Verve Coffee Roasters, Santa Cruz, CA—Sony RX1
A good thing continues
Some six months ago, I posted almost 100 images and a few thoughts I felt were missing from the many existing RX1 reviews. The outpouring of support and interest in that article was very gratifying. When I published, I had used the camera for six full months, enough time to come to a view of its strengths and weaknesses and to produce a small portfolio of good images, but not enough time to see the full picture (pun intended). In the following six months, I have used the camera at least as frequently as in the first six and have produced another small set of good images. It should be noted that my usage of the RX1 in the last six (and especially in the last 3) months has involved less travel and more time with the family and around the house; I will share relatively few of these images but will spend some time sharing my impressions of its functionality for family snapshots as I am sure there is some interest. And let it be said here: one of the primary motivations to purchase the camera was to take more photos with the family, and after one full year I can confidently say: money well spent.
The A7/r game-changer?
In the past six months, Sony have announced and released two full-frame, interchangeable lens cameras that clearly take design cues from the RX1: the A7 and the A7r. These cameras are innovative and highly capable and, as such, are in the midst of taking the photography world by storm. I think they are compelling enough cameras that I wonder whether Sony is wasting its energy continuing to develop further A-mount cameras. Sony deserve credit for a bold strategy—many companies would have been content to allow the success of the the RX1 (and RX1R) generate further sales before pushing further into the white space left unexplored by camera makers with less ambition.This is not the place to detail the relative advantages and disadvantages of the RX1 versus the A7/r except to make the following point. I currently use a Nikon D800 and an RX1: were I to sell both and purchase the A7r + 35mm f/2.8 I would in many ways lose nothing by way of imaging capability or lens compatibility but would pocket the surplus $1250-1750. Indeed this loyal Nikon owner thought long and hard about doing so, which speaks to the strategic importance of these cameras for a company trying to make inroads into a highly concentrated market.Ultimately, I opted to hang onto the two cameras I have (although this decision is one that I revisit time and time again) and continue to use them as I have for the past year. Let me give you a quick flavor of why.
The RX1 is smaller and more discrete
This is a small a point, but my gut reaction to the A7/r was: much smaller than the D800, not as small as the RX1. The EVF atop the A7/r and the larger profile of interchangeable mount lenses means that I would not be able to slip the A7/r into a pocket the way I can the RX1. Further, by virtue of using the EVF and its loud mechanical shutter, the A7/r just isn’t as stealthy as the RX1. Finally, f/2 beats the pants off of f/2.8 at the same or smaller size.At this point, some of you may be saying, “Future Sony releases will allow you to get a body without an EVF and get an f/2 lens that has a slimmer profile, etc, etc.” And that’s just the point: to oversimplify things, the reason I am keeping my RX1 is that Sony currently offers something close to an A7 body without a built-in EVF and with a slimmer profile 35mm f/2.
The D800 has important functional advantages
On the other side of the spectrum, the AF speed of the A7/r just isn’t going to match the D800, especially when the former is equipped with a Nikon lens and F-mount adapter. EVFs cannot yet match the experience of looking through the prism and the lens (I expect they will match soon, but aren’t there yet). What’s more, I have made such an investment in Nikon glass that I can’t yet justify purchasing an adapter for a Sony mount or selling them all for Sony’s offerings (many of which aren’t to market yet).Now, all of these are minor points and I think all of them disappear with an A8r, but they add up to something major: I have two cameras very well suited to two different types of shooting, and I ask myself if I gain or lose by getting something in between—something that wasn’t quite a pocket shooter and something that was quite a DSLR? You can imagine, however, that if I were coming to the market without a D800 and an RX1, that my decision would be far different: dollar for dollar, the A7/r would be a no-brainer.During the moments when I consider selling to grab an A7r, I keep coming back to a thought I had a month or so before the RX1 was announced. At that time I was considering something like the NEX cameras with a ZM 21mm f/2.8 and I said in my head, “I wish someone would make a carry-around camera with a full frame sensor and a fixed 35mm f/2.8 or f/2.” Now you understand how attractive the RX1 is to me and what a ridiculously high bar exists for another camera system to reach.
