April 14th, 2013, 10:03 AM
Sony RX1 and Fuji X100s - A Comparison (long!)
I've been shooting with the Sony RX1 for about a month now and the Fuji X100s for a little over a week. I got up to speed with the X100s quickly since I've had plenty of experience with the X100 and X-Pro. I had both cameras with me during a busy weekend of shooting in New York City last week (along with the Nikon Coolpix A), and both have gotten plenty of work. I've written some about the RX1 here and the X100s on the Xspot forum, but I'd promised to do some sort of comparison between the two since they're somewhat similar by virtue of both being fixed lens 35mm (or equivalent) focal lengths with f2.0 lenses. While I question whether these two cameras will be directly competing for very many potential buyers, there are a lot of similarities and differences worth understanding for those who might be considering either.
NYC RX1-26-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
NYC X100s-26 by ramboorider1, on Flickr
Lens / Sensor / Output - The RX1 has an incredibly nice Zeiss f2.0 lens mated to one of the best full frame 24mp sensors in existence (at least for this now - something better is sure to come out any day now...). The X100s has a very nice but not quite in the same league Fuji f2.0 lens mated to a 16mp APS X-trans sensor that some love and some hate. I personally love it but many who pixel peep and shoot raw with it have issues with the raw conversions and some even have issues with the jpegs and how they're sharpened and the level of detail. While that's a matter of personal taste, I don't think anyone has ever had a negative thing to say about the RX1 sensor - rated highly by all the technical reviews, incredible files to work with. IMO the RX1 sensor is as good as anything you've read about it. I'm also personally VERY happy with the Fuji X-Trans sensor - I have largely the same sensor in my X-Pro and I tend to shoot jpegs most of the time with the Fuji cameras. Not because I'm in any way DIS-satisfied with the raw files, but because the Fuji jpegs are sublime, there's plenty of latitude for further processing in most of their film simulation modes, their NR algorithms are very very good, and I've just never been able to top them by processing the raw files myself. I think of the Fujis as similar to film cameras where I choose the film and manipulate the results a bit in processing, but mostly get what the camera produces. So in terms of output, its partially a matter of taste rather than numbers, but IMHO the Fuji is excellent and the RX1 is a lot better than that. Is it enough to matter? For pixels peepers, maybe a lot of the time it does. For someone like me who doesn't pixel peep but appreciates files that are easy to work with, it matters a lot at the margins of challenging light and a little in decent to good light. As you'll see from the images peppered throughout this post (always paired with the RX1 first, then X100s), there's no real difference at web sizes for most of the images I've shown, and in good light, the differences would be really hard to see for any but the most extreme pixel peepers. But at larger displays or large prints of low light images, there's notably better and cleaner detail with the RX1. In some cases its more visible than others. But there's a lot more room for error with the RX1, with both cleaner files as a starting point and more latitude for processing. Bottom line, in the vast majority of circumstances, the differences will only matter to pixel peepers and this may and probably should influence a lot of purchasing decisions. In the most challenging circumstances, however, I think most photo enthusiasts would both see and appreciate the difference working with the RX1 files. A word about the lenses - both are really nice, but the Zeiss lens on the RX1 is another level of special, in terms of the subtle way it renders, its narrower DOF wide open, the quality of the bokeh that narrow DOF leads to. Its just a very special lens. The Fuji is very nice and worth raving about, but the Zeiss takes it to another level - a great mate to the very high resolution sensor in the camera.
