Nobody can deny the similarity in design between the new DSC-R1 and 1999's DSC-D700, however lets not linger, a lot has changed in six years. The DSC-R1 has a fairly typical prosumer SLR-like layout, lens on the left with a rounded rear profile, a large hand grip with a prominent shutter release. Personally I find the protruding viewfinder and oversized top plate (which houses the LCD monitor) leave the camera looking a little awkward.

Some features which make the DSC-R1 unique are the top mounted LCD monitor and EVF assembly, also new to Sony prosumer digital cameras is the rear command wheel which is located to be right under your thumb (which functions as exposure compensation in shooting mode). The body is constructed from a thick plastic material with a metal sub-structure.

Side by side

As you can see from the image below the DSC-R1 is approximately the same height as Canon's EOS 350D (Digital Rebel XT) and about 10 mm (0.5 in) wider. The biggest difference is in weight, the DSC-R1's impressive 24-120 mm equiv. lens means that it weighs in about 270 g (9.5 oz) heavier than the EOS 350D with its kit lens, don't forget however that you're getting a much more impressive zoom range (24 - 120 mm vs. 28.8 - 88 mm) and a faster lens on the DSC-R1.

+ Lens equiv. FOV (kit)
(W x H x D)
Shooting weight
(battery, card, kit lens)
Canon EOS 350D
  28.8 - 88 mm equiv. (3x)
127 x 94 x 64 mm
(5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in)
724 g (1.6 lb)
Panasonic DMC-FZ30
  35 - 420 mm equiv. IS (12x)
141 x 86 x 138 mm
(5.5 x 3.4 x 5.4 in)
740 g (1.6 lb)
Nikon D50
  27 - 82.5 mm equiv. (3x)
133 x 102 x 76 mm
(5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 in)
828 g (1.8 lb)
Sony DSC-F828
  28-200 mm equiv. (7.1x)
134 x 91 x 156 mm
(5.3 x 3.6 x 6.1 in)
906 g (2.0 lb)
Olympus E-300
  28 - 90 mm equiv. (3.2x)
147 x 85 x 64 mm
(5.8 x 3.4 x 2.5 in)
911 g (2.0 lb)
Sony DSC-R1
  24 - 120 mm equiv. (5x)
139 x 97 x 168 mm
(5.5 x 3.8 x 6.6 in)
995 g (2.2 lb)

In your hand

Considering it's only a little wider and higher than the Canon EOS 350D (Digital Rebel XT) the DSC-R1 feels large in your hand, the grip is big and deep (some may find it a little too deep) and the entire camera feels weighty and solid. Build quality and finish are very good, the DSC-R1 certainly feels purposeful. Most of the camera's weight is on the left side (there's a lot of glass) so it's natural to support the lens barrel with your left hand.

LCD Monitor

The DSC-R1 has a really unique LCD monitor, mounted on the top of the camera it can flip-up and twist through 270 degrees. Usually it would be folded flat (as shown in the first image below), flip it up to enable LCD view and it can be used in a range of different positions. This also facilitates a fairly interesting waist-level 'medium format like' shooting option. The 2.0" screen has a very good anti-reflective coating and appears bright and sharp, it's also transreflective which means it works just as well in direct sunlight.

It just didn't work for me

This is a nice LCD monitor, but I'll be honest and say that in all my time with the camera I never could get used to its location. There's something strange about trying to frame with the LCD above the shooting axis, and I found it even worse in the portrait position. I did try using it for 'waist level' photography where it works as long as it's not in direct light. But frankly I found myself using the EVF nine times out of ten, and it's no substitute for a proper Optical TTL viewfinder (as per a D-SLR).

Electronic Viewfinder

The R1 doesn't have a mirror or a prism so the only possible implementation of a viewfinder must be the electronic variety. The R1's EVF protrudes from the rear of the camera by approximately 30 mm (1.2 in), inside there's a fairly regular 0.44" 235,200 pixel monitor. The EVF also has an auto switching mode where display will move from the LCD to the EVF if you put your eye up to it. I found the viewfinder eyecup uncomfortable in use, it pressed against my eyeball.

Auto switching

Below the EVF is a switch marked 'Finder / Auto / LCD', when in the Auto position the camera will use the LCD monitor if it is folded out unless you move close to the EVF (a proximity sensor). On slight frustration I had in Auto mode was that it seemed a little too sensitive, it was too easy to loose the LCD display because you had accidentally covered the EVF.

Monitor modes (LCD and EVF)

You can choose between FRAMING or PREVIEW monitor modes. In FRAMING mode the camera attempts to always produce an image bright and clear with which to frame the shot. In PREVIEW mode the image you see is most representative of the final shot (taking into account the final exposure). PREVIEW mode can be most useful in aperture priority where it effectively gives you a live depth of field preview, as you change the aperture you see the effect on depth of field instantly. Note you can't use FRAMING mode with manual focus.

Using the EVF all the time

As I mentioned above I did find myself using the EVF almost all the time, because I couldn't get used to the LCD monitor location. At first you find yourself using it like a D-SLR, looking through the EVF to frame and shoot then looking for the LCD monitor on the back of the camera to see the record review, of course there isn't an LCD on the back. This camera could have been so great with a proper Optical TTL viewfinder (yes, that would mean a prism and mirror) and normal LCD monitor on the back. I also found the image view through the EVF noticeably darker than you would get from a normal optical viewfinder.

Battery Compartment

In the bottom of the camera's hand grip is the battery compartment. The door opens by pushing it forwards, it moves on a metal hinge and is sprung. The DSC-R1 uses a fairly common Sony battery, the NP-FM50 Lithium-Ion which provides 1200 mAh at 7.2 V (8.5 Wh). The battery charges in-camera when attached to the supplied AC adapter/charger unit. I really wish Sony had switched to external battery charger (they have one, the BC-TRM), the AC-in terminal isn't in a convenient place and the AC adapter itself is bulky.