I never buy anything based on specs alone. A product is about the holistic experience and pure numbers are never a sign of a successful product. I look for the intangible emotional and experiential connection with the devices I chose to buy. This is why I believe that a Leica isn’t a “rip-off” and why I respect BMW, despite my dislike of their design. We are human and we should buy products supported by emotion, not just numbers.
These are the cameras I have owned thus far. Ages ago, I used to be a Nikon fan and purchased the D50 and D90. Both were good cameras but pale in comparison to the Panasonic (Lumix) GF1. Looking back, the GF1 feels like the best camera I’ve owned so far. The Fuji X100 takes better photos but it lacks tactility. The GF1 had the perfect shutter click and a great feeling of solidity and heft. I felt a connection to the device while using it, and that’s special.
The X100 is a great camera but I wanted to move away from some of its quirks like the poor autofocus, mediocre video and somewhat amateur build quality. The first camera I considered was the Leica X2. It does everything right but the photos from the camera didn’t seem all that great.
The next setup I considered was the Sony NEX 6 with the 24mm f/1.8 Carl Zeiss lens. This was nearly the perfect package for me. What held me back was the sheer size of this setup. The Zeiss lens is perfect for my type of shooting but I didn’t want anything much larger than my X100.
Then I came upon this beauty. It’s stunning. Built with the precision of Leica, this tiny camera has the same full frame sensor as the Sony A99 (shown left). It's priced at $2800. Not cheap but not that expensive either. The fixed 35mm Zeiss lens and the full frame sensor are easily worth that much money. If you consider that the Leica M costs $7000 for just the body, this is a bargain.
Taking a look at the sensors by themselves reveals how big it really is. To the left is the RX1’s sensor, center is an APSC sized sensor (ie: Fuji X100), and a 1/2.3 sensor (ie: Pentax Q) is to the right.
Left is a size comparison with a Leica M and the Fuji X100. It's an engineering triumph that Sony was able to create such a compact full frame camera.
The package. Underwhelming.
The design is understated and tasteful. The camera is nearly all black and very serious in character. I stay away from black because it displays dust and scratches too easily so we’ll have to see how this camera will stand the test of time. All full frame Sony's have that orange ring which ruins the monolithic aesthetic of the camera.
The lens is quite large proportionally. Surprisingly, 20% of the lens is actually hidden inside the body of the RX1, with the sensor pressed against the LCD. Sony seems to have made every effort to make the RX1 hyper compact.
The glass. Oh man, it’s beautiful. The 35mm f/2 lens is simply world class. Combined with the large sensor, the resulting images are smooth as silk. The lens has built-in aperture and focus distance controls. Both feel nice and tactile.
The tolerances and lacquer quality is top notch. The entire camera is made of metal too. Not 100% sure on the material, thought it was magnesium at first but it feels a bit more substantial, almost like steel. Probably some magnesium alloy though.
There’s also a healthy dose of hardware controls. Most importantly, the RX1 has an exposure compensation dial. These dials feel so much better than the ones in the X100 that it’s not even funny.
Quality runs through every atom of the camera, and you notice it the instant you hold the camera. The flip-up flash is very elaborate.
If there is one thing that's been controversial with the RX1, it's the contrast auto focus system. There have been complaints that the focus is too slow but my experience has been positive. It's slower than the latest SLRs but it is certainly faster than the Fuji X100. It's also worth noting that the RX1 does not have a built-in viewfinder. A bit of a bummer but Sony does sell a really nice external EVF for $450. Not cheap, but there's the option. I want to get one but I’m going to see if I can live without it.
Something that you'll want to do is buy an extra battery. The RX1 has a pretty average battery life, just like the X100. Operations speeds are very fast though and the read/write speed with my new SD card is very smooth.
My biggest annoyance with the RX1 is its charger. Instead of using a traditional battery charger, Sony went with a USB adapter that plugs directly into the camera. This becomes a problem when you have two batteries; you can't use the camera while waiting for the second battery to charge. I ordered an optional travel charger but it should really come standard.
The quality of the case is quite phenomenal. I gawked at the high price but it seems that Sony is making sure that all the RX1 accessories are priced to be made the right way.
One thing I don't like about about the case is the protruding screw mount on the bottom. It doesn't allow the camera to sit properly on a flat surface. It does allow you to mount the camera to a tripod but I rarely use one.
I didn't have time to do go anywhere special to test the camera but I did take some photos of everyday life for the past week. I think I'll have to go back to the Kubrick exhibition or something. Nevertheless, the photos from the camera are awesome. There is an almost painterly rendition to the images - which I can only associate to the massive sensor and beautiful lens. Bokeh is like butter and sharpness is top notch. The images are perfect - and I save that word for special occasions. What’s more impressive is how this camera feels. It brings back the tactile feeling of my Panasonic GF1 but at an amplified level. The RX1 is the Porsche of cameras. It brings you, light and the subject closer. You can feel what the camera is doing. It’s transparent.
So what is the RX1‘s raison d'être? I’m not going to argue that this camera is for everyone. But if you want a compact mirrorless camera with a 35mm equivalent lens, there’s nothing better in the market for you. If you’re like me and shoot mostly casual photos, you’ve found love.
*Note: Photos have been process using Aperture like most photos on the blog.