When I first saw the Sony RX1, the price and the lack of viewfinder made me think I would never buy one. I purchased a Nikon D600 instead. It has the same awesome 24mp Full Frame sensor and is much more versatile with the ability to change lenses. It’s huge in comparison though. I still had my Fuji X100 for when I wanted to travel light. The problem was with the D600’s superior image quality it made me not want to use my x100 anymore! I needed to get the Sony RX1 as my small and light go everywhere cam. Below are some of my observations and some comparison photos. Also here is an album of more of my RX1 shots: http://www.portraitsf.com/blog/sony-rx1-photo-samples/
First I just wanted to post a quick snap from my 2nd day with the RX1 at my work’s Christmas party. This is my friend Sylvia @ F2 ISO3200 1/60 with the flash turned down pretty low (overall exposure increased 1/3 stop in Lightroom, that being the only change when processing the RAW to a JPG). She’s looking a bit orange here but with the flash turned down low I think it’s pretty accurate color because of the surrounding warm lights.
One thing I hate about using the flash on the Sony RX1 is that it doesn’t automatically work as fill flash by keeping the Iso high in low light environments like the Fuji X100 does. It actually seems to force ISO100 with auto ISO enabled! The ambient light would be pretty close to non existent. I like Fuji’s implementation much better. It keeps the ISO high and you get a much more natural and balanced looking low light shot (such as above but with no fuss). To overcome this you can turn auto ISO off and set it yourself to something around ISO1600-6400 or I just keep one of the 3 user modes on the dial set up for low light flash shooting (ISO 3200, f2, 1/60, AF light on, Flash -1.3ev). That works too.
AF & MF Performance
The AF/MF performance is definitely a bit faster than the x100. I also love that it will focus down much closer without needing to go into macro mode. The X100 would sometime need to be placed into macro mode even if you were a few feet from something. If the RX1 misses focus in low light (which both of these cameras will do at times, just a nature of the contrast detect auto focus beast) overriding what the camera chooses is so much easier with the Sony. I keep mine in DMF mode which allows a quick manual focus override. If you keep the shutter halfway depressed and turn the manual focus ring (which is smooth and well dampened by the way) the camera will zoom in 5.9x & you can even go to 11.7x by clicking the center button on the back. It doesn’t take a million turns to manual focus like the X100 & Sony has the wonderful focus peeking which outlines the sharpest bits with a bight color as well. The new Fuji X100s will have something like this, along with many other upgrades as well (better sensor, on-chip phase detection AF, strap lugs that are harder so hopefully they don’t self destruct anymore, closer focusing without going into macro (21cm instead of 40m), etc. etc. The lens is the same so these tests are still realivant if you are considering the Fuji x100 or X100s instead of the Sony RX1. Or are simply planning on upgrading like I did.
The Sony is built like a little tank! Fit and finish is top notch. Buttons and the rear control dial are much better than on the X100. Not just how they feel but I like how the letters and symbols are etched in and filled with paint on the Sony. The Fuji has smooth buttons and text is just screen printed on which makes it a lot easier to wear off (I know from personal experience). Overall the RX1 is better, the X100 is not bad though especially compared to a plasticy consumer DSLR that is for sure!
The RX1’s Carl Zeiss 35mm F2 lens is about as close to perfection as I can imagine. Extremly sharp wide open. It gets better stopping down, but not much. Very smooth, “buttery” bokeh. The X100 is a bit more coarse with bright outlines of the out of focus highlights. Also maybe you have heard the term “Zeiss 3D pop” before? Reading through quite a few peoples opinions and comments on that I would summarize it as being a fast transition from in focus to out of focus bits. What is in focus has higher contrast than what is out of focus. There are many takes on this phenomenon but the Zeiss lens on this camera has turned me into a “Zeiss 3D pop” believer. The only bad thing is the “Onion Bokeh” in out of focus highlights at times – the highlights have a circular texture in them. The overall smoother look to the background more than makes up for it though.
The Aperture ring has 1/3 stops which is handy. It takes a bit less effort to change the aperture on the RX1 than the X100. The Focus rings both feel smooth but the biggest improvement on the RX1 is it doesn’t take as many turns of the ring to go from one end to the other (near to far or vice versa). It really feels more like a true mechanical lens for manual focusing versus the very poor focus by wire system on the X100. The macro function on the RX1 is being on the lens as well as the focus and aperture rings makes the lens feel a little cramped at times. Once my finger muscle memory gets more used to the camera I think it will be a little easier to know where and where not to put my fingers.
One last word on the lens. Sony’s 35mm is wider than Fuji’s 35mm equivalent (23mm x 1.5 crop). I noticed that when doing some comparison photos. The Sony was always capturing a slightly wider view. I actually don’t mind this at all. It’s not a huge difference plus with the RX1’s increased pixels you can crop pretty much to your hearts content.
BOKEH! Quick test with focus on the “A”
Bokeh and close focus detail at F2 & F2.8
Image Quality & High Iso Performance
24mp on a full frame sensor is tasty. More resolution, better high ISO performance & shallower depth of field vs the X100’s 12mp APS-C sized sensor. Better Dynamic Range & Color depth are also part of the benefits. Image Quality improvements don’t just come down to photo quality but video quality as well. The RX1 is a huge step up movie making wise with manual controls, 1080P capture vs 720p, plus it records up to 60fps to boot! Another trick up Sony’s sleeve is the stabilized video function. Since the camera has no built in optical stabilization the video image is cropped in slightly and the camera’s gyroscope can tell the camera where to move the cropped frame within the full frame to compensate for shake. This is what the iPhone 4S & newer iPhones do as well. DPReview’s comparison tool will give you a good look at resolution and high iso performance comparisons here. In low light I’d say the RX1 gives about a 2 stops better low light performance. Less noise and better color information is retained. More megapixels lead to clearer files when you down sample.
Here is a shot at RX1 ISO 12,800 f2 1/50 sec. This image as all others below are converted from RAW using Adobe Lightroom but with no settings adjusted. Just a default conversion to JPG. Colors are still really great even at high ISO.
Detail. There might be a tiny bit of blur due to the slowish shutter speed with a subject that just paused for a second, not for me to take a photo either. I just happened to snap the shot.
Self Portrait comparison at F2. ISO160 on Sony and 200 on the Fuji. Both at 1/80th. Notice the wider view of the Sony. The white balance was much better too, I adjusted them both, the Sony a tiny bit and had trouble getting the Fuji to really look correct.
Is the Sony Rx1 worth it? It’s tough to say for sure. I really love the Carl Zeiss lens on the Sony. Plus the 24mp full frame sensor is amazing. What you are getting probably is worth the extra cost. It is a BIG extra cost compared to a X100 though. I seems like the X100s is going to perform faster than the RX1 but it’s still not going to be able to match the RX1’s image quality. The fact that it’s significantly cheaper, has a built in viewfinder, and looks like it is going to focus faster may lead me to replace the RX1 with a X100s. I know I would miss the shallow depth of field and beautiful rendering of the Carl Zeiss lens though. It’s a really tough decision. I say if you have the money to burn get a Sony RX1 <- from Amazon, who has a awesome return policy and you can check it out yourself and decide if it’s really worth it to you. If your camera budget it more limited it’s an easy decision. I’d go for the X100s in a heartbeat. Not the older X100 though, the X100s has way to many upgrades to look past. To memorialize my X100 I posted some of my favorite photos I have taken with it: http://www.portraitsf.com/blog/fuji-x100-1-5yrs-worth-of-photos-well-some-of-them/