The Sony R1 did very well in our color tests. 105.5 percent saturation is typical of many entry-level DSLRs (though it’s a bit high for most prosumer or professional-level designs), it’s still lower than the great majority of high-end all-in-one cameras. The ideal, perfectly accurate score is 100 percent, but most manufacturers boost saturation at least a little, knowing that most users prefer bright colors. We prefer accurate color straight from the camera – it's easy to boost an image's saturation on a computer, but it's impossible to recover the detail that can be lost when a camera over-saturates.
The graph below, also produced by Imatest, illustrates the R1’s color reproduction capabilities in a more quantitative manner. The circles illustrate the R1’s rendering of the color, while the corresponding squares are the ideal. The line joining the two shapes displays the degree of error for that particular tone. The longer the line, the more inaccurate that particular color is.
The R1's 5.64 mean color error is an outstanding score, which puts the camera in the same league as current DSLRs. On this test, the R1 performed slightly better than Nikon's hot new DSLR, the D200.
**Still Life Scene
**Below is a shot of our classic still life assemblage, captured with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1.
*We test cameras' resolution, or ability to record fine detail, by shooting a standard resolution test chart under controlled lighting and feeding a section of the chart into Imatest software. Imatest delivers results in "line widths per picture height," which indicates how many distinct individual lines the camera could theoretically show in an image. A camera's resolution depends not only on the number of megapixels on the chip, but also on the camera lens and the image processor, which digitally sharpens the image as it is saved.
The R1 delivers 1924 lw/ph horizontally with 9.91% oversharpening, and 1914 lw/ph vertically with 11.7% oversharpening. That's a bit more oversharpening than most DSLRs, but less than many all-in-one super zooms which sometimes hit 20% in-camera oversharpening.
We shoot our resolution test at several apertures and focal lengths and report our best results. The R1 did best at an aperture of f/8 and a focal length of 56mm. We set sharpening to zero in the camera's menu, but as is typical, the R1 performs some sharpening anyway.
Noise Auto* (7.29)
*Our auto noise test is just like our manual noise test, but we set the camera to Auto ISO. Since we shoot the auto test in bright light, the result should look just like the result for manual noise at the lowest ISO setting. The R1 gave us just that – in auto, it performed the same way it did when we manually set the ISO at 160.
**Noise Manual ***(9.38)
*Image noise is the variation in color and brightness in an image file that doesn't come from the subject photographed. Like static in a radio signal, image noise interferes with the information that the processor tries to communicate. In digital photos, noise looks like speckles of light and dark or off colors, somewhat like the grain in film photographs, although much less visually pleasing. Noise increases at higher ISO settings.
We tested the R1’s noise suppression at each available ISO setting. The results are plotted on the graph below. The horizontal axis shows the ISO setting, while the vertical axis indicates the resulting noise.
We use Imatest software to evaluate cameras' noise performance. The R1 performed very well in our tests, showing a steady rise in noise as ISO increased from 160 all the way to 800. There's a notable jump in noise from 800 to 1600, though 1600 still looks fairly good. The jump from 1600 to 3200 is even more pronounced, and we expect that most users will use 3200 only when it's the sole way of getting the shot. However, across the ISO range, the R1 handled noise remarkably well, particularly for a fixed lens design.
Low Light Performance *(7.0)
*We shoot the GretagMacbeth color chart for our low light test as well, again using Imatest to evaluate images for color accuracy, saturation, and nosie. We photograph the chart at four light levels, measured at 60, 30, 15 and 5 lux. 60 lux is typical room lighting, less than most people would choose to read by. 5 lux is very dim. We set up the test to allow the camera to take long exposures, because most digital cameras show increasing noise and decreasing color accuracy at longer exposure times.
The R1 does not defeat the laws of physics. Its image noise increases and color accuracy wanes as exposures increase from 1 second to 5 seconds. Its saturation increases with longer exposures, which is odd. We expect that it is not the imaging chip that produces this effect, but must be the R1's image processing. We haven't seen this before.
The graph below displays the R1's long exposure performance. The horizontal axis indicates the duration of the exposure (in seconds), while the vertical axis is the corresponding noise. These shots were taken at the camera's ISO 3200 setting without the use of the flash.
