With a few exceptions, 2005 was a fairly typical year for new digital cameras. There were millions of point-and-shoots, some ultrazooms (which, back then, were closer to 12X than 60X), and a handful of DSLRs.
In September of that year something big arrived (literally and figuratively): the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1. The R1 was the first non-SLR camera to sport an APS-C image sensor – a giant leap from what most compacts were using at the time (2/3″ was about as big as you got.) This 10.3MP sensor offered an impressive ISO range of 160-3200 and could shoot three shots in a row at a whopping 0.3 frames per second. And did I mention that it could shoot Raw?
The R1 had a lot more going for it than it’s big sensor, though. Its design was, and continues to be, one-of-a-kind. Oh, where to begin.
What jumps out the most for me in the above photo is the LCD. Two inches in size, it flipped up and rotated 270 degrees. It could be laid down flat, flush with the top of the body, which was good for street shooting or tripod work. Its placement did have a drawback (for some, at least), which you’ll see in a moment.
Perhaps my favorite feature on the camera was its manual zoom ring. This popped up on a few ultrazoom cameras back then, but then went the way of the Dodo bird. Note to camera manufacturers: bring it back on your long-zoom cameras! The ‘Carl Zeiss’ lens had a range of 24-120mm (equiv.) and a max aperture range of F2.8-4.8, which was average for that time.
As you can see, the DSC-R1 had a large electronic viewfinder that protruded way back from the rear of the camera. While the 232k-dot resolution was nothing to write home about, it was a large finder and offered an eye sensor. The R1 also offered twin control dials AND a joystick for selecting an AF point.
Something nice about the cameras of that era were all the direct controls. Want a button for spot metering? You got it. A flicker reduction switch? Sure (it’s the framing/preview switch – something I had to look up in the manual.) The menu system is classic, with a 1980s-style font and Nintendo-like beeps when you operate it.
Keeping with the ‘premium’ theme, the R1 offered two memory card slots; one for CompactFlash, the other for Memory Stick. You had to use a physical switch to choose between the two, and who knows what would happen to the universe if you were using a Memory Stick Select card.
Remember my mention of the trade-off of having a top-mounted LCD? You’re looking it. The DSC-R1 had an offset hot shoe, which some people like, and some people don’t. While the above photo is an extreme example, having a large flash up there did make the camera a bit awkward to hold. (Apologies for the Canon flash – we’re fresh out of Sonys in the office.)
The Cyber-shot DSC-R1 was a one-of-a-kind camera that had no successor. As Phil Askey points out in his exhaustive review of the R1, it was a product that had a considerable amount of both pros and cons, though it still earned a ‘Highly Recommended’ score, due mainly to its spectacular lens and relatively low price of $999. While it’s unlikely that you’ll ever see an R1 ‘in the wild,’ it’s totally worth playing with this beast if given the chance.
DPReview is grateful to Mark Weir of Sony Electronics for lending us the DSC-R1.