Price: £2,165 plus VAT (with fixed 35mm lens)
Pros: High-resolution full frame sensor in a small-ish camera package, high quality bright aperture lens, built-to-last metal construction suggests a device fashioned for war, detail packed images.
Cons: Hard to justify on price alone, no viewfinder built in (accessory viewfinder is pricey too), short-ish battery life of 200+ shots.
Whilst pundits suggest sales of compact system cameras may be peaking, a new market has been created in premium compacts with fixed lenses and large sensors. The appeal is that bags of manual control shoehorned into hymnbook-sized snapper makes for either a more portable back up to a digital SLR, or in some cases a direct alternative. Top of the current tree is Sony’s new 24 megapixel RX1R, an updating of last year’s plain RX1.
At over two grand, this isn’t an impulse buy. But, pitched as a smaller alternative to its manufacturer’s range topping DSLR-styled A99 pro camera, Fuji’s X series or the Leica X2, with which it shares rangefinder-like dials, it starts to make sense. As it does when used as a tool for reportage style street photography; something the smaller size of the RX1R means it excels at.
So what’s the difference over the older but still current RX1? Well, officially or not, the ‘R’ appears to stand for the fact that the camera’s optical low pass filter has been ‘R’emoved. This bit of tech prevents visual hiccups like narrow lines on a stripy shirt vibrating before the eyes, known as moiré, but lose more subtle detail in the process. So filter removal is an increasing trend among digital camera manufacturers looking for more ways to tease out extra ‘oomph’ in a shot than simply increasing pixel count.
Rock solid metal build aside, like last year’s model the RX1R’s main selling point is its ‘full frame’ sensor – meaning one the same size as a frame of old 35mm film. Formerly only bulky digital SLRs costing above a grand provided this prospect. There’s symmetry too in the fact that the fixed lens offers a 35mm focal length. Without a zoom we had to walk forward or back to fill the frame with our subject, so you get a more considered result.
Thanks to a lens aperture range from f/2.0 to f/22 plus a focal distance up to infinity it’s a jack of all trades device, providing lovely shallow-depth-of-field results where a subject’s sharp but the background’s attractively soft.
In such shots you can tell we’re being offered more visual punch than usual from a compact, whereas in wider ones we had to enlarge portions of the image to truly admire the detail we were getting for our money.
However we have to say that in fairness it’s very hard to ascertain whether the removal of the low pass optical filter has made any difference here at all in terms of additional visual oomph; a case of gilding the lily perhaps.
Naturally for the cost we could shoot uncompressed RAW files alongside standard JPEGs, whilst a front focus ring is provided for manual adjustment. What’s more surprisingly missing given the expert nature of this camera however is both an optical and electronic viewfinder, though you can buy an optional add-on one for an extra £380; a bit steep perhaps.
Superb it may be, but whether the RX1R is worth it overall depends on the application to which you may wish to put it.