Review: Sony RX1R Compact Full Frame Camera

Introduction

Sony RX1R
Sony RX1R

Sony RX1 and RX1R are the full frame compact digital camera that were introduced in 2012. The Sony RX1 and RX1R came together with a fixed (non-interchangeable) Zeiss F2 prime lens, a 24MP full frame camera sensor, and  a premium price tag that similar to the professional full frame DSLR camera that could easily overwhelm many of us.

It is 2015 when I’m writing this review, Sony had introduced the A7 full frame interchangeable lens mirrorless camera series, why would I still review a 3 year-old camera now? Well, the Sony RX1R is very compact and lightweight (480g with Zeiss F2 lens and with battery) vs Sony A7II (600g body only and with battery, 1.23 kg when attached with Zeiss SEL35F14Z), the Zeiss F2 fixed prime lens is one of the best lens in the current market, and none of other camera manufacturers introduces similar full-frame compact camera even though  the Sony RX1R had been introduced to the market for 3 years.

The most important reason is, the Sony Singapore is having mid-year sale for its camera, the Sony RX1 and RX1R are being sold at SGD 2,949 (USD 2,194), and the excellent external EVF that worth SGD 629 (USD 468) is free of charge as well when you purchase the Sony RX1/RX1R.

Pros & Cons

+ Lightweight and small form factor

+ Great full-frame image sensor

+ Great low light performance

+ Premium body build

+ A great Zeiss F2 prime lens

+ Creamy smooth bokeh

+ Buttons are customizable

+ Great LCD screen

+ Leaf shutter (nearly perfect silent)

+ 14mm of shortest focus range

+ Dedicated exposure dial

+ Manual aperture control ring

+ Almost instant processing for long exposure (almost no need to wait for the processing)

+ Wired tethering capability

– No dust and moisture resistant

– Pop up flash is not tillable as the NEX-6’s

– No tiltable LCD screen

– Less than desirable battery life

– The back dial is not much useful and not customisable

– No continuous focus mode

– No image stabilization for still image shooting

– No wireless remote tethering capability

Specification Highlights

~ Exmor CMOS 35mm full frame sensor (24.7 MP gross pixels, 24.3 MP effective pixels)

~ Carl Zeiss “Sonnar T*”, 8 elements in 7 groups (3 aspherical elements including AA lens)

~ 3 inches 1,288k dots of Xtra-fine LCD screen

~ Approx. 113.3 mm × 65.4 mm × 69.6 mm

~ Approx. 482g with memory card and battery

~ fastest shutter speed 1/2000 second at F2, 1/4000 second at F5.6 and greater aperture

~ Burst shoot up to 5 fps

~ 9 aperture blades

~ Dual axis digital level gauge

Look & Feel

Sony RX1R
Sony RX1R

The Sony RX1R has a solid built body, the fixed Zeiss lens and the body give a well-balance feel, the grip also provides a good handling since the camera is so small and lightweight.

The Zeiss lens uses 49mm filter, and the lens body offers 3 control rings, the front control ring is the focus control ring, the medium ring is the focus distance mode ring, and the ring that nearest to the camera body is the aperture control ring.

Sony RX1R with the Zeiss F2 Prime Lens
Sony RX1R with the Zeiss F2 Prime Lens

The focus control ring is smooth, using it in manual focusing is pleasant.

The focus distance mode ring provides 0.2-0.3m and 0.3 to infinity modes, the mode ring is smooth but tighter than the focus control ring, swtching between the modes is easy but not something you will remember to do every time.

The aperture control ring gives a nice click feedback which allows changing of aperture in 1/3 stops from F2 to F22. However, the aperture control ring does not have direct connection with the aperture blades because the aperture will be changed by the camera regardless of the position of aperture control ring when the camera is being used in P or S mode.

Focus Mode Dial
Focus Mode Dial

The bottom-right is the focus mode dial which let you to choose between AF, DMF, and MF mode.

The Ports on Sony RX1R
The Right View of Sony RX1R

The right side (from the view of lens) has 3 ports (from top to bottom), the micro USB port for charging and data transfer, the micro HDMI port, and the mini jack.

