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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 - first impressions and low light shots

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by Ray Sachs, Mar 15, 2013.

  1. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    The UPS guy brought me a nice big box from B&H yesterday morning (if it had been the usual late afternoon delivery, this would have probably taken until tomorrow) containing a review copy of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, its attachable EVF, and a spare battery. I have this little jewel for about a month and was excited to check it out after all I've read, so I borrowed the already charged battery from my wife's RX100 and got busy figuring this camera out. Which brings up my one and only major complaint - no battery charger! You have to charge the batteries in the camera, just like with the RX100 (and the XZ1 and XZ2 and probably every other new camera by next year). A $2800 diamond of a camera and you're gonna nickel and dime over a $30 battery charger?!?!?!? Are you frickin' KIDDING ME Sony??? But its pretty much all good after that... :cool:

    8558247571_3123b61ddf_b.
    West Chester Evening-44-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    Its a great feeling camera. By which I mean, the controls are just incredibly solid and well done. The mode dial clicks are pretty stiff, as they should be; the EV comp dial is JUST right - not too stiff to turn easily but just stiff enough not to turn accidentally. Its easy to turn off, but takes a slight finger reach to turn on, so you're less likely to accidentally turn it on or leave it on before putting it back in your bag (if you carry one - far from necessary with such a relatively small camera). The manual focus ring is perfectly damped - its a fully by-wire focus mechanism, but it takes just the right effort to turn and not too little to stop exactly where you want and fine tune. The aperture ring has a great feel with obvious clicks every third of a stop. Even the lens cap is a remarkably premium little piece of gear - all metal, easy to put on, easy to get off, but it will NOT accidentally come off. The EVF is pretty nice too, although it would be nice if it locked in place. I don't see it coming off unintentionally, but if you're carrying the camera in a bag, I suppose it could get knocked off putting it in and taking it out. Another minor complaint - the diopter control is just a very small slider with a short throw on the side of the EVF, a location too easy to accidentally move it. All of the pictures I've seen of the EVF make it look sort of obnoxiously large, but I think that's just because its shown with the large eye-cup attached, and that one is LARGE. For those of us with glasses, however, you're gonna want to replace it with the smaller eye piece and then the whole thing is much less imposing looking and barely extends beyond the rear plane of the camera. If you don't wear glasses and you like large eye-cups, well then its gonna look pretty out of place on this small camera. The camera is small enough that I wouldn't say its the most comfortable camera to hold - there's not a lot of grip or size to grab onto. I was initially sort of put off by this, but once I got down to using the camera, it wasn't an issue because the lens is involved enough in the shooting process that this is really a two handed camera most of the time anyway, with the left hand cradling and working the lens and the right hand just working the shutter button and exposure comp dial and other controls on the back of the camera. So the right hand doesn't really have to grip the camera all that well. The camera does have a fairly tacky (the good kind of tacky - easy to hold onto) piece of grip material on the front and a sort of useful thumb grip on the back, but its not like holding a Nex or a GH3 or something with a real protruding grip.

    After playing around with the camera in the house for a while, I came up with three basic control configurations I like and assigned them to the three custom memory locations on the mode dial. Because the usable ISO range is so insane on this camera (more on that later), all three of my setups use auto ISO. The auto ISO implementation is what so many people now seem to complain about when its NOT included in a camera. You can't assign a minimum shutter speed for aperture priority mode (it always defaults to 1/80 in any circumstance), but you can shoot in manual exposure mode and directly control the aperture and shutter speed and let the auto-ISO find the proper ISO for your combination - AND the exposure comp dial still works in this configuration which is a big deal and which doesn't happen on a lot of cameras yet. Without a useable exposure comp dial with manual mode and auto-ISO, you could never slightly over or under expose a shot without the auto-ISO unknowingly compensating to bring it back to zero. So, my three configurations include one basic aperture priority setup with a center AF area and nothing fancy (for general shooting), one that's the same but with area AF and face detection enabled for shooting people at close enough proximity for the camera to lock onto their faces, and a fully manual mode for street shooting, where I'd always want to be able to control both the shutter speed for motion and the aperture for adequate depth of field. I have the AE button set to toggle between auto and manual focus, which works well in the street shooting mode. There are five separate programmable buttons on the top and back of the camera. I put my most used controls on these, but once I set up my three different configurations with the settings I liked, there's not a whole lot of need to use them all. I have the button on the top set for ISO even though I anticipate mostly shooting with auto-ISO. I have bracketing on one, AF/MF toggle on another (as mentioned) and two of them that I haven't figured out what to do with yet. But its all very easy to set up.