Dynamic Range* (7.25)
*Dynamic range measures the difference between the brightest and darkest values a camera can record in a single image. It's easy to find a scene that includes subjects that can't be photographed at the same exposure value. The most obvious is the sun and anything else – expose for the sun, and everything else goes black. Less extreme contrast can still overwhelm digital cameras – snow, white clothing, stage lighting and so on.
To test dynamic range, we photograph a Stouffer step chart, a calibrated target that shows more than 13 stops of exposure range, and run the results through Imatest software. We shoot at each ISO setting on the camera, bracketing the exposure and taking the best result. The results are useful for comparing cameras, but because they are taken under testing conditions, they show the maximum range in which the camera is capable. It is unlikely that users will achieve as much dynamic range shooting normal scenes in a natural-looking way.
Our chart shows two lines: Low, for low-quality dynamic range, and High, for high-quality dynamic range. Low shows the range of stops the camera picked up with a tolerance of 1 stop of image noise. High shows the range of stops picked up within 1/10 of a stop of image noise.
The Sony R1 shows DSLR-like dynamic range, which is very good, but not really surprising – its sensor is APS-sized, just as the ones in most DSLRs. Larger imaging chips mean larger individual sensor sites for each pixel, linking dynamic range to sensor size. The R1 compares well with the Nikon D200, which also has a 10 megapixel, APS-size sensor. The D200 looks significantly better with low-quality dynamic range at ISO 400, 800 and 3200, but the R1 is very close in high-quality dynamic range. The R1 is more than half a stop worse at ISO 400 and 3200, but otherwise, the differences are slight.
**Speed / Timing
***Start-up to First Shot (7.9)
*Our best time from start-up to first shot with the Sony R1 was 2.1 seconds. This is significantly slower than typical DSLRs, which tend to fire up in well under a second. Users should keep the R1 switched on when shooting opportunities are likely to arise suddenly.
*Shot to Shot Time (7.38)
*The R1 got off 3 shots in about 0.62 seconds. We really can't call that 4.8 frames per second, because the R1's maximum burst in JPEG is only 3 frames. It takes more than 7 seconds to clear the buffer. Worse, its maximum burst in RAW mode is... well, one shot; basically, it won't burst in RAW.
*Shutter to Shot Time (8.3)
*The main cause of the delay produced between pressing the shutter and getting the shot on the R1 is focusing. When autofocus is engaged, the R1 took 0.35 seconds to get a shot. In manual focus, we couldn't measure a delay – it was too short to catch with our testing mechanism.
*The R1 looks a little DSLR-like from the front, with a fat, impressive Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens out front, a squashed slab of a viewfinder above the lens, and a thick handgrip to the left. It departs from the DSLR feel in a few ways: first, the back of a DSLR usually seems like the foundation of the camera. On the R1, it seems like an afterthought, something to link the lens to the handgrip. That shows from the front, because on the right side, the camera's profile follows the shape of the lens barrel, rather than coming down into a corner. The grip rises higher than the bit that separates it from the lens assembly.
The grip itself is covered in a slightly rubbery, resilient material, and it has a subtle indentation wrapping around the top for the user's middle finger. There is a bold Sony logo screen printed on the pop-up flash, which forms the face of the viewfinder hump. Just to the left of the flash is a small, beady-looking lens for the autofocus assist beam.
*The back of the R1 would probably look a bit unfamiliar to users of most other cameras, unless of course, they were also an owner of a Konica Minolta Z-series digital camera. The viewfinder eyecup is enormous and projects more than an inch from the flat area below it. And below the eyepiece? Only dials and switches. The LCD display, the heart of the interface, isn't on the back at all.
Instead, most of the R1's controls are on the back. A flash ready light is tucked in to the left of the viewfinder. The mode dial is below the light. It's a tall, ridged dial that would look conventional on the top deck of an SLR. The diopter control is a large lever on the bottom of the viewfinder. Below that are two sliding switches that control the viewfinder and LCD. One sets the view to either indicate the exposure, or to optimize visibility. The other switches the view between the viewfinder and the LCD, or allows the camera to automate switching. The four buttons below that control the metering pattern, the burst/bracket mode, the self-timer and thumbnail view, and playback magnification.
