Sony RX1: Performance

May 3, 2013 by Theano Nikitas Reads (2,949)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 10
    • Features
    • 8
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 7
    • Expandability
    • 8
    • Total Score:
    • 8.20
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10


Shooting Performance
The RX1’s performance is, in many ways, a mixed bag. Generally, the camera is pretty speedy with little shutter lag and short shot-to-shot times. Continuous shooting speeds are good at 5 frames per second (with focus locked) but it drops to 2fps when using autofocus. Still that’s a lot of data to be pushing through the camera and the RX1 does a good job. 

On the other hand, this is not really a sports or action camera since the autofocus doesn’t keep up as well as I had hoped. Although it’s responsive in good light, it’s a little sluggish under darker conditions. But the camera did a pretty good job when capturing images in a darkened aquarium. Interestingly, though, continuous autofocus is only available in video mode–not when shooting stills. 

Battery life is disappointing at less than 300 shots per charge. Sony estimates 270 shots when the LCD quality is set to standard. That drops to about 220 images with the monitor at high quality. I didn’t measure the effect of the electronic viewfinder on battery life but, regardless, you may want to budget for an extra battery and a wall charger. The latter is important since the bundled USB charger works by refreshing the battery in-camera. The little flash is fine for general use but it’s too small to light up a room. However, image stabilization is effective and with the f/2.0 lens, you can generally achieve a holdable shutter speed in all but the darkest situations.

Lens Performance
Shooting with a fixed lens camera is generally a love it or hate it proposition. But, if you cut your photographic teeth with a 35mm camera and a small budget, it’s likely you started out with a prime 50/55mm lens. At 35mm, the RX1’s Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens is a little wider but, like much of this camera, calls upon the user to approach subjects more closely and “zoom with your feet.” Yes, it’s a bit cliched by this time, but I think we’ve all become too dependent on zoom lenses.

At f/2.0-f/22, the lens provides a broad aperture range for low light shooting, good bokeh and, at f/22, great depth of field. Overall, the lens delivers on its Carl Zeiss name and delivers crisp, well-detailed images. A little distortion is not unexpected and there is some vignetting at the farthest stopped down settings but those are minor drawbacks in comparison to its outstanding quality. 

I especially loved the manual aperture ring. It feels photographically natural (at least to me) and turns with just the right amount of tension to lock in an aperture without struggle. Funny, though, I was out shooting with a friend and although he had read all about the camera and knew about the aperture ring, his first question was, “How do I change the aperture?” I think we’ve all become so used to changing the aperture with on-camera controls that it’s probably a fairly common mistake. 

The lens also comes with a macro switch, which works okay–once you remember it’s there. Less pleasing, though, is the manual focusing ring which just doesn’t respond as quickly as a 35mm lens. Magnification of the image and focus peaking does help with manual focus, and are important features, but I found the whole experience frustrating. Autofocus, as you’ll see in the next section, had its own issues, as well.  

Video Quality
The Sony RX1 offers a good range of video options including full HD (1920 x 1080) at 60p/60i as well as space saving lower resolution settings. 

Video quality is good–not exceptional, but good with clear footage and surprisingly clear audio (depending on the situation). If you plan to shoot a lot of video, be sure to get an external microphone for the best quality sound. Manual exposure is available but I found that, when outdoors, footage looked too dark on the LCD and it was easy to overcompensate based on that alone. The RX1 generally did a good job exposing video footage on its own. 

Although continuous autofocus is available in video, it was difficult to keep up with a cyclist doing jumps. On the other hand, autofocus generally kept up with a slowly moving jellyfish. 

Shooting video with the RX1 is much less exciting than capturing stills with the camera for any serious movie work. But it’s more than sufficient for more casual movie capture. 


Image Quality
If there’s one thing that stands out above the rest of the RX1’s many attributes, its image quality. In a word: stunning. Colors are rendered beautifully (again, I prefer natural or standard Creative Style settings) and exposures were generally well-balanced. I did notice a very slight tendency to overexpose highlights but that’s easily adjusted. Shadows retained good detail with and without DRO enabled. And, thanks to the gorgeous lens, resolution is superb. Images are sharp and well-detailed. 

Other than slightly sluggish AF in low light, the RX1’s image quality holds up under some tough conditions like a darkened aquarium. As mentioned earlier, the f/2.0 lens and image stabilization help deliver hand-holdable shutter speeds, but when that’s not enough (or want to stop down the lens) working through the ISO range of 50-25600 can also deliver great results. Personally, I prefer shooting RAW + JPEG, especially at high ISOs but I found that even when hard-pressed, the RX1 handles noise quite well in JPEGs. I’d try to stay away from anything above ISO 6400 whenever possible but images shot at under 6400 looked pretty good, especially at lower light sensitivities. Below are three examples of high ISO sensitivities.

ISO 10000                              ISO 12800                              ISO 25600

Additional Sample Images

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