A Spring Walk In Jardin des Plantes with Sony RX1R.

Every spring one of the places we love to go to is Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden in Paris. There are a couple of cherry trees, and when they are in bloom, it's spectacular. We call one particular tree with white flowers "the dude". This spring is no different, and since it's the first sunny weekend, we happily headed to our favourite park.

It was a good opportunity to test my new camera. Just a couple of weeks before I got a Sony RX1R off Ebay. It’s a fixed-lens full frame camera with a 35mm f/2 lens and a 24Mpx sensor. 

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I was curious about it for a while, since I always liked the Fujifilm X100 series, and my favourite lens on my X-T2 is the XF 23mm f1.4. The RX1R offers the same focal length in a very compact package. 

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In use, it is not the easiest thing to handle. While I don’t mind it’s slick gripless design, I definitely missed a tiltable screen when photographing close to the ground. Furthermore, not having a viewfinder on such a bright sunny day made framing difficult.

Thankfully, 24 megapixels is plenty for my walkaround photography needs, so cropping images in post to correct framing and straighten the horizon was fairly easy. 

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But not everything can be corrected in post. Nailing the focus on an f/2 lens using only the screen was quite a challenge. Manual focusing isn’t great: the focus ring is too loose to my taste, and the focus-by-wire is pretty terrible. Not only that, checking that you have nailed the focus is annoyingly slow: the camera really takes its time writing the file to the card, and while it’s doing it, it doesn’t let you view the picture.

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And did I mention the tiltable screen? It’s even more desireable when you consider that the lens can focus as close as 20cm! With a satisfying turn of the macro ring, you extend the lens by a few millimeters, and you’ve got your focus range limited to 20-35cm. You would think that 35mm field of view is not great for macro, but boy does this lens deliver!

 Framing your macro shots is a challenge without a tilting screen.

Framing your macro shots is a challenge without a tilting screen.

It is not immediately apparent, especially when trying to view your pictures on a tiny glaring screen in the park, but when you get the images on a big screen, there is no doubt. This lens is truly outstanding.  It is so good, that I barely touched my XF 23mm f1.4 ever since I got the RX1R.

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The sensor also delivers outstanding results. The shadow and highlight recovery are beyond what I had on my X-T2, and I don’t need any tricks to get beautiful colors and sharp images in Lightroom. I was really surprised that a camera introduced in 2012 was really delivering a better result than my 2016 X-T2. It makes sense as it’s full frame, but I was very surprised still.

 Check out the shadow recovery. Shooting straight into the sun.

Check out the shadow recovery. Shooting straight into the sun.

All in all, the RX1R has become my main camera, replacing the X-T2 for 90% of my photography. I carry it with me every day, and the results are so good that I’m willing to tolerate the lack of a viewfinder and a tiltable screen. 

In 2015, Sony released a RX1R II with a pop-up viewfinder and a tiltable screen. I heard it’s still slow and eats the battery a bit faster, but I’d love to upgrade to it some day. It’s expensive, and there are very few of them on Ebay; buying a new one is also not that easy - very few shops have them in stock.  

I’m hoping Sony will release a RX1R III with a touchscreen and a faster CPU. It’d be great if they also improved the focusing ring, the current one really feels cheap compared to everything else on this camera.