The playback button is on the right side of the viewfinder assembly. Next to it and flat on the back is the secondary control dial, which functions like Canon's Quick Control dials, though the Sony incarnation has a joystick at the center. The AE lock / Trash button is above the dial, and the menu button is below it. Below all this is a speaker grill for the occasional beep sound; the camera has no microphone.
At the top of the back of the grip is an edge-on dial, in about the right spot for the user's thumb. The display information button is below that. Way down at the bottom is a switch for choosing between compact flash and memory stick storage media.
**Left Side ***(6.5)
*The left side of the R1 shows the wide, rubberized zoom ring and the narrower plastic focus ring on the lens. Behind that on the camera body is the flash button, the white balance button and the autofocus control, which consists of a rotating selector ring surrounding a large quick-focus button. The shoulder strap lug is behind that, and a rubber strip covers an accessory jack, a USB 2.0 jack, a video output and a DC power input. The side of the viewfinder hump is faintly labeled "Cyber-shot" in dark gray paint.
**Right Side ***(6.0)
*The resilient rubbery material wraps a little less than halfway around the grip, ending just before the large, flush media door. The door opens as the user presses and slides it back. We'd rather see a positive latch, which are typically more durable. The shoulder strap lug is built flush into the upper part of the side.
*The top of the R1 reveals Sony's most significant departures from camera design orthodoxy. First, the LCD tilts and swivels from a mount on the top, over the lens and viewfinder, just behind the flash. Second, the hot shoe for a dedicated external flash sits on top of the handgrip, well to the side of the lens. The LCD placement is fine, except for the fact that the hot shoe really should be there – an off-center flash casts thick, ugly shadows to the side of the subject. Our advice is to bounce the flash.
The shutter release is pretty conventional, but large. The power switch is a ring that surrounds it. Oddly, the ISO button (not E.V. comp) is perched close to the shutter release.
*The R1's tripod socket is a hearty, metal assembly, right on the optical axis where it belongs. The battery compartment door is on the bottom of the grip. Like the media door, it's not latched, but opens with a press and slide. Inside, a latch holds the battery in place. Again, we prefer more sturdy closures.
*The electronic viewfinder is big and easy to look at, even with glasses. It's much better than most electronic viewfinders, and is about as big as most DSLR viewfinders. The screen itself is high-resolution at 235,200 pixels, and provides a sharp view for focusing images. The screen’s color and contrast are good enough to act as a rough exposure guide. However, the screen itself is a little jarring if you’re accustomed to an optical viewfinder. The electronic screen has a slight lag and is a bit unsettling when the camera is panned. The diopter control is easy to use and offers very fine control. We were able to get a very sharp view of the screen.
The display can show full exposure and shooting information, including a live histogram, and in playback it can show histograms for red, green, blue and luminance. The view shows battery life, what storage is in use and image number. A scale shows how far the exposure is from the metered value, from two stops above to two stops below, in 1/3-stop increments.
LCD Screen* (6.0)
*The LCD screen on the top of the camera flips and pivots in a camcorder-like fashion. While this is typical of many ultra-zoom compact cameras, it is unfortunately a necessity on the R1 due to the screen’s limited angle of view. The R1’s LCD measures 2 inches diagonally and has only 134,000 pixels of resolution. Its color and contrast look pretty good on their own, but they aren't as good as the viewfinder's display.
Quite a few super zooms and other transitional cameras have both viewfinders and LCDs, and in many cases, the most compelling reason to use the eyepiece is that the LCD performs poorly in bright light. The R1's LCD is pretty bad in bright light, but in general, it's not appealing to use simply because it's not nearly as good as the viewfinder. Aside from image quality, it is very much like the viewfinder and displays the same information.
*The R1's flash is small and narrow, which means that it casts harsh light. It's right over the lens, though, which means that the shadows it casts will fall behind the subjects, and often out of view. As nasty as the light is, there is plenty of it. Sony says the flash is good to nearly 28 feet in wide angle and more than 16 feet in telephoto. Our casual shots in a room with a low, white ceiling bore out those numbers, though our shots in a dingy, chaotic basement with a ceiling of century-old floor joists looked much darker.
