Test: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1
For many, the features of the R1's EVF will outweigh its shortcomings. EVFs can display additional exposure, focusing, and camera functions in the viewfinder (including a live histogram display and composition guides), and even darken or lighten the scene based on under- or overexposure settings. If you're satisfied with the DSC-R1's EVF, then your only concern might be the camera's lack of interchangeable lenses.
Then again, maybe not. The R1 packs a powerful punch with its high-quality Carl Zeiss 24-120mm equivalent f/2.8-4.8 5X zoom lens, and should really appeal to wide-angle shooters. Granted, a 24-120mm equivalent doesn't have the extreme reach found on some other EVFs, but a comparable wide-to-tele lens on a DSLR would cost more than the camera body alone. And for those who want a bit more reach, Sony has an optional 1.7X tele-adapter ($390 street).
In our field tests, we had mixed results from the autofocusing system. The R1 did well in bright light using the 5-zone Multipoint AF mode, although it's not as fast or accurate as most DSLRs in its price range. This mode is more easily fooled by detailed background elements, even when the subject is centered. But its other AF modes are harder to trick; they can be chosen by repeatedly pressing the multi-selector button with your thumb.
The Center AF mode shows a fixed AF box in the center that works like most other centrally located AF zones. We preferred the Flexible Spot AF mode that tightens the AF zone to approximately 5% of the viewfinder. When left in the center, it works like the Center AF mode with a tighter concentration-you can place it on an off-center subject, focus, and then recompose while holding down the shutter or AE-lock button.
Anyone who's done this with a camera on a tripod knows what a hassle it can be to readjust the camera back and forth, so the R1 lets you move the Flexible Spot AF zone to wherever you want it in the scene (actually, about 80% of the image area can be chosen, with 10% on the far right and left restricted). If you then switch to manual focus, the area around the spot AF zone fills the entire viewfinder while you tweak focus. Then it goes back to normal view in about 2 seconds. Granted, the manual-focus ring is actually a servo mechanism that responds a bit slower than a manual gear, but Sony also added a quick AF-assist button on the side of the lens to speed up the process.
In addition to the AF and manual-focus modes, the R1 features single, monitor, and continuous AF. The latter is useful for tracking a subject, since it continues to focus after you press down on the shutter, up to the moment of exposure. Yet we found the tracking capability of the R1 less sensitive than that of many DSLRs in its price range.
The DSC-R1's image quality is the best we've ever seen in a Sony camera and comparable to the best DSLRs in its class. If the R1 has an Achilles' heel, it's the electronic viewfinder, which might be a hard transition for those who are used to composing with a sharper, higher-magnification 35mm or digital SLR's optical viewfinder.