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



Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 lens
The R1 employs a Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* zoom lens with a 35mm-equivalent range of 24-120mm and an optically fast ratio of f2.8~4.8; the actual focal length is 14.3-71.5mm. Like the F828 before it, the zoom is operated by a tactile mechanically-linked ring, but the focusing remains electrically assisted. A decent lens hood is supplied and the front lens element doesn't rotate during focusing, allowing the easy use of polarising filters.

To illustrate the R1's coverage compared to a typical digital SLR, we took the same photo from the same position on a tripod using the R1 and the Canon EOS-350D / Digital Rebel XT with its bundled 18-55mm EF-S lens. The photos below were taken minutes apart.

Zoomed-out to wide-angle, the R1 clearly captures a visibly wider field than the 28.8mm equivalent focal length of the 18-55mm on the Canon. Indeed it's comfortably wider than any all-in-one or bundled digital SLR lens we've tested, and one of the R1's greatest selling points.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1
Canon EOS-350D with 18-55mm EF-S
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 at 14.3mm f8
Canon EOS-350D with 18-55mm lens at 18mm f8
14.3-71.5mm at 14.3mm, f8 (24mm equivalent)
  18-55mm EF-S at 18mm, f8 (28.8mm equivalent)

Below are examples of both lenses zoomed all the way in, again taken from exactly the same position and minutes apart. The Canon 18-55mm EF-S offers an equivalent telephoto focal length of 88mm on the 350D / Digital Rebel XT, but it clearly doesn't get as close as the 120mm end of the Sony R1.

While the R1's telephoto capabilities are far below that of, say, the Fujifilm S9500 / S9000 or the Panasonic DMC-FZ30, it's sufficiently good for general purpose shots and decent portrait use. These images also illustrate how much more useful the R1's range is than the 3x optical zooms typically bundled with budget digital SLRs.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1
Canon EOS-350D with 18-55mm EF-S
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 at 71.5mm f8
Canon EOS-350D with 18-55mm lens at 55mm f8
14.3-71.5mm at 71.5mm, f8 (120mm equivalent)
  18-55mm EF-S at 55mm, f8 (88mm equivalent)

By eliminating the mirror and prism section of a traditional SLR, Sony has also been able to implement a very short back focus where the last optical element is positioned immediately in front of the sensor. Sony claims this has allowed a reduction in chromatic aberrations, and after the performance of the earlier F828, this is an area everyone will be checking very closely - check our results pages to see whether the R1's optics can banish the spectre of its predecessor. Its also means like other all-in-ones, the R1 operates in near silence, which in certain environments can be a definite advantage over the audible mechanism of an SLR.

Unlike traditional SLRs though, the R1's lens is of course permanently attached to the body. While lacking the flexibility of a removeable lens system, the R1's optics offer a wider and more useful range than the bundled lenses many budget digital SLR owners never upgrade from, and at f2.8~4.2 is optically faster too. The inability to remove the lens can additionally be spun as a benefit, eliminating the risk of dust getting onto the sensor.

If the R1's range isn't sufficient though, you can attach optional 1.7x tele, 0.8x wide or macro conversion lenses. These are however unusually large, especially the tele adapter which doubles the length of the camera and adds almost an extra kilo in weight.

The most unique aspect of the R1 is of course its large CMOS sensor - the first time an all-in-one camera has employed a digital SLR-sized sensor. The R1's sensor measures 21.5 x 14.4mm, so is only fractionally smaller than those found in most budget digital SLRs. Crucially though it's considerably larger than the 8.8 x 6.6mm size of the 2/3in sensor in its predecessor and other high-end all-in-ones.

The R1's sensor boasts 10.8 Megapixel resolution, delivering 3:2 aspect ratio images with an impressive 3888 x 2592 pixels. This is a considerable step up from the six or even eight megapixel resolution of the budget digital SLRs currently in the market, and is unlikely to be matched at this price by budget SLRs until well into 2006. The large sensor size has also allowed Sony to implement a wide sensitivity range of 160 to 3200 ISO, which while unremarkable for digital SLRs, is a significant improvement on the range of existing all-in-ones. Check our results to see how the R1 compares on noise and resolution.

Files and memory
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 front viewImages can be recorded at five different resolutions, each with the choice of two JPEG compression levels. They can alternatively be recorded in Sony's SR2 RAW format, which additionally captures a JPEG at the same time whether you want it or not. Best-quality JPEGs measured between 4 and 5MB each, while RAW files weighed-in at considerable 20.5MB each, which seems a little excessive given those for, say, Canon's 12.8 Megapixel EOS-5D measure around 14MB each; RAW conversion software is supplied.

Standard and vivid colour modes are offered based on sRGB, along with (for the first time on a Sony camera) Adobe RGB. Saturation, contrast and sharpness can also be adjusted by a notch in either direction. If you're used to consumer cameras, the standard settings produce vibrant images out of the camera, although those used to digital SLRs may prefer to take the sharpening down a notch.

Like the F828 before it, the R1 can take either Compact Flash cards or Sony's own Memory Stick format - both standard and Pro sticks are supported. A switch on the back of the camera by the memory door selects between the formats. A USB-2 port is provided for transferring images, alongside a video output, accessory port and DC input.

Image processing and handling
The R1 powers-up quickly and is ready to shoot in 0.68 seconds - this is a fraction slower than the fastest digital SLRs, but certainly nothing to be concerned about. During playback, a preview of the image appears almost instantly, then sharpens up to the full screen resolution about a second later; note intelligent buffering can allow images to load to full screen resolution instantly depending on how you browse. The thumbnail option also loads all nine images almost instantly.

The camera also wakes up quickly after sleeping, but unlike the manual focusing of an SLR lens, the R1 will need to be refocused. This only takes a split second if using AF, but can be annoying if you're shooting the same subject from a tripod and find you need to refocus every time the camera wakes up.

Burst mode capture up to three frames at 3fps, but then pauses for around three seconds to record them to the card; you'll need to let go of the shutter and repress it after recording these images if you'd like to capture any more. While 10.8 Megapixels is a lot of data to process and record, a three frame buffer is quite modest compared to most digital SLRs.

Overall, for single shot use the R1 is sufficiently quick not to miss any action. But if you need to capture more than three frames in a sequence or are shooting the same fixed subject from a tripod, you'll probably find the R1 more restrictive than a conventional digital SLR.

All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2017 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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