Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1
Many keen photographers will welcome the release of Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-R1, which replaces the aged DSC-F828 at the top of the company’s line-up. Like the F828, the new model sports a non-interchangeable lens – a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* wide angle zoom covering a field of view equivalent to 24-120mm in 35mm format – and a high-resolution sensor. However, Sony has fitted a much larger CMOS chip in the R1 and its resolution is significantly higher. . . [more]
Many keen photographers will welcome the release of Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-R1, which replaces the aged DSC-F828 at the top of the company’s line-up. Like the F828, the new model sports a non-interchangeable lens – a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* wide angle zoom covering a field of view equivalent to 24-120mm in 35mm format – and a high-resolution sensor. However, Sony has fitted a much larger CMOS chip in the R1 and its resolution is significantly higher.
Designed and built by Sony, the new imager has a capture area of 21.5 x 14.4mm (popularly known as ‘APS-C’ size) and uses progressive scanning for image capture. The sensor has 10.8 million photosites (10.3 megapixels effective).
Although the overall styling of the R1 is somewhat DSLR-like, the new model is not an SLR camera. Without a mirror to contend with, the rear element of the lens is located within 2mm of the imager. The result, Sony claims, is ‘optimised image quality and colour accuracy’ with reduced image noise. With an effective resolution of 10.3 megapixels the R1’s imager should match (or better) the performance of similarly-priced interchangeable lens DSLRs.
The review camera was a pre-production model, which was supplied without an instruction manual or software disk, so we can only provide an overview of its performance and functionality. We hope to be able to update this review online when a production model arrives. That said, what we’ve seen so far leads us to believe the R1 could be a genuine ground-breaker.
It’s the only large-sensor camera that provides a continuous real-time preview on the LCD monitor – and it’s the only camera that tells you how many minutes before the battery dies. Incidentally, the battery is charged in the camera and it takes roughly 150 minutes to go from flat to full power. But there’s enough power for you to take roughly 500 shots. The main thing users will miss is video capture; like interchangeable-lens DSLRs, this camera is a stills-only model.
The DSC-R1 is a big camera; size-wise it compares with a middle-sized DSLR and it’s just as hefty. The body is made from polycarbonate on a rigid metal chassis, which feels very solid. Most of the top panel is taken up with the flash/LCD mount, with the pop-up flash at the front and the pull-up-and-swivel 2-inch monitor behind. Just below the monitor is an electronic viewfinder, which sticks out roughly 2cm from the rear panel. An eye sensor detects when you’re using it.
Below the EVF are the mode dial, monitor/finder sliders and button controls for metering, drive, self-timer and digital/playback zoom settings. On the lower right side of the EVF is a quick review/playback button and right of that (on the camera body) is the AE lock/delete button. Below is the main command dial/four way controller, which is used for adjusting manual settings and exposure compensation, and further down is the menu button.
The rear of the hand grip carries the secondary command dial, with a display button for changing what’s on the LCD beneath it. A switch for selecting the memory card slot (CF or Memory Stick) is located on the lower right edge. The top of the grip carries an accessory shoe, which is designed for Sony’s HVL-F32X and HVL-F1000 flash units. The ISO button lies to the right and slightly behind the shutter release/power switch. The R1’s grip is large and accommodates both the battery and card slots.
On the left side of the body are buttons for setting the flash and white balance modes plus a button and ring focus controller. The latter only accesses AF settings; manual focusing is done with a ring on the lens. Zooming is also ring-driven and the zoom is linked mechanically to the lens elements, providing high precision. A plastic hatch behind the AF controls covers the USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, A/V out, DC in and accessory ports.
In some ways, the R1’s menu system resembles that of one of Sony’s digicams, with selections scrolled along the lower edge of the display. Some settings are similarly limited and, of those provided, many are inaccessible in the auto and scene modes. While you can choose from five image resolutions, only two compression options are provided and, although the R1 supports RAW capture, TIFF is ignored. When you shoot in RAW, a JPEG is automatically recorded as well.
Some adjustments are quite extensive. For example, you can choose between +/- 0.3, +/- 0.07 and +/- 1.0 increments for bracketing and flash output can be tweaked in 1/3 EV increments between -2 EV and +2 EV. You can also choose from three colour settings: standard sRGB, ‘Vivid’ and Adobe RGB, and select B&W or sepia effects. Saturation, sharpness and contrast adjustments cover three levels: low, normal and high, with the latter adding an Advanced Gradation Control System (AGCS), which analyses shots and adjusts the tonal curve to correct under-or over-exposure.
The R1 provides two viewing options for composing shots: framing and preview. The former brightens the screen to make the subject more visible and minimises flicker in fluorescent lighting, while the latter replicates the effect of the camera settings. Thus, when you stop down the lens, the display darkens and you can confirm the depth of field before shooting.
Two digital zoom options are provided: ‘Smart’ and ‘Precision’. The former is resolution linked, so the higher the resolution setting the less you can zoom. The latter uses the ‘crop-and-enlarge’ system. Another neat innovation is the zebra pattern setting, which is often found on video cameras but seldom seen on stills. This applies diagonal stripes over areas that will be overexposed when you shoot, allowing you to adjust the exposure before shooting.
As this review is based on a pre-production camera, we can only provide a preliminary indication of its performance. However, overall image quality appears to be well above average.
The test camera powered up within a second and shut down almost instantaneously and capture lag averaged 0.8 seconds. With pre-focusing, shutter lag was negligible. Continuous shooting frame rates averaged 3.5fps but the buffer can only hold three shots, which is pretty limited.
Test pictures taken with the R1 were sharp and detailed, with excellent dynamic range and good highlight and shadow detail, but high saturation. Low light shots were noise-free up to ISO 400 and noise levels were low for ISO 800, after which deterioration was progressive. Flash performance was excellent and the white balance control performed reasonably well under fluorescent lighting but less well with incandescent lights.
Without the Image Data Converter SR RAW conversion software, all Imatest shots were taken as JPEGs. The results were variable, with best resolution and colour accuracy occurring at f8 mid-way in the zoom range. Chromatic aberration was detected but in most shots it was reasonably low. These results will probably change when a production unit is tested. 
Image sensor: 21.5 x 14.4mm progressive scan CMOS sensor with 10.8 million photosites (10.3 megapixels effective)
Lens: Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 14.3-71.5mm f2.8-4.8 zoom (24-120mm in 35mm format); 67 mm filter thread
Image formats: JPEG, TIFF, RAW(SR2)+JPEG
Shutter speed range: 30-1/2000 sec. plus Bulb to 180 sec.
ISO range: Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
Dimensions (wxhxd): 139.4 x 97.7 x 156.0mm
Weight: 929 grams (without battery and card)
Focus system/modes: TTL AF; single, monitor and continuous modes; range 50 cm to infinity; macro 35-50 cm
Exposure metering/control: Multi-pattern, centre-weighted, spot metering; Auto, P, A, S, M plus 4 scene pre-sets.
White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Flash, One Push.
Flash modes/range: Auto, Forced Flash, Slow Synchro, No Flash; range 0.5-8.5 m.
Sequence shooting: 3.0 fps for 3 frames
Storage Media: Dual slots for Memory Stick/ MS Pro and CompactFlash (Type I/II)/Microdrive.
Viewfinder: 0.44-inch EVF with 235,000 pixels
LCD monitor: 2.0-inch, top-mounted, swivelling TFT LCD with 134,000 pixels
PC interface: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
Power supply: InfoLITHIUM NP-FM50 rechargeable battery
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