Sony RX1 review: first impressions

I have to admit, I am not a big fan of Sony cameras. I understand that the NEX-7 and RX100 are top performers in their categories, but for some reason they never "clicked" for me. My mirrorless/compact solution of choice for the past two years has been from Fuji (X100 first, then X-Pro1). I also rarely see a new camera that impresses me right from the announcement, since most of the companies recently just copy what the competition is doing (I guess Fuji and Leica are exceptions here). Since Sony is the new kid on the block, they have to play aggressive and they have delivered several innovations in the past few years, but they still had to convince me that they have something for me. I have been lusting for a compact full frame camera for a while - maybe since Leica released the M9 over three years ago. When the first RX1 rumors started floating around, I was immediately intrigued. Few days ago I received my RX1 and here are my first impressions and few sample images. Since there is still no RAW support for the RX1 (with the exception of the RAW converter provided by Sony, which I have not tried yet), all images in this post are taken directly from the camera (standard JPG mode; no post-processing; NR, lens distortion, shading and chromatic aberration all set to ON/AUTO. I will have a follow-up post with more details on the Zeiss Sonnar 2/35 lens and some ISO performance tests. Update: today Adobe released Lightroom 4.3 with RX1 support. Download links: Win | Mac.

Click on images for larger view, or just check the full resolution JPG files on flickr.

f/2, ISO 100:

Sony RX-1 sample images 19

Sony RX-1 sample images 22

f:/4, ISO 100:

Sony RX-1 sample images 14

Sony RX-1 sample images 18

The RAW file from the above image can be downloaded here.

f/5.6, ISO 100:

Sony RX-1 sample images 9

Since this is only a first impressions post, here they are:

  • The Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f/2 lens is superb and sharp even wide open at f/2.
  • High ISO performance of the RX1 is excellent. The ISO performance of Sony cameras is usually a stop worse then similar models from Nikon and Canon. This time, I think the low light performance of the RX1 is on par with the D600 (I will try to post some comparisons later).
  • Very hard on-off switch, probably the hardest camera switch I've seen to date. I like it - it is impossible to turn the camera by mistake.
  • There is no dedicated battery charger, you must charge the battery with an USB cable inside the camera.
  • The menu is clean, navigation is easy, the LCD screen is bright and shows sufficient details (1,229k dots)
  • Something I did not expect - focus peaking works only with MF magnification, you cannot get focus peaking on a regular view. Maybe I did not set it correctly. BTW, the manual is useless.
  • Since this is a very small and compact camera, you don't have direct access to most of the settings, but Sony has provided a quick access menu that I find very useful.
  • Battery life is not so great - I was able to get around 250 shots with my first charge.
  • The biggest bummer: slow AF in low light. I am pretty sure Sony will fix this with a firmware update, but why did they release the camera like that on the first place? They should know how to do this right by now.
  • Let me write a sentence about the lens cap: it's solid, heavy, looks like it's made out of metal - again, never seen something like that before.

More JPG sample images:

Sony RX-1 sample images 16 Sony RX-1 sample images 21

Sony RX-1 sample images 15 Sony RX-1 sample images 11


Sony RX-1 sample images 2 Sony RX-1 JPG sample images

High ISO samples (first at ISO 6400, second at ISO 3200):

Sony RX-1 sample images 23

Sony RX-1 sample images 3

The RX1 is expensive - at $2,798 you can definitely get a cheaper mirrorless camera, few lenses and have some money left for a weekend getaway. But don't you sometimes wish you don't have to make the choice on which lens to take, what bag to bring that will fit all of your gear? If you prefer simplicity, the RX1 is a pretty good choice - one camera, one focal length, full frame sensor and you just need a pocket to carry it.


I personally find the price of the RX1 accessories way worse than the price of the camera itself. The RX1 doesn't have an EVF or OVF - it's all sold separately at premium/insane prices - the EVF costs $450, the optical $600... even the lens hood is sold separately for $180! I personally would like to get the thumb grip, but for that price ($250), I will probably wait for third party solutions. After you add those few extras, the Rx1 will be more expensive than a Nikon D600 ($2000) and Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm F/2.0 ZF.2 lens ($1,117) combo that comes with a viewfinder, lens hood and LCD cover (ok, you will lose the AF).

With the Leica M9/M, the RX1 remains the only full frame digital compact camera available today. The RX1 is basically a very serious (or the best) point and shoot camera money can buy. The main advantages of the RX1 are the camera and sensor size ratio, with the Zeiss lens as an added bonus. The reason you may consider spending $2,798 on the RX1 is this: the camera will deliver the best image quality per ounce for a long time.