Build / Egronomics - The RX1 is one of the most impressively built cameras I've had the pleasure to shoot with, oozing quality from the hefty but not too heavy feel of the camera to the incredibly smooth aperture ring and exposure comp dial with just the right amount of resistance, to the very well damped focus ring. Even the metal lens cap is highly impressive - it goes on easy but will NOT let go inadvertently - and when was the last time anyone was impressed by a lens-cap? The X100s is a very nice feeling camera but a good deal lighter and less solid feeling. Not that this is a negative, but it makes a different first impression and somewhat different ongoing impression. The RX1 has five fully customizable buttons so you can configure the camera with whatever combination of immediately available controls works best for you. The tactile feel of the X100s controls is quite good, much improved in some cases from the X100, which had an exposure comp dial that was too easily accidentally turned and a "menu/OK" button in the center of the rear controller that was very difficult to push without a long fingernail (or very small fingers). This is all much better now. But there is only one fully programable fn button, so the camera is not nearly as customizable as the RX1 - the X100s does have a "Q" button that brings up a number of the most used settings on the camera so most key controls are reasonably accessible. One complaint with the X100s is the aperture ring on the lens, which only allows for full aperture stops - 1/3 intermediate stops are possible but you have to use the rear thumb controller to access the intermediate stops. This was the case on the X100 also and, at the time, that was the first camera in this class to offer an aperture ring on the lens at all in quite a while, so this detail was easily overlooked. But things have changed and today several cameras, including the very inexpensive Panasonic LX7, have aperture rings on the lens that can access 1/3 stops so this feels like something Fuji should have upgraded. In terms of build quality and feel of the controls, the edge definitely goes to the RX1, which feels like what it costs, but there's nothing wrong with the X100s in this regard either.
RX1 vs X100s-46-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
X100 vs RX1-49-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
The View From Here - The RX1, along with other Sony cameras, has one of the best rear LCD or OLED screens (honestly not sure which it is) I've ever used. Its got a "sunny weather" setting that is bright and clear enough to use in the brightest sunlight and see what you're shooting very very well. It also has an excellent but expensive (more on that word later) accessory EVF (and an OVF is available as well, but I haven't tried that). So if you're OK shooting without a viewfinder, the RX1 is excellent. If you want a viewfinder, the EVF is about as good as they get, but since its removable accessory its not nearly as convenient as a built-in finder. I wouldn't say its easy to knock off in use, but its possible, and it is easy to move out of position when carrying the camera. So, if you shoot exclusively with a viewfinder, this accessory viewfinder may not be your cup of tea. I'd prefer a built-in but I'm OK shooting with or without a viewfinder a lot of the time, so I'm OK with it, but many wouldn't be. The X100s, OTOH, has a good but not exceptional LCD screen, BUT, it has what I consider to be the best viewfinder in the world, in any camera of any type, ever! If you can't tell, I'm rather fond of Fuji's hybrid viewfinder. Its got both an electronic viewfinder, with all of the information you'd expect an electronic viewfinder to have, plus an optical viewfinder with an information overlay that gives you all of your vital shooting information. If you're not familiar with the hybrid viewfinder, you owe it to yourself to GET familiar with it. If you are, no need for me to run through its amazing wonderfulness yet again! One note, the EVF in the X100s, which much improved over the X100 version in terms of resolution, is still pretty laggy in comparison with other EVFs when moving the camera, panning, etc. Not a huge problem since you've got a brilliant OVF living in the same viewfinder assembly, but something to be aware of if you'd use the EVF a lot. Also, the OVF, like any other off-set OVF has to deal with parallax issues. It deals with them very well, IMHO, but the shooter needs to understand what parallax is, how it works, and the information the OVF is giving you to help you deal with it. The parallax inherent to this type of OVF has scared more DSLR shooters away from Fuji cameras than probably any other single feature/issue, based on the huge number of internet posts I've seen on the subject. It shouldn't, but its incumbent on the user to know what he or she is getting into with this. I LOVE this OVF - its my favorite feature on the Fuji cameras and nothing is a close second (maybe the jpegs). But evidently, and to my shock and surprise, it seems to NOT be for everyone! Overall I have to give a big advantage to the X100s for the built-in hybrid viewfinder - EVERY camera should have one!
