jueves, 13 de septiembre de 2012


By José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Sony Corporation has just presented the Sony RX1, first compact digital camera featuring a full frame 24 x 36 mm (state-of-the-art 24 megapixel CMOS Exmor sensor with a highly advanced BIONZ ipm and ability to generate top-notch 14 bit RAW archives) with fixed lens in history and very beautiful lines which combine the most clasical profile of the mythical analog and digital 35 mm Leicas M cameras and the modern aesthetics and superb metallic finishing typical of the electronic products made by the Iapanese firm, who has been for many decades one of the undoubtable world leaders both in quality and durability of its items, marking of trends, wise choice of market lines and particularly originality and innovation.

Sony, one of the most important firms in the world regarding the scope of cosumer electronics and research alike, knows very well which are the two historical quality benchmarks in the sphere of compact mirrorless full frame 24 x 36 mm sporting very little size and weight and yielding the highest quality photographic image, along with unmatched mechanical excellence and reliability:

a) Leica with its mirrorless full frame 24 x 36 mm compact cameras featuring an analog captor in screwmount, a rangefinder and interchangeable lenses from thirties, forties and fifties (bearing Oskar Barnack ADN, like the Leica II, Leica III, Leica IIIF, Leica IIIG, etc), mirrorless full frame 24 x 36 mm with rangefinder and analog captor, M bayonet mount and interchangeable lenses from fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties and last decade of XX Century (bearing Willi Stein ADN, like the Leica M3, Leica M4-P, Leica M6, Leica M7, etc) and digital mirrorless full frame 24 x 36 mm with M bayonet, rangefinder and interchangeable lenses (Leica M9, M9-P, M9 Titanium and M9 Monochrom).

b) Nikon with its analog mirrorless full frame 24 x 36 mm cameras with rangefinder  and interchangeable lenses from fifties (Nikon S, Nikon S2, Nikon SP, Nikon S3) along with the Nikon S3 Millennium Limited Series from 2004.

The Japanese giant of electronics, in the forefront of many digital products, both in the domain of home entertainment and the most professional audio/video high end sector, and whose most innovative item during the last three years - together with the just announced RX1- has been the Sony HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer, has made a very important and meaningful movement, acknowledging with tacit humbleness the historical preeminence of Leica and Nikon in the realm of compact full frame 24 x 36 mm cameras, and has designed and built a very nice digital compact full frame camera with lines clearly inspired by Leica, and which thanks to a sttrenuous effort of design trying by all means to offer an exceedingly modern product boasting at the same time an unmistakably retro look, has maneged to create a camera body making up a spectacular synthesis between the profiles of the Leica UR 1913, the Leica ´0´ 1923-1924, the Leicaflex 18 x 24 mm designed by Helmut Müller in 1962 and the Leica-H 18 x 24 mm (of which three prototypes were made in 1965) designed by Adam Wagner in 1964 on one hand, and the top panels of the mythical Nippon Kogaku Tokyo mirrorless full frame 24 x 36 mm from fifties, designed by                  .

Until now, very few digital compact cameras have appeared in the market which could be called ´professional´ ones (Fuji X-100 APS-C format with fixed lens, Fuji X-Pro System APS-C format with interchangeable lenses, Leica X1 APS-C format with fixed lens, Leica X2 format APS-C with fixed lens) both because of the image quality obtained by excellent lenses and the mechanical construction, being also benefited by an outstanding progressive improvement in the quality of digital sensors (particularly as to their performance at high and very high isos) and the ipms, it all accompanied by the possibility of making very high quality big enlargements on photographic papers in 30 x 40 cm, 40 x 50 cm, 50 x 70 cm and even 1 meter, something unthinkable with so small cameras only ten years ago.
Notwithstanding, the arrival of the Sony RX1 opens new horizons and expectations in the sphere of compact cameras featuring little size and weight along with a fixed lens, with a greatly minimalist but highly efficient proposal, which will undoubtedly enable to get a superior image quality, typical of the analog medium format, shooting handheld very comfortably (Sony has achieved the feat of reducing the size of the camera body/ lens binomium up to 480 g), thanks to four basical factors:

a) A state-of-the-art full frame 24 x 36 mm CMOS Exmor sensor, manufactured by Sony, which is currently the undisputed leader in this technological domain and which allow shooting at sensitivities between ISO 100 and ISO 25.600.