FYI: the Sony RX1 was in stock at B&H earlier today, which means there is currently no waiting list.

Few more Sony RX1 JPG sample images:

Sony RX-1 sample images 4 Sony RX-1 sample images 5

Sony RX-1 sample images 17 Sony RX-1 sample images 10

Sony RX-1 sample images 13 Sony RX-1 sample images 20

Sony RX-1 sample images 7 Sony RX-1 sample images 8

Sony RX-1 sample images 6 Sony RX-1 sample images 12

Full resolution versions of all images available on flickr:

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  • 800mm f/2.8 DX VR

    Wow, $180 for a lens hood, $250 for a thumb grip, this will make nikonians feel a little better . . . .

    • Ronald Patterson

      You meant to say canonians…

  • Derby

    “The ISO performance of Sony cameras is usually a stop worse then similar models from Nikon and Canon. This time, I think the low light performance of the RX1 is on par with the D600”

    Surprise, surprise. D600 and RX1 use same Sony sensor. The best FF ISO-camera released this year according to dxomark- listing is using Sony-sensor (D800E). The best APS-C ISO-camera (Pentax K5) uses Sony sensor.

    The NIkon 1-series cameras have much worse Iso-performance compared to Sony RX-100, which uses same size sensor – even though Sony have much higher pixel-density and though smaller pixel size.

    Olympus OM-D made a quantum leap in ISO-perfomace compared to previous models. You know why? They started to use Sony-sensor instead of Panasonic. And even more hilarious is the fact that latest Panasonic flag-model camera GH3 have same Sony-sensor than Olympus OM-D. They dumbed their own sensor, because it was the only way to stay in the game.

    The only Sony cameras that have a little weaker ISO-performance are the ones that use translucent mirrors – and only if you compare them with other cameras with same sensor without the mirror. For example similar cameras from Canon (only big name that does not use Sony-sensors) give pretty much same ISO-performace – even when Sony cameras give up some light because of the translucent mirror!

    You seem to know very little of Sony’s supremacy in ISO-world, which mostly comes through their superb sensors. Hope you learnt something new.

    • MacCruidkeen

      “Surprise, surprise. D600 and RX1 use same Sony sensor.”

      But Sony charges you extra for oil spots. On the Nikon they come for free.

      • Luke

        On the Sony cameras the sensor never showed oil spots, maybe they’re part of Nikon requirements…

    • durr

      The sensor may have the same specs, but it’s been implemented differently in different cameras. The Nikon cameras with the same Sony sensor still generally have had better ISO performance.

      • Igor

        New sensors contain all analog parts including ADC. Little opportunity to spoil anything.

    • “The best FF ISO-camera released this year according to dxomark”

      So what’s it like to live without eyes and a brain?

      • Igor

        DXOmark gives an unbiased assessment in contrast to the human eye.

    • Gundar

      “The best APS-C ISO-camera (Pentax K5) uses Sony sensor.”

      Ahh, yeah, don’t think so. X-Pro 1 X-Trans sensor beats K5 sensor all to hell.

      • BP2012

        I like my X100 a lot, and I tried X-Pro1 and K-5 IIs. Sorry to disappoint you but K-5 IIs with 21mm limited lens was a clear winner over X-Pro1 for this christmas 🙂

        If I do not have X100, maybe I’ll prefer worse but smaller camera, but in this circumstances there was no need to compromise. K-5 IIs is the APS-C camera which delivers best image quality and you don’t need internet to realize that. Maybe that’s not for long but try one with some of the limited lenses 15, 21, 35 or 77mm and you’ll get a professional quality, there is no doubt about that.

        • Luke

          The Pentax K5 has a Sony sensor, same as Sony’s A57 and NEX 5n, just check those cameras’ IQ!

      • Igor

        I think X-Trans sensor is Sony chip with custom filters.

      • Denis

        Fuji uses the same Sony IMX071 sensor with custom CFA. And it cheats like a hell with their ISO ratings 😉

    • Rista_Rile_Ricky

      In Europ sony Rx1 cost 3200euros=4172dollars this is to big deference

      • Igor

        Subtract VAT.

        • bidou

          In France, for it’s 2722€ without vat (3584 $ …)

          • Igor

            Price in France (Sony store) – 3099, without VAT – 2591 ($3408).