The R1 allows two stops of flash exposure compensation above or below the metered setting, in 1/3-stop intervals.
The R1 accepts Sony dedicated flashes as well as non-dedicated flashes with a hot shoe; however, the shoe itself sits way over on the handgrip, so the flashes will cast shadows unless they are bounced, which we recommend in spaces with white ceilings.
*The Zeiss Vario-Sonnar competes with the APS-format sensor as the centerpiece of the R1. They combine to make the camera unusually capable. The lens is a 14.3 to 71.5mm zoom, for a 35mm equivalent of 24 to 120mm. The maximum aperture at wide angle is a respectable f/2.8, declining to a less-convenient f/4.8 at telephoto. Competing super zooms lately have been managing longer ranges while maintaining a wider aperture at the telephoto end. The R1's large sensor is the indirect culprit here: creating a large image for it requires longer focal lengths and wider-diameter lenses than the smaller image needed for the more common 1/2.5-inch sensors on super zooms.
We found the Vario-Sonnar lens on the R1 to be an excellent performer. It's sharp and the barrel distortion we see at the wide angle setting is minor, compared to the competition. We saw a little color fringing, less than we're used to on DSLR zoom lenses, and much less than we see on compact super zoom cameras. We like the physical lens controls, too. Both the zoom and the focus rings feel solid, and it's easy to set them accurately.
It's disappointing that the R1 lacks image stabilization – for most users, camera shake will be the most significant limit on this camera's sharpness.
Model Design / Appearance* (5.5)
***The R1 is an unusual-looking camera, rather like a big lens with a camera tacked onto it as an afterthought. There is a somewhat exaggerated feel. Noticeable and important landmarks in addition to the lens, like the viewfinder and the grip, are almost too large for the rest of it. Well, the sensor chip also fits this oversized theme, of course; it’s a relatively large one, tucked away inside.
Unorthodox design can look cutting-edge if it’s good, or lucky, but it runs the risk of looking goofy. As far as the R1 goes, look at our product photos. The cheep plastic veneer also contributes it share to the camera’s overall aesthetic.
**Size / Portability ***(6.0)
*The R1 is about the size of a small DSLR, but perhaps deeper than some, at 5.5 x 3.875 x 6.25 inches. At 2 lbs. 4.9 oz, it demands a shoulder strap and probably a camera bag. It would be a waste to shoot one-handed with it – the lens is a great grip for the left hand, and the user is much more likely to get sharp shots that way.
Handling Ability* (6.5)
*It's tricky to evaluate the handling of a camera as unorthodox as the R1 – how much of our unease with the controls would disappear if it were our primary camera? Well, some of it. As we say, the camera offers good gripping surfaces for both hands and a large, comfortable viewfinder. However, the camera does feel somewhat top-heavy and feeble for a $1000 camera design. Like many over-performing point-and-shoot designs, the R1’s cost is justified by the internals, with sacrifices clearly made on the external shell. Although, the camera’s weight does help to steady the shot and compensate for the lack of optical stabilization.
Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size*(5.0)
*I could get used to an ISO button on the right side of the handgrip, near the shutter release, but I really don't want to. It doesn't make sense: camera settings like ISO, white balance and exposure mode ought to be clustered, for those times when the user wants to change them together. I definitely don't think I could get used to a playback button that's nearly hidden in the shadow of the eyecup, or the flash ready light that the user must turn the camera to see. The placements just seem illogical.
Though the joystick in the secondary control dial works well, the dial itself, and the primary dial, are balky and feel cheap. The buttons have pros and cons: they don't rattle or wobble, but they have a relatively short travel. With the shutter release, that's a problem; we took some shots accidentally when we wanted to hold the release down halfway.
*The R1's menus are superimposed on the live viewfinder, and appear as a scrollable row of icons along the lower margin of the screen, over a live view of the scene. The joystick scrolls through them, and it can be used to make selections. The icons for the shooting menu come up in shooting mode, and the play menu icons show up in playback mode. The Set-up menu appears as an icon in both shooting and playback modes.