b) All the hints suggest that Sony has made a strenuous effort to attain the best image quality feasible at high and very high isos, so there´s a high possibility that this camera becomes one of the benchmarks in the full frame 24 x 36 mm scope, though its lack of interchangeable lenses will make it much less versatile than full frame dslr systems with interchangeable lenses from Nikon (Nikon D3, D4 and D800) and Canon (Canon EOS 5DII, etc) and the Compact Mirrorless Leica M Full Frame 24 x 36 mm System also featuring a highly comprehensive array of interchangeable lenses in different focal lengths.

b) A superb Carl Zeiss T* Sonnar 35 mm f/2 fixed lens, permanently attached to the Sony Rx1.

c) A highly advanced BIONZ ipm, which is another of the great traits of Sony with the RX1, since it will surely reduce to negligible levels the noise at high and very high isos, in full synergy with the CMOS Exmor 24 x 36 mm digital captor, allowing to reach ISO 25.000, a certainly awesome sensitivity. It doesn´t seem that it´s going to be nominal to some extent from ISO 12.000 onwards, but utterly operative almost up to the limit, because Sony know-how in regard to digital sensors is exceptional.

Anyway, it will be necessary to check the performance of extended ISOS choice up to sensitiviness of ISO 50.000 and 102.000, which seem to be truly colossal.

d) The very minimalist nature of the compact full frame 24 x 36 mm Sony RX1 camera is precisely what enables to optimize all the parameters that must converge to achieve a great image quality, since the whole system is applied for the size and opto-mechanical features of an only lens: the Carl Zeiss T* Sonnar 35 mm f/2 and

On the other hand, it´s very important to have clear in mind that the Sony RX1, despite not being able to use interchangeable lenses, is an utterly professional camera, both regarding the amazing image quality it will undoubtedly deliver and as to the excellent mechanical construction in magnesium alloy, so there´s a high possibility that this camera becomes one of the benchmarks in the full frame 24 x 36 mm scope, though its lack of interchangeable lenses will make it much less versatile than reflex full frame systems with interchangeable lenses from Nikon (Nikon D3, D4 and D800) and Canon (Canon EOS 5DII, etc) and the Compact Mirrorless Leica M System also featuring a highly comprehensive array of interchangeable lenses in different focal lengths.
Besides, the RX1 is a minimalist but highly efficient camera, based on the trio full frame state-of-the-art CMOS Exmor 24 x 36 mm / top-notch Bionz ipm / Carl Zeiss T* Sonnar 35 mm f/2 built for maximum synergy with both the CMOS and the ipm.

Sony has made a strenuous effort to reduce as much as as possible both the volumen and weight of the RX1, which with its dimensions of 113 x 65 x 70 mm (the last of the three figures refers to the distance from the lens tip to the back area of the camera body) makes up a very small and light camera, bearing in mind that it is a full frame model, which is a remarkable achievement, always being aware that it is a camera featuring a non interchangeable fixed lens, with the important advantages but also significant drawbacks it means.

On its turn, the Carl Zeiss T* Sonnar 35 mm f/2 Aspherical featuring 8 elements in 7 groups, with three aspherical surfaces, sports more reduced dimensions and weight than the 9 elements in 8 groups Carl Zeiss T* Distagon 35 mm f/2. though its size doesn´ t feature a level of miniaturization on a par with the camera body and appears large in comparison to it.

This way, with its dimensions of 113 mm x 65 mm x 70 mm and a weight of 480 g with battery is obviously much smaller than full frame dslr cameras like Nikon D800, Nikon D3, Nikon D4, Canon EOS 5D, 5D II, Sony Alfa A900, Sony Alfa A99, and others.

