Sony RX1R 11 First Impressions

The Sony RX1R ii is a brilliant little camera that costs as much as a second hand Hyundai… If you can get over the sticker shock, it is a wonderful tool for street photography. I was recently lucky enough to access one to review…

This camera takes great pictures. Every camera that costs more than $400 can take an awesome picture. I will leave the super technical stuff to other reviewers, and stick to what I understand – usability!

Why Use a Compact Camera?

The best camera to use is the one you have with you. Compact cameras are the easiest to keep with you as often as possible. Vivian Maier seemed to have her Rolleiflex with her wherever she went!  You can’t get the shot if you don’t have your camera with you. A big clunky DSLR or heaven forbid, medium format film camera is just not going to fit in the bag you take to work or school.

Compact cameras are also much less conspicuous than a big ass DSLR.  People just don’t really seem to mind at all when you get up close to them with an “amateur” point and shoot… They don’t need to know it is a top end compact with great lens and sensor!

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In this shot, I was able to get within two metres of the subject, shoot, and move on pretty easily. The Sony’s appearance disguises it’s capability.

Compact cameras have now caught up to DSLRs on quality – both the lenses and sensors. It reminds me of the great film compacts of the 90’s and 2000’s…  A compact camera like the Ricoh GR, Fuji X100, or Sony are well worth considering, along with the massive range of mirrorless four thirds cameras out there.

Many of these cameras are going to beat a DSLR with kit lenses easily on image quality. I love shooting with both DSLRs and film SLRs out on the streets, but I think too many people discount compacts as not “serious” cameras and buy a cheap DSLR with “meh” kit lenses. And then find it too “big” and heavy to take with them…

Why the Sony?

I have used a Ricoh GR digital and have looked at the specs of the Leica Q – but both of these have 28mm equivalent focal length. No matter how much I try, I just don’t love 28mm focal length. It is a fraction too wide for me. The Ricoh is a great camera and has a legion of Street Photography fanboys. It is significantly smaller than the Sony as well. Just a bit too wide. The Sony’s sensor blows away the Ricoh in low light too…

Let me list the ways I love this camera…

The Sensor is freaking amazing. It has been a long time since I have worked with current digital gear. The sensor is incredible in both low light, and the megapixels are big enough to crop in without losing quality. I have a couple of mates with the Sony A7 and have been impressed with the sensor – this little beauty has the same sensor as the A7. Funnily enough, when you put the two cameras side by side, they have very similar dimensions – just the RX1Rii has a fixed lens…

Here are some shots from my recent trip to Sydney in low light to give you an idea…

All were shot in the CBD at night, with no extra flash or other light source provided by me.

The body is a big chunk of metally goodness. No plastic anywhere that I can find. The body and the lens both feel a lot like an older Leica or even Xpan body. Heavy and with a nice heft in the hand. Sony have not spared any expense in making the camera – which is no less than you would expect for the RRP expectations they have!

The lens is a fixed Zeiss 35mm F2. I suppose some boffin out there could find something not quite right about it using some technical tests, but I can’t fault it. It clicks beautifully through the aperture markings with a firm feel for each setting. I haven’t really worked up some hard core bokeh images yet, but some test shots demonstrated the cameras capability. I suppose this one taken at Southern Cross Station gives a bit of a feel for what the lens is capable of, especially when combined with the sensor.

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The focus modes are plentiful. Yah, it has a silly manual focus function, but I can’t imagine ever using it? Whilst I love manual focus, it just feels like hipster overkill on a technical marvel like the Sony. I have been using a combination of facial recognition and locking on a focus point. The Sony is pretty quick to focus, at least as fast as my DSLR – but I have not really tried a high end DSLR like a D4 or 5 or whatever is the latest Nikon, so I can’t really compare.

The only downside is not being able to tap on the LCD to set the focus point – like you can on my Mum’s Panasonic Gx7. Not a massive dealbreaker, but still a little disappointing.