The text is large and readable and set in a pleasant, rounded sanserif font, with selected items highlighted in yellow.A separate menu comes up in Playback mode. **Ease of Use*** (5.75) *The excellent viewfinder and lens controls, and the large shutter release, are points in favor of the R1's ease of use. Several controls are poorly placed, and the quality of the dials lags behind the quality of the imaging system. The menus are sensible and easy to access, and the range of control they offer is wide, without being fussy. We were relieved to note that the "Beep" menu item offered only to turn the sound on or off, not choices to replace it with meows or fog horns. Sony provides a clear, well written, well designed and accurate manual. We wish all the information in the separate "getting started" document were included in the manual – it's not much, but we don't think the manual should refer the reader to anything else for basic information. **Auto Mode***(8.0) *The R1's full auto mode really does everything but point, zoom and shoot. It even pops up the flash, if that option is set in the setup menu. It pares down the menu choices for image size, RAW vs. JPEG and the (daunting) setup menu. Auto selects exposure, ISO and autofocus mode. Manual focus is not available. The various flash synchronization modes are, however. Metering is set to multi zone The shots we took in auto mode turned out fine, including ones where we mixed flash and ambient light. **Movie Mode***(0.0) *The R1 does not offer a movie mode. We have no idea why not – a fixed-lens, non-reflex camera doesn't face the obstacles to a movie mode that a DSLR does. Also, the lack of a movie mode places a bit of a restriction on the R1’s appeal and forces it into even more direct competition with DSLRs. **Drive / Burst Mode***(6.0) *In JPEG mode, the R1 will shoot 3 frames in a second, and then stop for several seconds to write them memory. It does not offer bursts when shooting RAW files, which take several seconds to write to memory. This is extremely limited for $1000 camera, but for those interested in the R1, speed will likely be worth sacrificing. For more details, see the Speed / Timing subsection in the Performance section. **Playback Mode***(7.5) *The R1's playback mode is about as typical as the camera's features get. It can show 9 thumbnail images at a time, or zoom in as close as 5x on a single image. It can display histograms for red, green and blue channels, plus luminance, along with exposure and shooting data. Its highlight warning works in playback as well as shooting mode.
The R1 has a typical slide show mode, which will show sequences of all the images in memory or just the ones in a selected folder. The camera doesn't have a microphone, so the shows can't include sound. Images can be shown for anywhere from 3 seconds to a full minute each, and the show can run continuously. The R1 can also crop images and save the new cropped image separately.
The R1 is not the optimal camera on which to share images while shooting, for a few reasons: the 2-inch, 134,000-pixel LCD isn't above-average head-on, and it's inferior when viewed from an angle. Worse, the R1's playback mode is beastly slow. It took us 15 seconds to scroll through 10 shots.
Custom Image Presets*(4.0)*The R1 offers a very limited set of custom image presets, although the selection is a good one, and reflects the camera's strengths.
**Manual Control Options **
The R1 is marketed for serious photography. All the features that make it expensive – the sensor, the lens, even the high-resolution electronic viewfinder – promote image quality. Users who spend $1000 on image quality want control, and are likely to use manual settings, or at least likely to make adjustments to the settings chosen by the camera. The R1's manual settings are more developed than its automatic settings, offering extensive flexibility and control to the user.
***Auto Focus (6.0)
*The R1 has three autofocus modes: single stops adjusting the lens once focus has been achieved, continuous focuses all the time, and monitor focuses continuously, but locks when the shutter release is half-depressed. The camera also has three autofocus patterns: a small center spot, a cross-shaped grouping of spots in the middle half of the frame, and a movable focus point that can placed anywhere in the frame with the joystick. The movable sensor is fun and useful, though getting it in the right spot takes more time than navigating the focus points on most DSLRs.
Speed is a recurring problem with the R1. Moving the focus point is slow, and the camera takes more time focusing than we wish it would. Comparatively, it seems slower than the Nikon D70 or the Fuji S2, both of which have about the focusing speed of most entry level DSLRs that make up the R1's price competition. We noticed the R1 overshooting focus in pretty good room light. It hit focus accurately when it stopped, but sawing back and forth slowed it down.