    I would not see myself primarily using this camera for street shooting - I tend to prefer a wider field of view for that - but its gotta be capable of shooting with zone focus pretty easily for me to want to carry it around - I'm always gonna find some section of the day where the street opportunities are too good to pass up. While this camera has a few focus peaking options, they only work in magnified "AF Assist" view. I very very rarely use manual focus for critical focus tasks, so I have the AF assist turned off and just use the rudimentary little distance scale for setting up zone or "scale" focus. Its not the most detailed distance scale I've used, but its adequate - I just need SOMETHING to set the focus without trying to estimate the distance of an object. The manual focus setting isn't sticky, so when you switch to AF or turn off the camera, it won't remember your last manual focus distance. Fortunately, the 1-3 meter distances I'll generally be using in decent light with this camera are located very close to infinity on the scale, so its a simple matter of auto-focussing on a distant object, toggling over to manual focus, and then a very short throw of the lens ring and I'm good to for zone focus.

    One other thing to mention initially is that I've heard an awful lot about the slow, hunting auto-focus on this camera. I wonder if there was some hidden firmware update on some of the newer models that just hasn't been generally released yet. Because while many early buyers complained about the AF pretty loudly, several people who've gotten the camera more recently have reported no such problems and I surely didn't experience any. The AF is not a speed demon - its not OMD fast - but its very respectable, a little slower than the Fuji X-cameras with the 18mm lens, a little faster than with the 35mm lens. And in a very dark night of shooting, I only managed to get it to hunt ONCE, when I think I accidentally tried to focus on the dark sky. Its not blazingly fast, but it locks on surely and consistently - basically all of my AF shots were in focus - only motion blur kept a few from being sharp. So my initial impression of the AF on the RX1 is quite positive - the face recognition also seems to work very well when there's a whole face to ID - my wife had her mouth hidden under a turtleneck and it couldn't find her, but as soon as she pulled the collar back below her chin, it locked right on from various distances.

    So, after all of this playing around getting to know the camera, last night I went out after dinner for some low light shooting. I barely tried any zone focus shooting last night - with this large sensor and this relatively longish (for me) focal length, you need at least a modicum of light to maintain adequate DOF and decent shutter speeds for that and I didn't have it last night. My best low light zone focus setup is the X-Pro with the VERY wide 14mm lens and I'm not sure I had enough light for THAT most of last night. So I didn't even really try with the RX1. It should be fine in daylight, but for low light, I don't see this as much of an option.

    But the bottom line is that for everything I shot in AF last night, the camera delivered beyond any expectations I'd have had other than having seen so many impressive images from it already. We've all seen the shots from Lucille and Hikari and a couple of others who already have this camera. You know how much POP the images have. And I've seen a lot of fine low light work from the camera too - but I still wasn't quite prepared for just how good it is and how easy it is to get those results. After some indoor test shots in the afternoon, I quickly decided just to shoot raw - the jpegs had some weird NR patterns I wasn't crazy about at higher ISOs and I figured I'd rather work that out between lightroom and myself. I shot at all ISO's up to the max of 25,600 and I got really good results up through 12,800 and not too terrible results at the 25,600 max. A little quick cleaning up in lightroom is all these needed - I tend to add at least borders in Color Efex Pro but didn't do much of my usual heavy-handed processing there and I did the B&W conversions in Silver Efex Pro, but these images are mostly CLEAN, right out of the camera. I remember how astonished I was by my first low light shots with the X-Pro a little less than a year ago - I couldn't believe what I was seeing was possible. A few other cameras have pretty much risen to that level over the past year and the X-Pro is still great, but a guy could almost take it for granted after a year. Well, the RX1 certainly raises THAT bar again, at least for me. This kind of low light shooting is a whole new ballgame in my little stadium.

    So, without further ado - some low light shots. Short on artistic merit, but quite impressive technically I think, through no fault of my own. You can click through and see full size images, but is kind of silly to look full size at a 24mp image - just too damn many pixels and you can see the flaws at that scale, but even filling a full 27" Mac monitor, these images are kind of astonishing.