But if a comparison in size and weight is made with the Leica M9 full frame and the Fuji Xpro-1 APS-C, differences reduce significantly:

The Sony RX1 is slightly smaller than the Leica M-9 (weight of 589 g with battery), M9-P and Monochrom, whose measures are 138 mm in width (2.5 cm more than the Sony RX1), 80 mm in height (1.5 cm higher than the Sony RX1) and a similar thickness of around 70 mm from tip of the objective to back area of the body with a Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 ASPH lens attached.

Regarding the Fuji X-Pro 1, with its measures of 139 mm in width (1 mm more than the Leica M9 and 2.65 cm more than the RX1), 81.8 cm in height (1.8 mm more than the Leica M9 and 1.68 cm more than the Sony RX1) and a similar thickness of around 70 mm from tip of the objective to back area og the body with a Fujinon 23 mm f/1.4 lens attached, and a weight of 450 g with battery, it is very slightly bigger than the Leica M9 (both cameras feature almost the same size) and slightly bigger than the Sony RX1

The Sony RX1 enables the attachment of two kinds of viewfinders:

a) Electronic viewfinder FDA-V1K, coupled to the hotshoe. Made by Carl Zeiss, its appearance is great, and it enhances even more the amazing cosmetic aspect of the camera, which oozes beauty and class.

b) High performance lectronic viewfinder FDA-EV1MK, in which Sony has used all of its know-how in XGA OLED technology. There´s a high probability that it is the best electronic viewfinder appeared till now in the sphere of digital photography, and it is attached in the area of electronic contacts located on the front of the hotshoe, provided with multiple interface.

It seems clear that both viewfinder, both the optical and electronic one, will allow a very good vision quality, but in my viewpoint it would have been interesting and important that the Sony RX1 had included at least a built-in viewfinder, in order to utterly preserve the samall size of the camera. Furthermore, to be bound to buy apart one of the two available viewfinders will make the price tag approach to 4,000 euros.

The insertion of either the optical or the electronic viewfinder in the hotshoe of the RX1 increases the size of the camera in approximately a 25%, something which would have been avoided by means of a built-in optical or electronic viewfinder (perhaps built-in good EVF was the best choice), though it would have increased the design cost, production and market price.

Though there has been some speculation on the chance that Sony has created the RX1 as a first stage for the making of a future professional full frame CSC Mirrorless System camera with interchangeable lenses, I don´t believe it at all.

In my viewpoint, the fundamental reason for the configuration of the Sony RX1 as a camera featuring a steadily coupled fixed lens is a very different one, and around it lies one of the main cores of the matter on trying to manufacture full frame 24 x 36 mm compact cameras, whose opto-mechanical quality benchmark is with difference the Leica M System with Intrchangeable Lenses.

Designing and making a compact photographic system integrated by a wide assortment of lenses sporting highly miniaturized size and weight, different focal lengths and a great opto-mechanical quality, in such a way that they interact with an also very small and light full frame camera featuring a big 24 x 36 mm image sensor, and managing to attain that all of them are attachable, in the style of the mirrorless Digital Leica M 24 x 36 mm System embodied by the Leica M9, M9-P and M Monochrome or the Fuji X-Pro 1 (an also compact camera, whose dimensions are very similar to the Leica M9, and which though including an APS-C image sensor yields an image quality inherent to the full frame sphere) is something of extreme complexity (much more difficult and expensive to design than a 24 x 36 mm camera featuring a fixed lens), which requires huge production costs unit by unit, the use of the best materials and optical glasses available, very elaborate  state-of-the-art glass blank press techniques or glass moulding (such as the one made by Fuji with its interchangeable lenses for the excellent Fuji X-Pro 1 APS-C Format) of the aspherical elements and practically handmade making parameters encompassing highly exacting quality controls, with very high rates of rejected optical elements not fulfilling 100% the tremendously stringent tolerances of manufacture.

