Enough of this testing regime; it’s now time to see how the RX-1 performs in actual use. I think it’s also time to drop the head-to-head comparison with the NEX-7/Zeiss 24mm lens. It was useful for a while, but I’ve pushed it about as far as is worthwhile. In recognition of that, I’ve changed the title of the thread from “A tale of two cameras, part x” to “RX-1 review, part x”. Since it’s all an RX-1 review, I’ve started the new series where I left off on the old. If this is the first page you found, don’t look for “RX-1 review, part 1”; click here.
My objective over the next few days is to try to figure out what kinds of photography the RX-1 is best suited for. When I got the camera, I thought that street photography would be a natural: the right lens (although I’d have preferred a 28), unobtrusive, and quiet. Maybe it is good for that; I haven’t had a chance to find out. What else might the camera be good for?
I had a hike scheduled for this morning. It seemed natural to take the RX-1 along. It’s light. It’s small. Because it’s full frame, it produces a low-noise image (that’s important if you’re hand-holding landscapes under a lot of foliage and trying for decent depth of field, because you’re going to end up with ISOs up around a thousand). I don’t yet have the EVF, so I just stuck the camera in my pack.
The camera performed well. The LCD panel is bright and easy to see, although I hate using it to frame the picture, I didn’t have any trouble doing so. I always worry about camera shake when I hold the camera that way, so I experimented with the shake compensation feature. I’m not enamored of the results. It seems to turn bad images into better ones, but doesn’t seem to help the ones that are almost sharp, but not quite there; it might even make them worse.
When I looked at the images at 1:1 in Lightroom, I had one of those OMG moments that I remember from the first time l looked at a Hasselblad 39 Mpixel image. This camera produces really nice files, right up there with the D3x and the D800E. Clean, crisp, and natural.
Later on, I decided to take the camera for a walk in the woods. I pulled out a Leica 24mm optical finder, which has bright lines for a 32mm lens because that’s the angle of view you get with a 24 on an M8. I figured the 32mm was pretty near 35mm, so I slipped the finder into the accessory shoe on the RX-1, and slung the camera over my shoulder. Imagine my surprise when the finder fell off, landing on the floor with a thud. I took a close look at the RX-1 accessory shoe. The little springs don’t close the gap as far as the ones on my other cameras, and they won’t hold the Leica finder in place. Gaffer tape solves a myriad of photographic problems, and it solved this one, albeit inelegantly.
The optical finder is a poor substitute for an EVF, because you can’t frame accurately, you can’t adjust the focus, and you can’t see the histogram. Still, it’s better than holding the camera at arm’s length. An articulating LCD panel on the RX-1 would go a long way towards making shooting with no eye-level finder acceptable; since the waist-level position (a la Rolleiflex) is pretty stable.
The camera is so quiet that, not being able to see the LCD screen, I sometimes wasn’t sure that I’d just taken a picture. I got used to that after a while, and just trusted the shutter to do its job.
I made some handheld panos, and had no problem with the buffer filling up. I ran a test with the advance in the high-speed continuous mode, and the buffer can hold about a dozen images – not nearly as many as a D4, but plenty for most uses. Handheld panos work out surprisingly often, but if you’re really serious about panos, you bring along a tripod and a sliding head; in that situation having a small light camera isn’t particularly advantageous.
It’s not the fault of the RX-1, but using this camera, or any camera with comparable resolution, to make landscapes is going to cause the photographer to be continually balancing depth of field with diffraction. For really sharp work, that means using f/5.6 or f/8. f/11 is for the situations where the scene has real depth and you don’t want to do focus bracketing. The RX-1, because of its fiddly focus-by-wire system, doesn’t make focus bracketing fun.
I think the RX-1 will be a great hiking camera with the EVF, but I won’t know for sure until it comes. It’s acceptable without the electronic finder, but the compromised stability and general awkwardness of arm’s-length framing is a real problem for me.
Here’s a high-dynamic-range scene: