9.12.2012

Sony RX1 Brings Back the Compact HiQ Camera we Loved in the 1970's. Only better?

Sony RX1

Do you remember the Canonet Rangefinder cameras from the 1970's? Gorgeous little metal machines with just enough control to make you feel like you were in charge. Small and unassuming but fitted with a great, single focal length lens that had some speed to it. I loved my Canonet III QL 17 as much as some of my friends loved their Olympus RD's. The cameras uniformly had leaf shutters which meant we could sync flash up to their highest speeds. They had real, live hot shoes and they were rugged enough to bang around in the basket of a bike or in the pockets of an old, faded, green army field jacket.

You'd whip the camera to your eye, fast focus the bright line rangefinder and fire away knowing that your Tri-X film would look good and sharp and that it would take care of you if your exposure was just a bit off.

In the same time frame we also had those little jewels from Rollei called the Rollei 35S. No rangefinder but wonderfully small (but full frame) bodies coupled with "guess focus" Zeiss designed 40mm Sonnar lenses of extremely high sharpness. Full out quality in a shirt pocket (the lenses were collapsible).

The two attributes that most of these cameras shared were these: 1. They were beautifully designed for quick and intimate shooting. 2. They had permanently attached lenses that were a great complement to the bodies. Really sharp, well designed lenses.

I wasn't paying attention when Sony announced the RX1. I was too busy waiting to see what was going to finally be introduced in the DSLT space (the a99) and the Nex space (the Nex 6 and some lenses). I finally took a deep breath and stood up and looked around.

My first glance at the RX1 made me think that Sony had dropped the ball on this camera.  I liked the look of the basic body configuration and I really liked the lens choice but I was kinda bummed because I didn't see any mention of an EVF and I refuse to part with more money than I paid for my first car to have a camera that I'd be restricted to using in the "stinky-baby-diaper-clueless-hipster" hold.  "Minus one for Sony and plus one for my aching checking account." I mused.

Today I saw three things that changed my mind and made me nostalgic for the kind of camera I started out with (the Canonet G III QL-17).  The first was an image of the RX1 made with a dedicated 35mm bright line finder in the hot shoe. I'd relegated bright line finders to yesteryear rangefinder cameras even though I'd always loved them.  Then I saw that the RX1 could be used with the EVF that was originally introduced for the Nex 5R.  And that the EVF (an outstanding EVF to boot) was available in matching black. Finally, I started researching the sensor which, according to early appraisals by people who've talked extensively with Sony, is shaping up to be one of, or perhaps even the best full frame sensor made for the consumer market to date.  And the same one that will be delivered in the Sony a99.  Now Sony has my attention.

I'm anxious to play with one.  Not sure I'll buy one since I'm committed to the a99 in the short term but it certainly captured my mindshare.

After seeing the Sony a99 introduction specs, the new full frame interchangeable lens camcorder with the same a99 full frame sensor (for around $3K=amazing), having shot extensively with the a77 and really, really enjoying the Nex 7 camera I think I'm starting to see a fun pattern. Sony has finally stopped floundering and started making products that aren't just good, they are products that photographers are starting to crave and lust after. And I haven't even starting looking at the RX100 yet.  

If I were competing in the same spaces as Sony's cameras I think I'd start getting a little nervous.  It's almost like the PC world a few years back where the market was dominated by Dell and HP.  And now......

Things change. Transformation happens. Markets evolve.  Everything is starting to get interesting.





































27 comments:

Corwin said...

Yep, interesting, suprising.

About as expensive as A99.

Price is problem here.. for some of us. Its single trick pony..

kirk tuck said...

Some people only need to ride one horse at a time. Different courses for arrows.

Patrick Dodds said...

Please god, let it not be over-featured like Fuji's X100; make it simple.

Carlo Santin said...

An intriguing camera. Sony is definitely doing some interesting things and are absolutely headed in the right direction I think. But why do FF cameras have to be so bloody expensive?

kirk tuck said...

smaller market, higher costs?

Will said...

