The full-frame sensor inside the Sony RX1 is the only reason anyone would consider an S$3999 camera, and long story short - it delivers. The 24MP files are crisp and full of details, colors are vibrant, auto-focus is good and the lens performs beautifully.
A little more about the auto-focus (AF) first. It’s not the fastest, but it’s not the slowest either - for some odd reason the lens will always rack in and out before locking on focus, instead of just snapping onto the target. It doesn’t take too long, unlike the Canon EOS M, and is still very usable. If auto-focus isn’t your style, the RX1 makes manual focus easy with focus peaking. Areas in focus are highlighted on the screen, and there’s also a focus magnifying option to automatically zoom into the scene whenever you twist the focus ring. Focus peaking is such a useful feature it’s a surprise most other cameras haven’t included it yet.
One missing piece about AF is that there’s no quick way to select AF points. There’s a work-about; you can engage tracking AF by pressing the center button on the rear control wheel, center focus and have the AF track the subject. Or you have use Spot AF and use the d-pad to change the AF point whenever you want. But it’s slow - the focus point is small and you can’t change its size, so it takes some time to move and for some reason you can’t use the rear wheel to quickly move the point around. In this aspect the RX1 would have benefited immensely from having a touch-screen.
The camera returned one of the highest scores we’ve seen from our resolution chart test so far, 2800 x 2800 LPH (horizontal and vertical). Images are full of detail, thanks to the high 24MP resolution. On the flip side, the 24MP files are a storage killer, files can range from 10MB to 20MB, with an average size of 12MB each.
Image noise is finely controlled and we’ve very impressed with the results. You can spot some slight noise coming in at ISO 1600, and more noise at ISO 3200 which looks like sweet spot between noise and image quality. Details are smudged at ISO 6400, and ISO 12,800 and ISO 25,600 are noisy. But even though noise can be seen in the high ISO shots, its appearance is tightly reined-in, appearing fine rather than coarse.
Sony has said that they’ve taken great pains to make sure the lens stays sharp from corner to corner. Wide open at f/2, we find the image a tad soft, the entire image becomes sharper at f/4. But the upper right corner is a weakness, and that doesn't come into sharp focus until f/5.6, staying that way until f/16. At f/22, diffraction causes details to appear a little fuzzier. There is slight chromatic aberration which can be automatically corrected in-camera. Further to that, the 35mm focal length introduces some barrel distortion, which you can auto-correct in-camera by turning the distortion correction on.
If we were shooting JPEGs without post-processing, we’d leave the Auto DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) feature turned on. From what we see, DRO boosts the shadows and tames the highlights by adjusting the image’s curves, letting you see more detail in a single picture. To actually get a real high dynamic range feature, you can turn on the HDR shooting mode and the RX1 will shoot three images and combine them into one.
One odd habit the RX1 tends to have is to underexposure the image; we’ve found that we could usually increase the exposure by up to one full stop in post-production without blowing out the highlights. It also seems to have a warm bias for JPEGs, although shooting in raw will negate this preference. Sony’s color doesn’t seem as organic when it comes to human faces, which sometimes look a little flat or smoothed over, but it’s nothing we can’t live with. And while the face recognition technology could usually recognize and focus on subjects facing directly towards the camera, it had more trouble with side profiles or people a little further away.
All in all, the Sony RX1 image performance is seriously impressive. AF is not the fastest we’ve seen, but it’s still good. Switching AF points quickly is a challenge, so you’ll either be stuck trusting in automatic focus or doing it manually. Images are full of rich detail at 24MP, and the lens performs beautifully, with creamy bokeh (background blur). Image noise is kept to a minimum, and the f/2 lens already helps you to keep the ISO setting down.
There’s really very little to complain, not only does the RX1 shoot great pictures, it shoots some of the best pictures we’ve seen yet from a full-frame sensor, right up there with the big DSLR cameras.