"SONY is going to release a new fixed-lens camera featuring a full-frame sensor." When we got this information, we were puzzled. We were puzzled because we cannot change lenses even though it’s a camera with a full-frame sensor. I think many of you may have felt the same way. So, I was very curious to test this camera. We have reviewed many cameras with a smaller APS-C sensor, but this one has a 135mm full-frame sensor. Plus, it has a shorter back-focus and Carl Zeiss Sonnar 35/2. The excellent quality was easily expected even without testing, but how excellent is it? I had it with me for 1.5 days and here is my impression.

( Photography & Text : K )

What a powerful camera!

Extremely sharp wide open. It resolves each wrinkle of the man’s hands. This output is no different from my familiar uncropped images produced by 35mm lens at wide open. This lens is tailored to the sensor and there should be more advantages that we can imagine. This combination is the most luxurious, and the output is truly deluxe.

The minimum focusing distance is 30cm at the normal setting, but you can focus as close as 20cm by rotating a ring at the front of the lens barrel. This beautiful bokeh proves that this macro function brings a quality, unlike the “makeshift” one of some other cameras that sacrifice picture quality. AF is as fast as the Alpha-99 and sometimes I felt it was faster. This AF does allow close focusing like this sample shot, but you may want to switch to MF if you want a pinpoint focusing. But how beautiful is this. I personally have felt that Carl Zeiss lenses don’t allow close focusing because some of them were made for Hasselblad. But these days they have been making different kinds of lenses and now they make a lens that can shorten the focusing distance by 10 cm with a ring. Lapse of time? Back on track… Anyway, this additional 10cm is so big on a 35mm lens! Speaking of minimum focusing distance, shorter is better than longer, isn’t it?

When I test a camera, I take a shot like this. Lighting is rather flatter than dramatic and I shoot under. Each season brings different colors and the question is if this camera captures the light of this season when people feel a little cold with a long-sleeve shirt on. ISO was set to 800, but it there is no “rustling” noises. By capturing the treaded floor and the texture of piled booklets, this camera does an excellent job on reproducing the atmosphere.

Razor sharp even wide open

Lenses good at close-up are not good at infinity, or the reverse is true as well. Yes, that’s how a lens should be, but this Sonnar 35/2 does produce outstanding results even at infinity. Although it does show noticeable barrel distortion and vignetting, you can always adjust the distortion within the camera through the menu, or the accompanying RAW converter software. Also, the vignetting can be solved by stepping down or by the software. However, in my opinion, I like to go without these adjustments. Of course, lines become straight when the distortion is adjusted, but the image comes little flat. Without the adjustments, the image is "lens-ish", "lensy", or you name it. They are funny expression because images are captured through lenses. Anyway, this lens is excellent enough by itself even without these gimmicks and you may feel stepping down is wasting the potential of this lens because of its high performance wide open.

Excellent enough at F4, or two stops down from wide open. Sharpness doesn’t change much from wide open, so with this lens you won’t step down lens for added sharpness, but for added depth of field. This sample is developed from RAW data, and it is rich in both shadows and light. JPGs produced by this camera are also excellent and I feel just shooting JPGs only will be good enough for most purposes.

Compact body with manual controls + 35mm. Fun snap shooting!

This camera is very ambitious piece of work just because of the full-frame sensor, the fixed lens, and the same size as other compact cameras. I can imagine at SONY there were some discussions on the focal length, but I feel that 35mm is the right answer because of the minimum focusing distance, 30cm at normal or 20cm at macro setting. Personally I think 40mm is the most versatile because sometimes I feel 50mm is too narrow while 35mm is too wide. Fixed lenses for SLRs focus as close as their focal length (by converting the unit from mm to cm). For example, 35mm lens can focus as close as 35cm. But this 35mm can focus up to 20cm, so being wide doesn’t matter. And the body is compact, yet it has an exposure adjustment dial on the top, meaning this camera is designed for manual controlling of exposure and focus. I am bad at 35mm but still I wanted to shoot many w960s, and this is made possible by their packaging of these attractive elements. Pictures are wonderful, and lens is outstanding. It is a truly fun camera to shoot with.

The sample above was shot overexposed in order to show exactly what I saw. Yes, this condition is severe for a digital camera, but the output is great. I overexposed by giving up the tonality of light parts, but in fact they are exquisitely “alive.” I felt the same way with the Alpha-99, and I truly admire the tonality realized by the two cameras.

I want to shoot wide open even in a situation like this, because of the sharpness of the lens. I focused to the bronze statue and the sitting man is out of focus. While with a 50mm the framing becomes tighter, with a 35mm you can frame very uniquely like this. Now I’d like to make one point though. The maximum shutter speed is 1/2000 at wide open and it doesn’t increase to 1/4000 until F5.6. They could be able to make it 1/4000 at wide open to take advantage of this splendid lens, but I can also understand that this is because of its lens shutter.

The concrete texture is nicely realized. Very solid as well.

Looking inside a postal office through the window. I imagine how strange I looked to the eyes of passers-by.

Very strong light from side. I wanted some lens flares, so I took the lens shade off. Putting commercial w960graphy aside, I welcome flares to reproduce the atmosphere. But too much flare distracts the whole image. Now, just take a look at what I got from this superb lens.

Lighting is just beautiful in this season because it’s clear and straight. This lens perfectly captures such lighting.

At Ueno Park. I wanted to step down, but shot wide open to eliminate the distracting background.

How was it? I have many other shots, and I will show them to you in the second review.

The best 35mm lens and full frame sensor on your palm

When I first saw this camera, I felt it was little bulky, overstraining, and not even w960genic. But I liked it and started to say “it’s cool!” once I hold it because of its solid feel and simple appearance emphasizing the lens. Also because of SONY’s brand image and an orange ring on the lens, this camera looks like a professional high-class camcorder. So, playing with this gem on your palm is going to be a pleasant experience.

Now, you may wonder if you should choose this RX1 over the Alpha-99 because they are equally priced. This camera is the ultimate compact digital camera because it has a one-of-a-kind lens optimized for the full frame sensor with enough pixel pitch contributing to the high picture quality. I was impressed by the fact that, even with the full frame sensor, I was able to shoot just like when I was using other ordinary compact digital cameras. In other words, it was so easy to use and yet it brings you the excitement of using a deluxe camera. This camera is best suited for those who want the ultimate.

See you at the forthcoming second review!