The Online Photographer

Check out our new site at!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Whither the R-1?

Now that Sony's gotten into the DSLR business, I worry about the form-factor of the F505–F707–F717–F828–R-1 disappearing, finally. I owned the F707 and really liked it despite its flaws. It was an alive piece of kit, with some great tricks up its sleeve. The sensor just wasn't that great, is all. The R-1 solved the F707's biggest drawbacks by using a large sensor and having a manual zoom, and created a new drawback, since the body and lens are no longer hinged. (D'oh!) Since getting the K-M 7D I've been hoping that one day there'll be an R-1 with the swivel joint restored and some form of anti-shake. But it may never come into existence—we may have seen the last of that particular line of evolution.

For that matter, what's become of the R-1 itself? Few big announcements seem to have come to less, unless it's quietly selling well in the background without a lot of fuss and I'm just not hearing about it. None of Sony's usual outlets sell it locally, so I went all the way to Chicago to see one (and got ridiculously, thoroughly lost in the wilds of the city in the process). Losing things seemed to be the order of that particular day. The people at Helix on Racine Ave. first couldn't find the camera itself and told me they didn't have one—I later located it sitting right there in plain view in one of their glass cases—and then they couldn't locate a battery for it (despite me being rather obnoxiously insistent that they keep looking), which (since it has no optical viewfinder) rendered it useless. So despite having held one I feel like I haven't really experienced what it must feel like to use.

So is anybody using these? Has anybody done any work with one of them? Or does anybody know of anybody else who has? Can you post some links?

Another nifty form-factor from early digicams was the Nikon 900-950-990-995. I thought it was dead, but recently it's reappeared in the form of the Nikon S10 (right), although from the pictures I'm guessing they've done away with even the rudimentary optical viewfinder from the earlier versions.

I hope the Sony F505–R-1 (et alia) form factor doesn't die off either. It's a handy design that deserves further refinement.



Blogger PatrickPerez said...

I briefly owned an R-1. On paper it seemd like an excellent choice for me, with the stellar lens and large sensor. I had read some on line reviews that suggested what turned out to be the deal breaker for me; namely that the shot-to-shot responsiveness was poor. I am certainly not an action shooter, but having to wait for a moment to get a second RAW shot off just didn't work for me. My other SLR is an Olympus E-1 which is as fast as I need, and the buffer is deep enough.

The Sony R-1 certainly makes very good pictures, and I suspect it would be a good choice for landscape photographers with it's wide 24mm equivalent lens and copious pixel count. Within it's design brief, it certainly had nothing to be embarrassed about picture-quality wise. Ultimately, I sold it on ebaY for what it cost me, so it was a good learning experience. Now I'm back to 5 megapixels for the time being. I wonder what Fotokina will be bringing...

1:26 AM  
Blogger Fras said...

One of my Flickr contacts, Antonio Pennisi, uses an R-1. You can see his work here...

Antonio Pennisi Flickr Stream

You could probably search for photos tagged with R-1 to find more.

3:09 AM  
Blogger Svein-Frode said...

I hav used the 505, 707, 717 and 828 and have been very happy with them. Yes, they are far from perfect, but it's the greatest camera design ever. The live histogram has to be the greates feature of any digital camera, and the night vision mode made composing for night shots a bliss! If Sony only could have made a professional version of the camera with a larger sensor, RAW format and a shorter lens (20 - 100mm equivalent + a good TC) I would be first in line to buy one.

3:37 AM  
Anonymous David Aspinall said...

Hi Mike
I earn my living taking photographs both for my own exhibitions and commissions.
For years (5) I used E10 and E20 bodies and was well aware of their failings (which camera has no weak spots?) but liked the quality and robustness of the cameras.

Earlier this year I bought a DSC R-1 because I like the all in one concept and felt that it was like a development of the E10/20. After a period of adjustment to the silly viewfinder I love the camera - superb lens and great quality.
One real bonus of the direct video viewfinder is you can watch live as the exposure is adjusted.

