Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 was one of the most talked about cameras of 2012, but now the RX1R has had the anti-aliasing filter removed from its 24.3-million-pixel, full-frame sensor. We find out just how much difference this makes to image quality. Read the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R review...
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R review – Introduction
Announced just a few weeks ago, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R seems to be the perfect union between two of the biggest trends in digital camera technology. Based upon the original RX1 released last year, the RX1R is a compact camera with a DSLR-sized sensor, but with no anti-aliasing (AA) filter. As these features are two of the biggest talking points of the past few years, the RX1R looks to be an intriguing camera.
One of the most interesting things about the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R is that Sony has said it will cost the same as the standard RX1: £2,599. Most other manufacturers charge a premium for a version of a camera without an anti-aliasing filter, with Pentax being a good example offering the K-5 II DSLR for around £120 less than the filter-free K-5 II S. Nikon’s D800E actually has a second anti-aliasing filter that reverses the effect of the first, producing the same results as if the anti-aliasing filter weren’t there at all, although this costs over £300 more than the standard D800. While it may only be a small point, it is good to see that Sony is setting a precedent, especially given that the RX1 already costs £2,599.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R review – Features
As stated, the new RX1R is almost identical to its older sibling, the RX1. The original camera caused a stir when it was launched in 2012, as it was the first compact camera to feature a full-frame sensor. Both the RX1 and RX1R use a 24.3-million-pixel, full-frame, Exmor CMOS sensor, with a Sony Bionz processor responsible for running the camera and processing the data from the sensor.
The processor allows a sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600, extendable to ISO 50. When using multi-frame noise reduction, which combines a short burst of images into a single image, the sensitivity can be increased to ISO 102,400.
The second most important feature found on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R is its fixed Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f/2 lens. In our test of the RX1, we found that the combination of sensor and lens produces superb images, and overall the premium compact camera scored very highly. The RX1R has an identical set of features, but with the anti-aliasing filter removed, which should improve detail resolution, although it may also increase the likelihood of moiré patterning appearing in areas of images featuring densely packed lines.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R review – Build and handling
The build of the RX1R is identical to the RX1, with both cameras having a metal body and a multi-interface hotshoe to mount either a flashgun, or Sony’s optical or electronic viewfinders. The camera handles excellently, with a simple button arrangement and equally easy-to-use on-screen menu. The exposure-compensation dial makes it quick to adjust exposures, and having an aperture ring on the lens helps to recreate the feeling of using a more traditional film camera, particularly when the optical viewfinder is also in use.
There is also a focusing ring on the lens, although this is an electronic fly-by-wire, rather than a mechanical system. Manual focusing is aided by display magnification and focus-peaking. Another nice touch that enthusiast photographers will appreciate is the traditional remote-release screw thread on the shutter button.
With the two cameras being so similar, the focus of this article will be on the difference the anti-aliasing filter makes to the amount of detail that the RX1R can resolve compared to the RX1. This will also take into account whether moiré patterning is an issue and, if so, which type of photography it is most likely to affect.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R review – Moiré patterning
The fine houndstooth chequered pattern of this dress proves difficult for both cameras. However, the anti-aliasing filter of the RX1 reduces the issue, resulting in softer moiré patterning. The RX1R moiré is very severe, but the bottom pull-up shows that it can be removed fairly easily, or at least reduced in Adobe Camera Raw
One of the main purposes of the anti-aliasing filter (or low-pass filter, as it is also known) is to reduce moiré patterning in images. This patterning occurs when two linear grids are overlapped out of alignment with each other. One common example of this phenomenon is when photographing net curtains. Where the grid mesh of the curtains overlaps, a new concentric pattern appears to be created.
The same thing occurs when the grid array of a digital camera sensor is exposed to a similar linear pattern, such as tightly woven fabric or intricate brickwork on a building. The anti-aliasing filter is designed to blur the image slightly, and the stronger the filter, the more the image is blurred, with different manufacturers using different strengths of filter depending on the sensor used. The slight blurring is usually enough to remove moiré patterning completely, although it does of course impact on image sharpness. The anti-aliasing filter is one the reasons why digital images require sharpening.
With no anti-aliasing filter, moiré patterning is something that has to be considered when judging the image quality of the RX1R. I did find that I was able to see the effects of moiré patterning in my images when shooting a scene that included the edge of a closed book showing the stacked pages. When shooting JPEG files on the RX1, the image shows some of the fine lines of the pages in the book. The RX1R image is a little sharper, but the fine line of the book’s pages have a strange cross-hatched pattern running through them.
A dress with a fine houndstooth check pattern caused even more of an issue, with swirled coloured moiré patterning on the image taken with the RX1R. The same image taken with the RX1 also displays moiré patterning, but the effect is softer, as is the amount of detail displayed in the image. Of course, the strength of the patterning, and even whether it occurs at all, is also affected by the distance from the subject. When taking a portrait, it may be possible to reduce moiré patterning on a dress by simply moving slightly closer to the subject. However, it obviously isn’t ideal to have technical issues dictating the composition of an image.
Using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5’s localised moiré reduction tool, I was able to remove almost all the moiré patterning in the dress in the image taken with the RX1R. This removed the false colour patterning quite easily. If you weren’t previously aware of the moiré patterning you would struggle to find it, but if you know where to look then it is still visible, just reduced in strength.
Sony’s product manager was quite open about moiré patterning at the launch of this camera, saying this would be an issue for some photographers. He also stated that whether or not it would be a problem depends on the type of photography the camera is used for. If you only ever shoot landscapes, you may never see any moiré pattering in images from the RX1R. However, portrait, fashion and even some architectural photographers may find themselves at the mercy of moiré. Thankfully, the latest software seems to be very efficient at removing the patterning, although it may be time consuming if you have to remove it from a number of images.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R review – Resolution detail
While moiré patterning is the obvious downside of the lack of an anti-aliasing filter, the increased detail resolution is the main benefit. Looking at images taken with the RX1 and RX1R, there is a clear advantage to shooting with the RX1R. Images look crisp, with excellent definition and detail.
A closer inspection of raw images taken with the RX1R reveals details that are not visible with the RX1. While editing in Lightroom 5, I found that raw images taken with the RX1R need hardly any sharpening. In fact, it is easy to create an oversharpened image as just a small nudge of the sliders is all that is needed. Conversely, images from the RX1 can withstand more extreme sharpening as they are slightly softer out of the camera. However, sharpening doesn’t make details appear – it just increases the contrast of edges to give the image a little more ‘bite’.
Shot at f/4, the green lines represent the centre and corner sharpness of the Sony RX1R, while the blue lines represent the centre and edge of the RX1. It is clear that the RX1R can resolve more fine detail
When shooting at the maximum aperture of f/2, both cameras resolve a lot of detail. However, once again the RX1R has the advantage
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R review – Our verdict
With the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R, Sony has taken one of the best digital compact cameras available in the form of the RX1, and offered photographers an alternative. Whether it is better or worse than the RX1 depends on what you do with the camera. The removal of the anti-aliasing filter does what you would expect it to, and raw images especially have a superb amount of detail. However, the moiré patterning will be an issue for some photographers who specialise in portraiture, fashion or architectural images. For them, extra detail will be outweighed by the time taken to remove any moiré patterning.
That said, when taking street and landscape photographs, I struggled to find moiré patterning in my images. It was only when I deliberately photographed such patterns that it became a problem, so for most enthusiast photographers it shouldn’t be an issue, particularly considering the extra resolution the RX1R offers. In reality, the RX1R offers photographers a different tool to do a different job.
Image: The RX1R’s fixed 35mm lens and compact design make it ideal for street photography