Sony Officially Takes Wraps Off Full-Frame RX1 Compact Camera (We Get a Hands-on Preview)


SEPTEMBER 12, 2012

By Dan Havlik

Sony took a big step toward making point-and-shoot-style cameras appealing to pros tonight by introducing the 24.3-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, the first compact camera to use a 35mm-size, full-frame CMOS image sensor.

The camera, which has been leaked on to Internet rumor blogs and websites the last few days, has to be seen to be believed. We got some hands-on time with a prototype RX1 last week and it's impressive, to say the least. (Images from our time with the prototype RX1 are included in this story.)

Along with the full-frame sensor, the Sony RX1 sports a Carl Zeiss-branded, 35mm f/2.0 fixed lens. (No, the Sony RX1 does not uses interchangeable lenses and no, it does not optically zoom.)

While the RX1, itself, is a smaller camera: approximately 4.5 inches wide and three inches tall and weighing at just over a pound, the fixed lens is a hunk of glass, metal and polycarbonate, extending about an inch from the camera body.

The RX1 does create a rather portable package though and during our time playing with a prototype camera, it was quick on the draw both during start up and shut down and while locking in focus and snapping off pictures.

While the fixed 35mm lens is somewhat limiting, we could see street photographers really enjoying this camera. (It does not, however, have an optical viewfinder though an optional accessory will be available.) The Sony RX1 shoots five frames per second and can capture images at ISO 50 to 102,400 in expanded mode.

The Sony RX1 will not be cheap. It will go on sale in November for $2,799. Ouch.

The 24.3MP sensor is the same one used in the full-frame, flagship Sony A99 digital SLR also unveiled tonight by Sony. The Sony RX1 has a fairly robust build for a compact camera: it's made from a single chunk of magnesium alloy and has a front focus mode dial.

Like some classic rangefinder cameras, it also has an aperture ring on its lens as well as a macro switching ring, and a focusing ring.

Though we only got to shoot with the RX1 prototype for a short while, we came away impressed. While it's as expensive as some top-line DSLRs, the RX1 presents a whole new picture-taking opportunity for serious photographers: small, compact, fast, and with the beautiful, low-light shooting chops from a full-frame sensor.

Ladies and gentlemen, the bar has just been raised for compact cameras.

More info in the press release below.

PRESS RELEASE

Sony Introduces the World’s First Full-Frame Compact Digital Camera

New Compact Cyber-shot RX1 Camera features 35mm full-frame image sensor and wide aperture f/2 lens

SAN DIEGO, Sept 12, 2012 – For the first time, all the benefits of full-frame digital photography are available in a palm-sized compact camera.

The extraordinary new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 digital camera packs an advanced 35mm full-frame 24.3 MP Exmor CMOS sensor and exceptionally Carl Zeiss T*t 35mm f/2.0 fixed lens into a highly portable, lightweight camera body.  Measuring approximately 4.5 inches wide by 3 inches tall and weighing just over a pound, it’s significantly smaller and lighter than any full-frame DSLR yet sacrifices nothing in terms of image quality, HD video quality or manual control.

“The new Cyber-shot RX1 is truly ‘one of a kind’, offering a unique combination of size and performance that’s never before been realized in the world of digital cameras,” said Yosuke Tomoda, director of the Cyber-shot camera business at Sony Electronics. “With its highly advanced sensor and fast 35mm f/2.0 lens packed into a small, portable camera body, professionals, enthusiasts and advanced hobbyists can experience the world of full-frame imaging in new and different ways than they ever thought possible.”

The new camera’s unified lens and body design allows performance that few interchangeable lenses can match.  The Carl Zeiss lens not only delivers spectacular image quality all the way to the edges of each frame, it incorporates a near-silent in-lens shutter and is far more compact than comparable lenses of interchangeable design.  The camera also features full manual control options and an intuitive user interface, making it easy for photographers to adjust all settings quickly and easily.

The 35mm full-frame sensor inside the RX1 camera more than doubles the area of APS-C sensors commonly found in much bulkier DSLR cameras, allowing it to take in significantly more light while capturing content.  With an effective resolution of 24.3 megapixels, it’s capable of resolving the finest image details and most subtle textures for rich color reproduction and an impressively broad dynamic range.

The large sensor size also boosts the camera’s sensitivity range to a generous ISO 100 – 25600, with the option to shoot as low as ISO 50 in expanded sensitivity mode.  Similarly, ISO settings as high as 102400 can be achieved using Multi Frame Noise Reduction. This allows the camera to capture natural, low noise handheld images in near-dark conditions without needing flash.