You can still easily find the camera but accessories have almost disappeared and this swayed my decision about buying a second body, so having read your tome on the 7D I bought an Alpha which I am also very pleased with.

I hope Sony back up the Alpha with system support. At the moment I am struggling to find lenses and they seem to be pitching at the point and shoot upgrade sector of the market even though they are theoretically offering expensive but tasty Zeis glass.

The spec of the Alpha is head and shoulders above the competition but I like the R1 so much I am thinking of buying a second body to put in the cupboard for when the first body has any ailments.
Hope this is of help.

3:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have an R1 and like David I was initially put off by the viewfinder. After a while I got used to it and found the external LCD very good for tripod usage. The R1 is not a fast camera. It is closer to MF than 35mm in that respect. The good news is that it is closer to MF quality than 35mm for results as well. I now find it an amazing camera with no obvious competitor. All considered, I find the price incredibly low.

4:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my last comment I forgot to mention that Brooks Jensen seems to be using an R1 now. So maybe it is quietly selling to a large but quiet number of photographers :-)

4:29 AM  
Blogger Donncha said...

I used a Sony 717 until I hit it against a gravestone in a cemetary and it stopped working. I was heart broken because I love the form factor. The rotating lens spoilt me and I scoffed at other cameras. I didn't use the IR mode much, but even in daylight produced some amazing photos.
I still have the 717 here. I took it for repair and was told that the motherboard is broken. I'm still tempted to send it away for repair but it probably won't happen and the lifeless carcasse of my old camera will languish on my shelf.


5:48 AM  
Anonymous Eduardo said...

There are lots of R1's here in Brazil. To me that's a great camera, and specially a great Zeiss lens.
I have some pictures here:

6:05 AM  
Blogger Dwight Jones said...

Brooks Jenson, editor of Lenswork, uses an R-1. I have one of his prints. Very nice. The R-1 seems to be ideal for art and landscape photographers. I'm seriously thinking about getting one even though I have too many cameras. It'd be nice to have that much quality in such a convenient package.

The price has come down to less than $800 mail order. That could mean one of two things. Either an "R-2" is in the works, or this really is the end of the line.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous dtarbit said...

I have an R1 which I primarily use for Landscape work. I love it, although it is best used at a slower pace like a MF Camera. Having owned medium format cameras in the past to me the R1 was the closest you could get to the MF feel, and the budget(ish) price and 24mm equiv lens sold me on it. My only grip is noise in very low light levels (ie near dark).
I have some pics here,

6:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I picked up an R-1 in March as my second foray into the land of digital - my first being a Leica Digilux 1. I have not yet committed to a digital SLR system, as I'm biding my time, waiting for the right cost/quality/ergonomics combination (currently looking at Alpha and the 4/3 system).

Mine has been to the southern Utah desert, central California coast, Badlands of South Dakota, and the mind-numbing flatness of Minnesota. As others have mentioned, it is slow - frustratingly so. Still, I love the results. I find myself using it far more than my Contax AX gear, simply because it is so convenient and the images are exceptional.

7:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have one too. The results are very, very good, if you work within its constraints.

I shoot raw, despite humongous filesize.

iso160-400 (800 is usable)

Stop down the lens. I actually think the lens is overrated, but between f7.1-f11 it delivers. Wide open the lens is good from ~50mm-tele and it gradually gets worse from ~50mm to wide. (@24mm I would stop down to at least f8)
But do consider the high demands of the sensor. (good small sensor digicams often have lenses that are excellent at any aperture/zoom)

Bokeh is horrible, although "f9 bokeh" -as far as you'll get bokeh @f9 - is good.
Handholding slowish speeds is easy (leaf shutter/ heavy-ish lens/body design)

Action photo's: not the best tool, but better than old digicams.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Richard Sintchak said...