Okay, so what is different from the last review?
For one, I had an issue with the camera’s AF motor failing to engage and giving me an E61:00 error. I had to send it out to Sony for repairs (via extended warranty and service plan). I detailed my experience with Sony Service here [insert link] and I write to you as a very satisfied customer. That is to say, I have 3 years left on a 4 year + accidental damage warranty and I feel confident enough in that coverage to say that I will have this beauty in working order for at least another 3 years.For two, I’ve spent significantly less time thinking of this camera as a DSLR replacement and have instead started to develop a very different way of shooting with it. The activation barrier to taking a shot with my D800 is quite high. Beyond having to bring a large camera wherever you go and have it in hand, a proper camera takes two hands and full attention to produce an image. I shoot slowly and methodically and often from a tripod with the D800. In contrast, I can pull the RX1 out, pop off the lens cap, line up and take a shot with one hand (often with a toddler in the other). This fosters a totally different type of photography.
My “be-there” camera
The have-everywhere camera that gives DSLR type controls to one-handed shooting lets me pursue images that happen very quickly or images that might not normally meet the standards of “drag-the-DSLR-out-of-the-bag.” Many of those images you’ll see on this post. A full year of shooting and I can say this with great confidence: the RX1 is a terrific mash-up of point-and-shoot and DSLR not just in image quality and features, but primarily in the product it helps me create. To take this thinking a bit further: I find myself even processing images from the RX1 differently than I would from my DSLR. So much so that I have strongly considered starting a tumblr and posting JPEGs directly from the RX1 via my phone or an iPad rather than running the bulk of them through Lightroom, onto Flickr and then on the blog (really this is just a matter of time, stay tuned, and those readers who have experience with tumblr, cloud image storage and editing, etc, etc, please contact me, I want to pick your brain).Put simply, I capture more spontaneous and beautiful “moments” than I might have otherwise. Photography is very much an exercise in “f/8 and be there,” and the RX1 is my go-to “be there” camera.
The family camera
I mentioned earlier that I justified the purchase of the RX1 partly as a camera to be used to document the family moments into which a DSLR doesn’t neatly fit. Over the past year I’ve collected thousands and thousands of family images with the RX1. The cold hard truth is that many of those photos could be better if I’d taken a full DSLR kit with me to the park or the beach or the grocery store each time. The RX1 is a difficult camera to use on a toddler (or any moving subject for that matter); autofocus isn’t as fast as a professional DSLR, it’s difficult to perfectly compose via an LCD (especially in bright sunlight), but despite these shortcomings, it’s been an incredibly useful family camera. There are simply so many beautiful moments where I had the RX1 over my shoulder, ready to go that whatever difficulties exist relative to a DSLR, those pale in comparison to the power of it’s convenience. The best camera is the one in your hand.
Where to go from here.
So what is the value of these RX1 going forward, especially in a world of the A7/r and it’s yet-to-be-born siblings without an EVF and a pancake lens? Frankly, at its current price (which is quite fair when you consider the value of the the body and the lens) I see precious little room for an independent offering versus a mirrorless, interchangeable lens system with the same image quality in a package just as small. That doesn’t mean Sony won’t make an RX2 or an RX1 Mark II (have a look at it’s other product lines to see how many SKUs are maintained despite low demand). Instead, I see the RX1 as a bridge that needed to exist for engineers, managers, and the market to make it to the A7/r and it’s descendants.A Facebook friend recently paid me a great compliment; he said something like, “Justin, via your blog, you’ve sold a ton of RX1 cameras.” Indeed, despite my efforts not to be a salesman, I think he’s right: I have and would continue to recommend this camera.The true value of the RX1 going forward is for those of us who have the thing on our shoulders; and yes, if you have an investment in and a love for a DSLR system, there’s still tremendous value in getting one, slinging it over your shoulder, and heading out into the wide, bright world; A7/r or no, this is just an unbelievably capable camera.