NYC RX1-13-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
NYC X100s-31 by ramboorider1, on Flickr
Auto Focus - Auto focus is likely to be an issue of some contention. I don't find AF speed all that critical in this 35mm (or wider) focal length, and I don't see a lot of difference between the two cameras here. Much has been written about how slow the RX1 is and how much faster the X100s is than any previous Fuji, but I'm just simply not feeling it. I guess I have a threshold of fast "enough" and if a camera meets it, I don't really notice the AF speed much beyond that. Speed tests seem to show that the X100s AF (with its new PDAF chip) is faster than the RX1. I don't doubt it, but I don't feel it much in actual use either. In the brightest possible light, I can detect an advantage for the X100s, but the RX1 is plenty fast. In less light, I honestly can't find a difference. The Olympus OMD with a moderns lens FEELS fast! The X100s doesn't feel all that fast (no faster than the 18mm lens on the X-Pro) except in very bright light and the RX1 doesn't feel much slower. So either I'm horribly insensitive to these differences, or they're not that great to begin with. In low light, I like a camera to lock on reliably without a lot of hunting and both of these will do that, but you have to remember a couple of things. With the X100s, you get the best low light AF by switching the camera from single shot AF (AF-S) to continuous AF (AF-C). With the RX1, you have to remember to keep the aperture pretty wide open in low light - most cameras today do this automatically but the RX1 focusses at whatever aperture you've set the camera to, up to f8, so if you're trying to focus at something smaller than, say, f5 in low light (buy why?), you may get quite the hunting expedition. Maybe a slight edge to the X100s, but VERY slight in my perception...
NYC RX1-233-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
NYC X100s-61-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
Manual Focus - In terms of manual focus, I'd have to say the RX1 has an advantage for critical focus tasks and the X100s has an advantage for zone focus tasks, but neither by huge margins - both work well enough in both contexts. For critical focus, the X100s gives you more ways to skin the cat and the integration with the two viewfinders is wonderful. With the X100s you can use either focus peaking or a split-image view sort of similar to the way old SLR cameras helped you find manual focus. Both work well enough and both integrate well with either the EVF or rear LCD. The REALLY cool feature is a thing called "focus check" which works in the OVF. When you're in manual focus and looking through the OVF, when you start to turn the focus ring, the view switches to the EVF temporarily and shows you either the split-image view or the focus peaking view, whichever you'd selected as your focus aid - you nail focus and then a half press of the shutter takes you back to the OVF view. This is just waaaay cool for the gadget geek in anyone and it works great in real time too. In contrast, the RX1 only offers focus peaking as a manual focus aid, so it would seem to be the lesser camera in this regard. BUT BUT BUT BUT for one minor detail - the focus peaking in the RX1 is just BETTER than either the focus peaking or the split-image option in the X100s. Sony more or less invented focus peaking and they have it nailed. You can choose from three colors and choose three different intensity levels. If you choose red for most things and I guess switch to white or yellow if you're shooting heavily red scenes, it is VERY easy to see when you've achieved critical focus. That's the key difference - the RX1 focus peaking makes critical focus very easy to see. Neither the more limited X100s focus peaking (white is the only option and often difficult to see) or split image method work as well as the RX1 peaking. Bottom line - more effective trumps more options here so an edge to the RX1. In terms of zone focus, the edge goes to the X100s for a couple of reasons. The distance scale is more precise, always shows in MF mode, and the focus distance is remembered when you turn the camera off and back on again. Downsides are the focus ring throw is much more sensitive than on the old X100, but sometimes to a fault where its mildly difficult to stop on a target distance without overshooting it and fine tuning can be a little tricky. And there is a DOF scale, but IMHO, you're better off ignoring it because its very very conservative and unless you are too, its better to ignore it and figure out your own focus settings using a DOF table of some sort. The RX1 works here, but the focus scale is much more limited, not as precise, only shows up while you're actually turning the focus ring, so you might not notice if you've accidentally changed your focus distance, and the distance reverts to infinity when you turn the camera off and back on again. Both are usable - I've taken many in-focus street shots with both, but the X100s is clearly better set up for zone focusing.
NYC RX1-105-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
NYC X100s-93 by ramboorider1, on Flickr
Intangibles - Another "category" to discuss might be intangibles, or the "flow" of a camera. How does it feel in use? How much FUN is it to shoot with? And I've gotta say, in this regard, both of these cameras are off the charts. I can't say there's a winner at all. They're different, they feel different and work a little differently. I like some options more on the RX1 (auto-ISO for example, and the number of customizable buttons) and other things more about the X100s (the OVF, the OVF, the OVF!, and the film modes), but both of them are simply wonderful. Trying them both will honestly make any decision you might be trying to make more difficult because you'll probably love both of them, but in different ways - how to choose between such great options? I can't help you here - I'm just telling you they're both wonderful cameras to actually USE.
