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Sony Cyber-Shot RX1 Review

Sony Cyber-Shot RX1 Review.jpg

When reviewing this camera’s direct predecessor, the RX100, I remarked that Sony’s claim it was “The best pocket camera ever made” was a bit steep. Part of my scepticism was the company’s claim that its sensor was considerably larger than the rest of the crowd …. In reality, the CMOS’ diagonal figure measured only 15.8mm, packed to the brim with 20.2 million effective pixels.

But, with the RX1, we really start to talk real figures.

Sure, the asking price tops out at around $3000.

But, check the specs!

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Sony Cyber-Shot RX1 Features

The CMOS sensor is within a bat’s whisker of a 35mm full frame, so the fixed f2/35mm Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens delivers a full frame image.

Justifiable claim: “world’s first compact camera with 35mm full-frame 24.3 effective megapixel sensor.

In size, it is close to many other high end compacts, such as Panasonic’s LX7, Nikon 1 V2, Fujifilm X-Pro1 and others.

With the RX1 we enter Cartier-Bresson territory as he patrolled the streets of Paris with a Leica and a 50mm lens. He covered the chrome camera in black tape or even a handkerchief to conceal it. With the RX1 you don’t need to disguise it, as it’s already finished in black!
So it’s a certain type of camera for certain types of photography.

Not sports! However, fast action can be captured successfully with the 5fps continuous shooting speed. Just keep the subject close!
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Perfect for people pictures. Works exceedingly well for shooting panoramics, thanks to Sony’s excellent Sweep Panorama feature. Scenics? Yes.

Fisherman's beach winch.JPG

Macro subjects? Yes but 35mm is far from ideal as a macro focal length, especially as the camera-to-subject distance needs to be just 20cm from image plane.
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However I quite liked the arrangement with the lens front ring: rollable from 0.2m to 0.35m macro to general purpose 0.3m to infinity.

The maximum image is 6000×4000 pixels which can be printed out to 51x34cm at 300 dpi resolution.

Video? Yes. Full HD 1920x1080m AVCHD can be recorded. While the AF tracks sell while on the move you cannot shoot stills mid-video recording.

The ISO range runs from 50 to 25,600 (using the expanded mode).


Straight out of the box the RX1 is a handsome beast, with external controls clearly id’d with largish white text, easy to see even in dim light.

The camera seems surprisingly heavy in the hand, but well-balanced. Pocketable, just about. But I could have wished for a larger speed grip.

After fooling around with an HTML file of the instructions, I eventually sourced a PDF file of the manual.

The tiny 74 page booklet, enclosed with the camera is intended to serve as ‘the manual’ … but with minuscule type, tiny illustrations, cramped pages … hopeless!
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Front of camera and to the left is a three position button that takes you from auto to manual focus plus another setting that allows you to drive auto and manual focus at the same time … you use auto to begin with, then fine tune with manual. These options are selectable with a tiny knurled wheel that’s a devil to rotate!

Top deck: the eleven position mode dial has most of what’s needed to drive the camera: auto exposure; PASM; Scene Modes (portrait, sports etc … seven in all); three preset memory settings; movie shooting; sweep panorama. And a C (Custom) button: to this you assign custom functions such as ISO, white balance etc.

The power lever and shutter button is right next door. Farther right is the three f stop up/down exposure compensation dial.
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Back: menu and Fn buttons; the movie record button, which is impossibly located on the extreme right corner of the camera body; control wheel; display and trash buttons; flash button. Plus the AEL button: in aperture or manual settings you hold this button down and manually adjust the aperture on the lens itself. Neat.

Sony Cyber-Shot RX1 ISO Tests

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Cameras such as this are not ideal for ISO test shooting due to their inability to stand back with a long focal length. However…

At ISO 3200 noise begins to appear. By ISO 6400 sharpness is still OK, noise not objectionable. At ISO 12800 noise is up but sharpness is still acceptable. As you would expect, ISO 25600 delivers more noise, less sharpness but still useable.

(insert Bowling 1 ISO 800, Bowling 1 ISO 25600)
Bowling 1 ISO 800.JPG

Bowling 2 ISO 25600.JPG

Check out my bowling alley shots.

Startup Times

From startup to first shot took about two seconds; further shots came in as fast as I could hit the button.


Very slight barrel distortion with the 35mm lens. Strange, in such a highly corrected optic.

Sony Cyber-Shot RX1 Review Verdict

Quality: excellent, sharp, accurate colour capture.

Why you’d buy the RX1: full list of features; nice lens; easy to use.

Why you wouldn’t: heavy price; could be confusing for the novice; with such a high-specced camera I did feel the LCD screen was far too small (and not a vari-angle either!); video quality not as good as I expected.

Some will find the RX1 perfect for their needs. Others will find it limiting. It’s really a case of horses for courses. Welcome to a finely engineered, specialist camera!

If the badge said ‘Leica’ there would be not a murmur at the high price ticket! But with the Sony monicker there will, I’m sure, be some buyer resistance. Top lens though!

To use a camera with a fixed 35mm lens takes some discipline. As I said, a very precise horse for a very defined course!

Sony Cyber-Shot RX1 Specifications

Image Sensor: 24.3 million effective pixels.
Metering: Multi segment, centre-weighted, spot.
Lens: Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* f2.0/35mm.
A/D processing: 14-bit.
Exposure Modes: Program AE, shutter and aperture priority, manual.
Effective Sensor Size: 35.8×23.9mm Exmoor CMOS.
Shutter Speed (stills): 30 to 1/4000 second and Bulb.
Continuous Shooting: 2.5/5 fps.
Memory: SD/SDHC/SDXC, Memory Stick Pro Duo cards.
Image Sizes (pixels): Stills: 6000×4000 to 2640×1488.
Movies: 1920×1080 (AVCHD), 1440×1080 (MPEG4), check!!!.
Viewfinder: 7.5cm LCD screen (1,229,000 pixels).
File Formats: JPEG, RAW (Sony ARW 2.3), JPEG+RAW, MPEG4, AVCHD.
Colour Space: sRGB, Adobe RGB.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 25600.
Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI mini, Eye-Fi.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, DC input.
Dimensions: 113x65x70 WHDmm.
Weight: 482 g (inc battery).
Price: Get a price on the Sony Cyber-Shot RX1 at Amazon.

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Barrie Smith
Barrie Smith

is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

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