On the other hand, Sony has taken advantage of an important factor to save production costs; the ambivalence of its full frame 24 megapixel CMOS Xmor, shared both by the full frame dslr Sony Alfa SLT-99 and the Sony RX1, with which as well as presenting the first digital full frame 24 x 36 mm compact camera in history, gets a possible technological platform which will certainly work as a test bed for future full frame dslr cameras with interchangeable lenses of its Alfa range following the Sony Alfa SLT A-99.

On the other hand, one thing is to make a very high quality full frame compact digital camera featuring a fixed lens like the Sony RX1, and another very different one (and much more difficult to implement) the design and manufacture of mirrorless full frame professional rangefinder compact digital cameras with the possibility of attaching them highly luminous interchangeable aspherical lenses delivering second to none image quality like the Leica M9, M9-P and M Monochrom or compact mirrorless APS-C cameras without a rangefinder like the Fuji X-pro 1, which though not reaching the opto-mechanical levels of the digital Leica M cameras and their hugely comprehensive array of M lenses available, has a range of three lenses truly excellent, with a very praiseworthy degree of miniaturization, great luminosity, very accurate AF and feature aspherical elements of special optical glasses boasting very high optical performance and moulded with great mastery, such as happens with the 8 elements -two of them aspheric ones- in 7 groups Fujinon XF 18 mm f/2 R, the 8 elements - one of them aspherical - in 6 groups Fujinon XF 35 mm f/1.4 R, the 10 elements - two of them aspheric - in  8 groups Fujinon XF 60 mm f/2.4R Macro and the announced Fujinon XF 23 mm f/1.4.

It seems apparent that in the scope of compact mirrorless digital cameras, the best system in the world is currently the Leica M mirrorless full frame 24 x 36 mm, followed by the Fuji X-Pro 1 mirrrorless APS-C System, featuring an optical and mechanical quality level much higher than everything in existence till now in its format (with the exception of its AF speed, a bit slow, though highly accurate), and that in spite of including a smaller image sensor than the 24 x 36 mm, the quality of its digital captor, its ipm and above all its great lenses is so high, that the image quality it yields belongs more to the sphere of full frame format, turning it into a very good contender against cameras with 24 x 36 mm image sensors, managing to even slightly beat the image quality rendered by some professional full format 24 x 36 mm reflex cameras with higher price tag.

Evidently, the Leica M9, Fuji X-Pro 1 and Sony RX1 are different cameras, specially the RX1, which perhaps will open from now on a new small but existing market niche, and Sony has the wherewithal and know-how to afford the launching of the RX1, taking risks bearing in mind the present context of the photographic industry, and in this regard, the movement made by the Japanese giant of electronics deserves accolades.

But even understanding that Sony has got the economical resources, expertise and research capability to try to build a compact mirrorless full frame camera able to be coupled to interchangeable lenses of different focal lengths, it would mean difficulties of all kind geometrically higher than the ones solved to fulfill the manufacture of the RX1, above all in the sphere of the maximum feasible miniaturization of the lenses for such hypothetical camera, and that at the same time they featured an f/2 or f/1.4 luminosity with the minimum feasible diameter and barrel length, without forgetting the very important fact that it would be very complex to get with lenses of different focal lengths attached to that camera a full synergy which could approach to the superb one attained by the indivisible trio Carl Zeiss T* Sonnar 35 mm f/2 / Sony CMOS Exmor 24 x 36 mm image sensor + Sony Bionz ipm boasting very high speed and performance, because it would be necessary to optimize the efficiency of the system for a number of optical projections of different lenses, in such a way that the drawbacks to correct chromatic aberrations, distortions, fall-off,

