Smartphones have won. Everyone, including many professional photographers, use their phone to capture, edit, and share images in their everyday lives. Standalone camera systems still have their place, and they will for a while, but it is obvious that as our pocket cameras/computers get better and better they will become less and less valuable. ZEISS’ ambitious ZX1 wants to address these concerns by creating a complete imaging workflow possible in camera, complete with editing and uploading options. Is this the true future of our beloved camera systems?
SHOOT — High-End Design
In one sense, the ZX1 perfectly emphasizes current camera trends: a need to appeal to the high-end and professional market. The decline of the average point-and-shoots made it clear that cameras need to offer substantially more than their smartphone counterparts to be successful. ZEISS has always been a part of the top tier, and the ZX1 looks like it will easily compete with the Leica Q and Sony RX1R II. Take a look at some of the key specs:
- 37.4MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor (ZEISS Designed)
- ZEISS Distagon 35mm f/2 T* Lens
- 4.34” 1280×720 Multi-Touch Display
- 0.7” 1920×1080 OLED EVF
- UHD 4K Video Recording at 30 fps
- 512GB Internal SSD
- Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC
Integrated Lightroom should jump out at you as unusual. Everything else is quite expected for a high-end system. Immediate comparisons will be drawn to the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II and Leica Q, and it compares very favorable to both. I would even argue that this, on paper, looks to be the best of the full-frame compacts (I hate the term “point-and-shoot” for these cameras).
Interestingly, ZEISS designed the 37.4MP full-frame CMOS in house and have perfectly matched the Distagon 35mm f/2 T* lens to the sensor. ZEISS is one of those companies where we can take their word when they say the image quality will be phenomenal. The downside is it won’t be cheap. Sensitivities of up to ISO 51200 indicate excellent performance in low light and a leaf shutter in the lens will keep the camera quiet and perfect for those who enjoy using flash. And, there is UHD 4K video recording because, well, its 2018 and how could you not.
Bringing this all together is the physical design. Smooth aluminum. Intuitive touchscreen. High-res EVF. The ZX1 is reminiscent of an Apple product. There are even some “courageous” moves, including the use of an internal SSD instead of removable media and a single USB Type-C port to handle all necessary connections. We will have to wait and see how those pan out.
The nitty gritty is that ZEISS took a lot of care in designing the camera. They aren’t new to the camera-making field, having have the IKON rangefinder back in the film days, so this is no surprise. Just enough dials and controls, all adorned with yellow lettering à la the Otus series, to get to everything you need without being overwhelming, and plenty of modern touches to finish it up. The 0.7” OLED EVF with its Full HD resolution is my favorite contemporary feature, though many will be drawn to the 4.3” multi-touch display, even if only because it supports…
EDIT — Adobe Inside
…Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC. This is what separates the ZX1 from your standard camera, an integrated editing suite. Not only is there access to your standard exposure and contrast adjustments, you even get access to tools such as Dehaze. Today’s ZEISS Imaging Experience is a smooth, flowing system from capture to publishing.
What does this mean for photographers? To be completely honest, I’m not sure yet. I never thought highly of any in-camera editing since it has been clunky and mostly ineffective. However, the previews here look quite nice. The large 4.3” multi-touch display is what may swing me to enjoy it, as it works similarly to that of a smartphone. Controls seem precise as well, with the same exact options that would be available to me on my MacBook Pro or iMac.
Syncing to your library is possible too, with edits making the journey with your DNG files (as long as you have a current Creative Cloud subscription). One thing we haven’t seen much of yet is the reviewing process and that is where I would be cautious. I worry that this will make it so that many photographers will be constantly checking, editing and marking their images as they shoot and these extra functions will serve as a distraction more than an asset.
Don’t get me wrong. Integrated Lightroom is an amazing function. For someone like me who spends a couple hours on a train each day, the option to throw a camera over my shoulder, go out shooting and then at the end of the day take care of some edits on the same device could be a game changer. Now I carry a laptop or iPad along with my RX1R II, not exactly the ideal solution. The ZX1 aims to be that tool. I just hope that seemingly massive 3,190 mAh battery can hold up.
SHARE — True Instant Uploads
Truly remarkable are the sharing possibilities. Go direct to a computer, upload immediately to Dropbox, or backup to a USB drive. ZEISS uses the term “networked” in their press release, hopefully meaning that we will actually be able to upload everything instantly from the camera. Compared to current “instant” solutions, the ZX1 may be the first to offer immediacy in a real sense.
Storing up to 6,800 DNG raw images on the internal 512GB SSD, the ZX1 is practically a computer. Accentuating this computer-like functionality is the ability to download and install firmware updates over-the-air (OTA). Also, when connecting to your home network the ZX1 will automatically backup your data to a NAS system. Another backup option is to plug in a USB drive to the USB Type-C port.
For wireless, the ZX1 has the usual assortment of connections. This includes Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth v4.1 LE. No, there isn’t GPS but geotagging is available via a smartphone connection. Looking at the short teaser video posted about the camera it seems to offer a full on-screen keyboard for posting to various media accounts. Hopefully this will grow to include the latest social trends and apps to avoid becoming outdated.
Sharing will be where the ZX1 shines above the rest, as it completes the image-making process. This is the closest a camera has come to offering the same level of convenience as a smartphone. Even when out shooting, using a smartphone as an internet hub can allow the ZX1 to function perfectly and do every step of the process without needing a bulky laptop, card readers and other tools.
I plan on picking up the ZX1 when it is released sometime in 2019. It’s going to be tough comparing it to my RX1R II, but I think the innovations brought by the ZEISS offering will make it worthwhile. Though I shoot professionally, this is more my speed when it comes to everyday usage, and I believe this is true for many others.
We know that we are exploring new ways and initially addressing a special target group with the ZEISS ZX1. With our concept we are focusing on ambitious, professional creatives who want to produce their photographic experiences quickly and efficiently, and inspire as many people on the Internet as possible. This requires a streamlined workflow in addition to high-end features. This is exactly what the concept of the ZEISS ZX1 offers.JÖRG SCHMITZ, HEAD OF THE CONSUMER PRODUCTS BUSINESS GROUP AT ZEISS
Blending the best of the smartphone with the best of imaging tech may be the way to save the standalone camera and elevate it beyond what either smart devices or legacy systems could do before. The ZX1 promises to be the modern imaging experience.