Can an advanced photographer today do without a computer at all (unless, of course, he shoots on film)? Until recently, we would have said no without hesitation. Why until recently? Because Zeiss seems to have a different answer to this question: meet the ZX1 camera.
Hull and control
Photo processing in ZX1
Impressions and conclusions
In 2020, we saw a lot of unusual cameras: the black and white Leica Q2 Monochrome, the blogging Sony ZV-1 and Panasonic DC-G100, the beautiful Fujifilm X100V with a built-in prime lens. The Zeiss ZX1 fits into this camera trend with a twist: it features built-in Adobe Lightroom Mobile and a huge touchscreen display that resembles a smartphone screen.
Not everyone believed that Zeiss would be able to implement its project at all: the model was announced back in 2018, after which nothing was heard about it for more than a year and a half. But at the end of 2020, the company broke out with a loud announcement – the world’s first camera with a built-in lightroom comes out at a price of $ 6,000 (hello Leica!).
The ZX1 is equipped with a 37.4-megapixel full-frame sensor, a built-in lens (35mm f/2) and the largest 4.34-inch (11 cm) screen on any camera today.
Another unusual feature of the device was the almost complete absence of physical controls, which we will discuss in more detail later.
Thanks to the Android operating system, the mobile version of Lightroom is integrated into the camera. Installing third-party apps is currently not available, but you can expect this option to appear in the near future.
Due to the use of Android, the camera does not turn on too quickly: it takes 10-20 seconds to load, like a regular smartphone. Once turned on, you can put the camera into standby mode in the same way as locking the screen on a smartphone – the unlocking process is almost instantaneous.
In general, it should be noted that the ZX1 is far from the first attempt to combine a traditional camera and a smart device in one body. We can recall, for example, Panasonic DMC-CM1 and Samsung Galaxy NX. And modern smartphones rely more on computational photography to overcome the traditional weaknesses of mobile photography. Zeiss, on the other hand, took a different path: the ZX1 is more of a camera that has received a few “chips” from smartphones, and not vice versa.
Hull and control
The Zeiss ZX1 case is compact – dimensions are 142 x 93 x 46 mm and 800 grams of weight. The camera has an extremely minimalistic design: there are only seven controls on the body and lens. Basic control is via the aperture ring, shutter speed dial and ISO dial. In addition, there is an AF/MF (autofocus/manual focus) switch and a manual focus ring on the lens, an on/off/sleep/video switch on the body, and a single customizable button on the back. It is difficult to find a camera with a simpler layout of controls, especially among high-end models.
The ZX1 has a pronounced comfortable grip, and during shooting on the right side of the screen in the direct access of the thumb, a set of touch buttons appears, including exposure compensation, white balance, etc. After pressing any of these buttons, a vertical slider appears to adjust . It can be practiced while framing through the viewfinder.
In general, there are no particular issues with the controls, however, it would be more convenient to use the exposure compensation dial instead of the ISO dial to adjust the brightness of the image. A lot of photographers shoot with automatic sensitivity control. In this case, the touch screen will have to be used much more often than we would like.
In general, the responsiveness of the touch screen is very high, which is not surprising, because it is necessary for processing photos. Swipe gestures are supported, which speeds up both the process of shooting and editing pictures.
The camera is equipped with a 22.9 Wh (3190 mAh) battery, however there is no standard CIPA rating for the ZX1. If you put the camera into sleep mode between each captured frame, then the charge is enough for one day of shooting. At the end of the day, it’s best to turn off the ZX1 completely, as even in sleep mode, the camera continues to drain battery.
The ZX1 has a built-in 512 GB SSD, but some of the memory is taken up by the operating system. There is no support for SD cards, but with this amount of internal memory, they are unlikely to be needed.
Photo processing in ZX1
Many cameras have basic RAW and JPEG editing, but it certainly doesn’t compare to what Lightroom provides. The Lightroom Mobile app installed on the ZX1 is generally the same as the versions on other mobile devices. However, you may not have a Creative Cloud account for basic tasks, but a paid subscription is required to use all the features.
In general, Lightroom is the only way to customize the output of images in the ZX1. Most other manufacturers’ cameras have different color profiles and additional settings for sharpness, contrast, and more for JPEG files. The ZX1 has no such options, so for any, even the most basic processing, you need to use Lightroom.
In general, according to colleagues from the resource dpreview.com who were able to test a sample of the new camera, working in Lightroom here is no different from using the application on mobile devices with Android or iOS. At the same time, exporting processed DNG files to ZX1 takes 30-50% more time than, for example, to Pixel 3a, last year’s mid-budget Android smartphone.
To share photos, you need to connect to Wi-Fi and log in to social networks or a cloud service, that is, where you want to drop the pictures. After that, they can be thrown directly from the footage view mode.
Impressions and conclusions
Zeiss ZX1 is a rather strange camera. But it feels, first of all, still like a camera, and not like some obscure hybrid of a smartphone and a traditional camera. And this is important. The minimalist approach to controls encourages you to concentrate on the actual shooting process, making the ZX1 a good choice for everyday photography. You can take a picture, quickly process it and immediately share it on social networks. At the same time, the quality of photos, of course, easily bypasses high-end smartphones in all respects.
However, the device has a number of weaknesses. First of all, this is an autofocus system that is too simple for 2021: the camera does not have tracking autofocus and face recognition at all. And according to Cary Rose (dpreview.com), even static objects are out of focus much more often than you would expect from a modern camera.
The main “highlight” of the model – the built-in Lightroom – also has its pros and cons. Fortunately, the main features are available without a paid subscription – you can edit pictures on the go right in the camera. On the other hand, the process of exporting files is significantly slower than on a mid-range Android smartphone. And the need to launch Lightroom for the most basic correction, frankly, does not add points to the camera.
In general, it’s nice to see that manufacturers are trying to do something new, in particular, they want to make friends with developed mobile platforms with traditional cameras. Zeiss ZX1 has no analogues and already justifies its existence. The design of the camera is top-notch, it may well be of interest to wealthy photographers who need the most simple camera in terms of shooting, but with flexible picture settings. The ZX1 may also be of interest to travelers who don’t like carrying laptops around but want to share their shots while traveling.
The main stumbling block on the ZX1’s path to popularity is, of course, the price of the model. For six thousand dollars you can buy not only a good camera and a laptop, but also a smartphone to boot. Therefore, the Zeiss ZX1 remains more of an experimental device for now, although it is quite possible that this is the first prototype of the cameras of the future – those that will combine the mobility and convenience of smartphones with all the capabilities of traditional cameras.
* In preparing the article, materials from the resource dpreview.com were used