The fast, bright Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm lens is a versatile choice for portraits, street photography and everyday shooting.  This premium lens features newly designed optics including an Advanced Aspherical (AA) glass element, which contributes to the camera’s extremely compact dimensions without sacrificing optical performance.
The lens’ wide F2 maximum, 9-bladed circular aperture enable beautiful background defocus (‘bokeh’) effects to rival or exceed professional-class DSLR camera lenses. Additionally, it features a macro switching ring on the lens barrel which instantly shortens the minimum focusing distance to approximately 20cm (from image plane), allowing the camera to capture small, close-up subjects with exquisite detail.

The Cyber-shot RX1 camera also features an enhanced BIONZ processing engine that rapidly handles data from the Exmor® CMOS sensor and also powers full-resolution burst shooting at up to five frames per second.  The powerful processor can output image data in 14-bit RAW format, giving advanced users total freedom to express their creative vision throughout the shooting and post-production processes.

Despite the camera’s extraordinarily compact dimensions, the new Cyber-shot RX1 model offers a full range of manual control modes on par with typical high-end full-frame DSLR cameras. Dedicated lens rings allow for fingertip control of focus and aperture, while a DSLR-style Focus mode dial on the front of the camera enables easy switching between focus modes.  Top-mounted exposure compensation and mode dials are strategically placed for simple access and operation, while custom function and AEL buttons on the back panel are also easily accessible.

The new camera features a Quick Navi mode that allows fast, intuitive adjustment of camera settings.  This is especially useful when using the camera with an optional viewfinder (sold separately).  A memory recall (MR) mode is accessible via the mode dial so photographers can store and instantly recall up to three sets of camera settings.
Other refinements include a MF Assist function that magnifies a portion of the image while framing to simplify fine focus adjustments, as well as a Peaking function that highlights sharply-focused areas of the image on screen.
Additionally, the RX1 camera features By Pixel Super Resolution digital zoom technology, which allows for magnification of image size without sacrificing pixel count.  This results in far higher quality results than are achievable with conventional digital zoom.

A Smart Teleconverter function crops a central portion of the image sensor, boosting effective magnification by 1.4x or 2x realizing an effective 49mm or 70mm focal length.  With the extremely high pixel count of the full-frame image sensor, even zoomed and cropped images maintain generous amounts of fine detail when blown up for large print sizes.

In addition to beautiful still images, the Cyber-shot RX1 compact camera can capture high-quality, low-noise Full HD movie footage in all lighting conditions at a choice of 60p or 24p (progressive) frame rates.  There’s a full complement of P/A/S/M exposure modes during video shooting for creative flexibility.

The new camera also features 13 different Creative Styles for fine-tuning images, plus a wide range of Picture Effect treatments.  Further, it has Auto HDR and D-Range Optimizer, bracket shooting (Exposure, DRO or White Balance) and Auto HDR shooting modes, and there’s a Digital Level Gauge that indicates camera pitch and camera roll on the LCD screen for straight, even landscape and architectural shots.

New Accessories for Cyber-shot RX1
Shooting possibilities for stills and video are broadened by the camera’s Multi Interface Shoe that accepts a growing range of accessories. Options include a high-quality OLED XGA OLED Tru-Finder™ EVF (model FDA-EV1MK) which allows for even greater manual focusing precision as well as an external optical viewfinder featuring Carl Zeiss optics (model FDA-V1K).
Also available are a thumb grip (model TGA-1) for sure, comfortable handling as well as a lens hood (model LHP-1) and jacket case (model LCJ-RXB).

Sony PlayMemories Services
The Cyber-shot RX1 comes preinstalled with PlayMemories Home (Lite Edition) software, allowing easy image transfers to a PC for managing, editing and printing. Available for free download, a full version of PlayMemories Home software adds movie editing and disc burning.

Also available for download, PlayMemories Studio™ allows game-like editing of photos and videos on PlayStation®3 systems. Images can be shared easily via PlayMemories Online™ service, the cloud-based sharing service from Sony that simplifies ‘any time, any place’ viewing on a wide range of connected devices.

Pricing and Availability
The Cyber-shot RX1 compact, fixed lens camera will be available this November for about $2800.

The FDA-EV1K electric viewfinder and FDA-V1K optical viewfinder will each be available at launch for about $600 and $450, respectively.

The thumb grip, lens hood and jacket case will also be available at launch for about $250, $180 and $250, respectively.

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