Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-R1 represents an intriguing bridge between the world of user-friendly all-in-one prosumer cameras and the more complicated world of high-quality digital SLRs. It has an easily rotated LCD screen, plenty of manual bells and whistles, a sharp and versatile Carl Zeiss lens, and a 10-megapixel CMOS sensor nearly as large as those found in typical dSLRs.
The resulting images are impressive, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 is relatively easy to operate once you've navigated through the slightly awkward interface a few times. It can take a while to sort through the features spread out among more than a dozen buttons and dials, but even relative newcomers to digital photography should be able to take decent photos right out of the box.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 is a hulk among all-in-one prosumer cameras: with a weight of 929g, it's the heaviest we've seen, and its 139-by-98-by-156mm dimensions mean you can forget about stuffing it in your pocket. Due to its large zoom lens, the camera body is heavily weighted toward its left side, but the right-hand grip is sturdy enough to allow for an easy one-handed hold.
The DSC-R1 has a somewhat unusual design. For instance, you pull up and swivel the 51mm (2-inch) LCD screen mounted on top. This allows you to view the screen from almost any angle -- you can even hold it near your waist and shoot from the hip like a medium-format photographer. The drawback is that you have to take the time to adjust the screen each time you use the camera, unless you choose not to fold it down when you switch it off.
The DSC-R1 can be boggling at first grasp. But as you handle it more, a sort of logic comes through -- the features you'll use most frequently are easy to manipulate while you're looking through the viewfinder or at the LCD. A few other functions -- bracketing, contrast, the self-timer and playback magnification -- are more awkwardly located under the protruding viewfinder, but you're unlikely to adjust them with every shot.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 offers a broad range of automatic and manual features, but its highlights are the wide-angle zoom lens, which runs from 24mm to 120mm (35mm equivalent), and the large, almost APS-size 10-megapixel CMOS sensor. Macro photographers will be disappointed by the camera's inability to focus closer than 350mm, however, and the lens isn't very fast -- its maximum aperture lies in the fairly ho-hum f/2.8-to-f/4.8 range. It has a manual focus ring, which triggers a zoomed view of your subject for more precision, as well as a manual zoom ring.
The camera also supplies a useful range of colour modes. Like portrait film, the standard (sRGB) mode provides relatively natural and true-to-life colours; it's best for realistic skin tones. The Vivid mode performs more like highly saturated slide film, with an emphasis on reds, blues and greens -- it's best for landscapes and botanical photography. Finally, there's Adobe RGB, which has the widest colour range and is ideal for images you intend to adjust further in programs such as Photoshop. In addition to using white-balance presets for bright sun, clouds, incandescent lights, fluorescent lamps and flash, you can adjust the white balance by up to 3 steps.