I too lament what seems the eventual loss of twisting digicams. My first P&S digicam was a Nikon 995 which I enjoyed using tremendously. My next, which I still have and use, is an F717. A bit bulky but when compared to more compact P&S digicams the F717 comes out clearly a winner in most comparisons I've done. I do not use it all that seriously but do love it for it's infra-red capabilties, some of which can be seen here.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Photo-essayist said...

Thinking about swivel joints and electronic viewfinders, my wish is that a manufacturer will break the (digital) mold and offer a nice, fat, square chip. Square means no turning the camera sideways, which would make it easier for swivelly, form-function stuff to be particularly elegant and robust.

Square would also marry well with a quality EVF. EVF means no pentaprism (which tend to grow with fat formats), no big mirror to flip (which also grow with fat formats), and--if someone is really clever--a choice of different compositional frames superimposed electronically over the viewfinder image. I could imagine the option of frames with darkened surrounds or frames that show the outer area in a manner that's similar to rangefinder viewfinders.

Mike, I'm glad you brought up the R-1. I hope it's a concept that will be developed further.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Brobo said...

I fully second you opinion about the form factor of the series. For me, the digital age started with a 707, later I owned a 717, 828 and R1.

I've been using the R1 for almost a year now. During the first months, I was really unhappy with the strange display handling. It still makes me slow in action and street photography and while swithcing between portrait and landscape orientation. I don't like the ugly bookeh and the not-so-good low-light noise, either.

Despite these, and after some thousand shots, I finally got more or less used to the camera. The lense is great, the camera is pretty responsive, and the overall image quality is a lot better than any KM A1, Oly 8080, Fuji 9500, Kodak 880 etc, or any of the many mega zooms.

You guys might want to take a look at my photo blog Brobo Photo. With the exception of a few recent F30 images, most of the pictures have been taken with the R1. I'm using it for both black and white and color photography.

Have fun, Guido.

1:57 PM  
Blogger Feral Nudes said...

Have you seen the prices good 990 or 995 Coolpixes fetch on ebay - makes a lie of all the comments about digital cameras being worth nothing a year after you buy them. They are uniquely useful for photomicrography as the 28mm filter thread screws onto a standard Leitz eyepiece for a reseach microscope, and the autofocus and autoexposure still work well.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I own an R-1 and, though I haven't produced any "serious" photographs with it, yet, I really like the camera and resulting images. As others have said, this is NOT a fast operating camera; however, I found that using the faster CF cards like the Sandisk Extreme III (and, probably now IV) really does shave off several signifcant seconds when writing a RAW file. Btw, Sony does not do a good job with RAW compression.

Overall, though, I love the colors out of this camera better than my Canon 10D, image quality is first rate due to that absolutely wonderal Zeiss glass, and most buttons/controls are pretty much where you'd want 'em. The only real downside to this camera is the EVF. Ya can't beat on optical viewfinder view! That said, though, I really like the live view and histogram! And, when on a tripod with the display screen facing back toward you it's kind of like a view camera; albeit with a right-side up image and correct left/right orientation.

Bottom line: The price of entry is totally worth it just for that lens! Having 24mm available is really nice, too, for landscapes, etc. I'm sorry to hear that Sony may not be continuing with upgrades to this particular genre now that they're in the DSLR game. That's a real loss, IMHO.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"I'm sorry to hear that Sony may not be continuing with upgrades to this particular genre now that they're in the DSLR game."

I didn't say they wouldn't. That wasn't news, that was speculation. I have no idea if the line will continue or not. Need to be clear about that!


3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought one this June as an "extra" camera to use alongside my Canon D1s. I've not used the Canon since except for some close up and telephoto work.

The R-1 is like using MF camera rather than a 35, which suites me just fine.

No one else has mentioned it, but the Sony RAW software is pretty neat. I like the undershoot / overshoot settings in the sharpening settings and the overall design is quite nice. The color rendition of the Sony software is quite beautiful as well. Unfortunately it doesnt integrate with Photoshop as well as Lightroom, so that is what I end up using.

