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Friday, September 14, 2012

Sony RX1 (Wow, Wow, and Wow)


Sony announced the new RX1 camera this week, and it literally made my jaw drop. If you’ve read my S95 post, or if you’re a photography fan, you likely know very well how important image sensor size can be in a digital camera. It was for that reason that I let out my first “Wow” while reading the RX1’s press release and saw that they have managed to stuff a full frame image sensor in a body that’s not much bigger than your typical point and shoot camera. That is a truly incredible engineering feat.

Check out the massive difference in sensor size below between a point and shoot like the popular Canon S100, the Sony RX1, and the pro-level Canon 5D Mark III:


Image courtesy of CameraImageSensor.com

Now, take a look at that size of the camera bodies between those same three cameras:


Image courtesy of CameraSize.com

Are you seeing now why this is such a big deal? We’ve never seen a sensor this big in a camera this small. For photographers, that opens a whole new world of creative possibilities and could very well be a perfect backup camera for pros that refuse to compromise on image quality when they have to leave their DSLR at home. For gadget lovers like me, it generates a serious level of gadget envy when I look at the comparatively puny sensor in my Canon S95.

Will I buy this? Unfortunately not, and that leads me to the reason I uttered my second “Wow”; the price. This thing not only has a pro-level sensor, it has a pro-level price: $2800. Despite being one of the coolest cameras I’ve ever seen, the price is enough to bring just about anyone to tears (not just when you shell out all that money, but also if you drop it). The current target markets for this camera are clearly photography pros, as well as wealthy enthusiasts or early-adopters.

I’ve seen many comments online from people that are irritated at the price. Despite being annoyed that I can’t buy it, I am not really that mad about the price. It makes sense when you consider that this is a technology demonstrator. It takes incredible engineering to pack this huge sensor into such a small space, and I am sure that Sony is eager to recover their R&D costs. I liken this to Sony’s 2008 11inch XEL-1 OLED TV that once retailed for $2500. What normal person pays that for a tiny TV? Only now is that same technology trickling into high end 55inch TVs and soon into smaller screens. My prediction is that five years from now (and certainly in 10) you’ll see a lot more compact cameras with sensors this large at much more reasonable prices.

My third “Wow” was both a Wow and a Boo (a bow?). For the price this thing clocks in at, you’d seriously expect to find an interchangeable lens. Instead, Sony chose a fixed-lens here to reduce the extra bulk that would have come by adding an interchangeable lens mount. So that’s the boo. What’s the wow? Well, if you are only going to have one lens on a camera. It better be a good one. This meets that requirement by means of a Carl Zeiss f/2.0 35mm lens. For the uninitiated, the “Zeiss” brand is one of the highest quality lenses available. The choice of f/2.0 combined with a large image-sensor opens the door for potentially impressive low-light capabilities. A similar standalone lens from Sony would cost $1000 just by itself. I also think the 35mm focal length is a good choice for a wide variety of situations (for you APS-C shooters out there, remember, this really will be 35mm now and not the 56mm you’d end up with on a crop body).

So, you can guess by now that I am sufficiently wowed by this camera. What are some other wows I left out of the title for the sake of brevity? Wow 4: Despite the compact size, they still managed to fit a pop-up flash in this thing. My hope is that it will be tiltable like the flash in Sony’s RX100 which you can pivot with your finger to bounce the flash off a ceiling. Wow 5: It sure looks like it’s built very well. While not weather sealed like pro DLSRs, it still looks mighty nice.  Wow 6: A high megapixel sensor. Normally I wouldn’t like cramming too many megapixels into a sensor since it can impact low-light performance, but with a sensor this large, they can certainly get away with the 24 Megapixels this thing offers. All those megapixels will help to bring out detail in your images.

I’ve typically used Canon for the past decade of my life. This camera, along with the roundhouse punch of other cool cameras Sony has recently released/announced like the RX100, the NEX-5R, the NEX-6, cause me to give this warning to my historical manufacturer of choice: Canon, you make good cameras, but pay attention. Sony is about to eat your lunch AND steal your milk money if you’re not careful. Don’t rest on your laurels and keep innovating! The EOS-M looks to be a start, but it’s years behind where the NEX series is. Bring out something that makes us say “Wow” and not just “Meh”.

I’m currently looking for something that can stand in-between my aging S95 and my DSLR for times when I don’t want to lug the DSLR around and don’t want to compromise as much on image quality with a point and shoot. The Canon EOS-M caught my attention recently, but then the Sony NEX-6 blows it out of the water on paper (especially with the new NEX mount 16-50mm optically stabilized lens that is the size of a pancake lens). The RX100 is a very popular option, but I am really after low-light performance and I can’t get past how many megapixels they are cramming onto the sensor.  I can’t wait to get my hands on some of these and try them out though.  I’ll be sure to post a report on here when I do.

If any of you end up picking up the RX1, I am dying to know what you think of it! Also, check out my photography work at: www.emmanuelcanaan.com/