After the historical per excellence milestone in the scope of compact mirrorless full frame 24 x 36 mm cameras which meant the design and manufacture of the Leica M9 with rangefinder and interchangeable lenses in 2009, a year since which we have known that it is possible to get a full format image sensor inside a body of mirrorless camera featuring very little dimensions and weight, it remains still pending a second landmark design which is at the same time the true and most seminal challenge: the making of a mirrorless full frame 24 x 36 mm compact camera without rangefinder, featuring small dimensions and the capability to be coupled to interchageable lenses of different focal lengths (much more versatile than a full frame compact camera with fixed lens), which would mean in my standpoint a historical and trendy turning point comparable to the creation of the Nikon F System by the genius Masahiko Fuketa (inspired by the formidable Nippon Kogaku Tokyo SP mirrorless RF from 1957) in 1959, something which perhaps could be attempted by either Sony with a future full frame 24 x 36 mm NEX with intercahngeable lenses of different focal lenses or any other firm of the photographic sector.

On the other hand, in my viewpoint, it´s rather curious that in the Sony text of announcement of the RX1 on September 12, 2012 in San Diego, it is said that ´the Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35 mm f/2 coupled to the RX1 is a versatile choice for portraits, street photography and everyday shooting´.

It doesn´t seem that a 35 m lens is precisely the best choice for portraiture, which doesn´t mean at all that portraits can be done with it.

I think that a 35 m lens, because of its nature of moderate wideangle and its coverage angle, is much more suitable for photojournalism ( it is the versatile per excellence lens in this photographic genre), street photography, photography of travels and landscapes, while to make portraits are a much more adequate option objectives like the Fujinon XF 60 mm f/2.4R (equivalent to a 90 mm f/2.4 in 24 x 36 mm format), the Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2 ASPH, the Pentax SMC-FA 77 mm f/1.8 Limited, the Canon 85 mm f/1.2 L, the Canon 135 mm f/2 L and many others, generally speaking between around 75 and 200 mm.

It features 8 elements in 7 groups, with three aspherical surfaces, one of which is announced as ´advanced aspheric´, it is undoubtedly an elite lens that has been designed and made from the ground up to synergize as much as possible with the CMOS Exmor 24 x 36 mm image sensor of the Sony RX1.

Therefore, this Carl Zeiss T* Sonnar 35 mm f/2 lens indissolubly connected to the first full frame digital compact camera made in the world, has an optical formula different to the one featured by the 9 elements in 7 groups Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35 mm f/2 available in ZF (Nikon bayonet), ZE (Canon EF mount), ZK (Pentax K bayonet) and ZS (screwmount Pentax M42), an excellent lens yielding great optical quality in the center, good in the borders and rather acceptable on the corners at every diaphragm, as well as exhbiting low chromatic aberration at f/2 and f/2.8, low distortion, very good control of coma, low astigmatism and a superb mechanical construction entirely made in metal, albeit it suffers from a certain presence of chromatic aberration on stopping down and a vignetting more visible at f/2 than other lenses of its focal length and luminosity, its weight being 570 g, with a barrel length of 73 mm, something perfectly normal in the sphere of non retrofocus reflex lenses, which have to save the mirror, so feature approximately double size and weight than the Leica M and Carl Zeiss ZM in M mount for compact mirrorless full frame cameras with rangefinder Leica M9, M9-P and M Monochrom.

The hints clearly indicate that Cosina Voigtländer, following very stringent guidelines by Carl Zeiss Oberkochen, has designed and built the new Carl Zeiss T* Sonnar T* 35 mm f/2 permanently attached to the Sony RX1 with optical and mechanical quality parameters superior to the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35 mm f/2 in ZF, ZE, ZK and ZS mount, with a new optical scheme and cell reducing the elements to eight and achieving a better optical performance manufacturing it from scratch to fully synergize with the 24 megapixel full frame state-of-the-art Sony CMOS Exmor image sensor, getting so maximum connectivity and efficiency between the digital captor, the camera firmware and the highly advanced and quick camera ipm.

Besides, another very significant new feature is that it boasts a central shutter enabling to shoot with an exceedingly low decibel level, along with a flash synchronization at every shutter speed, something highly useful with fill-in flash photography, though it limits the top shutter speed to 1/2000 sec.