OK, Kirk, please calm down for me. I looked at the NEX-7 several times but your coverage finally made me pop the cork on it. I'm giddy with it but I'm old and my giddiness quota for the year is filled. Or maybe I can find a giddy walker...

kirk tuck said...

Will, I'm not buying every camera I write about. I splurged for the Nex 7 because it think it's really great but the RX1 is a bit of pie in the sky for my budget right now as well. But some of my readers are not so constrained and it's fun for them to know what's out there....

Will said...

Sorry -- I may have come across as sarcastic but I was purely joking (my wife doesn't think I'm funny either.) I appreciate your reviews/experiences and you really did point me at the NEX-7, for which I'm VERY grateful! I really enjoy your work, too! Thank you!

Steve J said...

The RX1 seems like a potentially serious professional camera made by a P&S camera designer. Lack of a built in VF and tiny rear controls, plus lack of hand-space makes it seem pointlessly compromised from a handling POV.

jet tilton said...

Kirk,

I was floored when I realized it was a full sensor camera! Good for Sony!
For those of us going through extraordinarily hard times, a $3K price tag seems extremely extravagant! Digital photography definitely getting to be a "rich man's hobby!" I can see why some go back to film, cheap bodies, cheap lenses, $10 to process 35mm.....

John said...

can this camera or the nex 7 shoot silently or no? how about the A99?

John Krumm said...

Certainly looks neat, and appealing to me, but not affordable. I'd stick to the Nex 6 and A99 if considering Sony (which I still am). However, if I were comfortably retired, sick of large cameras, wanting to try being the next great street photographer or just wanting something small for the motorcycle, I'd get one in a flash.

ginsbu said...

Your Canonet nostalgia suggests that you need to get yourself a Canonet again!

ohnostudio said...

Rx-1 definitely not for me but surprisingly I have added the NEX-6 to my future consideration list as I will be making one more camera purchase towards the end of the year. Need a good tool to fill in some working gaps. I had discounted Sony previously because of the hotshoe issue.

Mr said...

i wish they had made it slightly bigger, with a franiec grip style to it, built in evf, and their flippy screen
with a shutter control knob round the mode dial like on the 6.

Anonymous said...

With the addition of the optional viewfinder(s) the RX1 is almost a digital version of the Yashica T4 35mm film P&S. If you like the On-Camera-Flash look, this could be what you have been waiting for.

c.d.embrey

Anonymous said...

Just how many of these can Sony expect to sell? This begs the question, when will the real (interchangeable lens) model be released. Fuji went this same route, only with a smaller sensor and price.

Thom Hogan has observed that "something has changed" about FX sensor costs/pricing and production volume.

If the purpose of this camera is to offer a Leica M9 type experience, I think it has missed the boat in terms of marketing. Some (few) people may only need a one trick pony, but most will not buy such a product at such a price point.

The a99 makes a lot more sense than this to me. So do the NEX variants.

We will see how it does in a few months after the crazed collectors move on to something else and this camera has to stand or fall in the rest of the market.

Kirk Tuck said...

Oh Contraire, I never got rid of mine. It's on my desk right now, covered with black tape and filled with Tri-X.

Kirk Tuck said...

One never knows what the market will really bear.

ginsbu said...

Well, then I hope to see some of your results here on the blog!

Corwin said...

Well, problem isnt in being one trick pony, but in price for that. Actually your NEX-7 + 35mm f1.8 is almost same, for much less money. There isnt problem in buying NEX-5N and some really good Zeiss lens for it. This is "just FF" on top of that.. but is it worth that much?

If it had lens mount, then sure and absolutely..

Corwin said...

NEX-6 seems as near perfect mirrorless to me. Wonder if theres some hidden problem, or Sony really did everything right.

Alex said...

Kirk, you made my remember my little black Rollei 35S I used to carry around, loaded with Tri-X. My brother had a Minolta HI-Matic, loaded with Kodachrome.
Both cameras did everything the had too and (in retrospective) left nthing to desire.

CarstenW said...