    This shot was under pitch black conditions - the camera found some blue in the western sky but it wasn't visible to the naked eye. I couldn't believe it could keep the illuminated sky this clean and still easily pull some color detail out of the brick facade of the building, which was BLACK in the initial exposure. This was only at ISO 800.

    West Chester Evening-87-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    Again, black sky to the human eye. This one is at 12,800 with very light NR applied - you can see plenty of noise in the shadows at 100%, but you'd never actually view this at 100%

    West Chester Evening-105-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    The barber shop photo at the beginning of this post was also shot at 12,800...

    The local branch of a regional brewpub - ISO 5000 doesn't even get this sensor's attention:

    West Chester Evening-136-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    When I first went out there WAS some actual color in the sky - this was taken at ISO 250:

    West Chester Evening-84-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    Another at ISO 5000:

    West Chester Evening-66-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    And the B&W conversions could be as clean or dirty as you want them - another at ISO 5000 (which it went to a lot in auto-ISO):

    West Chester Evening-126-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    The local branch of a huge and obnoxious (to my inner coffee snob) international chain. The interior lighting was weird on this one - it was only at ISO 2000 but this took a bit of work and I added a bit of grain to hide some of the weirdness.

    West Chester Evening-130-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    And one more blue night sky that looked black to me - the sliver moon was out last night - ISO 2500.

    West Chester Evening-124-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    And two obligatory narrow DOF shots from my house - because yeah, f2.0 on a full frame sensor is PRETTY narrow!

    RX1 first shots-39-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    8559763840_a8d679d541_b.
    RX1 first shots-6-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    I'll probably do another post or two as I spend more time with this camera over the next month or so, but my initial impressions are very positive. Its a fun and easy camera to shoot with. All of the controls are as nice as you'd ever want. The image quality is a new level for me - I haven't shot with full frame since my film days and this is NOTHING like any film I ever shot with! I'll probably make some significant camera purchases this year - I always seem to and I have a little bit more to play with this year. I didn't really think the RX1 would be in the running, but now I think its at least a possibility. I've got some time coming with the X100s and Coolpix A and I'm not sure what else yet. But if I do actually end up buying the RX1, I can assure you there will be only ONE significant camera purchase this year!

    -Ray
     
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  2. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    Thanks for the write-up Ray. I'd be mainly into this for the exploitive narrow DOF possibilities and the crazy IQ. My concern is handling and ergonomics. It looks like a slippery black brick with little to hold on to. Your discussion of the handling was helpful, but obviously the handling is a personal decision and I would need to some time to get to know it before I would know if it's right for me. It reminds me a bit of my beloved old gf1 which I thought was too small at first, but after a week felt just right.

    We'll all be looking forward to your experiences with the Coolpix (man, I hate typing that word) and the 100s as well. Have fun!
     
  3. ajramirez

    ajramirez SC All-Pro

    Jul 9, 2010
    Caguas, Puerto Rico
    Antonio
    Beautiful set of shots, Ray!
     
  4. pictogramax

    pictogramax SC Top Veteran

    978
    Aug 18, 2011
    Belgrade, Serbia
    Great, Ray, thanks for your experiences. The more I see, the more I like it. It will be interesting to hear your comparison with the upcoming X100S.
     
  5. serhan

    serhan SC All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    NYC
    Thanks for the quick review and the photos. Most probably AF slowness came from dslr users. Keep the photos and further impressions coming.
     
  6. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    If I end up buying this camera, the narrow DOF thing will be interesting for me. I've never been real focussed on that (no pun intended) with my other cameras that have done it pretty well. I have a few narrow DOF shots I like a lot, but its not where my eye naturally seems to go. But its one of the strongest reasons to consider this camera over some other similar APS cams like the X100s, so if I end up with one, its something I'd have to at least TRY to come to terms with. As for feel, yeah its personal. I really like the weight and solid feel of this camera, but if you want to hold it with one hand, I've had and still have others that feel more secure in one hand. But this lens feels so right I wouldn't see shooting much without having my left hand working something on it a fair amount of the time.