The Rear View of Sony RX1R
The Rear View of Sony RX1R

The rear of the camera has a large and excellent 3 inches Xtra fine LCD screen, flash trigger button, play button, menu button, trash button, customisable buttons (Fn, AEL, control wheel), and a back control dial. The back control dial is used to control shutter speed in S and M mode, other than that it does not provide any control for shooting (not even for the scene selection).

The Left View ofSony RX1R
The Left View of Sony RX1R

The left side of the camera has a movie record button, and most of the left camera body are covered by the grip.

The Top View of Sony RX1R
The Top View of Sony RX1R

The top view of the camera, from left to right is the pop up flash, multi interface hotshoe, mode dial, shutter button (and camera on/off switch), a customizable c button, and an exposure compensation dial.

The Popup Flash
The Popup Flash

The pop-up flash is well-built but it does not tilt as Sony NEX-6’s.

The Mode Dial, Shutter Button & Power Switch, and the Exposure Compensation Dial
The Mode Dial, Shutter Button & Power Switch, and the Exposure Compensation Dial

The shutter button is very smooth and gives a very good feel when it is pressed, and the hole on it allows for the threaded connection for the cable release.

The mode dial provides the standard P, A, S, M modes, auto mode, panorama mode, scene mode, and 3 memory modes. The dedicated exposure compensation dial allows manual 1/3 stops incremental/decremental from -3 EV to 3 EV, the dial is tight and provides nice click feedback.

Lens Cap Front View
Lens Cap Front View
Lens Cap Rear View
Lens Cap Rear View

The lens cap is built by metal and it gives a premium feel too.

Sony External EVF

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The Sony external EVF is an excellent accessory (but expensive) to be used with the Sony RX1/RX1R. It can be tilted up to 90 degrees upward and there is a button the switch between the finder and LCD (you may set to switch automatically in the camera setting). The EVF is well-built and the finder quality is great which helps a lot when using in bright area.

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Menu

Although the Sony RX1R was introduced in 2012 but its menu is very similar as what we have seen in the current Sony A7 series. The items/options were categorized logically, browsing through the menu and setting up the customizable buttons was easy.

Camera Performance 

Focus Performance

The Sony RX1/RX1R only has contrast-detection AF which has been criticised by many for its performance. I set the Sony RX1R in aperture priority mode at F2, tested in both good lighting and night environment, and shooting in standard continuous shooting mode and speed priority continuous shooting mode.

(Standard Continuous Shoot in Daylight)

(Speed Priority Continuous Shoot in Daylight)

(Standard Continuous Shoot in Night)

(Speed Priority Continuous Shoot in Night)

The Sony RX1R managed to shoot 3-4 shots in standard continuous shooting mode before the car lost in the view while it managed to shoot 10-12 shots shooting in speed priority continuous shooting mode. In daylight, the Sony RX1R’s contrast-detection AF performed quite well as it managed to keep focus at the front of car from the start to the last shots. The Sony RX1R’s AF performance in night definitely cannot match its daylight AF performance, it was hunting so hard to give the accurate focusing result but it didn’t do well in most of the cases especially when the subject had lesser contrast to the background.

ISO Performance

Since the Sony RX1R is a full frame camera then it should have good performance in high ISO. The test shots below were cropped for 100% view (when you clicked to view it), the RAW shots did not have any noise reduction while the following shots were processed with the default noise reduction in Capture One Pro 8.

RAW

The Sony RX1R performs very well in the high ISO. The RX1R RAW files are quite clean till ISO 3200, the noise becomes more noticeable in ISO 6400 and ISO 12800 but the RAW files still keep reasonable amount of details, the RAW file in ISO 25600 is the noisiest and the details are lost significantly.

Noise Deduction in COP8

After applied the noise reduction default settings in Capture One Pro 8, the results are pretty impressive. The processed image at ISO 6400 is very clean and the image in ISO 12800 is still pretty usable. The image in ISO 25600 is noisy and loss significant amount of details.

