The Sony RX1—one of the more exciting announcements earlier this year—started shipping in the United States late last week. In a case of being in the right place at the right time, the Shutterbug in downtown Portland was able to set me up with one out of their first shipment. It’s way too early to make a judgment, of course, and I’ll have to get a lot of shooting in as well as wait for RAW file support in Lightroom/ACR and Aperture before I can really give a valid review of the camera. But, here are a few first impressions for you.
So far, I’ve not cracked open the manual. I’m saving that for later. Instead, I just dove in and in the spirit of blogging photographers everywhere, started shooting the sorts of everyday subjects that are handily available on a rainy weekend in Portland. My friend’s pet. Plants. The highway near where I live. A slice of life at home when I’m not traveling.
I’m happy to report that with its beautiful manual controls—I could blab on for paragraphs just about the awesome feel of the aperture ring, by the way—and fairly decent user interface, the RX1 is easy enough to use if you know your way around a camera at all. The only control that took a moment to sort out was how to adjust the shutter speed in either S or M mode. Even then, it was less than 15 seconds before I spotted the back control wheel near where your right thumb lands on the camera, gave it a try, and found that did exactly what was expected.
For some reason—possibly based on my impressions of the user interface on some of Sony’s older cameras—I didn’t quite expect the level of discoverability in the on-screen menus to be quite so high. It’s a pleasant surprise. Especially after working the split personality of the Fuji X100 for the last year or so.
Of course, the first thing everyone has to mention about the RX1 is the price. To be sure, this isn’t a cheap camera. Not at all. Confounding things is the fact that you don’t really expect a compact camera to have the price of a fairly high end SLR. Check that thought in at the door, however, before it hurts your head. To judge this camera, you look at its closest peers in terms of sensor and lens. For example, a Nikon D600 will currently set you back around $2000 and a Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens for it—without autofocus, mind you—will set you back another a bit over another grand.
Any judgement of the RX1 will have to be made on the merit of the images it makes and the manner it allows you to make them, not based on the fact it’s a compact camera or that it wears the rather tasteless Cyber-shot moniker. Seriously, Sony? Cyber-shot? At least that particular label is printed in very low contrast small text on the back of the camera. Still.
Yes. I did just subject you to a photo of my coffee from earlier today. It’s a part of day-to-day life for me in Portland. I will say that it was a pretty incredible cappuccino. So at least the photo has a shred of meaning for me. And the detail in the froth is rendered beautifully by the camera. Still, I apologize. Sorry about that.
I should note that all of these photos are JPEGs from the RX1 that were imported into Aperture and then cropped and—at least in the case of the black and whites—somewhat processed. They’re also served up optimized for display on a Retina screen, if you are reading this page on one. The JPEGs are pretty impressive, even at higher ISO values, but for me the real proof will be in looking at RAW files processed through my normal workflow of Aperture or Adobe Camera RAW via either Lightroom or Photoshop.
Until then, I’ll be shooting with it extensively over the weeks to come and will report further. I hope to be able to make a judgement call—at least an initial one—about the camera by the end of the year, assuming RAW support shows up. For now, my first impressions can be summed up fairly simply. After a few hundred frames, the RX1 looks to be everything it was promised to be: a full frame sensor married to a super-sharp Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens in a package that can easily fit in a jacket pocket. It’s a good start.
Comments & Notes
Mike Watkins sent along a note that it’s possible to hack the EXIF data in the RAW files to get Lightroom or ACR to process them. Apparently, its just a matter of setting the
SLT-A99V. I’ve heard a rumor that the final version of Lightroom 4.3 includes support for the RX1 and there’s an Adobe event tomorrow, so I’ve been holding off on doing any EXIF hacking. But if support doesn’t show up soon, I’m sure I’ll be giving it a shot. Update: as of 12/12, Lightroom 4.3 supports the RX1 RAW files. Hurrah.
Yes, I’m playing up the “mundane” shot angle a bit in this post. Part of the joke is that if you go dig on some of the photography forums whenever a new camera comes out, there’s always a group of people bemoaning that the first shots people make are of pedestrian everyday things instead of something more “serious”—whatever that might be. Of course, the other part of the joke is that I’m making fun of myself a bit. And dammit, I do still make photos of my coffee.