Conclusion - Pros
- Superb 24 - 120 mm F2.8 - F4.8 lens is worth the $999 alone
- Good resolution, a slight advantage over the EOS 350D (not as much as we would like)
- Vivid, 'pleasing' color response, although may not be to everyone's taste
- Low noise levels up to ISO 400, usable but NR affected ISO 800, noisy ISO 1600
- Simple, easy to learn control system (hold button & turn dial, options displayed on screen)
- Unique APS-C size sensor in a fixed lens digital camera
- Magnified manual focus feature (no D-SLR can do this)
- No mirror vibration issues, no dust issues, quiet shutter sound
- Flash x-sync up to maximum shutter speed (1/2000 sec)
- Clever 'Bulb' implementation, press once to start (timer shown), press to stop
- Effective long exposure noise reduction, exposures of up to three minutes possible
- Selectable color space (sRGB / Adobe RGB)
- Fine tunable white balance
- Very good build quality, comfortable (if slightly large) hand grip
- Dual media format support (Memory Stick and Compact Flash)
- Zebra pattern display (for highlights)
- Indication of settings on EVF and LCD
- Great, smooth, mechanical zoom
- Good RAW converter included although can feel sluggish
- Value for money, considering what you get
Conclusion - Cons
- In-camera image processor not making most of captured data (demosaicing, sharpening)
- Odd LCD location either difficult to get used to or a serious limitation (user dependent)
- Electronic Viewfinder is no substitute for an optical TTL viewfinder
- Ridiculous maximum 3 frame buffer for continuous JPEG and no continuous RAW
- Excessively large RAW files (20 MB, 9 sec write to CF)
- Below average write speeds to Compact Flash
- Limited range of image parameter adjustments
- Limited camera customization
- Virtually pointless AGCS contrast option
- High noise at ISO 1600 and 3200 limits dynamic range
- No control over in-camera high ISO noise reduction
- Autofocus not as good as a D-SLR, especially in low light
- Orange AF assist lamp doesn't always line up with subject
- Maximum shutter speed of 1/2000 sec
- Fixed lens means no way to create a more portable 'prime lens' shooter
- Flash hot-shoe strange position (because of LCD location)
- In-camera charging can be inconvenient, adapter / charger is bulky
- Frankly huge accessory lenses (0.95 KG telephoto conversion lens), less flexible than D-SLR
- No Kelvin WB
- No orientation sensor
I'll start as I shall no doubt finish this little piece of editorial, the lens is worth the price of the DSC-R1 alone. That fact is not to be underestimated, it's a great lens which provides you with a very useful 24 - 120 mm zoom range (which will be sufficient for the majority of users). Doing the math it's pretty clear that you have to spend a fairly considerable sum on lenses for a D-SLR to get close to this range and the quality of the DSC-R1's lens.
The DSC-R1 has been around for several years, the mythical fixed lens digital camera with a large (APS sized) sensor, but only in the minds of many of us. Thankfully Sony were brave enough to do it, to try something totally new and rekindle interest in the 'prosumer' fixed lens market which had pretty much been ignored since sub-$1000 digital SLRs came along. I'm glad to report as a prosumer / fixed lens digital the DSC-R1 is so much better than anything that came before it, it's really not worth comparing it to cameras like the DSC-F828, there's only so much you can do with a small sensor.
So yes, the DSC-R1 provides you with excellent images via a great lens and noise levels at higher sensitivities which would be impossible to achieve with any other fixed lens digital. However, it's a little tougher these days, digital SLR's are truly affordable and their performance has come on in leaps and bounds. Sony played the megapixel game (they had to) and fitted the DSC-R1 with a sensor which would 'out-number' cameras like the EOS 350D, however the reality is that (a) the step from 8 MP to 10 MP is so slight so as to be hardly noticeable and (b) the Canon has better in-camera image processing.
So here we come up to the issues. Firstly the DSC-R1's ISO 800 and 1600 aren't as good as the Canon (forget ISO 3200). When we first received the R1 we had hoped it would at least be a match but unfortunately it's not. At ISO 800 images are perfectly usable but you'll be aware that some detail will be 'smudged' by the high ISO NR system. At ISO 1600 you could face some fairly noticeable chroma mottle noise in shadows, something you just won't get from the Canon.
The second issue is image processing, take a RAW out of the DSC-R1 and run it through Adobe Camera RAW and you can see just what that lens / sensor combination is capable of, however you really need to be pretty dedicated to shoot RAW all the time, 20 MB per RAW file and around 9 seconds to write; I did note that some of our forums users are converting the Sony RAW files to Adobe DNG to save space. That's not to say JPEG's aren't good, they are very good, but you get a whole new appreciation for just how much crisper images could look converting in ACR.
About three quarters of my way through this review my mind was set on a 'Recommended' rating, and for a long time that's how it sat. Then I started to put together the price comparison table (page 20) and I soon realized just what you're getting. At $1000 you simply can't get close to the coverage and quality of that lens. Add to that the usable high sensitivities, great build quality, a package which is 'all in one', resolution just better than an EOS 350D and final results which can be extremely good indeed. Certainly there are a few niggles with the rest of the camera but at the price they can easily be excused. Hence it's a bit of a split rating, if you're an absolute perfectionist who doesn't mind spending more on lenses and shoots a lot at ISO 1600 you may wish to consider something else, for everyone else I have no hesitation in Highly Recommending the DSC-R1.