Every now and then a remarkable camera comes along. That's certainly one way to describe the Sony Cyber-shot RX1 - a 24-megapixel full-frame sensor compact that doesn't really have any comparable competitors, short perhaps of Leica's M-series rangefinder cameras.
The RX1 is a risk. It's the embodiment of that rare moment when a company goes, "Hey, let's show off what we can do," in order to showcase an idea that hasn't been put to market before.
It's yet more of a risk because its cool £2,600 asking price is more than most full-frame DSLR camera bodies and, realistically, there's only ever going to be a niche audience. Or, let's rephrase that, a small number of actual buyers.
But boy, oh boy is it desirable. Just look at it. It's a steely wedge of classical camera paired with a fixed 35mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens - the latter point surely being where at least four figures of the price comes from. It's subtle, borderline boxy even, but that understated look coupled with a complementary orange ring to the base of the lens looks top brass to us.
Pocket-lint has been playing - we use the word loosely, as we've been pretending to be all professional about it while bounding around the office in a bout of camera-geek excitement - with the Sony Cyber-shot RX1 ahead of its release to see how it handles and, most importantly, what its full-frame images are like.
ISO 125, f/2.0, close-focus
We'll cut to the chase: they're pretty darn good.
With a sensitivity range from ISO 100-25,600, extendable down to ISO 50, and with an f/2.0 maximum aperture controlled via the lens' manual aperture ring, there's scope for shooting in all kinds of low-light scenarios. Although we have to say that, for the price, the RX1's autofocus really isn't anything special beyond what most normal compacts can muster.
At the lower ISO settings there's plenty of sharpness and shots are crisp and clear. The f/2.0 maximum aperture also opens up significant shallow depth of field when paired with a full-frame sensor, even at the given 35mm focal length, as is clear to see.
ISO 400, f/2.0, manual focus
The JPEG samples shown across this preview page - check out the gallery below for the originals, including 100 per cent crop samples at pixel level - don't overwork image processing, instead opting for a grainier but all-round sharper look. Even high ISO samples don't "smear" shots, and while the top ISO 25,600 setting is certainly pushing it a bit, it'll still have its uses, most likely when shooting black and white in low light without flash.
ISO 25,600, f/2.0, close-focus
The 24-megapixel resolution is fairly high, and this does contribute to some colour noise that appears as the ISO sensitivity passes the four-figure mark. Hardly unexpected.
There's a certain look and feel about full-frame images though. The camera picks up subtleties of light really well, and even if the RX1 doesn't look like a full-frame camera in the hand, from an outsider's point of view, its shots sure do hit home that it is one.
ISO 2500, f/5.6
Although the camera can't focus particularly close-up to a subject - it's 30cms to infinity in the standard mode - there is a lens ring that can be twisted to switch the lens into its 20-35cm focus distance mode. Hardly super-close for such a 35mm focal length, but typical of a street-photographer-styled snapper such as this.
After only a few hours' initial time with the Cyber-shot RX1, we're intent on getting to know the camera far better over the coming days to bring you our full review. It's not without some question marks, but it's going to take some around-the-clock living with this specialist bit of kit to see how it truly feels.