I am loving the facial recognition – most of the time the Sony manages to pick the right face for the image to focus on… Not 100%, but close enough. It is perfect for the situation where you just want to get a face onto the card but only have a short window of opportunity. I have also been using “P” mode a bit more often vs my usual “A” mode. After doing a bit of wider reading on street photography lately, I found a lot of other photographers were relying on P mode a lot more than I imagined. So, I have been giving it a try and have been happy with the results.

Aperture can become a bit of a creative trap – the temptation being to shoot as wide as possible. Many photographers seem to go through a creative technique journey where once discovered, F2 or F1.8 becomes their sole aperture. Just loving the bokeh, man! Whilst everything seems to look cool at F2, there are some significant downsides… The depth of field – what is in focus – in the image can become incredibly narrow, to the point where even a small miss on the point of focus can cause massive issues. One of my favourite lenses to shoot portraits with is the Nikkor 85mm F1.4. Opened up to F1.4 seems to give me about 10cm of useable in-focus image from front to back. If the person’s point of their nose is in focus, the back of their ears may not be!

If you miss the focus point even slightly, you end up with a poor image.

Some of my besties are actually shot at F11 or F8 using hyperfocal distance or zone focus. And yes, on a manual focus rangefinder. It completely eliminates a need to focus the lens for a specific shot because at these smaller F stops, combined with a wider angle lens (such as a 35mm or 28mm lens) most of what is in frame will be in focus.

Even when using a 35mm SLR, I still have it set to F8 or smaller on a sunny day just to reduce how precise my focus needs to be to get a great image.

The P mode – where the Sony picks aperture and shutter speed – seems to get it right most of the time. You can set minimums for each – 1/125 is a good minimum shutter speed to avoid camera shake. 1/60 is the minimum I would recommend, and then only if you are stopped and not moving around at all.

Oh, and whilst we are talking about creative traps – if you can “see” HDR in a picture, it is probably not a great image. HDR is not to my personal taste… and is one of the few things I actively dislike. Happy to explain in another post…

The Electronic View Finder was a very seductive feature for an old timey film guy like myself, but has proved to be not to be as useful as I thought. It delivers everything it promises – great quality, easy to see, and full functionality in the display. It’s just that I am tending to use the LCD flipped up at 90 degrees as a waist level style finder. More on that later.

The EVF also comes with a eyecup, which is probably one of the few negatives for the camera. The EVF retracts back into the body when not in use, and you need to remove the eyecup to do this. The eyecup is also massively fiddly to get on properly. I have decided I can’t be shagged despite the bling value of the eyecup – it looks pretty cool, but doesn’t reallly serve a massive function. I have shot in bright sunlight and not had any issues being able to see the images in the EVF…

The LCD Screen is loads of fun. One of my mates put me on to the value of a “flippable” lcd. On the Sony, it tilts into the perfect position to use it like a TLR waist level finder. I can now understand why peeps love their TLRs so much… Moving the camera down more towards my waist changes the angle that I am shooting at – providing a different perspective than the standard head height shots that the EVF inevitably leads to.

The LCD also flips in the opposite direction so you can hold it up high and still see what is going on.

This might not be big news to people with a relatively new digi, but to a film guy, this has been a revelation! I can take shots from all kinds of angles without laying down on the pavement or getting up on a chair or table… Instantly making me look less strange out and about.

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Using the LCD as a waist level finder also has the massive advantage of people just not imagining I am using my camera. From a previous article…

Seriously, this was a complete revelation. My old Hasseldblad 500 met a rather undigified death 12 months or so ago. People are not as wary of someone looking down into a waist finder as they are someone having a camera up their face and pointing it towards them. For some reason, looking down into the finder doesn’t raise the “creep with a camera” alarm.

The digi compact has an EVF which I thought I would use consistently – nup. As soon as I got the hang of the tilting LCD screen, it stayed out! Holding the camera at waist level and tilting the LCD out at 90 degrees enabled me to use it in the same way as the Hasselblad. Instead of looking directly at subjects, I was looking down towards my waist at the LCD.

This one, single change enabled me to get so much closer to people.

