Two cameras that point to the new direction in photographic tools.

As camera imaging sensors get denser and denser with pixels the last remaining frontier in current camera design is the exact marriage of the optical system to the sensor. Sony, beginning with their RX1 and continuing with the RX10 has this just exactly right. With fixed lens cameras (cameras where the non removable lens is an integral part of the design and manufacture) the makers have the ability to precisely match everything in the system. According to interviews with Sony the 35mm Zeiss lens incorporated into the RX1 sits very close to the sensor and every RX1 camera is individually calibrated down to less than a micron of error. 

The usual interchangeable system has tolerances that are ten times or more looser. But even beyond the mechanical linkages a fixed lens camera system let's the design team have precise aim points for everything from lens fall off to pixel well rationalization and correction. Instead of designing a system that is a jack of all trades a fixed system is optimized to a much higher level because all variables are known and can be accounted and compensated for. 

To my mind the RX1 (at the high end) and the RX10 (in the average consumer space) go a long way toward inciting a new revolution in camera design. While these two products may not exactly suit your needs I think we'll see more and more products that have a closed loop design aesthetic because it makes engineering sense. I shy away from the RX1 not because of reviews that reference slow AF and not even because of the high price. My objection is to the 35mm angle of view. I think it's too wide for nice portraits and way too short for dramatic vistas. If they were to come out with a version with a fixed, f4 zoom that spanned 28 to 70mm I'd be first in line.  Another alternative (probably not palatable for most camera buyers) would be to create optimized versions in popular single focal lengths. I'd want to see a classic trinity of (the existing) 35mm, 50mm and 85-90mm lenses. But I don't think that's on the horizon. 

But the camera that really caught my attention this year, and is steadily working its way onto my "want to buy!!!" list is the RX10. In part my desire for the camera is driven by its video capabilities but having owned several Sony R1 cameras I understand just how good a well designed lens, coupled intimately to a good sensor, can be. And how convenient it can be in day to day shooting. 

While the sensor in the RX10 is smaller than m4:3 I have to believe that the tight integration (both in design stages and in manufacturing) of the holistic system will allow the camera to compete on par with its bigger sensor rivals and perhaps exceed them in terms of sharpness, due to tighter tolerances.  

The RX10 is one of those cameras that falls outside the current vogue of being able to "customize" your camera with lenses from hither and yon. It is also out of fashion by dint of having a smaller sensor. I'm sure these things will keep traditional photographers somewhat at bay but I'm equally sure that a small subset of photographers will recognize the camera for what it truly is: A powerful, portable multi-media tool kit with great optics and great output. 

My one gripe is the continued use by Sony of the hobbit-sized Nex battery. I would love to have seen Sony use the same battery that's graced the Alpha camera for many generations. There's a lot of screen real estate to power, including a very good EVF. Oh well. That's what aftermarket batteries are for..... And I'll want a batch of them.

I wouldn't be considering this camera if I weren't trying to straddle both video and traditional photography and, if I were solely a videographer I might not consider it either. But for anyone for whom narrative filmmaking has allure and fast moving photography is daily bread I think we've finally got a digital camera that's nearly the perfect all terrain vehicle. 

Beyond the specs and details of the two Sony products I mention I think the time is ripe for other manufacturers to take a step forward and optimize lenses and sensors into more effective and cohesive packages . For a generation or two the products that result may be pricey or feature-limited but I do think it's a rational path forward in the pursuit of ultimate image quality.

In the same vein I would also point to the Leica Vario X. Samples I've seen point to the same kind of inclusive design philosophy. While that camera's marketing and general acceptance is crippled by the apparent slowness of the lens camera cognoscenti who have embraced them have come to find that the lens/sensor combination can produce breathtaking results. 

Whether you are ready to give up lens interchangeability or not these optimized packages are a very interesting story in the world of camera design. 

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