RX1 vs X100s-48-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
X100 vs RX1-52-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
Expense - I mentioned cost above when talking about the RX1's EVF and I gotta say, cost is a big issue here, one that I can elaborate on, but can never solve for anyone but myself. The "is it WORTH it" question is something that each person can only answer for themselves. The RX1 is just expensive everywhere you turn. The camera itself is expensive at $2800 and all of the accessories are very expensive. The EVF is north of $400, the OVF is over $600. An add-on thumb grip (which can't be used with either viewfinder) is about $250. The Sony branded lens hood is close to $200 I believe. The camera doesn't even come with a battery charger! A camera of this price with no charger!?!?!? But you can buy a third party battery and chargers for very little. And you can get a knockoff lens hood thats indistinguishable from the original for about $50 and that will likely be $30 soon enough... But if you want an RX1 with one of the viewfinders, a charger, and an extra battery or two, you're looking at spending at least about $3300. A similarly outfitted X100s, OTOH, will cost you the list price of $1299 plus a few bucks for a spare battery or two. Not a small difference. Big BIG difference. Compared to the just-mentioned Leica M, the RX1 is a great bargain, maybe the deal of the century. Compared to the X100s or any other small fixed lens camera, the RX1 is just plain a whole stinkin' lot of money. It buys you a camera that I will state unequivocally is better and more capable in a number of ways. But that does not have some features the less expensive Fuji has that may matter a lot to some buyers - have I mentioned the hybrid viewfinder enough yet?
NYC RX1-119-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
NYC X100s-33-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr
So, that's as far as my advice can go. If you can afford the X100s and cannot afford or rationalize spending the money on the RX1, there's no decision between the two. If you've got the money and you're willing to spend it on the subtly beautiful way the Zeiss lens renders and the Sony sensor picks up that light, and if you don't care much about the Fuji's awesome hybrid viewfinder, then maybe the RX1 is a better choice for you. But the RX1 probably won't be a no-brainer, it will be a decision that you might make if you want one camera on your shelf that, at least by today's standards, is a no compromise IQ machine and you're willing to pay the big bucks for it. If you want one of these two cameras but can only afford the X100s, you will only buy the X100s. If you can afford the RX1, you MIGHT buy the RX1 but you might just as easily decide that the X100s gives you enough of what the RX1 does, maybe even more in some specific ways, in a package and at a price you prefer.
But the RX1 simply won't be an option for as many people as the X100s. So at that point, the X100s isn't competing against the RX1, but rather against a number of other mirrorless cameras with APS or smaller chips, and more in its price range. I noted on the Xspot forum the irony that the X100s is a better camera in arguably every way than the X100 but that its far less overwhelming upon its release today than the X100 was two years ago. And that's because when the X100 was released, there was really nothing like it. Nex was in its infancy, m43 was developing great lenses but was limited by an old sensor, Fuji hadn't developed its interchangeable lens system yet, and neither Nikon nor Canon had entered the mirrorless market at all. Today, m43 and Nex have come into their own with great cameras and lenses, Fuji's own X-Pro and X-E1 are as competent as the X100s in most regards and far more versatile, Nikon is working its way into the mirrorless market (the "1" series smaller sensor cameras didn't do well among enthusiasts but the new Coolpix A fixed lens 28mm looks like a very solid contender), Ricoh's rumored APS fixed 28mm lens compact is likely a strong entry, and Canon has stuck a very tentative toe into the water. Things have changed and as good as the X100s is, it faces far more competition today than the X100 did two years ago. So, the X100s is a great camera among great cameras where the X100 was a brilliant but flawed camera all on its own two years ago.