-Hugh Crawford

3:53 PM  
Blogger Dave New said...

I bought a Coolpix 4500 (next-generation 995, if you will) twist-body new and I found it a kick-butt macro camera, with nice optical viewfinder, to boot! Also, Nikon's four-color filter array system (R,G,B,Cyan) produces astounding 4MP color pictures.

Unfortunately, I don't do that much macro work, and it was too slow (in terms of picture-to-picture speed, and in terms of lens speed/noisy high ISO) for my real love, available light handheld photography (think church interior shots with people, etc).

I went for the Digital Rebel on first day of avialibility, and upgraded last Fall to a 20D, and appreciate the power inherent in the current crop of DSLRs (I used an Olympus OM film system back in the day, so this accounts for some of my disappointment with the 4500).

I still have the 4500, with a nice collection of bounce flash, off-camera bracket, etc, etc., and trying to get a colleague interested in it as a camera for his wife to use for eBay postings of doll-house sized miniatures.

The more I think about it, and the more I hear about this particular genre of camera, I now have second thoughts about getting rid of it.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Vlad Eckligt said...

I've used the Sony F828 since december of 2004, and got some really nice shots from it, although -- Zeiss or no Zeiss -- I did suffer from the much-talked-about purple fringing issue that it had.

I recently got the R1, but I haven't had the chance to use it much yet. Its digicam heritage is apparent in its shallow buffer and its slowness to focus. But the image quality seems much better than the F828. Another annoyance is the "fly by wire" manual focus.

My motivation for getting it and not a dSLR was two-fold: First, I wouldn't want to commit to a lens mount just yet. Secondly, I'll want a high-quality all-in-one camera with LCD viewfinding (especially with an LCD that is usable as a waistlevel finder) even when at some future date acquire a dSLR.

A few further comments I would like to make: I have noticed far more tourists carrying around an R1 this summer than I've ever seen F828's previously. It certainly seems to be as common as various entry-level dSLR cameras.

Secondly, it's interesting you mention the difficulty in acquiring an R1. The store I initially ordered the R1 from, had great trouble getting one. After a month of repeated inquiries, I cancelled the order and went to another store which had a model on display.

Thirdly, even if Sony is not going to make further cameras like the R1, they've shown that cameras of its type can be both popular and good, and other manufacturers would do well to make similar cameras -- big sensor, all-in-one. To my mind, if a camera is too big to fit in your pocket, then there's no excuse for not using a big sensor.

Most of the pictures here, are from the F828: my flickr page

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hugh Crawford said:

"The color rendition of the Sony software is quite beautiful as well."

You may want to take a look at Silkypix ( This software is a little quirky to use, and takes some getting used to, but the colors from R-1 conversions are, IMHO, nothing short of spectacular. I haven't tried the Sony software, but I might now based on your post.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Hiding Pup said...

The various gearhead forums that I haunt seem to be quietly excited about the R-1, which seems to be generating something of a cult status for itself (à la two of your other favourites, the Olympus E-1 and Minolta 7D), presumably because of discontinued status and price-drops as shops try to clear inventory.

5:24 AM  
Blogger Robert Roaldi said...

Sony could do their clients a big favour if they hired a software engineer to upgrade the R1's firmware to produce output files of a more reasonable size. (Hint: lossless compression!) If the cpu cycles aren't there to begin with, why saddle it with large files to transfer? Others manage to get smaller files out of larger sensors; I'm sure Sony could too. To my mind, it's a major drawback. But if they're not continuing with this type of camera, they probably won't update anything on it.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Rolf said...

I bought my DSC-R1 in April after having a closer look at the E-330, which was my favourite until then,( I have a lot of Olympus gear). It was difficult to get a R1, I had to buy via Internet instead at one of the shops I prefer. Overall I am quite content with the R1.

