to forget it.

Anyway, so far those are my first impressions of the RX1.  This weekend we're going on a very short trip.  I'll take the RX1 out for a spin and pair it with the 85 1.8G on the Nikon D600.  Meawhile pay attention to your local ads for the RX1 - prices are coming down, almost to the point where it's economical when you factor in the cost of a fast lens.

UPDATE: Review now posted


  1. Hi,
    Love this post although you risk giving me GAS!
    I'm a big fan of the 35mm focal length (maybe because the 35mm E-series was my first SLR lens back in the day) so I'm absolutely with you on it being the choice I would make if I could only have one focal length. I have been keeping an eye on the Fuji X100s since it has the 35mm equivalent (f2) lens and also fast AF as well as a viewfinder. It seems to be my ideal compact but you do make the RX1 sound very appealing. Have you looked into or tried the X100s? And if so I'd be very interested in why the RX1 is worth two and half X100s's (at UK prices).
    I don't dare ask how much of a bargain the RX1 needed to be for you to go for it but for camparison the best price I can find for it in the UK at the moment is 2269GBP which is about 3700 USD (including all taxes/duties or whatever is not normally included in US prices!) so I will need to keep saving.
    Thanks and keep up the great work.

    1. Hi Teadad! Good to hear from you. I've heard great things about the X100s. It's actually David Hobby's favorite camera, ever. That's saying a lot, considering he also has a phase one and has used full frame dslrs for a while.

      As for me i havent tried the x100s, mainly because of cost. But if money were no object i think it is an interesting camera - very compact, unlimited sync speed. I've heard good things about the evf as well. But personally, due to cost i would be more interested in an x-a1, to be paired with a 23 1.4.

      My concern with the fuji is the same as the rx1, namely the af.

      Re rx1 vs the fuji hmmm if the price was proportional then i think i would choose whichever system has better af. If the price is about the same then i prefer the rx1 - because of the sensor and the shallow dof (vs x100s. Actually the 35/2 has about the same blur as the 23/1.4). That may give you an idea re the unusual price of the rx1 i got. :)

      As for GAS well one way to think about it is if you get one of these 35mm equivalent compacts, you'll sell a camera plus the lenses that would be more or less covered by the 35. So there is a net reduction in gear. Thats what i will be doing :)

      Stay tuned....

      Best regards,

  2. Nice introduction, I like how this camera looks, it is a handsome thing. What about the grip?
    I really like the picture with the two yellow vases (or whatever they are). The bokeh of the lens looks really smooth, nice.

    I hope you like it and have a good time with it.

    1. Hi Mohammed

      Any hints on when you're going to resume the postprocessing series? Can you share the postprocessing and lighting setup for the shot of your daughter with the pink scarf in 45mm article?

      Overall I hope you both with Mic are getting the numer of views this blog deserve. Not so many comments here but you are one of the best blogs about photography and hopefullu you can see it in numbers (but not comments).


    2. Wow, so someone actually cares about the post processing series. Sure I will continue to do that, in fact I will start tonight to take a similar picture with BTS shots and share it just because you asked nicely. :-)

      I am aware that we have some readers floating around, with very few comments, but sometimes I feel I am talking to myself and that is dis-heartening. Comments and questions are a powerful motivator for me.

      I will do the post I promised in the next couple of days.

  3. Hi Mohammad! Yes i think the rx1 looks pretty good if you like minimalist aesthetics. It's a clean, simple, understated look.

    Re the grip, functionally it is sort of ok. The rubber is grippy so the camera doesnt feel like slipping. But i wish it had better grips. I'm looking into some solutions though i want to make sure it's still pocketable.

    Thanks the shot with the vases is almost sooc. I think i just tried to recover highlights thats all. So i think i is representative of the rx1 image quality.

    Yes i like the bokeh too. But i need to test it on harder backgrounds like tree branches.

    So far yes i like it though i will wait until i shoot more and review results on my laptop. At the very least i'm pretty sure i will be ok with a single focal length camera. I have to keep that issue separate from the issue of whether the rx1 is the best such camera for me.

    Best regards,

  4. hi, one off topic question, how is yout d600 now? i meant does it still produce dust from the inside from time to time? or the situation improved with time?

    1. Hi! I still love the D600. I haven't checked the dust issue in a while because it doesn't bother me (I rarely use anything narrower than f/11). But FWIW here is a long term review on the D600

      And here is a recent shot at f/16. I don't recall doing any spot removal for this.

      Best regards,


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