*Manual Focus (6.25)
*The R1's manual focus works well, for an electronic system. There is an actual focus ring on the lens, which is free of backlash. The viewfinder performs better than the LCD for manual focus. The center of the field of view is enlarged while the focus ring is turning, and briefly after. The system is accurate, though the view smears when the camera is moving. The only way to focus is to wait a fraction of a second for it to settle down. It's not much of a delay, but it would be significant for someone shooting action.
*The R1's three metering patterns are the most typical for digital cameras: Spot, Center-weighted and Multizone. Spot measures a small area at the center of the frame, and is most useful in manual mode. Center-weighted reads the whole frame with an emphasis on the center, and is also most useful when the photographer is monitoring and evaluating its readings. Multizone takes several readings from various spots across the frame, and compares them to settle on a good exposure. Multizone performs well in automatic modes, and coped pretty well with backlighting and other contrasty situations as we shot with it around DigitalCameraInfo.com World Headquarters. It went for compromise exposures, maintaining as much detail as possible in both light and dark areas.
*In Program, Aperture priority and Shutter priority modes, the R1 user can bias exposure up or down as much as 2 stops, in steps of 1/3 stop. The secondary control dial adjusts the bias. Two stops seems to be the common range for exposure compensation from DSLRs to compacts. The R1's live preview shows the effect on the tones of the preview. An exposure scale is also shown.
***The R1 has five preset white balance settings, a custom setting and an automatic setting. The presets are: Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent and Flash. It's good to see a separate setting for Flash, which tends to give slightly blue results with most Daylight settings. We didn't like the Fluorescent preset, but fluorescent tubes vary so much that we assume it's perfect for some users (and some tubes). The custom preset, our choice for most situations, is easy to set and works well. The presets and the custom setting can be made warmer or cooler with a fine adjustment control. Auto, which gave solid results in many situations, is not affected by the fine adjustment tool.
*The R1 ISO settings run from 160 to 3200, in full stops from 200 to 3200. Other than the fact that the ISO button is far away from the rest of the settings, the control is easy to operate and well executed. The ISO 3200 images are very noisy, and likely to be used when that's the only way to get the shot. Also, it would have been nice to see a lower ISO 64, 80 or 100 setting to offer some additional control over aperture and shutter speed in extremely bright conditions.
*The R1 shoots exposures of 30 seconds to 1/2000 of a second at ISOs from 160 to 800. At 1600 and 3200, it will shoot from 8 seconds up to 1/2000. The control dial selects the speed, which shows up on the display when the camera is in modes that allow the user to select shutter speeds. The R1 runs a long-exposure noise reduction routine on exposures longer than 1/6 of a second at ISOs from 160 to 400, and exposures longer than 1/25 at higher ISOs.
*The R1's maximum aperture at its wide angle setting is f/2.8, which matches zooms on both DSLRs and long zoom compacts – and actually, it beats the cheap zooms packaged with entry level DSLRs. At telephoto, its maximum of f/4.8 is slow compared to many compact cameras, but still in the same league with the DSLR kit lenses.
Competition aside, a maximum aperture of f/4.8 is limiting when shooting available light indoors, and even for shooting action outdoors on a cloudy day. It's likely to drive users to bump up the ISO, which will leave them with noisier images.
Users moving from smaller compact cameras to the R1 should be pleased with the improvement at the bottom of the aperture range: the R1 goes all the way down to f/16. Ansel Adams wouldn't find that impressive, but it gives the R1 user a measure of flexibility.
Picture Quality / Size Options*(7.5)
*The R1 lists its image sizes in megapixels. They are 10, 7, 5, 3 and 1 megapixels, corresponding to pixel dimensions of 3888 x 2592, 3264 x 2176, 2784 x 1856, 2160 x 1440 and 1296 x 864. The 1 megapixel file is a little big for emailing, so users ought to sample it down before clogging friends' mailboxes. The R1 calls its two levels of JPEG compression Fine and Standard. Fine is better than Standard. The R1 also writes RAW files, and the uncompressed files are worth the trouble – the trouble being that they weigh in at a chunky 20 megabytes, a good four or five times larger than the JPEGs.
