Embracing Limitations

I don’t always get the chance to practice what I preach—nor report back on the experience. But having made «A New Case for Compacts» in this column in our July issue, I decided to take a break from my interchangeable-lens cameras during my summer vacation, and travel with only a fixed-lens compact.

Not just any fixed-lens compact, though: I brought along Sony’s new Cyber-shot RX1R, a 24.3 MP full-frame with a 35mm f/2 Carl Zeiss Sonar T* lens. The only difference between it and the original RX1? The low-pass filter over the sensor was removed for enhanced sharpness.

While an upcoming report from the Popular Photography Test Lab will tell the full story, I can vouch for the images I shot—lots of fine detail, and with none of the moiré that Sony warns may arise without a low-pass filter to smooth it out. The camera was simply a joy to use—it felt great in the hand and didn’t weigh me down, even after hours on the march. With such a small, discreet camera, I could carry it in my hand, ready to shoot, just about all the time (I always keep the strap wrapped around my wrist to avoid dropping it). That’s the reason any large-sensor compact makes such a good travel camera, and why even DSLR-loving pros are interested.

In my case, setting the aperture on a well-marked ring on the lens was perfect for street shooting and candids of my friends. It let me preset the RX1R without looking at the LCD or through the viewfinder (I’d also bor­rowed an accessory electronic viewfinder, since the camera lacks a built-in finder). And being able to open up all the way to a true f/2 meant I could get beautifully shallow focus and set a lower ISO than I would have been able to with a slower lens.

Now if only my pictures lived up to the camera’s capabilities. At times, I felt as if I were relearning the basics. Working with a single focal length, with no choice of switching to a telephoto or going ultra wide, presents challenges in composition and shooting strategy. I had to remind myself to get physically closer to my subjects, repeating the old adage to «zoom with your feet.» I quickly realized that some pictures weren’t worth trying to get—architectural details, for instance. But least the RXIR’s ultra resolu­tion will give me more freedom to crop when I finally make time to edit!

The biggest lesson was, paradoxically, how liberating such limitations can be. If I couldn’t get some obvious shots, I had to be more creative to get something good—or simply put away the camera and enjoy living in the moment. What a crazy idea!

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