The Batteries suck. That is it. The battery life sucks hard. I purchased an additional 2 batteries to go with the one that came with the camera, and am thinking of getting a fourth! I suppose the LCD, EVF, massive megasuperpixel sensor etc. quite reasonably sucks the electrons out at a rapid pace. The upside is that the batteries are lightweights – not only in life span, but also in weight! An extra couple in your bag is not going to result in a terminal case of scoliosis. It is a small trade off, really. But you WILL go through more than one battery in a session unless you are seriously careful with your power usage.

The Menus are a bone of contention in a few reviewers. The menus are a bit over complex, but not unuseable. I don’t have enough patience or nous to set custom function buttons, so this is not a big issue for me. I kind of find a few things I like to change but leave 90% of settings alone when shooting.

Wireless Connectivity was also another “wow” for a film guy. Being able to instantly download wirelessly to my phone or computer is pretty cool – and enables a quick social media post in the middle of a shoot, if you cannot resist the call of the interwebs. I have found that posting a shot mid session to instagram helps me relax and focus on the remainder of the time I have for the day.

Whilst I haven’t used it to any great purpose yet, I am also able to use my iPhone as a wireless trigger – complete with being able to see through the lens via my phone screen! Perfect for setting up the camera at an interesting angle and remote trigger it as image composes itself.

The Sony is not complete with some Camera Bling. So far, I have tried three accessories, with mixed results.

The camera is a bit tricky to hold, with poor ergonomics. This is exacerbated by all the shiny metal surfaces that are aesthetically beautiful but slippery to the touch. A FotodioX Pro Metal Hand Grip will solve this in a heartbeat. It adds a nice grip to one side of the camera. You can find them here :

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1226669-REG/fotodiox_snyrx1rii_pro_grip_pro_metal_handgrip_for.html

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Number two on the list is a vented hood. The Sony version costs mad stacks of cash. The Vello LHP-1 Dedicated Lens Hood has the same street cred and looks awesome at less than half the price. It is neatly machined metal. I always use a lens hood to help protect the lens from damage, along with a UV filter. The Sony has a fixed lens. Damage the lens and the body is not much good. Get a lens hood and leave it on. When you bang it up against something and put a ding in the hood rather than the lens, you will thank me.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/965498-REG/vello_lhs_lhp1_lhp_1_lens_hood_for.html

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The only dud accessory I have purchased so far is the Sony LCD protector. It had some kind of adhesive on it. No way am I putting anything with an adhesive on the LCD. I suppose I will just have to be careful…

The Verdict – Team “Nah”

  • The Sony is beautiful, but way overpriced. You could spend at least two weeks in Europe with your current crappy camera for what this costs.
  • Needs an aftermarket grip.
  • Battery life stinks
  • Eventual obsolete body fixed to a pretty good lens

Team “Hell Yeah!”

  • It is undeniably aesthetically pleasing, and is all metal.
  • The sensor is a ripper.
  • As good (if not better) than most DSLRs with a 35mm fixed focal lens without the bulk, weight, and size.
  • Looks like a little point and shoot – doesn’t worry anyone when you point it at them.
  • Pictures look great – but then so do all my “good” shots on any camera used properly…

Should you buy one? Like anything, it is relative to what you can afford. The Fuji X100t looks awesome and delivers 90% of what the Sony does at 20% of the price. Unless you have money burning a hole in your pocket, buy the Fuji and spend the balance you would have spent on the Sony visiting New York with your new camera. It is a wonderful place to shoot street!

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Shot on a work trip to New York at the Library. On film though!

Is it going to make you happy? Consult articles on GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) before purchase. No matter what you buy, your brain is going to adapt and the rush of the new toy will dissipate. And then you will want yet another toy.

Let me explain. The guy who has a Hyundai, lusts for a Holden SS. When he gets the Holden SS, he will want a Mercedes. When he gets the Mercedes, he will want a Ferrari. When he gets the Ferrari, the private jet beckons. It never ends.

Trust me, I work in Marketing. It is how companies sell stuff to guys…

 

3 Responses to “Sony RX1R 11 First Impressions”

  1. Nice review. At least you don’t have to build up a lens collection for it 🙂

    Like

  2. here is one for sale, for anyone’s interest
    http://tinyurl.com/hcd7qs4

    Like

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