Thoughts on the Sony RX1

The interwebs are abuzz with rumour and speculation, one of the most unexpected being that of the Sony RX1 fixed lens large sensor compact camera (Photos from Sony Alpha Rumors).

The rumoured headline specifications are a 36mm x 24mm CMOS sensor (probably 24MP), 35mm/2 Zeiss Sonnar lens, and a price of $2799. We’ll find out whether these are true in a few days but I’d like to comment on the reaction around the web to these (alleged) details.

Common laments:

  • It’s too expensive
  • It’s a fixed lens
  • It’s not pocketable
  • It doesn’t have a OVF or EVF

It’s perfectly reasonable to express how it does or does not fit within your own circumstances or shooting style, but then some proceed to project their own feelings and requirements onto everyone else and declare the camera an “epic fail” or similar. Just because it isn’t appropriate for your use doesn’t mean it won’t be entirely fitting for someone else.

“It’s too expensive!” If the rumoured price is correct, then it certainly won’t be a cheap camera. The question whether it is too expensive is solely a function of the market. Consider the premium which Leica cameras command. An M9P is £5200 body only, to which you can add an extra £2100 for a 35mm/2 lens. The Leica X2 (APS-C sensor, 24mm/2.8 lens) is £1500 which makes it marginally cheaper than the RX1. If you are the market for a Leica X2, then the RX1 will be a strong contender (unless you must have the red dot on your camera).

“It’s a fixed lens” A 35mm/2 lens is a good choice for general purpose candid/street photography. Many notable street photographers would happily shoot with just a 35mm lens on a Leica. If you live and breathe street photography, this camera could be just your tool of choice. It may not be your only camera, but it could easily serve as a great travel camera, street/candid camera, or backup camera.

“It’s not pocketable” Depends on how big your pockets are. It’s not going to replace your phone camera, it won’t replace a small compact digicam, but it could replace having to carry a DSLR or a Leica M9 when shooting discretely. From what can be discerned from the photos, it should fit in a coat pocket easily, something you cannot say about a 5DIII or D700.

“It doesn’t have an OVF/EVF” Further rumour has it that external OVF/EVFs will be available. For a fixed 35mm lens, an external OVF would be fine for quick candids and street photos. Having used both a NEX-5 and NEX-7, the built-in EVF of the NEX-7 is more convenient but I was still able to use the NEX-5 without too much trouble. Having the option of an external EVF should assuage the doubts for most people.

The main problem is evaluating such a niche market camera by criteria which don’t represent the niche it is aiming towards. It is nonsensical to evaluate the people-carrying capability of a Caterham 7, just as the quater-mile time of a Nissin Micra is mostly irrelevant. The RX1 is not an NEX camera, it is not meant to fulfil the general needs that an interchangeable camera can fill. You are not going to be shooting sports, classic portraits, go birding, or make ultra-wide angle shots with this camera. However, if you need a small and discreet camera with a large sensor and moderately wide prime with (presumably) superb image quality and tactile feel, the RX1 should be high on your list.

Personally, I can’t see myself getting the RX1 even if it were much cheaper. Even though street and candid photography are a major photographic interest, I don’t earn enough from it to justify getting a single camera for this purpose. Should I win the lottery, then I would considert the RX1 as a luxury item to enjoy shooting with. Instead, I look forward to the NEX-6 and the 35mm/1.8 OSS E-mount lens as a street/candid combo.