And like the X100 two years ago, the RX1 emerges into today's market and there's really nothing else like it - it may be a small market niche, but for now the RX1 has it to itself. If you want a small camera with a full frame sensor and a premium lens and you can't afford a Leica M, the RX1 is your only choice. In two years, its successor, like the X100s today, will likely face much stiffer competition than it does currently. It will be interesting to see what things look like at that point.
Last edited by Ray Sachs; April 14th, 2013 at 11:36 AM.
The following 2 members thank Ray Sachs for this post:
April 14th, 2013, 10:18 AM
"Everywhere you look there are photographs, it is up to us photogs to see them."- Gary Ayala
My Snaps are Here: Unsharp At Any Speed
April 14th, 2013, 11:06 AM
Nice write-up and some great test shots. I mean really great test shots.
April 14th, 2013, 11:17 AM
Very nice review, especially since you really have two very different cameras.
Ray, the fountain images have very different color, particularly for the neon (?) lights in the building. Are the lights different colors as the RX-1 seems to render? Will changing the Fuji WB to match, are the colors separated? Or are those lights changing color?
And a small comment:
As far as expense, if you want the Sony accessories, the RX-1 is $3,300. But a Voightlander viewfinder and battery charger and extra battery makes it about $3,070. When you throw in the B&H 2% cash back and the Sony Card reward points plus the $50 sign up bonus, that brings the price down to $2,880. I have a $5 lens hood which I think is much better than the Sony version--it is simply a 49mm to 37mm step down ring which has a very low profile. It is still an expensive camera, but you don't need to put the most expensive accessories on it.
Last edited by Hikari; April 14th, 2013 at 11:55 AM.
April 14th, 2013, 11:19 AM
stunning write up. thank you!
April 14th, 2013, 11:40 AM
I can't wait for others to get in on the small fixed ff thing. I'm not much of a fan of Sony menus and general look and feel of camera. Oly or fuji need to cave in and make a ff!
I need retro ness! Lol
I love my rx1 files tho. That lens just POPs!
April 14th, 2013, 11:57 AM
The fountain shots I'm really not sure what's going on. I've lived within blocks of this fountain for over 20 years now and I've never noticed that the lights changed colors and I don't recall it from shooting that evening either, but I can't explain the difference in the way the colors are represented. I remember it the way it shows up in the Sony shot. I can believe the Fuji might have some problems with the purples or something but its showing all reds in a situation where I remember and the Sony is showing a combination of red, purple, and blue. So I'm hoping maybe the lights are on a circuit that changes them and I've just never noticed. I'll try to pay attention the next time I pass by there after dark. And its not a jpeg issue - this one was a raw exposure...
Originally Posted by Hikari
I agree that you can buy less stuff for the Sony. For me, a totally dumb OVF with no information isn't of much use, so I'd go for the EVF unless I was gonna go without a viewfinder. I actually have a cheap little Olympus OVF from the EP1 that I think I paid about $40 for, so if I was gonna go that way, I'd probably go even cheaper than the Voitlander - although I'm sure the framelines are 4:3... When I was first using it, I just used two busted out filter rings (no glass inside) as an ultra-cheap lens hood, but I've since bought the JJC knock-off for $50 and I'm sure I'll start seeing it for less soon. But I like having a bayonet mount for quick and easy removal - not that I ever remove it! I'm sure there are folks who will buy every expensive Sony accessory they can fine and others who will buy the cheapest third party stuff available. But anyway you cut it, the RX1 is an expensive piece of gear!
April 14th, 2013, 11:59 AM
April 14th, 2013, 12:06 PM
Even with the unique X-Trans filter array, I can't get that it would get red from blue, but I really don't know--is it because a single channel hits saturation?? I don't think it is a RAW/jpeg thing as a jpeg is just a converted RAW in camera. The more I think about it, the more it must be the lights. The colors in the comparison just stood out.
Originally Posted by Ray Sachs
April 14th, 2013, 12:37 PM
Good comparison Ray, you've spelled out the differences admirably. Stunning shots too and either camera could make someone happy for life. Somewhat surprising that the RX-1 on it's first attempt has produced such a well rounded camera. I wonder which manufacturer is going to rise to the challenge and offer up another FF compact..
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