Photographic Tests

Flash

The RX1 includes a basic built-in flash. It's got a Guide Number of around 5.4m at ISO 100, which gives it a maximum working distance of 2.7m at ISO 100, climbing to 21.7m at ISO 6400 (the default top limit of Auto ISO). That's not tremendously powerful in and of itself.

The switch to a new hot shoe means the RX1 can be used with plenty of third-party manual flashes but it's only the huge (and powerful) HVL-F60M that will make full use of the RX1's multi-interface shoe's connections. It's not the most convenient package, with the F60 pretty much doubling the size and weight of the RX1 if attached.

The RX1's small pop-up flash allows fairly basic flash shots. We've not been terribly impressed with its attempts to balance background lighting but it's nice to have it available.

Sweep Panorama

Sweep Panorama (and the '3D Sweep Panorama' variant) has featured in many recent Sony cameras and is now beginning to look like a standard feature across several other makers' ranges. The Sony implementation is one of the better ones as it is very effective at aligning the shots it takes.

Landscape orientation wide sweep panorama
A crop from the above image shows the image detail level is pretty high and, unless you shoot directly into the sun (yielding flare in just some frames of the panorama), it's very hard to find any joins. Image sharpness varies shot-to-shot but it's unclear whether this is a focus or sweeping speed problem.
Landscape orientation wide sweep panorama

It may seem odd to include such heavily automated features on a camera aimed at an audience that could be expected to include a lot of knowledgeable photographers. Yet we suspect the mode's convenience will win it a lot of friends - those shooters who carefully align shots to create their own panorama images will still do so (and the RX1 is an easy camera to lug up a mountain), but those photographers who'd never considered panoramic photos are likely to find it's another creative option available to them.

Automatic CA/Fringing Correction

The RX1 has three JPEG-only lens correction options. By default, the camera will correct for 'lens shading' (vignetting), and lateral chromatic aberration.

There's not a lot of lateral chromatic aberration with it disengaged - you'll find a little magenta/green fringing at the edges of the frame, but it's rarely a problem. However, the camera does such a good job of removing it, without damaging image quality, that you may as well leave it turned on. The Chromatic Aberration corrections are not applied to the Raw files, but Image Data Converter will apply whatever setting was chosen in the camera at the point of shooting.

Chromatic Aberration correction On (default) Chromatic Aberration correction Off
100% Crop (edge) 100% Crop (edge)

Shading Correction

The second correction the RX1 applies by default is correction for vignetting. Turn it off and you'll see pronounced vignetting at all apertures. This vignetting reaches in as far as the central third of the image. At F2 the corners are around 1.7EV darker than the center. By F2.8 the corners are 1.3EV darker, before settling down to just over 1EV darker at smaller apertures. This behavior at wide apertures is fairly normal for full-frame 35mm F2 lenses, but you'd expect the vignetting to resolve itself as you stop the lens down.

When shading correction is turned on it's applied directly to the Raw files, and you may decide you'd rather make these corrections yourself, if you plan to regularly post-process your files. However, this means you either have to put up with heavily vignetted JPEGs if you want to apply your own corrections, or accept Sony's corrections baked into your Raw files, which is far from ideal.

For instance, it would be nice to be able to shoot with correction during the day, where blue skies would show the vignetting, but then disengage it to avoid emphasizing noise in the corners of portraits shot after dark. This means the RX1 requires you to set your preference at the point of shooting and, to make matters still more frustrating, Shading correction is a menu option that can't be saved to one of the camera's three custom memories.

Lens Shading Correction On (default) Lens Shading Correction Off

The Raw files from both these shots are downloadable from the Raw page.

Distortion Correction

The RX1's third type of JPEG correction, which corrects for geometric distortion. The RX1's lens design is fairly well corrected as it stands (there's around 0.7% barrel distortion), but engaging the correction option essentially eliminates any residual traces.

There's little cost to turning distortion correction on. It does stretch and pinch the entire image area a fraction, so the overall effect may lose detail. If you're that concerned about this detail, it seems likely that you'll also want to shoot Raw, which lets you choose whether you want to apply the correction on a shot-by-shot basis.

Below shots taken with Chromatic Aberration correction turned off.

Distortion correction off (default) Distortion correction on
Edge crop Edge crop
Center crop Center crop

If you shoot Raw, the bundled Image Data Conversion software gives you the option of applying the correction to Raw files but, because software correction isn't an intrinsic part of the lens design, Adobe Camera Raw does not apply correction by default. It does include an optional profile, though, which corrects the distortion in a near-identical manner to the camera's JPEG engine.

Shadow noise

The usable dynamic range of a camera when shooting in Raw is mainly defined by how much additional detail can be pulled out of the shadow regions. Here we've processed our standard studio scene with +3EV of exposure compensation to see how cleanly extra detail can be pulled out of the shadows.

Sony DSC-RX1 ISO 100: ACR +3EV, NR off 100% crop
Nikon D600 ISO 100: ACR +3EV, NR off 100% crop
Canon 6D ISO 100: ACR +3EV, NR off 100% crop
Sony SLT-A99 ISO 100: ACR +3EV, NR off 100% crop

As you can see, the RX1's Raw files are some of the cleanest of the current crop of full frame cameras, with only the D600 giving more scope for pulling more detail out of the shadows. As you would expect, it slightly outperforms the SLT-A99, which has a similar sensor but redirects around 0.5EV of light to its autofocus sensor.

Overall Image Quality/Specifics

The RX1's image quality is generally excellent, whether you shoot in Raw or JPEG mode. The JPEG color is pleasant and the levels of detail conveyed are greatly improved, compared to previous Sony models - good use of sharpening means the images show plenty of detail without obvious halos or artefacts. Despite the high detail levels, we've not seen any moiré in our real-world shooting.

Out-of-camera JPEG Close-up of dust spot

One unexpected problem that we experienced with the RX1 we used was that it appears to have collected some dust on its sensor. We can't know whether this occurred during manufacture or in use (since it's only visible when stopped-down to small apertures, which we didn't often shoot). Sony US has told us that it does not have a special dust-removal procedure in place for RX1 users but would be able to remove dust if users discovered it in their cameras. Good to know.