Is the RX1 the compact photojournalists are waiting for?

93
DxOMark Sensor

Introduction

Launched in October 2012 the Sony RX1 is the world’s first compact camera with a full-frame 24x36mm CMOS sensor. Featuring a fixed 35mm f/2 lens and 24 megapixel sensor in a petite shell the RX1 is designed for professionals after a discreet compact with excellent image quality. This places the RX1 firmly in the photojournalist and street photographer category and its unique offering of a full-frame sensor in a compact means it comes with a hefty $2,800 price tag.

The second release in the RX range of fixed lens compacts the RX1 sits above the more consumer orientated RX100, which features a 20-megapixel 1″ sensors and costs $649. The RX range complements Sony’s existing NEX range of Hybrid cameras featuring an APS-C sensor, as well as their line-up of DLSR style SLT cameras featuring Sony’s own Translucent Mirror Technology.

The RX1 doesn’t offer a viewfinder as standard, although the V1K optical viewfinder is available separately for $600. There is however a built in flash and a hotshoe that’s compatible with both standard and Sony proprietary flashguns. The ISO range extends between 100-25600, there’s a dedicated aperture ring, 5 user-customizable buttons, 1.23M dot LCD, 1080p video capture and 14cm minimum focus for close-ups.

So lots on offer, but with a plethora of other Hybrids available and other fixed lens offerings like the $1,200 Fuji X100, $999 Sigma DP2 or $1,995 Leica X2 on the market is the RX1 the camera you want? The DxOMark Sensor Scores can help you decide…

Up there with the best

With a DxOMark Overall Sensor Score of 93 the Sony RX1 puts in an impressive performance currently 4th in our Overall Sensor Ratings just behind the Nikon D800E with 96, Nikon D800 with 95 and Nikon D600 with 94.

Placed 1st overall for high-end compacts the RX1 is streets ahead of the competition here. With 93 points the RX1 scores 20 points more than the 2nd place Fujifilm X100 with 73 and beats its sister model, the RX100, into 3rd with 66 points.

Sony RX1Sony RX1
Featuring a 24 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor the Sony RX1 high-end compact camera scores amazingly well in all 4 DxOMark Sensor Score categories.

Drilling down into the Portrait, Landscape and Sports scores results for the RX1 are no less impressive. With a phenomenal Landscape (Dynamic Range) score of 14.3Evs the RX1 is 2nd overall for Dynamic Range, only outdone by the 1st place Nikon D800, with 14.4Evs, and is just ahead of the Nikon D600’s 14.2Evs. Its Portrait (Colour Depth) score of 25.1bits is equal to the Nikon D600 and just in front of the 3rd place Nikon D3x with 24.7bits. The RX1 doesn’t quite live up to the performance of Nikon DSLRs in the Sports (Low-light ISO) category however where its score of 2534 ISO places it in 6th behind the D3s, D600, D800E, D4 and D800 but just ahead of the Canon 6D lying in 7th.

Sony RX1 vs. Nikon D600 vs. Nikon D800: Dizzying heights of 3rd on the podium

If you’re a little surprised at how well a high-end compact is performing it’s time to let you in on its secret. The Sony RX1 uses the same 24megapixel 36x24mm Sony sensor Nikon put into their D600 DSLR. So we can expect the RX1 to perform just as well.

 

Sony RX1
With the same 24x36mm Sony CMOS sensor in the RX1 and D600 their Scores are similar and only just behind the best performer on our database the Nikon D800.

If we take a closer look at the top three performing Sensors in our database the results are mighty close. To all intents and purposes they have the same Portrait (Colour Depth) and Landscape (Dynamic Range) performance. There is however a minor difference with the Sports (low-light ISO) scores and the D600 & D800 perform fractionally better in low light. With overall ISO scores of 2980 ISO for the Nikon D600, 2853 ISO for the Nikon D800 and 2534 ISO for the Sony RX1 the difference is less than 1/3 of a stop, but it’s just enough to give the Nikon DSLRs the edge in the Overall Sensor Scores.

Sony RX1
The three best sensors on the DxOMark Sensor database put in a similar ISO performance with great results up to ISO 800 despite their high resolution.

All three cameras have an excellent SNR up to ISO 800. At higher sensitivities however respectable results are achieved up to ISO 3200, which is great for photojournalists working in low light.

 Sony RX1 vs. Sony RX100 vs. Fujifilm X100: The best high-end compact at a canter

Before we start here it should be pointed out the Sony RX1 isn’t really in the same category of high-end compact as it’s a completely unique camera. Pitting its full-frame sensor against the Sony RX100’s smaller 1-inch sensor or even the Fujifilm X100’s APS-C variety isn’t really fair, but how much better are the results? Especially considering at $2,800the RX1 currently costs over 4 times as much as the other two?

Sony RX1
Boasting the sensor with the largest physical size it’s not surprising the Sony RX1 demolishes its nearest rivals in the high-end compact category.

In terms of Dynamic Range and Colour Depth the RX100 and X100 are very similar and both are outshone by the RX1. Colour Depth of 25.1 bits on the RX1 gives it 1.5 and 1.6 stops better Colour Depth than the X100 and RX100 respectively and with a Dynamic Range score of 14.3 it is also a full 2 stops better than both cameras in this regard.

Sony RX1
In low light the RX1is significantly better than the RX100 but against Fujifilm’s high-end compact it’s closer, although the X100 only shoots up to 1600 ISO.

The Sports (low light ISO) comparison however is the most illuminating and really shows up the difference sensor size makes. Compared to the Fujifilm X100 score of 1001 ISO the RX1 is only 1.3 stops better in low light with a score of 2534 ISO. It’s against the much smaller 1-inch sensor on the Sony RX100 however where the RX1 really shines producing a massive 2.7 stops improved ISO performance over its cheaper sibling. To put that into context our SNR chart shows while acceptable images are possible on the Sony RX1 up to 3200 ISO using the RX100 you can’t go beyond 640 ISO.

Ranking 4th overall in the DxOMark Sensor Score Ratings the Sony RX1 compact camera performs as well as and better than many professional DSLRs. Featuring the same full frame Sony CMOS sensor used in the Nikon D600 we already knew how impressive the results could be and engineering it into a compact shell with a fixed lens hasn’t negatively affected picture quality. ISO performance isn’t quite as good, but nearly, and Sony should be congratulated for pushing the boundaries of camera technology with the RX1.

For photojournalists needing to be discreet, travel light and produce stunning images the Sony RX1 is a unique option and for that it’s worth the money. Unfortunately the high cost currently puts it out of reach of others who’d love a camera like this. As the popularity of Hybrid cameras has shown though that there’s big demand in this sector, so don’t be surprised if other manufacturers follow Sony’s lead and help to drive down prices.

Sony RX1
Ranking 4th Overall the full frame sensor in the Sony RX1 compact camera both competes with and out performs professional DSLR cameras for image quality.