I like the viewfinder, which is far better than the one in the E-330. The image is smaller than in my beloved OMs but at least as big as in the crop-DSLRs. Different from those DSLRs the image is bright, you can add a life histogram and gridlines and it gives you an idea, which result white balance, saturation and contrast settings will give. In my opinion EVFs are the future for APS-sized sensors. Progress being made in this field since I bought a 2100UZ is significant.
I also like the controls. It is easy to get used to them and you can act pretty fast. Zooming and focusing works as with a SLR. It is nice that the viewfinder image is enlarged during focusing, although I would like to have more than just a factor of two. All in all it seems to be easier than with entry level DSLRs.
The lens was a strong argument, too. I lived for decades with the 2.8-24mm, 1.4-50mm, 2.8-100mm Zuikos, so its range from 24mm to 120mm was okay for me. Distortions at 24mm seem to be much less than with the kit lenses coming with DSLRs.
Its an annoyance, when the battery suddenly fails. Therefore the long battery life and the reliable indicator for remaining lifetime are really comfortable.
As a technician I like simple solutions. The R1 does not allow to change lenses - so you do not have to clean the sensor and do not need anti-dust mechanisms. Getting rid of the mirror avoids vibrations and mechanical complexity.

With my 2100UZ I got used to long zooms and stabilization. Perhaps I have to buy an ultrazoom camera for wildlife photography. But it was obvious, that this would not work with the R1.
The plastic body feels flimsy. It is not as bad as with the Canon 350D, but for 730 Euros I would expect a little bit more.
Nevertheless it is still a heavy camera. It feels just right when it is in your hand, but it is no fun to have this camera in your backpack at long walks. When walking in the Swiss mountains this summer I still relied on my OM-4.
I have no experience with the external flash light. But I heard, that you cannot use it together with the internal one. Furthermore it seems to be difficult to see the flashlight or the macro lens anythere else but in the Internet.

2:42 PM  
Anonymous John said...

I have used one since June. Before that I used a 717, so my experience is limited to Sony, and briefly an inexpensive Minolta digicam. I chose the R1 for many of the reasons stated by others, especially the live histogram. In addition, I have diseased retinas that compromise my vision. While optical viewfinders are nice and bright in nice bright light, they are not so good in dim light. I needed something that would light up for me. I find the viewfinder to be terrific--it is crisp and has a fast refresh rate, at least compared to others I have looked at, and the ergonomics are very good. I was afraid I would miss the 190 mm telephoto of the 717, but I do not. On the other hand, I love the 24 mm. The comparisons to medium format are right on. If you want to be a digital Cartier-Bresson, get a DSLR. If you like to work deliberately, you will love the R1. I wish it had a deeper buffer. Bracketing in Raw is time consuming. Also, I wish the Raw files used lossless compression. In every other respect, I love this camera and highly recommend it. Now I am going to see Brooks Jensen's site.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Ian Rees said...

I haven't used any of the Sony swivel cameras because I don't like slow, fixed lenses. However, I think the R1 could be used as an interesting engineering mule for a digicam-rangefinder mashup with interchangeable lenses. I'd like to see what it could do with a LTM or M mount or a new autofocus mount ala Contax G, and a 1.3 or 1.5 crop sensor. That would make it very interesting to me. I'd like the image quality of a 1.5 crop dSLR with the silence and working style of a RF camera, with the modern conveniences of digicams (live preview, autofocus, etc.)

6:18 PM  
Anonymous HBP said...

I find the comments about availability interesting.

Here in South Africa Sony R-1's are being offered to Minolta owners who are experiencing technical problems with their cameras (i.e. we're not going to fix it, but we'll give you a new R-1 as a replacement).

This is all good and well (in some cases anyway) except that in the next breath they say that they have no stock of R-1's.

This tends to indicate two things :
1. That the R-1 has been downgraded to a give away camera, and
2. That production / distribution of them has slowed or stopped.

Either way it seems the R-1's life has been shortlisted.

5:07 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home