Sony RX1: some thoughts 7 years later

Somewhere near the Smoky Mountains. Shot with Sony RX1.

The biggest non-essential material purchase I ever made was when I bought my Sony RX1 camera around this time of year in 2012.  At $2800, it was the most money I had ever spent on a single item that wasn’t a car.  I’ve used this camera regularly since then; to this day it remains one of the smallest full frame cameras in existence, and its top of the line image quality, useful 35 mm prime lens, and relatively compact size has been perfect for my travels.

7 years after its initial purchase, my RX1 still functions well with one big exception:  the manual focus just stopped working one day.  I didn’t knowingly drop the camera, but I did notice that the metal focusing ring around the front of the lens had a small area that was bent inward.  Very subtle, and I wouldn’t have seen it without looking closely.  No idea how this happened.  Fortunately for me, I hardly ever use manual focus, and the autofocus still works properly.

Despite the above problem and the fact that the technology is 7 years old (a long time for digital imaging), this is still by far the best camera that I own from a picture quality standpoint.  However was it worth $2800?  If I was buying a new camera today, the answer is probably no.  Sensor technology has improved to the point where I’d be happy with an imaging device half that price or less.  If my RX1 died tomorrow, the premium compact I’d buy to take its place is the Fuji X100f.  It’s got a smaller APS-C sensor and the lens isn’t quite as stellar, but for my non-professional purposes I think it would be more than adequate.  Plus, it sells for a little over a grand which is much more palatable than shelling out nearly $3000 for a gadget that isn’t designed with longevity in mind.

However until it breaks down and becomes fully unusable, I plan on using my RX1 all the way to the very end.  For me, the Sony RX1 is a “last camera syndrome” device, as its technical quality far exceeds my skill as an hobbyist photographer, and despite the release of two upgraded RX1 models since I originally bought mine, I’ve had no desire to spend money on another camera that likely won’t make my pictures look any better than what I can produce with this one.

A brief aside:  I’m amazed whenever I pull out my Olympus XA – a pocketable film camera made in the 1980s – and it still works properly and takes pictures just as well as it did back when it was first released nearly 40 years ago.  To be fair, that camera is mostly mechanical with fewer electronic parts to go bad.  I expect my Holga, a model of simplicity with no electronics whatsoever, will last even longer.  No way any of my digital cameras will still be functional after 40 years.

Golden Gate Bridge. Shot with RX1.

As imaging technology continues improving, I may eventually reach a point where I no longer need a big camera.  Going through my favorite pictures from this past decade, there’s definitely a trend of increasingly more shots from my iPhone compared to a dedicated camera.  Back when I first bought the RX1, people still carried around small point & shoot cameras to document their travels.  Man has that completely changed.  Most of my friends and family don’t even own a separate camera anymore; it’s cell phone or nothing.

I don’t make nearly as many large prints as I used to back in the day, so for many situations the latest generation of cell phones is already good enough to make a nice image that looks good on a small to medium sized screen.  It’s really only for vacations where I expect to see beautiful landscapes that I bother taking the larger camera, but after looking at amazing iPhone images like these, I wonder whether it’s even worth the trouble to take anything more than my phone.  For now the answer is still yes.  For now.

Monk in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Shot with RX1.  Even with the fake portrait modes, you still can’t get a shot that looks exactly like this using a phone; at least not yet.

It would be nice at some point to rely solely on my phone for travel photos, but right now I do still find it to be worth the extra effort to pack either my RX1 or Ricoh GR when I’m visiting a part of the world I’ve never seen before.  I’m always happy with my decision when I get home and pull up the photo files on my computer.

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