    -Ray
     
  7. Pelao

    Pelao SC All-Pro

    Jul 11, 2010
    Ontario, Canada
    Stephen
    A useful write up. It's not a camera that interests me, but it's certainly impressive.
    Enjoy your time with it.
     
  8. Gary

    Gary SC All-Pro

    Aug 19, 2012
    Southern California
    Gary Ayala
    Thanks Ray. I am not one that easily picks up a new system, but this camera has my eye.

    Gary
     
  9. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    It didn't interest me either. I hope I lose interest because I'm either gonna lose interest or PAY interest!

    I suggest not picking it up then - the interest will go farther than your eye. I guess I'm either lucky or unlucky in that I seem to pick new gear up pretty quickly. I doubt I ever fully master any of it, but I like playing with new gadgets and figuring out how they work and seeing how easy the files are to work with. Before I ever shot anything more interesting than my dog yesterday, I'd worked through all of the key settings on this camera and had it configured just how I wanted it. If I keep it long term, I doubt I'd do much more than tweak the settings. You've done a lot of full frame DSLR shooting, so you probably wouldn't be as blown away as I am by this, but its a a pretty noticeable step up from anything I've been using - even the X-Pro which was an even bigger step up from anything I'd used before THAT.

    I like it - that much I know. How MUCH I like it remains to be seen.

    -Ray
     
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  10. Hikari

    Hikari SC Veteran

    292
    Jan 5, 2013
    Maine, USA
    I am not an addict--I can stop anytime I want to. I just don't want to...

    Be careful Ray, that camera you were constantly stating you had no interest in is really very addictive. You can get drunk on any kind of wine, but the good stuff make it just that more enjoyable. Like you said, not a perfect camera, but I can live very well with such imperfection. And how that lens works at f/2 is pretty amazing, and I don't mean just the DoF. It is just sharp.
     
  11. Pelao

    Pelao SC All-Pro

    Jul 11, 2010
    Ontario, Canada
    Stephen
    LOL

    Well, that is part of the problem. It's certainly pricey for me, mainly because I'm happy with what I have and have decided to spend more on going places to make photographs.

    In reality though, I just would not get the value from the camera. I would get much more value from an interchangeable lens system. That's certainly no reflection on the camera.

    As far as the actual camera goes, I don't think I would dislike much about it. The lack of a built-in VF is a real negative for me. It's my preferred way of shooting. I dislike add-ons, and prefer optical.

    The IQ is certainly coming across from everyone as very good. I have to wonder though why some people would need it. Many people never print, and certainly not large prints. So all that goodness seems a bit lost.

    All of which is highly personal (as it should be), and in no way means I am negative about the camera.
     
  12. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I think the reason I honestly had no interest in it was because I was under the mistaken impression that there was nothing like a distance scale in the camera, which was a fatal (for me) flaw with the RX100. I raised that point once in the Sony forum on DPR and a kind gent posted a photo of the distance scale that pops up when you turn the manual focus ring in any version of the manual focus mode. I don't need a GREAT distance scale and, as noted, street shooting would be a secondary part of how I'd use this camera regardless. But not having any easy way to set up for zone focus would be a deal breaker for me. And was until I found out I was wrong about the underlying fact. At which point all of the really fine images I'd seen from this camera started working on me and I figured I had to give it a try, with all of the risks that might entail...

    -Ray
     
  13. Hikari

    Hikari SC Veteran

    292
    Jan 5, 2013
    Maine, USA
    Whatever you say... ;)

    No, I understand--just a little gentle ribbing on my part. I think the obvious limitations of the camera and its price would make anyone pause. Enjoy, for ever how long that is.
     
  14. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    NEED? To paraphrase Tina Turner, 'What's NEED got to do with it'? :cool: I don't NEED anything beyond my LX7 and I don't really even need that in any existential sense...

    I actually do print some, but not terribly large, usually a max of about 12x18" in the interest of very limited wall space. And at those print sizes, I find prints far more forgiving than a good 27" monitor filled with an image. THAT's where I mostly see the differences - not at 100% where they're pretty readily apparent (although ironically this camera does slightly worse at 100% because of the huge pixel count), but at about a 27" screen shot where the ink doesn't have a chance to run together and smooth everything out. And I do spend a bit of time viewing images as large as they'll go and fit on the monitor.

