Artificial light White Balance

The DSC-R1 put in a reasonable but decidedly average performance in our incandescent auto white balance test, a little warmer than could be considered acceptable. Under fluorescent light things were much better, the camera delivering an almost perfect performance.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 4.9%, Blue: -7.6%
Average
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 1.8%, Blue: -2.9%
Good
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 0.0%, Blue: -1.5%
Excellent
Fluorescent - Fluorescent 1 preset WB
Red: 2.2%, Blue: -4.3%
Average

Long Exposure noise reduction / Night shots

The DSC-R1 has automatic long exposure noise reduction which takes effect for exposures of 1/6 sec or slower. This noise reduction requires a second period after the exposure to 'process' the image (this probably includes the capture of a dark frame for subtraction, although this processing time isn't exactly the same length as the exposure). The DSC-R1 provides for timed exposures of up to 30 seconds, in addition there is the 'TIME' option which is Sony's unique implementation of a Bulb exposure mode. Actually it's quite a bit more usable than Bulb, in TIME mode you press the shutter release to begin the exposure and during the exposure a timer is shown on the LCD / EVF, press the shutter release again to stop the exposure (up to 3 minutes). As you can see from the samples below long exposure results were very good with only one or two 'hot pixels' visible.

Thumbnail 100% Crop
ISO 160, 30 sec, F10 (manual exposure)
ISO 160, 80 sec, F16 (manual exposure)

Flash

Overall flash performance was pretty good, flash exposure tended to be on the more conservative side rather than over-powering the shot. White balance was good, tending to be warmer to emphasize skin tones rather than leaving any kind of blue cast. At Auto ISO (up to ISO 400) the pop-up flash has a specified maximum range of 8.5 m (27.8 ft) at wide angle and 5.0 m (16.4 ft) at telephoto. (Note that you will get a shadow cast in flash shots if you leave the lens hood attached).

Color chart - good exposure, no color cast Skin tone - no color cast, slightly over exposed

Overall Image Quality / Specific Issues

The DSC-R1 is a first of a kind, the first all-in-one digital (fixed-lens digital) to utilize an APS-C size sensor. As such expectations of image quality performance (the entire reason for the larger sensor) were quite high, thankfully it doesn't disappoint. I'll get the obvious out of the way first, this camera delivers great images in no small measure thanks to its superb lens, you would have to spend quite a lot on separate lenses for a digital SLR to come close to this lens. Starting at an adventurous 24 mm equiv. F2.8 and through to 120 mm F4.8 it exhibits no optical issues worthy of concern and produces plenty of resolution for that ten megapixel sensor.

Because of the larger photosites resolution delivered to the sensor is only ever optically limited by diffraction at small apertures (you can see a little softening at F16). There was of course bound to be an expectation that the first APS-C size all-in-one digital should deliver on the advantages of larger sensors, primarily sensitivity and hence lower noise. On this subject the Sony CMOS sensor does well, although still isn't quite good enough to ace Canon whose CMOS sensor delivers cleaner shadows at higher sensitivities and an no-worries ISO 1600. This strong shadow noise has a pretty hard impact on dynamic range at higher sensitivities.

My only disappointment with the DSC-R1 was that its JPEG images out-of-the-camera didn't have that "digital SLR look". They appear a little over-processed and over-sharpened for my liking and didn't exhibit the per-pixel sharpness we're used to seeing from digital SLR images (yes you can reduce sharpening and post-process every image).

You can get this per-pixel crisp appearance from the R1 but only by shooting RAW (at 20 MB a go) and then converting in a third party converter (currently only Adobe Camera RAW). It's a pity that Sony appear to have just dropped the same 'consumer grade' algorithms (for demosaicing, sharpening, color) into the DSC-R1 when it really would have gained considerably from something a little more sophisticated. It would also be refreshing to see more sensor manufacturers taking a risk on using lighter anti-alias filter which would mean images would require less sharpening.