You wrote:
| Sony has finally stopped floundering and started making products that aren't just good,
| they are products that photographers are starting to crave and lust after

I don't fully agree. Sony is making really exciting cameras, and their lackluster initial response after entering the market has forced them to think outside the box, which is very nice. However, the menu systems still feel more like consumer electronics, the last time I played with a NEX, and there is a shocking lack of advancement in the lens space. If they would round out the holy trinity of Zeiss ZA lenses (35/1.4, 50/1.4, 85/1.4), add a couple of tilt-shift lenses, and generally move as fast in the optical space as they do in the body space, then I would start to seriously consider switching to Sony, but for now the lack of ZF lenses in A mount, and the lack of a full range of top native lenses makes me wonder what Sony's strategy is. My Nikon feels like a photographer's camera, but Sonys still feel like the products of an electronics company to me. The A900 was an exception, but it was a dead-end strategy, unfortunately.

Chris Malcolm said...

I agree with all you say about Sony's technology, Kirk. I always thought it would be very hard for the other two to keep up once Sony had absorbed the Minolta DSLR technology they bought and started moving it into the electronic future. The critical transition point where Sony could start to pull ahead would be when mirrorless technologies started becoming seriously competitive. The R1 showed they had the vision.

Japanese companies as part of their culture have much longer term strategic vision than Western. They're less likely to cut off their nose because according to accountants it has become unprofitable.

The sneers thrown at Sony by the Canonikon gang remind me of 1959 when Sochiro Honda first visited the Isle of Man TT races and bought a few of the best British motorcycles of the time to take back home to study. How everyone laughed at this oriental idiot who thought he might be able to improve The Great British Motorcycle!

Yes, the RX1 reminds me of the Olympus RC with which in the 1970s I first started to make money selling photographs. I was surprised and delighted to discover just how well its image quality stood up against the SLR competition. The only reason for later moving to a SLR was to get different focal lengths. If I was still shooting film I'd still be using that little Olympus rangefinder today.

What kept me using it even after getting an SLR was that it was portable enough to pocket, and the SLR never bettered its image quality. So if an opportunity arose for taking an excellent photograph on the spot with the Olympus RC I had in my pocket then I never regretted not having the SLR. That was the really critical point, never having to apologise or regret its image quality.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it is more like the NEX7 + Zeiss 24/2 = $2200 on release, but bigger (that Zeiss was big) and also APS-C sensor.

Kevin Purcell said...

CarstenW said: "However, the menu systems still feel more like consumer electronics, the last time I played with a NEX"

You should play with the new Sonys. The RX100 and NEX6 all have switched from the older NEX menu UI to the Sony DSLR UI. That seems to show Sony get it. They're even using Linux CE as the underlying OS so they may be hackable.

Expect to see an NEX7N sometime in the next year and upgrade with PDAF on-sensor and tri-navi with new/DSLR UI. And in a year or so an RX10 with an APS-C sensor and a more sensible price (after they've mopped up the money from the "1%").

They also have three strong product lines each of which contain (or will contain) different sensor sizes: RX "compact cameras with fixed lenses"; NEX "compact size with interchangeAble lenses" and the Alpha DSLR "DSLR sized with mirrors or pellicles." THey don't seem to worry about line X taking from line Y. In fact I'm pretty sure that they're thinking that if someone is going to buy one of these types of cameras they can get it from Sony.

They have weaknesses in their lens lines. They'll remedy that. Their mounts are "open" and not IP protected. You can get the mechanical and electronic specs from Sony. Unlike the Nikon F mount or Canon EF/EF-S mounts. Sony is expecting third parties to make lenses for them. Or adaptors for their mirrorless cameras.

Sony are now a very serious competitor in the camera business for "the third big camera company". They're well funded and have excellent technology and are even getting the hang of good UI and product design. Of all of the camera companies they're the only one that sells sensors, EVFs and displays to competitors. Canon and Nikon are going to have to up there game to start thinking about what customers want not what products protect their current profitable lines.