When the Sony Cyber-shot RX1 was announced we got a little bit excited. That excitement was met with disappointment that it was hidden behind glass on display at a Sony conference. Much begging later and we convinced the Japanese team to host a special meeting where Pocket-lint was shown the full-frame compact camera in full.
We already thought it looked nice, but it feels just as good as it looks. The RX1 is one premium compact, thanks to its magnesium alloy body, but it's the finish and feel of the lens controls that really make it.
The fixed 35mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss lens that's the lifeblood of the RX1 has three main control rings: there's a focus ring, a short-turn macro ring behind that and then a "classic" aperture ring at the rear.
The focus ring is silky smooth, as is the macro ring. The latter doesn't turn particularly far but when turned makes the front lens protrude outward by no more than a few millimetres. This achieves focus up to a minimum of 20cm from the focal plane (not the front of the lens).
The aperture ring has those reassuring clicks and each aperture clearly marked out in white on its black barrel. We're suckers for build like this, even the way it sounds in use - it "clicks" without being overly loud. Spot on.
As mentioned in our initial eyes-on piece, the size of the camera is surprisingly small. Think about the 36 x 24mm full-frame sensor loaded at the heart of the camera and it's impressive that Sony has kept the body so small. Sure, the lens sticks out a fair amount, but then it's assembled from premium elements, including advanced aspherical ones, to keep contrast and therefore sharpness maximum across the entire frame.
As well as a main mode dial the camera features an exposure compensation dial and a "c" or "custom" button on the top. The custom button allows access to the 1.4x and 2x tele-crop modes that will morph the 35mm lens into a near-50mm equivalent at 17-megapixels (approx) or a 70mm (approx) equivalent at 12-megapixels. It's like a three-in-one and sure makes the most of the 24.3-megapixel full-frame sensor.
However the sensor isn't the same as the Alpha a99's - the first full-frame SLT camera, also announced today, read our a99 first review here - because there's no phase detection autofocus on the sensor itself. Instead the RX1 opts for contrast detection autofocus which, Sony assures us, is more than capable in this kind of camera and was used to avoid excess power consumption.
As the RX1 shares the same battery as the RX100 model it's only able to deliver 270 shots per charge, which might be a little on the low side for more serious snappers. But at least you can buy a spare, as much of a nuisance as it may be to chop and change between the two.
One other hurdle in our hands-on is that there was no battery available to check exactly how the RX1 performs. Sony is being rather precious about its new baby, so we'll have to wait until Photokina or beyond to get a real feel of how this big-sensored compact truly performs.
From what we've seen we love it, but the £2600 price tag is a sting in the tail. Serious - and we mean serious - enthusiasts will be willing to part with the cash though, so long as this Cyber-shot can live up to the hype.