Picture Effects Mode* (7.75)
*The R1 can shoot in Black and White or Sepia, as well as color, and offers a choice of color spaces. The user can set the camera for Adobe RGB, vivid (which records in sRGB), or standard sRGB.
The R1 also has settings for contrast, saturation and sharpness, all of which can be set to high, low and normal.
*The R1 ships with PicturePackage, ImageMixer VCD2, and Image Data Converter, for RAW file translation. The software allows sorting, printing, editing of photos and creating slide shows on disk. Experienced users will probably be more comfortable with Adobe Photoshop for editing.
*Jacks, Ports, Plugs (6.0)
*The R1 has a USB 2.0 port and video out, and accepts an external power source for both operation and charging the battery. External flashes connect via a multi-contact hot shoe and an accessory plug, though not a standard PC sync terminal.
*Direct Print Options (6.5)
*The R1 supports both DPOF and PictBridge to print without a computer. DPOF creates print orders that can be downloaded to commercial printers, and PictBridge prints directly to compatible inkjet printers. The R1 can specify which images to print, how many copies to make, print size and whether to imprint the date on the image. It can also create index prints. We found the interface straightforward.
*The R1 uses a dedicated rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, which charges in the camera. The 7.2 volt, 8.5-watt-hour unit lasted quite a while in our tests. We prefer dedicated batteries, like this one, to AA cells. We find they last longer.
*The R1 has no built-in memory, but it accepts both CompactFlash and Sony's Memory Sticks. The R1 must be switched manually from one memory type to the other. CompactFlash is a standard and very broadly available memory format, and is typically less expensive than Memory Sticks.
Other Features* (4.0)
Auxiliary Lenses -* Sony offers absurdly large auxiliary lenses to extend the R1's reach. They add about a pound to the camera's weight, and are expensive. We have not had the opportunity to test them, but don’t see the appeal – most users interested in the R1 will likely be drawn to the camera’s fixed system.
Zebra Stripe highlight warning - The R1 takes a useful feature from video cameras and shows zebra stripes over blown-out areas of the frame, even in shooting mode. It's a useful tool for shooting in difficult light.
Automatic EVF to LCD switching - The R1 can switch the display between the LCD and the viewfinder, apparently based on whether the user's eye is darkening the viewfinder window. It's a fun idea that's well executed.
*For about $1000, the R1 offers an excellent lens and an APS-sized sensor. It's the only camera that does that – the kit lenses on low-end DSLRs don't touch the R1's Zeiss glass. They aren't nearly as wide angle, and they just aren't as good. They distort more, do not handle color as well, and they have smaller apertures.
Still, buying an R1 means giving up interchangeable lenses and reflex viewing, both of which should be powerful draws to most photographers shopping in this price range. All the DSLRs we have tested are faster and more responsive than the R1, and of course, none have the viewfinder "smearing" problem we noted in low light on the R1. Also, the R1 does not offer optical image stabilization or video capture – both strong draws to fixed lens designs.
For a small, defined group of photographers, the R1 poses an adequate value and ideal camera. For other, general consumers, the simplicity of the R1’s system might prove too limited to justify the $1000 purchase.
*Panasonic Lumix FZ30 -*The FZ30 has been called everything from "the future of photography" to "the Chuck Norris of cameras" by users who expect all-in-one cameras to make SLRs and interchangeable-lens cameras obsolete. Listing for less than $700, the 8 megapixel FZ30 is much less expensive than the 10 megapixel Sony R1, and it has a 12x zoom range with optical image stabilization and video recording. The lens extends to a strong telephoto, but does not offer nearly the wide angle capability of the R1. The R1 wide angle is equivalent to 24mm on a 35mm camera, while the FZ30 only reaches 35mm on a 35 camera. Of course, on the telephoto end, the FZ30 matches a 420mm lens on a 35, while the R1 goes out to a portrait length 120mm equivalent. The R1's Zeiss lens is sharper and shows less distortion than the FZ30's glass. The R1 also has a much larger sensor, yielding better noise results and overall image quality.
