Last year we thought high-resolution cameras with electronic viewfinders and non-interchangeable lenses were dead ducks, soon-to-be victims of D-SLR price slashing. Then Sony created the Cyber-shot DSC-R1, a model that bridges the gap between EVFs and D-SLRs. The Sony R1 offers exceptionally low noise, a wide dynamic range, and (unlike most of its competitors) a fast, true wide-angle zoom. Ask yourself: Do you really need interchangeable lenses?
Its sheer specs set a new standard for electronic viewfinder (EVF) cameras: ten megapixels of resolution and a top sensitivity of ISO 3200. But what makes the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 different from all other EVFs is the size of its CMOS image sensor. It's as big as the image sensors in many, if not most, digital SLRs-and over five times the area of the CCD sensor in Sony's previous top EVF, the eight-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-F828.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1
Why would you need five times more space to accommodate 25 percent more pixels? Resolution isn't the reason. A larger sensor permits larger pixels, and larger pixels produce images with lower noise at a given ISO, all else being equal. In fact, we found that compared to other EVF models, the new Cyber-shot provides about two stops of additional, usable sensitivity. ln practice, this means you can shoot handheld in much lower light levels without an EVF camera's usual trade-off in image quality.
Opting for the bigger chip meant Sony had to make a slightly bigger camera body, and, more significantly, a lens with longer actual focal lengths to produce comparable angles of view. The R1's quick-focusing 5X Zeiss zoom gives the equivalent of 24-120mm (and a fast f/2.8-4.8) on a 35mm camera. Many EVF models offer more telephoto power, but Sony smartly chose to limit the long end of the focal-length range to keep the lens compact.
Like any EVF, the Cyber-shot R1 displays a "live" image on its LCD monitor, which lies flat on top of the camera, hinged at the back-as if low-angle composition and waist-level shooting were its first priority. (You flip up the screen for arm's-length composition.) Once you're ready to shoot, so is the R1: Its shutter response is quick and quiet, with very little delay between shots. To us, that sounds like a digital SLR.