It could be thought that since its AF is not extremely quick, it could be a hindrance when making pictures, but with the Sony RX1, which is a Point and Shoot Compact Full Frame Concept Camera (very small for its format but not a pocket camera), it isn´t a problem whatsoever, because it is not a camera intended for sports photography or very fast action, but for fields like travel photography, streeter, landscape and others.

On the other hand, the moderately wideangle focal length of its Carl Zeiss T* Sonnar 35 mm f/2 objective, thanks to its inherent depth field, minimizes to a great extent the possibility of focusing errors, which had been more higher with lenses feturing longer focal lengths from 50 mm onwards.

Likewise, albeit the ateadily attached Carl Zeiss 35 mm f/2 Asph lens reduces the risk of trepidation shooting handheld, it would have perhaps been desirable some kind of image stabilizing device, although I don´t think it is a significant shortcoming at all, due to the little volume and weight of the camera/lens combo (480 g).

The RX1 AF through chip with contrast detection features 25 focusing points, which are selected in an automatic or manual way, baing also available the choice central point AF, Flexible AF, Tracking AF and Face Finding AF.

There´s the further option of utterly manual focusing, made with the focusing ring located on the lens barrel, and which can be very useful in top-notch quality HD 1080p video recordings, playing with the sharpness areas and getting the most of the great quality level of the RX1 lens at f/2 and f/2.8.

The Sony RX1 is able to record HD 1080p video AVCHD version 2 at rates of 60p/i, 50 p/i, 25 p or 24 p. The very high quality video recording and the huge capability for selective focus at the widest f stops possible with the 24 x 36 mm format, is undoubtedly one of the strong points of the RX1.

On the other hand, Carl Zeiss has hitherto proved at length that its manual focus lenses for professional full frame reflex cameras in ZE mount (for Canon EOS digital), ZF (Nikon FX digital) and ZK (Pentax K APS-C) are the best ones for the shooting of HD video with photographic cameras, thanks to its superb opto-mechanical quality and the possibility of exceedingly accurate manual focusing allowed by them, together with the great chance of taking full advantage of the sharpness planes.

Bearing in mind that the Sony RX1´s 8 elements in 6 groups Carl Zeiss Sonnar 35 mm f/2 Aspherical lens features more reduced dimensions and weight and its quality level is superior, due to the higher synergy between lens, image sensor and ipm enabled by a fixed lens camera, it all added to the very small volume of the RX1 (slightly smaller than a Leica M9 or Fuji X-Pro 1).

The Sony RX1 truly exudes a vintage appearance strongly inspired by the classical analogue and digital mirrorless full frame Leica M cameras with rangefinder and to a lesser extent ( upper panel of camera) by the analog mirrorless full frame Nippon Kogaku cameras with rangefinder from fifties.

This both conspicuously modern and vintage aspect, with the wheel of shooting modes located just on the right of the hotshoe, the dial for over and sub exposure placed on far right of the camera (with a very useful + - 3.0 EV range of compensation, with capability of adjustments in thirds of diaphragm stops) and details like the mark indicating the position of focal plane just on the left of the hotshoe, the classic f stops ring on the back of lens barrel, together with the thread for shutter release cable are sides outstandingly enhancing the already spectacular beauty of lines of this camera with which Sony has accomplished another significant milestone.

Nevertheless, in my viewpoint, the absence of a shutter speed dial on the camera top panel (which would have fostered even more the classicism and beauty of lines of the Sony RX1) is an error of design that slows the photographic production, since it makes the photographer enter a menu to have access to the possibility of selecting at will the shutter speeds according to the photographic context.


It is another of the most remarkable features of the Sony RX1, with a great vision quality, within the best done until now in this domain, complemented by a new design menu, just on the Menu and Recycling Waste Peper Bin buttons, and a knurled smaller further one, located on top right of camera back (inside which it enters) just on the AEL button.