    So, in that sense, it matters, but only to the extent that it matters. And it really doesn't matter at all!

    -Ray
     
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  15. Hikari

    Hikari SC Veteran

    292
    Jan 5, 2013
    Maine, USA
    BTW, as far as accessories, there are others than what Sony offers. I use a 49mm to 37mm step-down ring for a lens hood ($5). It has a low profile and works well. I have a cheap 37mm lens cap for it ($3). I am also very happy with the Voightlander 28mm optical viewfinder on the RX-1 ($210 not including the $55 rebate I got from buying the RX-1 at B&H). The frame lines are a pretty good match for the 35mm lens.

    +1 on the charger. I bought the charger set that included an extra battery when getting my RX-1.
     
  16. Pelao

    Pelao SC All-Pro

    Jul 11, 2010
    Ontario, Canada
    Stephen
    Very fair. I also was not referring to your specific preferences. You are always very clear about those.

    For me I do need certain things from a camera in order to achieve my photographic goals. I'm clear about those goals, and I suppose that helps explain why I don't buy many cameras, or change systems often. Although at work I use a range of cameras.

    I suppose need is the wrong term for most. Perhaps it would be better expressed in terms of benefit. I am not convinced that many of the users of some of these powerful cameras receive any benefit from them. Which doesn't really matter, it's just an observation. And it's good for me; it means manufacturers will sell a large volume and so the investment pays off, and also that the second hand market is good when buyers are frustrated that cameras reviewd as awesome don't make them good photographers. :rolleyes:

    I see a big difference in both character and overall quality on both screen and paper. In general though, I find a well printed photograph much more demanding in delivering a good experience than even the best calibrated monitor.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  17. Hikari

    Hikari SC Veteran

    292
    Jan 5, 2013
    Maine, USA
    Stephen, I am kind of a data guy. Who are these "users." Sony is aiming for professionals. Don't professionals "need" good equipment? I am sure advanced amateurs are buying these cameras too. Don't they "need" the quality? I am user. Do I need it?

    The arguments against getting better stuff because the not so good stuff will be sufficient is really a false dichotomy. You are always argue up or down the scale from medium-format digital to cell phones. Either end can be "enough." So it really is not a "logical" position, but a subjective one. And that simply comes down to buying the camera that simply makes you happy.
     
  18. Pelao

    Pelao SC All-Pro

    Jul 11, 2010
    Ontario, Canada
    Stephen
    I wasn't arguing against getting better gear at all. That wasn't anywhere in my postings. I'm just musing, and amused, at some of what I observe. Of course if the camera helps you achieve what you need to do, then why wouldn't you get it?

    And if you buy it for other reasons, then that's good too. Sometimes it just amuses me. I know people who buy DSLRs and never take them off auto. You may have observed this too. Again, it's all good, though I do feel for some who are not interested enough in photography to learn the camera and become frustrated. I have a friend who doesn't shoot much at all, and really isn't too interested in photography. But he likes nice things, and is of an entirely digital generation so bought an M9 and loves toying with it. Good for him. It just amuses me, and I have fun teasing him.

    All of which is just me musing, nothing to do directly with Ray's review.

    Just because Sony is aiming at an audience doesn't mean at all that this is only who will buy it. I just find it interesting.
     
  19. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    That's pretty much the point I was trying to make in my Tina Turner post. If I was buying a camera based on any actual need, I can't imagine "needing" anything more than my LX7, and even that's a couple of steps beyond pure need. So really all of this stuff is about enjoyment, not being a professional and it comes down to a combination of that which you can afford and that which "simply makes you happy". Not that any camera can make anyone happy, but the hobby in general can contribute significantly toward happiness.

    -Ray
     
  20. Gary

    Gary SC All-Pro

    Aug 19, 2012
    Southern California
    Gary Ayala
    I agree with that ... but I think most of the people you make reference don't think of themselves as photographers and do not participate in forums, (at least the ones I'm on). I see all the dSLR owners with kit lenses that never come off their cameras and I'm thinking, man, they're paying a lot of money for an option they'll never use. Conversely, my reluctance for both the X100s and RX1 is the lack of lens interchangeability, an option which I would use. I'm not scared of a fixed focal length lens, I know I would appreciate the challenge, but I am just so fond of the images one gets with a long and fast lens.

    Gary