The Sony RX1R’s full frame image sensor performed very well in high ISO shoots, it was very comfortable to set the upper limit to ISO 6400 (or even ISO12800) in the ISO auto mode without worrying to loss too much details.

Battery

The battery lasted approximate 230 – 260 shots when solely using the LCD screen with standard (it is in high quality by default) quality. However, it dropped to 180 – 200 shots with mix-used the external EVF and LCD screen.

Lens Performance

The Sony RX1R comes with a non-interchangeable Zeiss Sonnar T* F2 prime lens. Therefore, I would review the lens here as well.

Distortion

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The lens exhibits little barrel distortion but it can be corrected easily in the raw-processing software.

Sharpness & CA

In short, the Zeiss prime lens is a sharp lens but exhibits purple/magenta CA in its corners throughout all the apertures.

The center sharpness is sharp in its widest open at F2, and it was boosted at F2.8 and maintained very good sharpness till F8, F11 to F16 had very little loss in sharpness but still good while the sharpness at F22 worse than its F2 sharpness. The corner sharpness is good but not as sharp as its center at F2, changed the aperture to F2.8 did not boost the sharpness much, the lens has the best sharpness in F4 to F8 range, and its sharpness at F22 also softer than its F2 sharpness.

The lens has good control of CA in its center but it exhibits some purple/magenta CA in its corners at all the apertures.

Flare

The Zeiss lens was fine to control the flare at its wide open at F2 to F2.8, but became weaker afterwards. From the sample shots above, you can see that the flares occurred from F 5.6 to F22, it is something that you just like it or hate it.

Bokeh

With the 9 aperture blades, the Zeiss lens managed to produce the beauty circular bokeh even in F5.6. The rose shot below shows off the capability of the Zeiss lens for producing the creamy smooth bokeh. Have you fall in love with it after saw the creamy smooth bokeh?

The Rose
The Rose

Sample Shots

Before the end of the review, there are some sample shots of the RX1R below.

DSC04492_2_35 DSC04494_8_35 DSC04621_2_35 DSC04631_16_35 DSC04633_2_35 DSC04638_2_35 DSC04644_11_35 DSC04805_8_35 DSC04831_11_35 DSC04840_5.6_35 DSC04860_5.6_35 DSC04929_22_35 DSC04944_16_35 DSC04958_8_35

Bottom Line

The Sony RX1R is a great camera in lightweight and small form factor with excellent image quality. The nearly silent shooting experience offered by the leaf shutter is something that you will definitely fall in love with it. The external EVF is well-built and the finder screen quality is excellent which helps to shoot in bright environment. Using the EVF is pleasant but it drains the battery faster.

The only annoyed thing is the non-tiltable LCD screen. Shooting from extreme low level or extreme high level is a terrible experience. Although the battery life only lasted for 230 – 270 shots at maximum but bringing along 1-2 extra batteries will be enough for a whole day shooting.

For more professional usage, the Sony A7 series provide faster focus speed, capability of changing lens, better ergonomic body, dust and moisture resistance, better power (270-350 shots depends on the model), built-in EVF, and blah blah blah.

However, the Sony RX1R is better for travel and casual usage, its image quality is on par or better than other full-frame DSLR/mirrorless but it is lesser than 500g and comes with palm-size small form factor camera body. Holding it to travelling around for whole day shooting is more relax and more comfortable than holding any of the Sony A7 camera. The nearly absolute silent shutter is another advantage over the Sony A7 series as it does not attract/distract others.

When the Sony and many of us are paying high attention at the Sony A7 series and the RX100 series, and the RX1/RX1R seems to be abandoned, the Sony RX1/RX1R are still an unique and high quality camera in the current market. If the Sony RX1R has dust and moisture resistance (it should have for its premium price tag), tiltable LCD screen and the pop up EVF as we have seen on Sony RX100 Mk III, and faster auto focus performance, then it could be the best camera for travelling/street photography.

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Contact me by email: jamesphotography2013@gmail.com

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