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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 review Gordon Laing, December 2005


 



 




Like its earlier high-end all-in-ones, the R1 follows Sony's tradition of striking a canny balance between unique product design and intuitive operation. It's fair to say you won't have seen anything quite like it, yet enough remains familiar for you to be up and running in moments. It's pictured below alongside Canon's EOS-350D / Digital Rebel XT.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 and Canon EOS 350D front viewInterestingly, Sony's abandoned the swivelling body of the previous F-series, but there's still the temptation to try and twist your right hand away from you when you first pick up the R1.

While the R1's grip remains fixed in position though, it's both large and comfortable to hold; a dip in the body to the immediate left of the grip also allows your thumb to curl round and offer greater support. The lens barrel also sits very comfortably in your left hand. Ergonomically it's well thought out.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 and Canon EOS 350D top viewAt first glance the body looks quite large, but at 139mm wide by 97mm tall, it's not much different from Canon's compact EOS-350D. The lens and protruding viewfinder contribute to the 168mm length of the overall package, which when viewed from above with the deep grip gives the impression of a camera that's bigger than it actually is.

The camera weighs 995g with battery, which makes it heavier than most budget DSLRs with their bundled lenses, but to be fair the R1's lens is longer and optically faster. It certainly doesn't feel heavy to use or carry round though and the build quality is excellent.

The camera's powered by a rechargeable 8.5Wh Info-Lithium battery and like other Sony cameras, you can see exactly how many minutes of charge remain on-screen. When fully charged, the camera reported 297 minutes in record mode, which Sony reckons should be good for around 500 shots.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 rear viewThere's no shortage of controls on the back of the R1. Joining the traditional thumbwheel and four-way joystick is an additional wheel which works in a similar way to those on Canon's higher-end DSLRs - albeit not as tactile.

In Priority or Automatic modes, this wheel adjusts exposure compensation, while in manual mode it controls the aperture. A large button between the wheel and viewfinder puts the camera into play mode, during which the wheel controls magnification.

Focus, white balance and flash modes are operated using controls on the left side, while the button for ISO is located right next to the shutter release / power switch. The ISO button requires quite a firm push in conjunction of the turn of the thumbwheel though, so there's no chance of accidental operation.

The main mode dial feels relatively small and hidden on the rear surface to the lower left of the viewfinder, when you'd normally expect it to be prominently located on the top surface of the camera. It offers the usual Auto, Program, Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priority modes along with four scene presets. Shutter speeds range from 1/2000 to 30 seconds, along with a programmable Bulb option up to three minutes. Exposure compensation is offered from +/-2EV in third stop increments.

There's a small pop-up flash above the lens and a hotshoe located to the right side at the back of the grip for an external Sony flashgun. Slow-synchro and rear-curtain modes are offered, and flash compensation is available between +/-2EV.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 right side view
Sony R1 composition and screen
Like other long-zoomed all-in-one cameras, the R1 offers the choice of composition using either a colour LCD screen or electronic viewfinder. Of course the special thing about the R1 is it's the first camera to use a large format CMOS sensor which can also deliver a live view to its displays.

Sony's made the most of this capability by offering the option of a live histogram, and even zebra patterns borrowed from the camcorder world to indicate saturated areas. Optional grid lines can also be over-laid on the live image to aid composition.

The effect of exposure compensation can additionally be seen immediately as you rotate the rear wheel - it's a great way to work. Zebra patterns aside, these may all be things we'd expect from any high-end all-in-one, but it's neat knowing it's the first time you've been able to enjoy them with a large format CMOS sensor.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 rear viewSony may have abandoned the swivelling body of the earlier F-series, but in its place is a more flexible tilt and swivel 2in screen.

Rather than fit this on the back of the camera though, Sony's mounted it on the top surface. This lifts open with its back towards you, then can be swivelled round 180 degrees to face you. While the camera can be used like this, you'll find the screen slightly obstructs your actual view of the subject.

But rather than peer around the screen in this upright position, it's far better to fold it back down again into the body, where it can then be used at waist-level. This is a very natural way to work, with the added flexibility of being able to tilt the screen upwards a little until it's at the perfect angle for shooting.

This approach encourages interesting angles which you'd often dismiss as inconvenient with a conventional SLR. The whole mechanism also feels very strong and well engineered, although it's far better suited to landscape orientation than portrait.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 top viewSony's provided an automatic option which switches from the screen to the viewfinder as you bring the camera up to your face. Unfortunately this equally detects your torso during waist-level shooting, annoyingly switching the main screen off. Luckily you can over-ride this automatic option and manually select either the viewfinder or screen using a switch on the back.

The screen itself is bright and easily viewable in daylight, and with 134,000 pixels offers a reasonable level of detail for its size. The electronic viewfinder is also good quality, although like many others, appears coarser than the main display. During playback, you can zoom-in up to five times or choose a view showing four histograms for red, green, blue and white light.

Autofocus is quick and generally accurate, but the downside to only having pixel-based displays for composition is the inability to be absolutely 100% certain the image is sharp without replaying it afterwards and magnifying up close. The manual focus mode may temporarily magnify the image, but it's not in the same league as focusing through the optical viewfinder of a genuine SLR camera.

Of course SLR cameras don't have flip-out screens with a live preview, zebra patterns and a live histogram, nor the possibility of silent shooting, so it's a case of weighing up your priorities. Interestingly, another feature of sensors which can deliver live previews is the ability to capture video clips. While Sony engineers explained to us that the R1's sensor could in theory support video capture, this facility was not implemented on this model. Video capture may seem trivial on a high-end camera, but in our view it would have given the R1 an additional selling point over traditional SLRs.

All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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