The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 is a unique digital camera which not only redefines
the all-in-one category, but questions whether you really need a digital SLR.
One of the greatest advantages digital SLRs always had over all-in-one models
was a larger sensor, allowing high sensitivities and low noise even at high resolutions
- but now the R1 offers such a sensor in a sealed body. Couple this with high
resolution and an excellent lens and you've got what should be a winning package.
In use the R1 certainly feels like it's delivering the goods, starting quickly
and feeling responsive under general conditions. The build quality and ergonomics
are of a very high standard and the camera feels comfortable to hold.
Then there's all the benefits of a live view system: composition using a flip-out
screen and real-time feedback including histograms and an optional grid to aid
composition. Like other all-in-one cameras though, manual focusing using the
LCD screen is definitely harder than with a true SLR, although Sony's magnified
view certainly helps.
We were however disappointed to find the R1 didn't have a movie mode, despite
the Sony engineers telling us it could have been possible. As we mentioned in
the main review, movie modes may seem like a novelty to serious photographers,
but one would have provided the R1 with another neat plus point over SLRs. If
it really were possible, it's a missed opportunity.
The flip-out screen's position on top of the camera also seems slightly strange
at first especially when it's stood upright to face directly backwards. But
turn it round and fold it back into the body and you have a highly usable waist-level
system which encourages fun and unusual angles. Our only complaint with the
screen though was it felt less convenient to use when angled-out for portrait
While much of the R1's attention has been devoted to its large sensor, the
real triumph is actually the 24-120mm Carl Zeiss lens. You're normally lucky
to have an all-in-one with a 28mm wide angle, but one which extends to 24mm
is a joy. The lens may not zoom-into the heady lengths of the 300mm and up super-zooms,
but at 120mm it delivers a decent telephoto option. And crucially the lens performs
very well, with low distortion and high sharpness, along with no particular
concerns over vignetting or fringing - the demons of the earlier F828 have truly
been laid to rest.
As for the sensor, it really does resolve measurably higher detail than the
6 and 8 Megapixel digital SLRs, including the Canon EOS-350D / Digital Rebel
XT - although it's quite close to the latter. We hoped the large sensor would
match digital SLR noise levels too, but sadly while our model kept noise under
control up to 400 ISO, it really became apparent at 800 ISO and above - certainly
higher than the 350D / Digital Rebel XT.
Ultimately the decision between the Sony R1 and a digital SLR though really
boils down to how much you need the capability to swap lenses. While many enthusiasts
would assume yes straightaway, it's surprising how many owners of budget digital
SLRs rarely swap their bundled 3x optical zooms.
For these people, the R1 is definitely a better bet, offering a wider, more
useful zoom range, not to mention higher quality and faster optics than most
bundled SLR lenses. You'd really need to spend a considerable sum to match the
R1's range, optical speed and quality with SLR lenses. And remember the disadvantage
of non-removeable lenses can be spun into a positive, as a sealed body should
prevent dust from entering.
Before concluding though, we should re-iterate a couple of points from the
main review. The R1 has very modest burst shooting with just a three frame buffer,
and it's not as easy to manually focus as a proper SLR. So if you need precision
manual focusing, a large continuous shooting buffer, low noise at very high
ISOs, or of course different lenses then you'll be better off with a digital
If these points don't concern you though and you'd be satisfied with the R1's
optical zoom range, then we can highly recommend it - indeed for many people
considering a budget digital SLR, it's simply a better choice. The combination
of good design, an excellent lens and a high resolution sensor for the asking
price represents great value. We look forward to seeing more large-sensor all-in-one
Excellent quality lens with useful range
Large sensor for all-in-one body
High resolution beats 6 and 8 Mpixel D-SLRs
Flexible 2in display
Noise not as low as we hoped above 400 ISO
Harder to manually focus than D-SLRs
Tiny three frame buffer
No movie mode
(relative to budget DSLRs)
16 / 20
17 / 20
15 / 20
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