  • Admin: Would be nice if you can upload some raw files like other review sites as well. We promise not to print them and make big bucks 🙂

    • The problem is that I cannot store large files in WordPress (limit is 2MP). I have tried 3rd party hosting sites before, but they all remove the file after many people start downloading it.

      • Fly Moon

        Even dropbox?

        • Yes, I tried Dropbox too – after a large number of downloads in a short period of time, they will lock the file. Give me few hours and I will try again (not in front of a computer right now)

        • Ok, I uploaded one RAW file to try it out: if it works, I will upload more.

          • Igor

            It still works.

          • Ok, I will upload more RAW files.

        • Dropbox will disable my account if they see a huge amount of downloads – I have tried that in the past.

  • I like my X100 and X-Pro,. and have enough vested in them that it may be a second generation before looking at the new Sony. Some of the additional accessory costs are out there too far for me to consider.

  • Nishi Drew

    Also, that’s not a Zeiss lens, a lens designed through collaboration with Zeiss and Sony with the Zeiss sticker thrown on there. Regardless of the good shots it produces, let’s not compare the ‘deal’ with the Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm F/2.0 ZF.2 on a D600

    • madmax

      Of course. The same way the Leica 45 mm f 2.8 macro for Panasonic is not a real Leica lens…

      • Nishi Drew

        Right, I don’t hear anyone exclaiming how amazing it is that that’s “a Leica lens!” Where plenty often the RX1 is reported with the “wow there’s a Zeiss lens on this!”

        • Igor

          Zeiss makes some lenses in Germany, but the prices don’t differ from Leica.

    • Adam Maas

      It most certainly is a Zeiss lens, it is designed by Zeiss to Sony requirements and QC’d by Zeiss, just like every Hasselblad Zeiss lens is designed by Zeiss to Hasselblad requirements.

      Note that the ZF.2 lenses are manufactured in much the same fashion (By Cosina with Zeiss QC rather than by Sony with Zeiss QC).

      • Bruno menilli

        Many of Hasselblad’s lenses are made by Fuji [ x-pan + H series ]

        Sony state that the lens is jointly produced by Zeiss and Sony.

        Asian Zeiss franchised design [ as against German Zeiss or Scandanvian Zeiss] possibly made by Cosina.

        Zeiss might well do QC but that doesn’t make it a ‘Zeiss’ lens, just as the Panasonic Leica lenses are not ‘Leica’ lenses

  • “Since there is still no RAW support for the RX1…”
    Raw from RX1 are different from the Alpha series ? Because I’ve never had any trouble with Bridge !

  • Les

    Reports from Photokina already mentioned the unusually slow AF. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for firmware. It is what it is. Best to try before you buy if slow AF bothers you.

  • Bollox

    Thank you for the photos and the Lightroom news. You are one of the few rumours sites that actually helps and it is not clogged with marketing turds.

  • ZeissDarling

    Awesome, beautiful Zeiss! I used the N8 cameraphone with 28mm Tessar lens and dedicated sensor and was blown away. This is so attractive but I’m going for the RX100 though as it’s same ISO capability as far as I know, same rez and a 1.8 lens at a third of this price or lower. But good on them for releasing this, very cunning way to establish in an important though niche pillar of the camera market.

  • Irving

    Great review. Not sure whether others have mentioned it but Sony does sell a separate charger (BC-TRX), although of course it is extra money. And the thumb rest is expensive but really well-made. It has got a lock and can flip both left and right. And if you are owner of the XE-1, the thumb rest fits it very nicely as well. The only piece I find not worth it is the OVF. It does nothing at all for me.

  • Can the AF really be fixed by a simple firmware update? The algorithm could be improved but I won’t expect a big leap.

    According to DPR, “Unlike the version in the A99, the RX1’s sensor doesn’t feature
    on-sensor phase-detection elements. It also misses out on the A99’s
    ability to quickly engage focus tracking using the shutter button.” The RX1 uses Contrast Detection to achieve auto focus. The AF assist lamp might even be hurting more than it helps…

  • EnticingHavoc

    Missing EVF. Big letdown. Without an EVF shooting is very uncomfortable over a longer period of time. Harsh sunlight makes accurate framing a pain. And in low light the straightened arms increase camera shake considerably and therefore requesting for higher ISO to get short enough shutter time.

    The add-on EVF might be appropriate for a $500 NEX consumer cam but definitely not for a $3000 pro-ish cam.

    Hope the RX2 will have a built-in EVF. Even Nikon has come to this conclusion with their V2.

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