Kodak EasyShare P880 - The Kodak EasyShare P880's Schneider-Kreuznach zoom has just about the same 35mm focal length equivalent as the R1's lens. The P880 acts like a 24-140mm, while the R1's lens is like a 24-120mm. The P880 lists for $599, and is an 8 megapixel camera. Its fit and finish aren't as nice as the R1’s, and we found its resolution performance disappointing compared with other 8 megapixel cameras. We weren't happy with the 115,000 pixel LCD, but that's not much worse than the R1's 134,000 pixel display. The P880's controls are inferior to the R1's, but users on a budget who want wide angle capability might save $400 with the P880, and still get the features they want.
Fujifilm FinePix S9000 - The Fujifilm FinePix S9000 is a moderate super zoom, but unlike the FZ30 and most other super zooms it adds a bit at the wide angle end. Its 28mm wide angle equivalent is not as broad as the R1's 24mm equivalent, but it's still a fairly wide angle; many similar cameras start at a 35mm wide setting. Its telephoto setting looks like a 300mm. Its 9 megapixel sensor is 1/1.6" format, which is larger than some of the competition, but smaller than the R1's. Its color accuracy is not as good as the R1's, though it barely over-saturates colors at all. With a list price of less than $700, the S9000 offers a different mix of features than the R1, along with high sensitivity settings.
Canon Rebel XT - For $200 less than the Sony R1, the Canon Rebel XT offers much faster operation, an optical viewfinder, the option of interchangeable lenses, a burst mode and better focusing, but a very much inferior lens. There's no need to pick exclusively on Canon – Nikon's kit lens, Olympus's kit lens, Pentax's kit lens are all very lightly built. Their maximum apertures are annoyingly dim, and their wide angle coverage is insufficient. Super zoom worshipers have a point: to get an entry level DSLR to live up to its potential, the user really has to spend several hundred dollars more on extra lenses.
Who It’s For
***Point-and-Shooters -* The R1 skimps on features for the point-and-shooter in favor of more advanced users. For $1000, the point-and-shooter ought to buy a $300 camera, a couple memory cards, and spend the rest traveling somewhere scenic to take pictures.
Budget Consumers - The R1 charges a premium for its high-quality optics and imaging system. Budget consumers ought to look elsewhere.
Gadget Freaks - Gadget freaks ought to love the unusual design, the snob appeal of the Zeiss lens, the way it switches automatically from the viewfinder to the LCD and the cool factor of the APS-size sensor. It's a great toy (if you can afford to call something that sells for a grand a toy).
Manual Control Freaks - Manual control freaks may be attracted here. The R1 has complete manual controls, with the optics and chip to justify them.
*Pros/Serious Hobbyists - *The R1 is not flexible nor fast enough for most pros to use as a primary camera, but it may appeal to some who want an additional all-in-one camera with an excellent lens.
**The Sony R1 might have been conceived in response to many photographers’ complaints about recent super zoom compact cameras. Perhaps Sony took note of the many users who want more attention paid to the wide angle end of the zoom range and a bigger and better sensor in a compact. Perhaps Sony listened to users who wanted a $1000 camera that performs well straight out of the box, not just after the user dumps the kit lens for more rarified glass.
We don't imagine that anyone has been aching for a camera as slow as the R1 – it takes several seconds for the thing to write a single RAW file to memory. There are shooters that have no problem with this, though. With enough time and storage space for those 20MB RAW files, we expect plenty of users to get great results from the R1.
The Sony R1 will ultimately serve a small portion of consumers quite well: sightseers, realtors, and those looking for a casual high-performance imager without concern for speed. The quality rivals or surpasses many entry-level DSLR kits and will not disappoint those willing to invest $1,000 for it. Unfortunately, the sharp lens and clean images come at a significant expense. Users will have to sacrifice an optical viewfinder, lens interchangeability, autofocus performance, shooting speed (all around) and durability. While the R1 is not likely to appeal to those graduating from an FZ30 or other ultra zoom model, the camera offers a unique combination of exceptional Zeiss-branded glass and APS-C sized CMOS sensor unavailable on any other model.
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